Friday, November 29, 2013

Aspiring Authors, Come on Down!

I'm a fan of The Price is Right game show. Have been since childhood. For those not familiar with the program, to paraphrase Wikipedia:  "a few contestants are selected from a large audience to compete to win prizes and a chance to spin the wheel for the big showcase prizes".
It's a silly show, but fun to watch, and in my opinion a good analogy of a writer's path toward traditional publication.
THE NUMBER OF POTENTIAL CONTESTANTS IS LARGE. There are many aspiring authors all hoping to hear …
COME ON DOWN! An agent offers them representation and the possibility to …
GET ON STAGE. Most publishers only accept submissions by agents, which give their writers a chance to …
SPIN THE WHEEL. Not all books are best-sellers, but a few will win the BIG prizes.
Both The Price is Right and becoming a traditionally published writer require a healthy dose of luck. However, unlike the pure chance of game shows, there are steps authors can take to improve their odds of winning at the writing game. 

Publishing is crowded with aspiring authors, but not all of them will finish writing their books. Even fewer will endure the rigors of the submission process. Make sure you're the one who doesn't give up.

Before submitting, polish your book until it is the best it can be. Workshop it. Edit it. Workshop it again. Edit it some more. And definitely don't send the first query letter you write. Make that as perfect as possible too.

Understand how the industry works. Sure, it's a confusing business, but the more you know about it, the better you'll be able to overcome its many hurdles.
Since there is no magic wand, the best route to success is old-fashioned hard word. Use social media. Make yourself accessible to book clubs. Build your brand name to help potential readers find your books. Word of mouth is still the most reliable path to the best-sellers list.  
Spay or Neuter Your Pets
The Price is Right might offer its contestants a chance to win new cars, exotic trips, or lots of money, but writing gives each of us even more: The opportunity to connect with readers and to have an impact on their lives.
That's a prize any of us should be proud to earn. (Of course, a six-figure advance that buys a new car or a vacation would also be great.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

So, You Want to be a Writer

Occasionally at DFWWW, we'll get a visitor
who says "I have a great book idea that will be 
a guaranteed bestseller. I just need someone to
write the manuscript for me. I'll share 20%
of the profits." They often leave offended
that no one accepts their offer.
These days it appears that everyone wants to be a writer. Folks at Starbucks, or at work, or at the library, or etc. have an idea for a book. And not just any book, but one they are convinced will transform them into a fabulously rich, literary star. However, very few of these people will ever go from BIG IDEA to completed manuscript.

Because writing is hard work and there's no magic formula. If there were, someone would have marketed Guaranteed-Bestseller-in-a-Box by now. Since that hasn't happened, aspiring authors often question what it takes to succeed in this fickle business. I've been blessed to have several friends who have traditionally published. Each of their success stories share similar traits.   


More than talent or creativity, writing takes discipline. Following the ABCD rule (Apply Butt to Chair Dang it), day-after-day, week-after-week, year-after-year and putting words on paper is a necessity.

A Thick Skin

Successful writers have a hide as tough as a rhinoceros (maybe tougher). A writer who can’t accept criticism won’t get very far. Successful writers actively seek feedback and learn from it. They know that a harsh critique often improves the final work.


If a writer writes a book, but nobody ever reads it (because the writer never submits it) is the writer really a writer? Debatable. Every successful writer had to put his/her stuff out there for the world to love/hate/shred/read. 


Successful writers never give up, no matter how often they are rejected. They know that for every one positive comment, there will be a thousand naysayers. How do successful writers handle rejection? They write another book. 

So, Do You Still Want to be a Writer?

By now, it should be apparent that becoming a writer is indeed hard work. No matter if your goal is to traditionally publish, or go the self-pub route, it still takes all of the above and more, such as old-fashioned luck.

However, since luck can't be taught it's better to focus on the traits we aspiring writers can influence.
·         Each of us can improve our discipline and write more often.

·         We can develop a thick, critique-resistant skin by participating in writers' groups.

·         Risk-taking should become second nature as we submit our work until it sells.  

·         We can improve our stick-to-itiveness by …well … sticking-to-it.

How well do I do these? Hmmmm ...
      ·         My discipline varies depending on my mood. Lately, I've been very lazy.  

·         I do have a thick skin, but occasionally critiques still hurt. 

·       Once I'm satisfied with a story, I will submit it until I place it somewhere. I'll give myself a 'pass' on this one.   

·        Stick-to-itiveness has always been a battle for me. I've almost given up so many times, I've lost count of them. But then, I convince myself to try again.   
What about you? How well do you handle any of the above?    

Friday, November 15, 2013

You Can't Understand a Literary Agent Until You Read a Slush Pile

I've become a fan of Chuck Sambuchino's blog. As I followed some links, I stumbled across this post at a different blog. It inspired me to try to put myself into the mind of a literary agent (or more accurately, a slush reader at an agency).
  • I visited a bookstore and selected 10 random SF&F novels.
  • I did not glance at the covers.
  • I did not read the blurbs.
  • I just grabbed them at random as if they had appeared as queries.
  • I read only the first chapters.
I'm not naming-names, or listing the titles, because it's not my intention to criticize any author. I seek to learn, and here's what I discovered:  
Four of the books started with a prologue. One was a page and a half long. Another was 30-pages long. The others somewhere in between. None intrigued me enough to keep reading. Writers often hear that prologues are unnecessary. This experience proved the validity of that statement to me.  
Weak Verbs
How many times can 'was' be crammed into a paragraph? I swear one author tried for the Guinness World Record. I didn't make it past the first page before I put the novel down in disgust.
Too Much Description
It's true that opening a story with a description of the weather / a place / a town / etc. is not the best way to start a novel. Two of the books opened this way. In one case, I made it through three pages before I abandoned the book. In another, five pages.
Interior Monologue
If humankind ever develops the ability to read the minds of others, I believe we'll find it to be a boring experience. Most people's thoughts (mine included) are redundant and dull. Opening a novel locked inside the head of a single character is like trapping the reader in purgatory. Seven of the ten books opened with lengthy (i.e. boring) interior monologues. 
Characters that interact and talk to one another really do move a story forward. Only one of the books opened with multiple characters and dialogue. The quick flow of the story made for an enjoyable read.
Most of the books went into the discard pile. They interested me so little I had to force myself to return them to the shelves. Now, I understand why some agents don't respond to queries. Their time can be better spent searching for that one, elusive book that does appeal to them.

Did any of the books appeal to me? Yep. The one that held my interest. The same criteria every agent / editor / reader employs. That author earned the cash I spent to buy the book.

What encourages you to buy books?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why I Don't Consider my Writing to be Dystopian (but it's not a future I'd want to live in either)

The last few weeks at DFWWW I've read my SF novelette "Pour Your Memories Down on Me". Last night, one of the critiquers called it 'dystopian' and that stuck in my craw.

Why? Not because I don't enjoy dystopian stories. I do. In fact, they are a particular fav of mine. I admired tales such as The Postman (the movie, didn't care as much for the book) long before The Hunger Games introduced the genre to a much wider audience.
What bothers me is that any SF story that presents a less than ideal future is called dystopian. I disagree with this association. Yes, it would be wonderful if humankind
·         Harnessed a new power source that freed us from fossil fuels

·         Solved world hunger/poverty/class issues/etc/etc

·         Had a forwarding address out among the stars

This image does not totally support the views expressed
in my post, but the artwork was too poignant not to use.
Until (if) these things happen, I believe SF stories can be told that extrapolate from today's world, without those stories being dystopian. The primary reason the dystopian tag troubles me is because it implies the world we inhabit today is a utopia. I would counter that if we could talk to visionaries from the Golden Era of SF, they might consider 2014 (and many years prior to that date) to be dystopian:

·       Rather than freeing man to live a life of leisure, industrial robots (& not even cool-looking ones) have replaced many human workers increasing unemployment and poverty (I'm confident that's not how Isaac Asimov envisioned the future). 

·       Drones kill innocents, the NSA spies on people worldwide, and governments control more of the average person's life (Robert A Heinlein and his libertarian ideals must be spinning in their respective graves).

·       Dwindling resources, growing populations, and devastating pollution (lots of Golden Era SF writers got these right).

I, too, want flying cars, jet packs, 20-hour workweeks (with 40-hours of pay), food in a pill form - basically, The Jetson's-lifestyle. Until (if) we achieve these things, I feel a darker future is not so much dystopian as it is a reflection of the world we already inhabit.

Okay, I've had my say. Any folks who disagree and want to bash my take on the subject are welcome to do so now. Hell, I even encourage your good, bad & ugly comments. It'll let me know there are other thinkers out there.    

Friday, November 1, 2013

What Exactly is a Novelette?

One of my current WIP is an SF novelette. I completed the novelette while world building my quasi-steampunk novel. Now that I'm 50+ pages into the novel (yeah!), I feel the novelette has fermented long enough and is ready to be critiqued at DFWWW. Last Wednesday, before I read three scenes, I opened by saying "This is a SF novelette". Another author asked the question I had anticipated.
"What's a novelette?"
I knew this would eventually come up, because as I was writing the story (and the word count exceeded 10,000 - a rare occurrence for brevity-fiend like me) I, too, had wondered exactly what I was writing. I did some research.
Word Count
1 - 500
I've seen several short story markets define it as such. 
500 - 1500
Again, standard in short story markets
1500 - 7500
Short Story
The Hugo Awards (actually, their definition says 'works of fiction of fewer than 7,500 words')
7500 - 17,500
Again, the Hugo's and this time its an accurate word account (per "Hugo Award for Best Novelette" Wikipedia article)
17,500 - 40,000
Wikipedia again, only the article is titled "Hugo Award for Best Novella" 
Hell, we all know this, don't we? 

Be it a novelette or novella, they are danged difficult to sell. Currently, my story is just under 15,000-words. I'll submit it to Writers of the Future (they accept up to 17,000-words). Beyond that, there are only about three additional markets, which will consider such a long story. I'll submit to each of them. If none bite, I'll consider self-publication. (I hear novellas are very popular as e-books.)
For now, I'll focus on hitting the 90,000-word mark for the quasi-steampunk novel. Reaching that goal will be a huge accomplishment for me. I've lived in the realm of short stories for so long, I'm accustomed to tight word counts. Any story over 5000-words scares me.
Any other short story writers making the switch to novels for Nanowrimo?