Why I will never stop imbibing in the drink

February 8, 2012

"Rahhrrrr...I'm an angry beagle"

Jim, our PO guy alerted me that I had a package to pick up. Since I don’t accept mailed queries, I knew it had to be something else. A gift from an admiring author? First class tickets to the Bahamas? Those adorable Toms I’ve been lusting over for the past couple months?

No.

It was a book. Now before you get all soft and chuffle out an “aww, how sweet,” let me just say that it was a query. Of a book. If this had been a bumbly type of thing, I’d possibly conjure up a smidge of sympathy. But no, this person knew exactly what he was doing because in very large font, he wrote, “WAIT! Don’t feed this to the beagle!”…which makes me sorta laugh considering my own beagle was the first photo on “angry beagle” google images. Sounds like it sound be a game, right? Angry Beagle? Ah, I digress.

He goes on to say two pages worth of nothing – no synopsis, just description that tells me nothing about the plot of this book – and ends with a plea that I take the time to READ HIS BOOK. In a word, no. In two words, HELL no.

Does this person believe I sit on my lower forty while the beagle peels me grapes, and my entire raison d’etre is to await his tomes of brilliance? Okay, I exaggerate – I do that when I’m irritated.

Words fail to do justice to my frustration over idiocy of this nature. He knew he shouldn’t send me a published book (from Xlibris with ISBN and all), yet he felt himself above it all and did it anyway, and then expected absolution. No, no, no, a thousand billion times, no. This is worse than being plain clueless. And you know where this book ended up? Straight into the trash right outside the PO, along with his business card and bookmark. I didn’t even crack the cover. It never even made it back to the batcave.

So what this person did was waste good money. He may as well have flushed that money down the toilet. And, okay, I admit that I’m peeved because I wasted my time picking it up. This is normally the beagle’s job, but she has a suspended license for failing to pass a breathalizer test. I really hate to waste my time on dumb things. And this was dumb. Dumber than dumb. It was dumb times a million.

Folks, don’t do this. Just…don’t. I have repeated this plea so many times I’ve lost count. I see the same plea on other editors’ and agents’ blogs all the time. And still, the willfully stupid try it anyway. “I know I’m being bad, but I’m so cute and I write sooo well that you won’t mind that I’m bad. In fact, you’ll thank me because I’ll make you a millionaire.” Makes me want to mainline bad gin.

Submission guidelines aren’t there for the tourists. You ARE the tourist. And yes, I will allow the beagle to rip it up and make dootie on books that wend their way to my mailbox.


September is Be Kind to Editors Month

September 2, 2010

Oh hell yes! I’m going to milk this for all it’s worth. Beagle, I expect fresh margaritas at noon, my In basket to be filed promptly, and your freckled butt OFF my desk. I’m putting out an edict that all queries be addressed to Your Highness.

Yah. Sure. What are the chances of any of that happening?


Feedback; it isn’t just a radio term

October 28, 2009

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Feedback:

Feedback is a mechanism, process or signal that is looped back to control a system within itself.

Great holy Twinkies, isn’t that exactly what we writers look for when we write our brilliant tomes? Based on the feedback, we alter our “systems”  – our stories. This elevates feedback to a new level of importance, doesn’t it? It’s the vehicle that tells us we either have a good story or birdcage liner.

But what if the feedback is nonexistent or ill-advised? Then the author has no solid foundation in which to determine their book’s worth. In short, they make bad decisions that impacts their viability of their book.

I agree there are many good books out there that, for whatever reason, didn’t find a home and whose loss to the literary world is tragic. So how do we determine whether our writing is bilge water or the beagle’s overpriced designer water that comes in fussy little bottles?

Feedback.

Most authors who are caught in this net of “I MUST be published” get very little feedback from informed sources. Their mother, auntie, bestest friend, or wayward beagle insists the story is fahbulous, mahvelous, amazing! Pulitzer stuff. The problem is, they aren’t an informed source. There are a ton of layers a book goes through before it lands on the shelves, and the best gift an author can give him/herself and their book is getting feedback from informed sources who understand the marketplace.

Writer Boards:

There are any number of wonderful writer boards and blogs where authors can submit parts of their writing for critique and get their query letters checked over. I would be mindful about posting your work in a totally public forum. Seek boards that are private so that not every Tom, Dick, and Alice can see your work.

Independent Editors:

I know of many very good authors who use independent editors. Now, these folks are a dime a dozen, so choose wisely. I’m talking about folks who brag a clientele who have gone on to being published by solid trade publishers. These are editors who understand the marketplace and the rigors of publishing – because chances are, they worked in the industry at some editorial capacity or they’re well-published.

Beta Readers:

I’m not talking about a couple here and there, but a well-thought-out cross section of readers. Beta readers are your bestest friends because they represent the marketplace. I have an author, Barry Petersen (Jan’s Story, which is utterly brilliant) who chose a cross section of beta readers; people who knew nothing of his story (nonfiction), people who did know his story, and his agent. Aside from his agent, he chose readers, not people who are in the publishing business. These are the people who will tell you your main character is a wimp, or your plot is predictable.

Writer’s Conferences:

I can’t stress this enough. Go. To. A. Conference. This is where you pick all kinds of information that you never realized was out there. There are workshops where you can get crits and improve your writing. There are agent/editor one-on-ones, where you can get feedback on how your first pages struck us. You’ll get feedback on your pitch, your marketing ideas, learn about promotion. This is feedback on steroids, and I dare anyone to attend a conference and not come home a better, wiser writer.

How do I figure out the good feedback from the bad?

I love it when I get all rhetorical-like. The answer is, you don’t. I’ve seen authors go insane with feedback because so much of it is contrary. One beta reader may love a particular scene that another hated. How do you decide? That’s when you listen to your gut. Your gut always knows what feedback makes sense and what is white noise. It takes confidence to be a writer, and this is exactly why.

I have no problem duking it out with my authors during the editing phase. Just because I have an opinion about something doesn’t mean I’m always right. Maybe my problem with a particular character or scene is the result of improper development. Perhaps the way in which it’s written doesn’t showcase its importance to the story. That is why communication is vital. Once I can get the author talking about a character or scene, I can understand more what’s taking place in their minds and help them tailor the problem so that it communicates the intent.

And that’s something writers should think about when the receive feedback that makes their teeth itch. Ask yourself why a particular comment bothers you. Is it because it makes you think outside the box too much? You won’t always get well-detailed feedback. It could be as plain Jane as “I didn’t like your main character.” If you can ask why, do so. If you can’t, take into account as to why someone wouldn’t like your MC.

There’s a lot of detective work that goes on in writing, and the key is to not drive yourself crazy with conflicting feedback, but to lay it out on the table and consider their validity. Your gut will be your Sherlock Holmes.

So in the end, it’s lovely Mom lurves your work,  but let’s be honest; most of our moms would lurve our writing, even if it reeked. Moms are – or should be – totally off limits in the feedback department. Except you, Mom. You can always read my stuff. I just won’t take it to the bank.

Am I in trouble now?

For the most part, you want to be “in trouble,” and feedback will put you in the center of the bull’s eye. That’s what forces you to improve, to dig deeper in order to bring out the very best of your story. Feedback is, hopefully, what prevents you from making bad decisions about your book. Once it’s gone to a vanity press or a POD, it’s gone forever. Unless that was your intent all along, listen to the feedback and let them be your guide.


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