Posts Tagged ‘publishers’


During the first quarter of a book’s release, it stands to reason that family and friends will account for the majority of sales. Knowing that my loved ones had already procured their copies of Beautiful Monster, I’ve been especially eager ~ and a little nervous ~ about this quarter’s statistics since I figured it would more accurately reveal how interested the general public really is.

Well, tonight, I received that long-awaited December 1st through February 28th royalty report from my publisher… and I couldn’t be happier. Beautiful Monster has more than doubled its sales since last quarter 🙂

Between book signings, interviews, social media sites, and various other activities, we do a lot to market our books, but whether or not they succeed is ultimately up to the readers. I realize book sales wax and wane ~ and I’m told they drop significantly during summer months when people are outdoors doing more active things ~ but while the going’s good, I can’t help but be a little excited. So thank you to all the readers. The road to publication is a tough one, but you’ve all made it worth it. And thank you to Damnation Books, for giving me the chance.

I haven’t had much time to blog these past weeks ~ I think this is only my second post this month ~ but be sure to come back in a few days for another installment of “Serial Chat” with horror novelist Tamara Thorne, where we will be discussing the rituals of writing…

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If I’ve learned anything (the hard way) in my life thus far, its that nature must run it’s course, and that the final results of my efforts are largely beyond my control. This is an intimidating concept, but I’ve come to slowly accept that for me to have any peace, I need to distinguish where the border lies which separates what I have control over, and what I don’t. From there, I can only work on those things that are within my bounds… and leave those things outside of them for the universe to manage.

I realize that from a social standpoint, this is a very counter-intuitive stance. We live in a world that tells us from a very young age that we have absolute control over the outcome of our lives… and while that is true for the most part, no one seems to tell us where our limits for control end, or the truth about the harrowing agonies of trying to control something (or someone) that can not or will not be controlled.  Nature will run its course, with or without my consent. This has been my constant experience and has therefore become one of my immutable truths ~ and my writing is probably the most difficult facet of my life I’ve had to apply it to. Like a parent sending a child into the world, as a writer, I have to learn to accept that I’ve done what I could and the rest isn’t up to me.

At this time last year, my manuscript The White Room was in New York being considered by an agent I met at a conference in Salt Lake City. In April, after five nail-biting months, I heard from her ~ and was given an impersonal rejection with no usable feedback. I was disappointed and I felt a little cheated… but I didn’t go into this business with the naiveté I’ve witnessed in many other young writers. I didn’t expect this to be easy, so ultimately, I licked my wounds and moved ahead, querying other agencies. But for those five long months… my life was at a complete standstill. And sadly, this was entirely due to some very erroneous thinking on my part.

Because this faulty thinking has made me wiser, I have nothing to be bitter about, and I have no regrets. However, there are some very heartbreaking pitfalls that, if at all possible, I would like to help any other writers to avoid. Below, I’ve listed some of my own intellectual glitches in hopes that I can not only offer such help, but to remind myself not to fall into the same traps in the future.

Pitfall #1 ~ I dedicated myself and managed to complete an entire 90,000 word manuscript! The hard part is done!

Oh, if only this were true. The fact is, you are one of hundreds of folks who’ve just finished their novels, too. Now it’s time to get in line (no cutting!) and wait your turn. Writing the book, as my mentor so truthfully put it, is the easy part. The hard part comes after “The End.”

Pitfall #2 ~ An agent asked to see my entire manuscript! I just hit a home run!

While having an agent or publisher ask to see your manuscript in its entirety is an exciting thing to be proud of, it doesn’t mean they’re going to take you on. Anything from too many grammatical errors, to a slight shift in the market, to a poorly written character, to a change in the wind pattern can inspire them to decline. Sometimes, you’ve got a great concept but need help executing it. Sometimes, as wonderful as you are with words, your concept just isn’t cutting-edge enough to make a splash… and sometimes, an agent really believes in your talent, but doesn’t have the capability of taking you on right now.

Pitfall #3 ~ I followed all the rules and still got rejected. Clearly, the rules don’t matter! Writing is art, and art is subjective… so obviously, I don’t really need to waste my time with the rules of good storytelling, proper grammar, character development and plot consistency.

Yes, writing is art, and yes art is subjective. But books are products and products are non-existent without consumers. And in order to obtain consumers, products need to appeal. As soon as your manuscript leaves your hands, it’s no longer about art. It’s about business. When handing a person your book, you are asking a person to spend hours and hours of their time on you. That’s a committment that deserves some serious consideration for the reader.

 Pitfall #4 ~ Agents and publishers don’t know what they’re talking about. They are mean and greedy people with no appreciation for authors!

This couldn’t be further from the truth… in most cases, at least. Agents are very real people with very heavy responsibilities. If they take your manuscript, convince a publisher to take it and your book bombs in the market, you can always write a different book under a pseudonym. Agents don’t have that same luxury. Likewise, publishers are people too. If they believe in your work enough to risk their reputations for you (and as a new writer, you are a huge risk) and your book goes over in the market like a fly in a cocktail, they lose credibility… and lots of money. In short, Agents and publishers care very much about your work. This is where your control of the situation ends. You have to trust them to be professionals at their jobs. The only control you have over the situation is to be a professional at yours.

Pitfall #5 ~ I will never ever get published!

If you keep getting better, conduct yourself as a professional, don’t bank your entire writing career on one project, and never, ever, ever give up… you will be published. I’ve seen too many success stories to believe otherwise. And this is where the issue of control comes into play again.

As a writer, it’s my job to write as well as I possibly can, continue learning and getting better, and keep submitting my work to publishers and agents. My only business is in the footwork. When I get published isn’t something I can control.  I can’t control the market, I can’t control the book industry, I can’t control the economy, and most of all, I can’t control other people. Agents and publishers, by the way, are other people.

 


It’s been thirteen months since me and my mentor/friend/writing partner Kim Williams-Justesen began writing our collaborative horror novel. Although technically finished several months ago, we are now in the process of revising the final draft. Currently, we’ve been spending anywhere between two and four hours on each chapter and have worked most days of the week. In a novel that contains a total of twenty-four chapters, that’s a lot of hours. (But as I write this, we only have two more chapters to go!)

Although the final round is probably the most arduous part of this process for me, it’s also the most rewarding.  Since writing the words The End, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel front to back, but I’m guessing this must be the fifth or sixth time. Needless to say, I would have expected to be sick and tired of this novel by now. I would have expected that whatever passion I’d begun the novel with would have flickered out and died months ago. Strangely though, that isn’t the case. In fact, as we have labored to tighten and refine the novel, my passion has been not only been reignited, but it has climbed to greater heights than ever. I think it’s because this is where writers get to see their work come together, and can view the novel as a whole rather than in fractions. Also, the final round is your last shot to prevent embarrassing yourself before you place the manuscript in the hands of your trusted Beta Readers~ and these are the reasons why I believe this the most important part of the process.

The final round of revisions is the time to address all of the things that bothered you in the previous readings. This is where you must tackle those irritating little, (and sometimes big) weaknesses you’ve been putting off. This is where you add lines, subtract passages, sprinkle detail, rearrange dialogue, fill  in the plot-holes, fine-tune your characters, slaughter your “sacred cows”, and scrutinize all the text in search of grammatical errors and technical blunders. Kim and I currently live several states away from each other, so for us this requires a lot of sitting in front of the computer Skyping and IMing. Currently, my computer sits on a black ottoman in the middle of my living room where I sit on the floor to work. This has given me leg cramps, back aches, and neck and shoulder pain… not to mention a likely addiction to dramamine, given a ridiculously elevated proneness to motion sickness which I seem to have been born with. But that’s okay. This is where the real magic happens.

I went into the final round of revisions with a very clear, singular goal: to heighten the emotional impact. I decided that if something in the story was supposed to have a creepy effect, I wanted my skin to crawl. If a certain scene was supposed to make me feel sad, I wanted to be on the brink of tears. And if something was meant to be sickening, I wanted to feel the bile rise in my stomach. I decided I wanted to know what each character looks like, how each room smells, and mostly, I wanted to feel what every character was feeling.

As we have yet to be finished with these final edits, I can’t be sure how well we’ve done our jobs, but given my own emotional responses as we’ve fine-tuned the story these past weeks, I’m pretty confident we’re damned close to having what we want. In fact, just earlier today, due to my own mounting nausea, I had to take a breather from a particularly graphic scene and ask Kim to please not expound anymore on the topic. I don’t squirm easily, so to me, that’s a good sign.

As an added plus, the final round can reveal some wonderful new concepts. Today, I think Kim and I stumbled upon our perfect working title. As we were rewriting a scene, Kim wrote this beautiful passage that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and both of us paused a moment, thinking the exact same thing. The project that began as An Evil Heart and soon became Gallery of Dolls, is now about to take a new name entirely: Beautiful Monster. Not that a books title won’t possibly change (or be changed) down the road, but I think it’s important to have a strong title. I liked Gallery of Dolls, but it always sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls (a novel written by Jacqueline Susann in 1966) for my taste. Besides, I think the phrase “Beautiful Monster” in and of itself, is as contrasted as the personalities of our two main characters and therefore a pretty solid title for this book. Plus, to me, Beautiful Monster just kind of pops.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I haven’t been doing much blogging lately due to the demands of Beautiful Monster (I really do dig that title!), so I just wanted to take some time today to keep the connection in tact. Blogging is a bad habit to break!  In the meantime, my third novel is underway (with a much bigger set of balls now), and due to some weaknesses I’m just realizing, I plan to take my first novel, The White Room off the table for a few months to revisit it and give it some upgrades. I predict that in the next five to seven days, Beautiful Monster will be fit to be looked over by some Beta’s and from there, it’s just a matter of fixing any errors they might find, and then sending it out the door to find a home. By this time next year, my goal is to have three (maybe even four!) full-length works circulating throughout the world of agents and publishers… and to be well into the next big literary adventure.


 

Of the various steps a writer should take before handing his or her query letter or manuscript over to an agent or publishing house, probably the most important one is getting raw, honest feedback from a few trusted readers. These lucky folks are called Alpha and Beta readers.

An Alpha (Alpha meaning first) reader is the first person who gets to see your work. This person has the responsibility of stopping you from further embarrassment before anyone else gets to see it. The Alpha reader should therefore, in my opinion, be your strongest critic. This person must be wholly comfortable telling you what sucks about your manuscript and what doesn’t. An education in English and Grammar is also a plus.

In my case, my Alpha reader is Kim William-Justesen, author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey! Ranger series, and co-author of Love and Loathing. Kim acquired her MFA (Masters of Fine Arts in Writing) from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2003. Not to mention, she has been circulating throughout the literary world for a good number of years, so she kind of knows her stuff – and, as it should be, she is probably harder on me than anyone else.

Kim is really the only person who gets to see my work in its most unpolished and unrefined state. However, knowing that she will be reading it, I work hard to keep it clean and neat, and to follow the rules of writing fiction, which automatically puts me in better shape. A typical page that’s been critiqued by Kim usually comes back to me with plenty of issues. Unnecessary words are called into question, 90% of all adverbs are slashed, question marks indicate a characters inconsistent voice or behavior, and of course, misspellings, grammar issues, and improper English is marked. Not to leave out issues with paragraph breaks, timing, dialogue, too much exposition, tense shifts and logic flaws. The point is, at first sight, the returned pages are often intimidating and discouraging but this is probably the most important part of the process.

After the necessary changes are made, my wife Heather is next in line. Heather isn’t really an Alpha or a Beta reader really, but (even though I am her husband), she is honest with me. Heather has a keen eye for small details that often get overlooked by me (little things like a murder scene in which the victim falls the opposite direction he should have after having been struck by a pissed she-vampire!) This is Heather’s strength and it has come in handy many times.

After Heather, my manuscripts go to a few trusted friends. Some of them are writers and some of them are not… but all of them are avid readers who know why something does or doesn’t work. These are my Beta readers.

Beta readers are, in some ways, the most important of all, because they are not looking for grammar and spelling issues. They are literally sitting down with your book and reading it front to back, and giving an opinion of the overall feel of the story. And it’s amazing sometimes what a Beta reader might catch. For example, it was my sister who caught a major discrepancy in time while reading The White Room. Speaking of sisters, family will often want to read your work, and that is good. But keep in mind that often times, they are not going to be as forthright with you as someone who is unrelated to you. That being said, I have received quite a lot of good feedback from family and close friends. Still, for purposes of critique, I rely more heavily on people who didn’t change my diapers and see me through that nasty adolescent stage!

Having Beta readers is fun too, because you get to revisit your story with a new eyes, so to speak. Right now, my friends Tom and Sherrie are in possession of The White Room. Tom is freaking out about the spider in Gretchen’s hair (a scene I’d pretty much forgotten about) and I am cracking up because I can’t wait to see how he acts when he gets to the other spider scene (insert evil laugh here).

After a manuscript has been through several hands, professional and unprofessional alike, a writer can now submit his or her manuscript to an agent, editor, or publisher without fear of being rejected due to sloppy errors and lazy plot holes. Now, when you receive your rejection letter (and you will), you will have the confidence to continue submitting, knowing that no matter what anyone else says, your story is a good, strong one… and one day, the right person will see that.


     

     Me and my friends’ Kim (Williams-Justesen) and Joe (Ostler) talked about forming our own critique group for many months before we ever got together and actually did it. The trouble was that the project Kim and I were collaborating on was very high in gore and horror, and I, being the nice guy I am, didn’t feel comfortable corrupting poor Joe by subjecting him to the nastiness and raw morbidity of our story, (little did I realize at the time that Joe has his own unique brand of deviance ~ but hey, I was trying to be nice!) Just kidding, Joe. 😉

So, as Kim and I wrapped up An Evil Heart, we both began new (and far tamer)  projects which we used in our critique group of three. The interesting thing about our group is that I write Horror/Supernatural, Kim writes for Middle Grade and Young Adult, and Joe writes Sci-Fi/High Fantasy, so the contrast of our styles creates a fun dynamic. The three of us were only able to meet twice though. I am leaving the state in two days from now, but we plan to continue the group through Instant Messenger and e-mail, but already, in the short time I have been a participant of a critique group, I have learned a good deal.

A critique group is an assembly of writers who’ve come together for the purpose of gaining insight and feedback from other writers, and no matter how good a writer you may be, there can be no arguing the benefits of being part of one. Critique groups may be as large or small as the group desires. They may be done face to face, over the phone, or online.

The beauty of the critique group is that however polished a writer may be, he or she will undoubtedly overlook some necessary detail at some point in his or her story. The other member’s of the group will hopefully be able to see these snags and help the writer smooth them over. Editors, agents and publishers don’t want raw and sloppy rough drafts. They want polished, revised material that has been read and critiqued, preferably a few times over. A critique group can help a writer be sure that the material he or she sends to an agent or editor is clean, concise, and professional.

     There are however, those groups of writers who do not have their fellows’ best interests at heart. I’ve heard many horror stories about really nasty critique groups whose members were apparently more interested in stroking their own egos than becoming better writers. These kinds of folks undoubtedly run rampant in writing communities worldwide. These kinds of writers aren’t hard to spot and should be avoided at all times. When someone works up the courage to allow his or her work to be viewed by others, I think we need to respect the vulnerability of the writer. That’s not to say that honesty isn’t imperative, it absolutely is, but honesty in and of itself does not need to be cruel. Writer’s are up against enough rejection and damage without having his or her peers standing in line to take turns crushing him or her. Critique groups should be constructive and supportive, and if they aren’t, find a new one. End of story.

Critique groups are as good (or bad) as the members make them, and I am grateful to have a pretty good, albeit very small, group of trusted writers to share my work with. It’s a disconcerting and unfortunately very necessary thing to lay your heart out and ask to be critiqued. To find just a handful of people who I feel comfortable asking feedback from is a wonderful thing.

     The world in general loves to give its opinion and whether you ask for it or not, you are going to get it. The trouble is, you have to be very careful who you listen to. The way I see it, you can divide the world’s population into three groups. The first (and probably largest) group, are those who really just don’t much care whether or not you succeed or fail. The second group is what I call the “cockroaches”. These guys will go out of their way to try to sabotage your success and sense of self-confidence. And the third and final group is the group you need to stick with. These are the folks who want to be better people themselves, and who want to help you become a better person.

So if you are thinking of joining or creating  your own critique group, my advice is to be sure you are among good company because, as important as it is to get feedback from other people, it’s even more important that you don’t give up on writing at the hands of someone who took it upon him or herself to let you know how bad you suck. We all suck or have sucked at some time or another. Totally sucking is the first step of good writing, so if you have to suck, why not suck with the best of them? 🙂

Write on.


     In the beginning, I think most writing starts out as a hobby.  Some folks are content to stay there, while others become interested in pursuing writing on a more professional level.  While both hobbyists and professionals have their places – and both are perfectly respectable, I’ve found that many writers reside somewhere in the middle.  That middle part is where I think one wants to avoid getting caught.  

     When a writer first submerges him or herself into the world of writing, the hobbyists are the first people he or she will most likely meet.  While many established writers look down on the hobbyists, it isn’t fair to dismiss them entirely.  “Laymen” and hobbyists often offer the best advice, as they represent the general audience and offer insights that editors, agents and publishers sometimes can not. 

     There is one potential danger though.  Many hobbyists are very quick to offer advice, which is fine, so long as a new writer realizes that this is coming from someone who doesn’t write professionally.  Many of these people have never dealt with agents, publishers, editors and the like.  Many of them have not acquired the education to offer sound advice.  Also, the rules of writing and the writing business itself is in a constant state of evolution, so someone who dealt with a publisher or acquired an education ten or even five years ago, isn’t really in the loop anymore.    

    If you treat your own writing like a hobby, so will everyone else.  If writing is something you want to do professionally, then you have to be a professional long before you ever make your first dollar.  For me, I have the best of both worlds.  As a hobby, I write poetry, which I post on Facebook and very much enjoy sharing.  Then there are my books, which I agonized over and am far more possessive with.  I don’t want unprofessional advice on my novels.  Of course, I have my select group of trusted readers (some writers, some not) whose advice I ask for and welcome, but I don’t share this work with just anyone.  

    Don’t get me wrong:  I love my poetry as well, and am quite serious about it.  I have written it my entire life and imagine I always will.  But the truth is, there is very little space in the writing business for poetry, so I have never treated it the same as my stories.  I’m not interested in being a professional poet, but for me, it’s wonderful to have the best of both worlds.  I need to keep writing poetry as a hobby because I tend to get very serious about my other writing, and if I get too intense about it, it just stops being fun. 

     There is an entire sea of people out there who write.  This is wonderful, but it’s important to know what kind of writer you are.   If you want to be a professional, you need to act like one.  You must do your homework and keep up on the ever-changing business of writing.  You must always present yourself as a professional, treat agents and publishers as the professionals they are, and follow each agents’ submission guidelines without deviation.  And above all, know whose footsteps you want to follow and be very careful whose advice you take.

     Write on.