Writing vs. Publishing

September 26, 2014

Screw top corkI think it’s fair to say that writers cherish the anonymity of writing a book because no one sits in judgement of its quality. Writing is the unabashed luxury of editing ’til your eyes bleed or you’ve exhausted all the cheap gin in your batcave. In short, writing is where the delusional process is alive and well – for better or worse.

Publishing, on the other hand, is where authors get a crash course in grace and humility. There is a middle ground that one has to walk. For example, your editor may mainline antifreeze if you are consistently shocked that people are buying your book. The same may happen if you take umbrage with unfavorable critique. The idea is to be a class act at all times.

Many years ago, one of our authors (no longer with us) blew his spleen over a less-than-thrilling Kirkus review, and told me he was going to write them a nastygram. It took me a couple days to talk him off the ledge. This is not a class act, and we chose never to speak of it again.

An editor friend of mine with one of the Big Guns told me how one of her authors wrote a blog post bashing the editing job her editor had done on her book, and to please not buy it. This is not a class act. My friend and the author chose never to speak of this again…well…because they dumped the author.

My point with these extreme examples is that knowing what’s “out there” in Published Land is as important as the writing process itself. I remember meeting a woman who consciously chose not to query her work because she recognized her potential of being a “Writer-zilla.” Very commendable when I look at my own eleven-year collection of “Holy sh!t” experiences.

So before you sit down to bang out a chapter or three, ask yourself whether your heart, brains, and intestines are ready for the mental rigors of being a published author. We can only hope everyone will love us, but there’s more truth to knowing that’s little more than a pipe dream.

Oh, and by the way – yah, I’ve done the same exact thing depicted in the photo. I’m a dork. I realize this.


Feel the Urge to Spam? Don’t…Just Don’t

September 24, 2014

spam1

I hate Spam. No, I’m not talking about the mystery meat that comes in a can -which I hate as well. Doesn’t everyone? Well, except maybe the Hawaiians…and my mom, who tried to pass it off as ham back when I was a wee bairn. We weren’t fooled, and rebelled mightily. Nice try, Mom.

No, the Spam I’m talking about is the annoying drek that authors send to my BUSINESS ACCOUNT (for godsakes!) that announces their new books, their accomplishments/cries for support, blah, blah, blah. Makes me want to hurk in my Cheerios.

On any given day, my email account is filled with hundreds of emails, and every one of them gets read. Imagine getting piece upon piece of unwanted announcements about how you completed your cancer walk in the name of your new book, and may I count on your support? Wha’? I’m an editor, for cryin’ out loud. Long hours do not equal big pay. Only causes I’m currently supporting are those that keep the Rescue Beagles in designer doggeh chewies.

Other announcements are the typical “My book got published! Go buy! Go read!” They are invariably from authors whose manuscripts I rejected, and they feel the need/desire to rub my nose in it. Bully for them. No, really, I’m thrilled for anyone who realizes their dreams. I just don’t need to know about it because…well…um…I don’t care. I know that sounds harsh, but come on…editors and agents reject thousands of manuscripts a year. Can you imagine if even a third of those authors decide to spam everyone who rejected them? That’s a lot of crap mail clogging up a lot of email accounts.

I can assure these people of one thing: I will NEVER read their books or take them seriously again. Oh, I know…you’re thinking, “Come on, Pricey, the authors don’t care at this point. They got published, so really, they don’t care if they piss you off because they don’t need you anymore.” True. But burning bridges is a dangerous game.

Case in point: I rejected a manuscript after reading the full, which means I’d had a bit of back and forth conversation with the author. Ultimately, I decided he project wasn’t right for us and wished them the best of everything. A few months later, I got a spammy in my inbox announcing the publication of that book. Wow, that was fast, methinks. I ignored it and deleted it – mildly annoyed. About a week later, another spammy from the same author dumped into my inbox, gushing about how wonderful her publisher is, and come join her at a book event. Getting steamy at this point. A third one suggested I support her cause célèbre, which she’d written about in her book. Officially pissed off.

I emailed her and asked her to please remove me from her distribution list. She fired back something about “Oh, I’m not good enough for you, huh? Well, you’ll be sorry you didn’t publish my book when it hits the NY Times bestseller list!” If I had a dime for every time an author has spat that in my face, I’d own Europe.

About a year later, she wrote this gushy email about how mahvelous Behler is, what mahvelous books we publish, blah, blah, blah…I hardly need convincing; you’re singing to the choir, babe…and would I mind taking a look at her book? Yes, it was pubbed a year ago, but she’s grown disillusioned with her publisher and received her rights, and is now shopping around.

I remembered this little tart as my spammer with anger issues, and told her I’d rather someone stuff my Vickie Secrets with hot jellybeans and molasses than ever entertain a publishing relationship with a serial spammer. Okay, I didn’t really say that, but I did let her know that not only did I remember her, but I wasn’t in a forgiving mood.

Burned bridges are never a good idea because you never know when you’ll need that person at a later date. What feels like rainbows now may be a dog’s smelly behind in the future.

The lesson here is that publishing a book is a big deal. A BIG DEAL. You want to scream from the mountain tops about your lovely new baby. But there are effective ways to promote and ineffective ways. Spamming may be quick, down, and dirty, but it’s also a major pisser to the receiver. If you’re tempted to spam those who rejected you – you do so at your peril. Those rejecting agents and editors don’t care. Your rejection wasn’t personal, it was business. Don’t be tempted to slap someone’s face because your writing wasn’t their cuppa tea.

Instead, put up a blog post about your accomplishments. Shout it out on your Facebook page and Twitter. Create a newsletter and only send to those who sign up. But leave my email addy alone. Please. Otherwise, I’ll have to send out the Rescue Beagles after you – and they’re murder on tires and new shoes.


Avoid the Kablooey

September 23, 2014

whahuh

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of readily available publishy information that people still don’t understand the query process, but it appears peeps either believe the rules don’t apply to them, or they have no clue there are any rules. Whatever the delusion, these aren’t authors I want to rub elbows with because time is money, baby chops, and the learning curve is steep. These are the Kablooey Authors.

Here are a couple examples I’ve seen fairly consistently over the years – and they really need to be tossed under a dump truck where they can be mashed, smashed, obliterated, and mutilated.

“My Publisher Has Gone Kablooey”

These aren’t so much query letters as they are a tale of woe. Lots of publishers are going kablooey these days, and they leave a lot of authors wondering how expensive it is to hire a hit team. First instinct is to immediately try to find another publisher. So the usual Kablooey query goes something like this:

“I haven’t heard from my editor in over five months, and I’m tired of waiting. Wanna take a look at my book?”

or

“I hate my publisher. They’re trolls who are little better than Bantha fodder. Wanna take a look at my book?”

And unfortunately, they don’t include much more info than that. Head, meet desk. If you’re in a Kablooey situation, you need to provide some things in your query, or face instant death rejection, or worse…deletion without reply:

  • A reversion of rights letter: Without it, I won’t touch it because I can’t. Until I know differently, the Kablooey publisher retains those rights – so my interest is about as expansive as my attempts at baking.
  • State the condition of your book – is it published or still in editing?: If your book is still in editing, then it hasn’t been out on the marketplace. This makes a big difference when entertaining a project. For example, I won’t accept published works. A number of publishers will; I’m just not one of them.
  • Does it have an ISBN?: If it’s been assigned an ISBN, then your title is in the system, and it’ll need to be canceled out. Nothing is a bigger mess than a title with two ISBN’s. I’ve seen Amazon nearly stroke out because they have the wrong ISBN listed on a book. ISBNs are assigned to publishers, so if Amazon, for example, gets the wrong ISBN, the wrong publisher will be listed. Then when sales go through, the money isn’t going to the right publisher. If that’s not enough to put a publisher off its feed, nothing is.
  • A synopsis: I know, it sounds simple, right? But you’d be amazed at the number of Kablooey queries I’ve received that failed to tell me anything about the book! Merde! If I have to ask…well, I’m not going to bother. I may simply delete the query – which is rude, I totally grok that – or fire off a quick form rejection letter.

Kablooey situations suck stale Twinkie cream because you’ve already been screwed once, and you’re not in the best frame of mind. But you have to be smart about your subsequent moves. First move is to figure out if your book is free and clear. If it isn’t, wishing and cussing about your Kablooey publisher isn’t going to alter the fact that you’re stuck. Don’t waste your time or the time of those you want to query.

“Look At My Website”

Oh, if there were a place of suffering and pain, I’d send authors a one-way ticket if they dare insist their websites are far more effective than writing a query letter. Just the other day, an author urged me to look at her website in order to “get a better feel for my book.” This was in response to my informing her that she’d done a marvelous job talking about her circumstances, why she wrote the book, and that her entire family lurved her book…but failed to actually TELL me what the book is about.

Look at your website? You mean, stop what I’m doing and do your work for you because you can’t be bothered to write a proper query letter? Nah, I don’t think I wanna play. Instant, Sudden Death Rejection.

Head bangy stuff. Here’s the thing; I don’t need all the blabby stuff – why you wrote your book, the fact that people find you utterly hysterical, and that your cats sleep under your chin (god help me). I simply need to know what your book is about. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. If you have a website, absolutely include it, because I definitely go check them out on projects that look interesting. But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t tell me to go look at it to “find out more.” If your query don’t gots it, I ain’t gonna go huntin’ for it.

If you come off as a professional, you’re going to attract a quality publisher. If you treat your query with the sincerity of a politician, you’re going to attract sleazoid publishers who may turn you into a Kablooey author. Avoid the Kablooey.


A Word About That Incomplete Manuscript

September 22, 2014

ScribbleSince we publish Memoir, it’s not unusual to get queries on incomplete manuscripts. Can I be honest? I really don’t like this practice. An incomplete anything equals WAIT to me. And I’m an impatient soul. When something rocks my world, I want it NOW!

Wanna hear an even scarier confession? I currently reject every query that only has a book proposal and offers no sample chapters. I learned this the hard way, because every single contract I offered based on a book proposal ended up with my canceling the project. Every. Single. One. The problems were that the proposals rocked, but the manuscripts didn’t deliver. Didn’t even come close. And the reason for that was because the writers were up against a deadline, which meant that I got what read like first drafts.

I don’t want anyone’s first draft. My heart simply isn’t that strong.

First Draft or Polished?

But my impatience isn’t the only factor. It’s also about quality. A book proposal isn’t enough for me. I need to see the first three chapters so I can see how the writer organizes her thoughts, and get a feel for the writing style. If the author is busy still writing the manuscript, how polished are those first three chapters…provided they have chapters to offer? If you send me chapters that aren’t really polished because you’re still in the writing phase, then you’re probably going to receive a rejection. And that just sucks, right?

Changey Mindey

There is real danger in trying to pitch an incomplete manuscript based on the first three chapters – namely, those first three chapters aren’t gonna look the same when you’re done. I don’t know of a single author who hasn’t changed the beginning of their stories, be they fiction or nonfiction, because of how they ended it. Finishing a manuscript influences all kinds of possibilities that you didn’t have when you first started out…even if you’re working from an outline. And those changes often turn a so-so story into something much bigger and better. Now, imagine trying to pitch the story with its original three chapters.

When I think of my own novel’s humble beginnings, my intestines want to explode.

I Want More

Then there’s the case where your first chapters rocked and I want more. But, alas, there isn’t any more. I gotta wait, which gets me back to my impatience issues. I’ll remain on the fence about the project because three chapters does not a rockin’ story make. I’ve had many, many cases where the first chapters were fabulous, but the rest of the manuscript fell apart. I have to weigh that against the possibility that the writing will stay strong throughout. When I consider how much $$ we sink into every book, I’m usually pretty leery of going forth with the project. It may hurt to see the sale go somewhere else, but my gamblin’ days are behind me.

Do You Know WHO I Am?

The case can be made for offering a contract based on a proposal only when the author is experienced and has a good following. They have published work I can refer to. They’re a known quantity.

The debut author doesn’t have that, so it’s important to consider what elements about the author and their story will encourage a publisher to take a chance on nothing more than a proposal.

What’s Da Rush?

Back in the day, authors sold proposals all the time, and the idea was that the advance would give them the financial stability to write the book. But those kinds of deals are few and far between for the average writer…especially a debut author. The world is a different place, so trying to adhere to old-time practices will yield little more than frustration. Most writers can’t give up their day job. Because we have so many more books and writers and publishers in the world, sales are a lot more spread out, and publishers don’t have the capital to spend like drunken sailors.

The idea is to put your best foot forward, and having a complete manuscript is the surest way to capture a deal. Life is too tenuous to dally with a lot of unknowns. Finish your manuscript. Take your time. Do it right…and conquer the world!


Mr. Grouchy Pants

September 15, 2014

You no spamma me...got it?

It’s frustrating to be judged based on assumptions. Case in point; I received a query this morning at the same time I happened to be going through my inbox. Since my morning was still relatively uncomplicated, I took the time to read the query and a few paragraphs of the work. Right away, I could tell it wasn’t a project we’d be interested in doing, so I went ahead and wrote a polite rejection letter and wished him all the best of luck finding the perfect home for his work.

A couple hours later, another email from the author plunked into my inbox, which said:

THIS IS THE FASTEST RESPONSE I HAVE HAD IN YEARS OF WRITING. THE ONLY QUESTION I HAVE IS; DID YOU READ IT?

Um. Excuse me? The first thought that popped across my quasi-firing synapses was, Gee, would he have felt better if I’d taken five months to reply? Or not reply at all?

Just what is the proper waiting time to send a rejection letter anyway? I’ll have to consult my Emily Post book of etiquette – though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t cover this specific problem.

This is one of those frustrating Damned If You Do/Damned If You Don’t situations. I’ve had nastygrams for not getting back to an author in a timely manner, and now I’m getting nastygrams for replying too quickly. Too early to mainline cheap gin?

I wonder what the author was trying to accomplish. Sure, he’s welcome to take my name in vain (and why not – the Rescue Beagles do it all the time), and stomp about at experiencing the fastest rejection evah, but that and Midol won’t change the outcome. In truth, it doesn’t matter if I read it or not (I did); it’s still a rejection. Does he think sending a snotgram will bring me to my knees and bet forgiveness? Will it make him feel better? The professional simply picks up and moves on.

We are all painfully aware that publishing is a frustrating business, and emotions can get the better of writers. But to lash out before thinking it through will make you look the fool…or the topic of someone’s blog post. This goes for the lousy review, too. It sucks stale Twinkie cream to get a bad review, but the only choice you have is to grit and grin through it. Don’t become known for being a Mr. Grouchy Pants.

So I’m still trying to figure out the proper response time for a rejection, since none of the etiquette sites covers this. As for the appropriate reply, my friend Dodin Oga offered the best one of all: Please disregard the rejection letter. I will send another one in three months. Hope that helps.

Guffaw.


Queries – Stop and Think Logically

September 2, 2014

star-trek-spock1

The idea of my cozying up to a logical suggestion would send my dear dad into a fit of giggles, because when I was a kid, logic and I were mutually exclusive entities. While I bumped along every possible distraction that would ensure my doing the dumbest head-scratching thing known to the free world, my dear dad would patiently sit back and hope I would marry well.

Then something frightening happened, and I grew up. I got involved in business…and suddenly logic and I became bestest buddies. In fact, I learned to hang my hat on it. While I can still pull some real barn burners that make my family wonder if my dental appointment turned into a full on lobotomy, I do rely heavily on thinking like Spock wherever possible. Which brings me to a frustration with query letters.

If authors could separate themselves from their artsy side and gaze upon their query letters with a dispassionate unbiased eye, they could see the flaws that yield rejection after rejection. Today’s example falls in the category of “Oops, I forgot.”

The first paragraph outlined the author’s bio. This is a terrible lead-in because – deep apologies for sounding grouchy – I don’t care about you. Yet. For now, I only care about your story. “Oops, I forgot.”

The second paragraph outlined why the author wrote her book. This is a terrible second paragraph because – deep apologies for sounding grouchy – I don’t care about the circumstances of writing your story. Not yet. Tell me about the friggin’ story. “Oops, I forgot.”

The third paragraph was short and sweet, and said nothing more other than to invite me to request the manuscript. Wha’? WHAT ABOUT THE STORY??? “Oops, I fogot.”

Dear authors, this isn’t someone thinking logically. If you’re trying to sell a story, then doesn’t logic demand that you actually tell the poor dolt reading your query a little something about your story? It doesn’t matter if you’re a famous actress, or a nobody. It’s about the story. That is your lead-in. Trying to wow me with your bio or the reasons why you wrote your story is nothing more than bells and whistles. The story is what has to pass the smell test. Your small bio and brief reasons that led you to write your story can go at the end…like a tidbit.

Publishing is a business, so authors need to take off their Creativity Bonnet and put on their Business Bowler…and think like a business person. You can be sure we do. Look at your query and ask yourself whether your query reflects selling you or your story. What topics are your lead-in? If it’s filled up with fodder about you and your reasons for existing with a quill in your hand, then you can look forward to “Thanks, but no thanks.” A lot.

You may have a fabulous book sitting on your desk, but unless you communicate it clearly and logically, it’ll do little more than gather cyber dust. And that sucks.

In the words of the ever-logical Mr. Spock, “Live long, and prosper.” In the words of the Overworked and Underpaid Editor, “Think logically, and sell like a mo’ fo.”

As for Dad, the first time I used the word “logic,” I think he fell out of his chair…


Your Horrible Life – Do You Have a Point?

August 8, 2014

Scared_Dog

Of late, I seem to be the recent recipient of every addiction/abuse/life nightmare story ever written. I realize people have tragic lives, and writing about them can bring about a large measure of emotional release and comfort. And yes, I do publish memoir – so I understand I’m a non-moving target. But for crying out loud – so many of these stories are simply too horrendous, and I find myself reaching for mouthwash and eye bleach. Many of these, I simply want to unsee.

Many of these queries have no other purpose than to horrify (mission accomplished) and cluck one’s tongue about how gruesome humans are to one another. My concern about these stories is…do you have a point? It’s one thing to flood the market with “Read About What Ghastly Shit Happened To Me” stories before readers tire of the sameness of it all. It’s the literary equivalent of the National Enquirer…and sure, they do have a large readership, but where those stories are sandwiched between the covers of a known quantity, your Lurid Lucy story stands all by itself – without benefit of a ready audience. And the queries I’ve seen seem intent on out-grossing each other.

“My story is about how I was abused at 7.”
“Oh yeah, well I’ll up that by telling my story about how I became a prostitute at 10 and addicted to cocaine.”

Oh dear GOD!!! Enough! I can’t handle it.

My problem isn’t necessarily what happened to these people (and my soulless heart breaks for them), but where they put the focus. If the nucleus is about detailing every inch of each horror, then what’s the point of the story? Is this violence for violence’s sake? Is it self therapy? Is it both?

I can appreciate anyone who comes through a tough life and finds unicorns and rainbows on the other side, but in order to get my attention, these stories have to have a point. A message. And that’s the problem with Gruesome Gandys…the messages always seem to be the same: Believe in yourself.
Never give up.
Praise God.

Whatever it is, it’s already been written about. A lot. And since there’s nothing unique about the message, it’s very hard to get readers’ attention, let alone an agent or publisher’s. The media and reviewers will invariably yawn because it’s a Been Thar, Done That kinda book.

Of course, some stories are very tough to read and a literary masterpiece. I think of our own book MOMMY, I’M STILL IN HERE. Kate McLaughlin unflinchingly writes about the ravages of bipoloar disorder that afflict two of her kids. I spent much of the book with my fist in my mouth. But I was also blown away because Kate never keeps the sole focus on the horrors – but about finding the light at the end of the tunnel and that bipolar disorder isn’t a death sentence, and people can go on to live happy, healthy, productive lives. I cheered. I huzzah’d. I jumped on furniture and fist-pumped the air. It was because of those horrors that I could rejoice in the sweetness of success. But the vital element was that the message was unique, and she had a clear point to make.

If you’ve had a horrid life, you have my blessings and hugs. If you want to write about those horrors, ask yourself why you’re writing it. Is it a form of therapy, or do you have a concrete message? If you have a concrete message, is it the same one that’s already been written about thousands of times already? If so, then how are you going to interest an agent or editor?

Lastly, the only way to know whether you have something that’s been done to ad nauseam or unique is to read books in the topic you’re writing about. You have to go from victim to analyst in order to determine whether you have a point, or whether you’re simply talking about your horrible life. And if it’s solely about your horrible life, please, please, please, don’t query me. I’m on heart medicine, yanno…

 


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