Friday, April 29, 2011

Write What You Know

Write what you know.  That's advice that is often given out.  But when you're a science fiction, fantasy or horror author, sometimes that's not as easy as it sounds.  After all, I don't know much about time travel, mythical creatures or ghosts, and that's what I write about.  So how does one go about writing what they know if they write about something that doesn't exist in an exotic, far away place?

First, what you know is probably a little more far reaching than what you think.  It's not just limited to places you've been or things that you've done.  Many authors have never committed murder before, and yet it's written about all the time.  The act wasn't there, nor probably ever the desire, but the feelings were.  And the emotions.  Couple that with research that can be done with news, statistics, investigation results and trials on murders, and the author has a fairly believable platform to work from.

I've never time traveled.  Yet.  And I've not yet been to Cancun or Havana, but those elements are all essential to one of my science fiction tales.  So how do I go about writing about places I've never been to and things I've never done while still writing what I know?  Let's break it down.

One of the major locations in this particular story is Havana.  And while I've never been to Cuba, I have been to Cadiz, Spain.  I lived a few short minutes from it for four of the best years of my life.  That fact is relevant because when the Spaniards came to the new world and founded Havana, they built it to resemble what they had left behind in Cadiz, Seville and Granada.  In fact, the architecture is so alike that when the James Bond film Die Another Day was filmed, they shot many of the Cuba scenes in Cadiz because of this remarkable similarity.  So while I have not been to Havana, I can write scenes set there and draw from the sights, sounds, tastes, and feel of my experiences in Cadiz.

I haven't been to Cancun yet either, and that makes this setting a little more problematic.  Although it shares a similar past with Spain, it is quite a different sort of place.  I can't draw on Cadiz to write about Cancun.  But I can research.  I can pull pictures and descriptions from various sources to see what it's like there.  I can research the various resorts and talk to people who have been there.  I can do my homework.  But that still doesn't completely make up for the fact I haven't been there, so here's where I get a little creative.  The story is a science fiction piece featuring time travel, remember?  I simply set it in the future a good number of years, and coupled with the research I have done, the plausible differences between now and then make it a little more believable.  It may not be perfect, but I have enough of an alibi to make it work.

But that brings us to time travel and the future.  Setting scenes in the early part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is easier because you can research those eras.  There is plenty of documentation on what it was like then.  Many people remember what it was like in the years when some of my story is set.  But the future is different.  One only need watch a few old science fiction movies to chuckle at how vastly different today's world looked to them back then.

There are ways to avoid making your futuristic novel look like a clunky 1980's style cell phone in the cyber-speed world of today.  One of the ways is to set it further into the future than most authors elect to do.  Even with stories as recent as the Terminator series, we see a predicted future that was far different than reality, even when you take the fantastic storyline out of the equation.  Setting your story a hundred or more years into the future gives you a lot more time before that happens, and if you're so lucky, in a hundred years you'll probably be given some leeway for not predicting things very accurately.  It's a long time, after all.

But you still have that pesky problem of time travel, and all the fantastic science that inevitably comes with it.  Not only do you have to come up with an even remotely plausible way to conduct time travel, you also have to account for the leaps and bounds everywhere else science will have taken by that point.  We can't even accurately predict the NFL draft with endless footage on each player, let alone forecast where technology is going.

But there are trends.  We've seen things go from the concrete world to the virtual world, starting with the advent of radio and television.  We've seen the advances brought by the Internet, and where communication has gone since then.  Things are getting smaller, more portable, and more integrated into our daily lives.  We've seen media go from only watching it in a theater to portable VHS cassettes to DVDs to streaming online.  All you have to do is follow the pattern and make decisions based on the next logical step.

While you can't write what you know in some areas, at least not without a lot of research and guessing, you can with others.  You can with the little stuff.  This is probably the most important part of writing what you know, because you have so much to draw from, and the details make all the difference in the world.

Really use what you know to tie everything together.  Put the details of your life into your characters and plots.  Put experiences and individual quirks or personality traits in there.  You don't need to design a character after someone you know, but just giving them a trait or two from familiar sources is enough.  It doesn't have to be an exposé on your personal life, either.  My writing is peppered with my own personal experiences, and unless you really know me well, you won't see much of it.  You don't need to, and that's the point.  It's my character who experienced that fantastic trip to Cuba, not me.  It's my character who has a particular phobia, not someone I know.  And if I've done it right, that's all you'll see.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Finding a Literary Agent

Finding the right agent is a complicated and intimidating process.  In fact, finding any agent at all is hard.  There are a limited number of agents out there, still fewer credible and capable agents, and by the time you've pared them down to those who actually accept manuscripts of your genre, the list is probably much shorter than your average grocery list.

So how do you do it?  How do you find an agent?  More importantly how do you find one who is competent enough to market your work correctly, connected enough to sell it, and scrupulous enough to trust with what you've poured your heart and soul into for who knows how long?

Research and hard work are the keys to a solid approach at this.  It takes time and energy and a lot of hard work, probably almost as much hard work as you've put into writing your novel.

The first key to finding an agent is organization.  Like anything else, organizational skills are a vital part of the search for an agent.  Since you're highly unlikely to find an agent with the first query you send out, you have to track your submissions carefully to avoid sending multiple queries for the same manuscript to agents who have already passed, research the right agents, and not duplicate efforts.

Keep a detailed log of your submissions in whatever format is easiest for you to use and maintain.  Whether it's a database, a spreadsheet or a word document, populate it with the pertinent details of your submissions.  Include dates queries were sent, the agency sent to, the specific agent and the contact information for them.  I also include details on the response, whether there was no response after a set amount of time, a personal rejection or a request for more.  I file all of this by each individual title I send out and maintain it meticulously and often.

Since I now query exclusively via e-mail, I have separate folders in my e-mail for queries, bites, and related correspondence, and I keep every e-mail for my reference.  If I need to see specifics on how an agent responded back, I have it.  I have also kept every rejection I've ever gotten via snail mail as well.  I have a large folder with each one inside, in case I have to reference them too.  Chances are, I probably won't need to reference them all, but I have them in case I do.

The next step is learning to write a killer query, one that will catch the attention of the agent you're targeting and land you that request for the full manuscript.  Study advice from agents regarding queries.  Find out what works for them and what doesn't.  Your goal isn't to make a perfectly constructed query for query's sake, it's to sell your writing and your novel.  Agent Query has some advice on writing better queries.  They have a forum showcasing queries that actually worked.  Chuck Sambuchino also has good advice on writing queries.  Query Shark, as I've mentioned before, is one of the better places to see query analysis in action.  It's better because you can see them broken down and critiqued as they improve with subsequent iterations.  Study the queries posted there for what works and why it works.  You'll notice that a few of the queries that break the rules are the ones that entice you to read the book the most.  You'll notice that most of the ones who follow the rules, however, are effective as well.

As a general rule of thumb, you have approximately 250 words to interest your target audience enough to want to read more.  If they want to read more, they'll ask for more, and that is exactly the point of a query letter.

Some tips:
  • Do trim your query to as close to 250 words as possible.  If can't get the job done in that amount of words, you're doing it wrong.
  • Do craft an opening hook that encourages them to find out more.  A good place to research this is the back cover blurbs of similar novels in your local bookstores.
  • Do write a polite, professional query.  It's still a form of business letter to a professional in the field, and it's your venue to sell yourself as a professional they want to work with.
  • Don't ramble about your personal life or how really great your novel is.  Agents stress time and again the best way to get them to read more is to show, not tell them how great it is.
  • Don't try to include too much in your query.  It's best not to try and stuff every character and subplot into it.  You haven't got the room.  Include the essentials.
  • Don't open with passive voice, rambling run-on sentences, or rhetorical questions.  Agents are evaluating not just the content of your novel, but your writing talent and style as well.
Writing the synopsis is the next step.  You'll need one for many of the agents you query.  A synopsis is not about writing style, although it shows through in one.  It's about the basic, bare bones plot of your novel, and whether it has the elements needed to be successful.

A synopsis should generally be two to three pages, but must cover the essentials of the novel.  If it runs a little longer, you should be fine.  Agents don't read synopses for the reading pleasure or to get a feel for your writing.  They read them to understand where the plot goes, how conflict is resolved, and the motivation behind character action.

Author Nathan Bransford has some tips on synopsis writing, as does Marg Gilks of  Other examples can be found by doing a little more research yourself.  Very few authors like to write synopses, but they are a vital part of marketing your work.

Some tips:
  • Do write the synopsis in omniscient form, regardless of how the manuscript is written.
  • Do use a synopsis for showing the logical progression of the novel from beginning to end.
  • Do note the key points of conflict and resolution in the manuscript.  Present the stakes present for your characters and their motivation and basis for the decisions they make.
  • Don't leave the agent guessing how the novel ends.  Save the suspense for the readers.  The agent has to know how it ends to know whether it's going to sell or not.
  • Don't include too many details which detract from the main plot of the story.  While they may be important to your story, if they are not part of the basic plot or key subplots, they do not belong in the synopsis.
Once you have your system in place and know how to write and refine queries and synopses, it's time to research agents.  Most agents belong to a literary agency, and most agencies maintain websites.  Sift through their website with a fine-toothed comb to determine what they want, how they do business, what types of books they sell, and any other information that will help you determine a good fit.  Looking at an agent's client list will give you a good idea whether they'll be open to marketing your manuscript, or whether they're not into that particular genre or type of work.

Once you've found an agent who has compatible needs in a reputable agency, you need to branch out to other sources of information on them.  Vet them through sites like Publishers Marketplace and Query Tracker.  Visit Preditors and Editors to make sure they're not running a scam or conducting bad business practices.  Find out if the agent you're interested in has a separate website from the agency's website.  Do they blog or twitter?  A large number of agents now do both.  Check these sites immediately before you send them a query, as their needs can change.  They can also shut down for submissions while on vacation, a hiatus from work or other reasons.  It does you no good to send your query to an agent who isn't in the market for manuscripts, so it is in your best interest to do your research thoroughly.

Check and double check the agent's submission guidelines.  They're not there simply to look good.  They're there to tell you as an author exactly how they want their submissions.  They'll tell you what genres they'll consider, what they're specifically not in the market for, what's hot that they're looking for more of at the moment, and how to correctly format and send the material.  Do they accept e-mail or snail mail?  Both?  Do they have a submissions form on the website?  Do they want just a query?  The first five, ten, or even fifty pages of the manuscript?  A synopsis?  Generally it's a combination of all of the above, and maybe other specific requests.  Find out exactly what they want and give it to them exactly the way they want it.

The vast majority of agents do not even open, let alone consider e-mail with any attachments.  They want to see the requested material pasted into the body of the e-mail.  They need your contact information - name, address, phone, e-mail - but they do not want to see it up front.  Put it at the end of your letter.  It's there when they need it, but not in the way.

Once you're sure you're ready to send everything out, compose the e-mail and send it back to yourself.  Open it and make sure it looks correctly.  Send it in plain text, to avoid any instances where the HTML does not get translated correctly in the agent's e-mail program.  Send it again to yourself.  And again.  Read it out loud and continue to tweak what doesn't sound right.  Once you've gotten exactly what you want back a couple of times, you're ready to send it to the agent.  Send it and file it in your query tracking system.

Now that you've sent it out, you start all over again.  Rethink your query and edit it further.  Find another agent, vet them and send out another query to them.  Do that multiple times to multiple agents.  Querying multiple agents at the same time is perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged.  This is not the same as simultaneous submissions, which is when you send the same manuscript to be read and considered by multiple agents at the same time.  You're not going to get your manuscript into nearly enough hands if you query one agent at a time every once in a while.

Be methodical in your research and precise in your submissions.  Get it right the first time.  And the second, and third and however many more times you have to send it out before you sell it.  Remember, you're not only selling a product, you're selling yourself as an author, one who will be able to produce more novels in the future.  Doing it the right way will increase your chances of success.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Timing a Manuscript Submission

Much has been said about submitting a manuscript to a literary agent or publisher, but I've seen less written about the timing of a submission.  Obviously the best time to submit is when your manuscript is fully edited and polished to the best of your ability.  That is not what I'm talking about here.  I'm referring to timing a particular genre to a point in time when its chances of being picked up are the highest.

We've seen the incredible boom of zombies and vampires, especially young adult vampires, recently.  The market is teeming with those books now.  Even a few years ago there were far less of this type of book than now.  Agents actively look for certain hot topics because that is what sells at the moment.  It's their job to time a publication to catch the wave of public popularity.  These types of books may or may not interest you, but they're what is selling at the moment.

But when there is a lag time of at least a year, and usually much longer between the submission of a novel and publication, how does one gauge what's going to sell when submitting a manuscript?  When the lag between finding the perfect idea, writing the first draft, editing, editing, editing, submitting it, and finally getting published is far longer than that, it's almost impossible to predict.  An author would have to be precognitive almost a decade into the future to get it absolutely correct.

One of the ways to deal with this is to have a few different titles ready to go.  If you have for example, a horror story, a paranormal love story and a science fiction romp all ready to go, you'll have your bases covered better than if you have only a single novel.  After studying the market and needs of agents, you'd soon realize your horror novel just might have to be shelved while you actively market your paranormal work because that is what is currently selling.  And when, in a few years, horror explodes back into the spotlight, you'll be ready for that too.

The best way to time a manuscript publication however, is to do your research.  Don't settle for the first or second agent that lines up with your genre and call it good.  Study what agents are currently accepting.  Find out what they've been selling.  Find out what genres their client authors are writing and what titles are forthcoming.  Look as far into the future of the industry as you can.  This helps you catch market trends early on and allows you to get in on them while they're booming.

Submitting a novel is tricky business.  There is so much to be put into it in order to find an agent and actually get your book into print.  Obviously delivering a finely tuned query that introduces a polished and well crafted novel helps, but it's important to study all the different factors that influence what works and what doesn't.  I feel it takes almost as much time and effort crafting a query, synopsis and studying the market for a submission as it does to write the first draft.  Authors tend to concentrate more on the writing and less on the marketing aspects of being an author, and thus tend to present a submission which is less appealing than it could be.

Once the novel is written, it's time for the hard part of being an author.  It's time to really sit down and do your research.  You've done the research needed to set a believable and colorful plot.  You've studied how to craft your words to say what you're trying to express.  Now you have to put in an equal amount of work studying how to market your novel and get it onto bookshelves and e-readers around the world.  It's not an easy task, but knowing what is selling and what gives your novel the best shot at success is a great first step.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game

I thought it only fitting that the first book I reviewed here was probably my favorite science fiction novel of all time.

I really got into the Ender's series late in the game.  It was always on my reading list, but somehow I could never find the time to pick it up and read it.  There was always something else to do, or I'd forget about it when I was at the bookstore.  Well, I finally did a few years ago, and I wish I would have much earlier.  It's a fantastic book, and it has become one of my all-time favorites.

Ender is a kid, smaller and younger than anyone chosen for the special International Fleet's Battle School training.  Aliens are coming, and it falls to Ender and the rest of the children from the Battle School to learn the concepts and methods they need to fight off another impending alien attack.  The last time the aliens came, they came a hairbreadth from destroying earth's human species completely.  This time they won't be so easy to repel.

Orson Scott Card does a magnificent job showing us the struggles of the protagonist, and creates a character with which we can easily relate and empathize.  Ender is young and deals with issues of bullying, being too small, separation from loved ones, a dangerous older brother, among other smaller problems.  Oh, and there is the threat of imminent alien invasion, for which he seems to be the only hope the world has.

This easily sets the plot up for the climax.  We can see where this is going.  The aliens are coming and Ender will be faced with repelling or destroying them.  But it's not that part which grabs our attention.  It's the interpersonal relationships throughout the book.  It's the way Ender deals with myriad other characters in the book that is really the fascinating part.  Every other character seems completely opposite than the other characters, as much of an oxymoron as that seems.  Each of them has different goals and concerns, and each goes about achieving those goals in a different manner.  Even if the common goal is the ultimate defeat of an alien invasion, those other issues in the book feel almost equally important at times.

This book is also one of few that bridges the generation gap in its audience.  I was in my 30's by the time I finally got around to reading it, and I couldn't put it down.  But it's equally appealing to a much younger crowd.  In fact, many teens and pre-teens love the book, even though it's definitely not young adult fiction.  Maybe that's because the original idea came to the author when he was just 16, but I think more so because he refuses to write the actions and thoughts of the children in the book as juvenile or childish.  Their thoughts mimic adult thoughts, and while that has drawn some criticism of being unrealistic, I wouldn't agree with the critics.  I never thought of myself as being mentally juvenile at any point in my life.  My mind looked out from behind my eyes and saw the same world as anyone else did, it was just from my point of view.  My guess is that's the way you saw things too, and when you read Ender's Game, that's what you get.  Not some faux juvenile point of view the author thinks kids think like, but a genuine one.  One to which we can all relate.

Of course, once you get drawn into Ender's world, there are plenty more books in the series written from the success of this book.  Most of them are very good as well, especially Ender's Shadow, which is a parallel story that happens at the same time as Ender's Game, but from a different perspective.  I might even be persuaded to confess that Ender's Shadow is a better book, but that's probably because I'd already read Ender's Game, and I was back for more of the same story I loved so much the first time I read it.

Ender's Game is definitely one of the better books in the genre.  It stands out from the rest of the spin-offs and retreads that sometimes sound more like fan fiction than anything else.  To get a perspective of what real science fiction is all about, I highly recommend reading it.

Ender's Game is still in print and most bookstores carry copies.  It can also be found here:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Future of Publishing

Since Johannes Gutenberg first began mass-producing movable type in 1439, the publishing industry has come a long ways.  And as technological advances compound the progress almost exponentially, things seem to change on almost a daily basis.

Back when I first started sending my work out to publishers in the late 1980's, the one firm and fast rule was to always include an SASE, or a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope.  This was to ensure you'd get that rejection you were anticipating back from the publisher.  If you didn't include an SASE, you were almost guaranteed of never hearing from them.

Now sending an SASE is still a firm and fast rule when submitting work via the postal service, but with so many in the industry moving online, using snail mail is dying out.  In fact, I haven't sent anything out by regular mail for a long time.  I personally feel that if the agent or publisher is not fully functional online with e-mail submissions, or at least an online submission form, they may not be as up with the times as I want in an agent.  After all, who wants a dinosaur to market your science fiction novel?  That's not to say someone who still requires submissions be sent regular mail is completely out of touch with the modern world.  It's just that I prefer to take that risk out of the equation as much as I can.

Just as submissions are almost completely done in the virtual world, the publishing side is following suite.  They're a little slower at it, and with valid reasons.  Many people still prefer a good book to curl up with and read.  A book just feels better, more natural.  It's probably just a lifetime of conditioning, and fifty years from now an e-reader will feel right.  For now, though, paper books are still the industry standard.

More and more publishers are marketing virtual books.  The whole concept is probably older than most people realize.  It all started with Project Gutenberg in the early seventies.  There was a push for e-readers as early as the turn of the century, but unfortunately the world didn't seem to be quite ready for them and they almost faded into obscurity.  They've had quite the revival lately though.  The American Publishing Institution estimated that by mid-2010, sales for e-books represented as much as 8.5% of total book sales.

There are both positives and negatives to this.  On the upside, it's awesome for authors.  Standard royalties generally pay the author no more than 15% on a regular paper book's sales.  Royalties for e-books can be upwards of 25% to 50% or even higher sometimes.  That's a substantial number.  It's possible because there is less overhead associated with making an e-book.  There are no paper costs, ink costs, printing and labor costs, distribution costs, and the list goes on.

I'm in on the movement.  As a science fiction writer and aficionado, it seems I'd almost have to be, right?  My wife bought me an Amazon Kindle as a present last Christmas.  It's a wonderful thing.  I charge it like a phone or an iPod and use it like a book.  It doesn't have the shiny pixelated look to it like a computer screen does.  It's not quite the same as reading a regular book, but it's pretty damn close.  I can store thousands of books on it and it's no larger than a standard paperback.  Oh, and with the click of a button, I can buy more books.  I click "buy" on Amazon, the book appears in my Kindle and the money vanishes from my checking account.  Scary!

Kindle is not the only e-reader out there.  There are plenty more of them, and others are coming along every day.  The market is there for them, and when the market supports something, it is probably here to stay.  At least until we all get atomic chipsets in our brains and use our thoughts to access something in the virtual world.

The downside to e-publishing is the publishing houses are losing a huge chunk of revenue, and they want it back.  Suddenly the author is making a much larger amount of money that comes from the revenue they used to make by printing paper books.  In fact, taking away the need to stock books on shelves and market and distribute them suddenly takes away the need to even have a publisher.  All you need is a little tech know-how and you can publish your own book.  Amazon already has a means to do this in place for free.

There are obvious issues with this, as you may have inferred if you've read my previous post on self-publishing.  The editing process is a very vital part of the industry, and this takes away the editors along with the publishers.  Publishers and editors have a tremendously important role in the industry, in spite of the advances in technology.

So where is it all going?  Where will we be in fifty years?  How about a hundred or more?  No one really knows yet, but some kind of change is definitely on the way.  Gutenberg changed the world forever when he invented mechanical movable type printing.  The industry doesn't really want to change.  There's pressure from publishers not to change.  But that isn't going to stop progress.  It'll be a little slower to happen than maybe it should be, from a technological standpoint, but the change is coming.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

But I don't have time to write!

The best authors out there always say the way to become a better writer is to write.  Write all the time.  Write on a schedule.  Set aside the time every day to write, even if you don't have it available.  With our busy lives and families and work and kids and well, whatever else, there just isn't enough time.  That 25th hour of the day isn't available, and even if it were, you probably wouldn't want to spend it writing when that new episode of your favorite television show is on.

But that's the thing.  There's always time to write.  We have a finite amount of time every day, but yet we always find time to do the most pressing items on the list, and we find time to squeeze in the stuff we absolutely have to waste our time on too, no matter if they're important or not.

That's where writing comes in.  For a writer, writing should be a part of the stuff we simply cannot do without.  It's easy to vege out in front of the television, or waste time on teh interwebz.  It's hard to write.  It takes time, dedication, research, and just plain grinding through those tough parts where the whole thing seems to bog down hopelessly.

But the advice - write, write, write - holds true.  I've been writing since the 80's, and in between then and now, I've been some pretty interesting places.  I've been everywhere from tropical paradises with all sorts of distractions, to war zones with a completely different set of distractions.  Everywhere I've been, I've written.  And I've found it easiest to write when I was horribly busy.

For me, if I have little to do, I put things off.  I go into slacker mode, and my writing suffers.  When I'm busy, I transfer that energy into my writing and somehow find time to put in the time to finish at least a few pages every day.  It's not easy channeling any energy you have left into your novel after an 18-hour workday.  It's not easy after eight hours in a cushy office.  But if you force yourself into the habit of writing, especially when you are the busiest, you'll find it easier to write.  In fact, I'd wager you'll find yourself looking forward to writing, because it becomes an escape from the busyness of your hectic schedule.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Note Regarding Vanity and Subsidy Publishers

I can't count the number of times I've been asked if it wouldn't be easier simply to publish my own work.  Whenever I tell people I write novels, that's often one of the first responses.  It's a natural one, but my answer is always the same.  Not in a million years!

But why wouldn't I consider it?  Why would I choose to struggle through endless stacks of rejection letters in the hopes I will get picked up by a major publishing house someday?  That sounds less like the "Great American Dream" and more like a pipe dream.

There are several reasons why I don't, and why I would strongly caution other budding authors from doing it.  To understand why I and many others feel this way, we need to look at the logistics behind self-publishing, better known in the forms of vanity publishing and subsidy publishing.

Vanity publishing is essentially where you take your finished manuscript to them, pay them up front for all printing, binding and associated costs and they print your book.  They do not provide editing, proofreading or any other such services.  They will take any kind or quality of manuscript, which makes them a somewhat attractive option for the disillusioned author who can't stomach the thought of another rejection letter.

Subsidy publishing is similar, but differs somewhat in that they allocate some of the money paid by the perspective author toward editing, distribution and marketing costs.  This makes them more selective, but the author receives at least basic typographical editing.

There are several other forms of this sort of thing, including conglomerates types.  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website has an excellent read on the subject, with definitions of each type of publishing.  It's one of their "Writer Beware" topics, which is an excellent set of articles and advice for authors.

There is a ton of advice out there about these sort of publishers.  Many times the authors are quite scathing in their reviews, such as this author.  And this author.  I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point.  This isn't to say that an author is automatically doomed by publishing this way.  The Wall Street Journal had a more upbeat look at where this industry is headed, especially as more and more publishing melds with the virtual world.  There were several success stories there.  It can happen.  But it's rare.  For every very talented author that just got tired of trying too soon, there are countless hacks and really talentless writers for whom this type of publishing is simply the only option they're ever going to have.

They don't call it vanity publishing for nothing.  The entire industry feeds off authors' desires of getting their stories out there.  It feeds off their vanity, so to speak.  After all, it's not their fault those stupid agents and publishers just can't see how tremendously awesome their novel is.

But it is their fault.  It's entirely their fault.  If they would have written it better, edited it until their fingers bled, and taken the time to write queries and synopses that enticed those agents and publishers to read the manuscript, it would have gotten picked up.  Those that do this get the book deals.

And that is precisely why I slog away at query after query, honing my work and editing out all the fluff and unnecessary crap, and why I'll continue to do so until I break through.  My first two novels will probably never get published.  At least not without almost completely rewriting them, they won't.  They're just not the quality they need to be.  I have come to terms with the fact that they were a really fun way to practice for the real thing and that is reward enough.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Query Writing Help from the Query Shark

For aspiring authors who are looking for an agent or publisher, things can be tough.  Your odds of landing one or the other are something close to two percent, and that is if you've got your act together.  Most agents and publishers are very particular about query letters, and sad to say, most query letters are discarded with hardly a second glance.  They never even make to cut to real consideration because they're not written well enough to get the reader to want to read more of the novel.

And why should they read more?  If your query doesn't instantly grab their attention, they realize your writing probably won't either.  And that's a bad thing.  That is the kiss of death for a debut author.  Authors already have enough going against them.  They certainly don't need to compound it with a bad query.

There are a few agents out there that provide some help in this area.  One of the very best in my opinion is the Query Shark.  Literary agent Janet Reid, from FinePrint Literary Management, provides an outstanding blog critiquing queries sent in by aspiring writers.  I've also linked to the blog under Publishing Resources, because I think it is that valuable to a new writer.  I highly recommend if you're serious about sending out queries on your work, you read her blog.  In its entirety.  Several times.  It's invaluable advice to writers trying to become published authors.

Welcome to the Blog!

This is a new endeavor.  It's one I hope will be not only successful, but helpful to the reader.  My goals are simple.  I want to turn this site into a one-stop shopping site for anything and everything involving the world of writing.  From making writing simpler, to providing tips to improve your writing, to offering links to other sites I've found helpful myself.

I've started some link sections along the right margins of the blog.  I'll update these as regularly as I can to provide links to other places on the Internet that can provide valuable information regarding each topic.  Topics I'll start out with include Writing Resources, Editing Resources, Agent Resources, Publishing Resources, Conferences, Contests, and Education.  I welcome any comments or requests for further resources.

Again, welcome, and let's see where this thing takes us!

Jonathan Dalar