Thursday, May 28, 2009

What People Will Say on the Internet

Trolling blogs in the last few weeks I have been shocked by some of the posts.

Most of the blogs I follow these days are agent/editor blogs run by people in the industry of publishing. I'm interested in how the business works and whatever free insight I might gain from these folks who spend part of their business day sharing information with people who know little to nothing.

I'm not so very naive as to think there's nothing in it for them. Every aspiring author with any initiative is likely to stumble onto an agent blog that offers advice on how, when, and whom to query. And guess who they'll query first? The people they feel they have some connection with through a blog. Good agent bloggers are likely to get first shot at new, fresh authors just coming up. A blessing and a curse, I'm sure.

Nonetheless, other agents who DON'T blog are likely reading these posts as well. And editors and publishers. A few people post anonymously but many use something resembling a real name. The ones using their real names are most likely doing so in the hope that their name will be recognized when they send queries. The things they post, however, are equally memorable. If I were an agent I would remember particularly vitriolic observations about how agents, publishers, and the entire industry in general are abusing writers in every way and publish nothing but tripe designed to sell to the lowest common denominator. I might even remember the name of the poster if it were frequent or harsh enough.

At any rate, the authors of these blogs don't get paid any extra for their time, insight, or the questions they answer. And some of the questions seem way out of line. For example, if an agent offers free advice on how to evaluate a new agent and whether or not to consider signing with them, it seems over the top to ask the blogging agent for a list of new agents who might be good. You are essentially asking them to send you to their direct competition. I've been in sales for a long time. I never minded questions about my competitors and always did my best to answer honestly but it flew all over me if a customer asked me to recommend one. I would always direct them to the internet. I never felt obligated to make it easier for them to take their business elsewhere.

Some of the comments are just plain mean. They attack others who post on the blog with aspersions on their intellect, understanding of the industry, intentions, and personal preferences. I don't like mean people. They make me mad. And then there are the ones who get upset over things like a daily blog posting late. Seriously? Someone who is doing something not in their job description that makes my effort to learn about the industry easier posts their daily blog an hour or so later than usual and they get complaints? Because it's inconvenient to the work schedule of a blog follower?

Mostly these people are friendly, curious, and willing to learn or share what they know. But a few of them are way more unhinged than I am. I can't imagine they are serious about getting published. But if they are, karma is a bitch. And the internet is forever...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


There seem to be lots of traps out there for aspiring authors. I'm falling into them with alarming frequency. I will enumerate them to the best of my ability here.

Trap #1: Researching the publishing industry turns into a monster time suck because of all the great blogs. These are writers, agents, and publishers. They are literary. They can turn a phrase pretty damn well. And they're often funny, which is like catnip for me.

Trap #2: Reading all these blogs with advice for aspiring authors makes the whole thing seem hopeless. Lists of reasons queries get rejected, manuscripts get rejected, common mistakes new authors make, how important it is to polish your MS but DON'T LOSE YOUR VOICE! So it has to be highly standardized so it won't stand out but it had better stand out. This sends me combing through the MS in a panic looking for all the things they say you can't do if you want to get published. I would rather go through sorority rush at Ole Miss with a great big zit and fake leather shoes than query.

"Do I have too many dialogue tags?" she said, worry clouding her expression.

Trap #3: I've read published books that sell well that I don't think are as good as my book.

Of course I have. I made up my book. I got to put in all the stuff I like and leave out the stuff I hate. If I can't develop my own fantasy world to my liking then I have a real problem. It's like having imaginary friends who won't play with you.

Trap #4: All the people that post on blogs sound really serious about what they're writing. Maybe they are way better than me. But the really serious ones hate the books that sell well. (Except Stephen King. He seems to be the only best seller who is sacred to aspiring authors. They will eviscerate anyone else. I hope people one day hate me as much as they hate Stephenie Meyer. If people hate me that much then I can buy an island or something.)

Trap #5: I might as well give up now because I live smack in the middle of nowhere and have two small kids. Writer's conferences are not an option. I don't have a website for my book (and won't in the near future), have no idea how to go about creating a book trailer (I know. A trailer for a book. Who knew?), I'm not a viral internet marketing buzz genius, and I have no desire to Tweet. I'll never make it.

Trap #6: Walk around in circles worrying about Traps 1-5 while I should be editing my manuscript.

I guess the thing that has me the most freaked out is the element of luck in the industry. I am the unluckiest person you will ever meet. I don't gamble because I know with absolute certainty that I just gave the dealer five dollars. I won't win it back. I am Murphy's Law incarnate. It seems so futile to send out queries when I know that luck plays a part.

On the other hand, maybe I'm way overdue for some good luck.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Another aspiring author who's doing what I'm doing...blogging his "newbie" experience, just wrote a post about editing and how much he hates it. I was very relieved to find this is not unique to me. Two words:

It sucks.

But why? For me, it's a couple of reasons. I made a couple of major no-no mistakes in my original draft. A lot of my book takes place in my main character's head so there were large chunks of story exposition with no action or dialogue. I'm fine with that as a reader but agents hate it. Because editors hate it. Since it's their job to know what readers like I'm guessing other readers hate it. So there were sections of my book I really liked that had to be complete do-overs. There's also the tricky "If it doesn't forward the plot, cut it" rule. That one is tough because sometimes there is a detail or conversation that develops a character or relationship with no direct bearing on the plot. Judgment call. The other thing I realized about my style is that I have an obsession with semi-colons and extraneous modifiers. I spent one very boring day using the search function of my word processing program. Once I removed the words "actually" and "a little" (I allowed two instances each to stay but everything else had to go) the manuscript was TWO PAGES shorter. Two single space pages. Two whole pages of useless words. The semi-colons had to be found the old-fashioned way. I re-read the whole thing, breaking almost every sentence with a semi-colon into two shorter sentences.

Editing takes a lot longer than writing and it isn't especially creative. The part about writing the book was fun. (I'm fighting the urge to insert a semi-colon here.) The story was burning me up and I couldn't wait to get the next part down. I couldn't write it as fast as it was coming into my head. And the coolest thing was that sometimes the characters wouldn't do or say the things I thought they would. They really were getting their own personalities. It's like having your very own socially acceptable multiple personality disorder. Once the story was down, though, I was ready to see what they would do next. As in next book. They were still talking in my head all the time and doing their own things. But book one isn't ready for prime time yet so editing must happen despite the yen to get back to the fun part. I've indulged in about 150 pages of fun part while I was supposed to be editing...I can't help it. Plus another almost whole book completely unconnected with the first one. That book was fun but total crap. I'll keep it for me but otherwise it will never see the light of day.

So now I'm panicking about getting book one cleaned up enough for its virgin voyage into queryland. I need about a week locked in the basement to devote solely to editing and a magic pill to instill discipline. Since I won't get a week in the basement I'll just have to work on the discipline thing. Damn.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I don't know if it is universal among artists but jealousy among writers seems rampant. And it does seem worse than in other industries.

Aspiring authors rip commercially successful books at every opportunity. These books can't all suck that much. If you see a bestselling title mentioned on an agent blog, however, there will be a frenzy of messages attacking the book for everything from originality to writing style. The only thing I can think of is that unpublished authors assume that discrediting "great" books will make their book seem more appealing. "If a book like that can get published and sell then can you imagine what a really GOOD book, like the one I wrote, could do?"

I'm not a singer or a composer or a painter but I don't get the sense that artists in those fields are so vicious. Musicians routinely recognize others with skill, even the ability to just write a really good pop song. I don't hear painters or sculptors (and I have friends in both areas) slamming others in their field who manage to eke out a living as a successful artist. I guess in that community it would sound something like this: "Oh, yeah. She's alright. She sells a bunch of stuff to hotels. You know, nothing challenging."

So what is it about writing? Just in my own little bitty anecdotal evidence of an experience the "pickiest" feedback comes from people who write. Not so much stuff I can use, like is the pace okay? Is there enough tension? Too much of this, not enough of that? What phrases do I repeat too much? If you bought this book would you be sorry you spent the money? Would you buy the sequel? Most of the suggestions would change my book to more closely match what that writer would have written if it were their book. And no, I'm not talking about any of you.

On one agent blog he posted an "Agent For A Day" contest where anyone who wanted to participate evaluated 50 query letters and selected the five they would pick to represent. Three were query letters that went on to be published, including one NY Times bestselling title. None of those three made it into the top tier of queries the writers participating would have selected. Hmmm. Maybe writers aren't really the best qualified to evaluate what readers would buy. At least not unpublished writers ;)

At any rate, I published a review on Amazon for the first time ever this weekend. I liked the book but I had a couple of minor quibbles and thought on the whole it might have been better. A sequel is coming out next year and I speculated in my review that the sequel would be better, since the one I read was the first in a series and by the end of the book it was starting to rock. Setting up a story big enough to take up several books is pretty hard to do and that's what this felt like, mostly setup. Anyway, the author's husband read my review and responded. He was really cool about it although I got the impression he was disappointed that I didn't have better things to say. So of course then I felt bad and offered to pull the review (which was overall positive). He said no, it was totally fair and not to worry about it. Since the book is selling like hotcakes I'm pretty sure they don't really care what I think.

The only two negative reviews, though, read like they had been written by embittered authors. One accused the writer of plagairism and the other didn't even review the book, just said that the author was only published because of who she knows. That DID bother her husband. As well as the fact that people they considered friends a few weeks ago are not friendly to them anymore. Other authors she's been friends with for years. How sad.

Why do we support each other until one of us gets what we all want? It's crazy. There isn't a limit on success. If you succeed that doesn't mean I will fail. And if I do, it doesn't mean it's because you were successful first. Sure, I might be a little jealous. But that doesn't make me not want you to get what you want. I just wish I had it, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Okay, so I wrote a book. I won't tell most of the people I know about it because, well, they might think that I think that makes me a writer. (Spoken in mysterious tone that self-identified writers use with pride and everyone else with skeptical humor.) My mom doesn't know. She might want to read it.

The trouble is, I like the book I wrote. I like it a lot. I don't think it's great literature or anything, but if someone else wrote it and I read it I would buy another one about the same characters or by the same author. I've passed various transmogrifications of it to enough people that the feedback makes me think I am not actually crazy. Other people might like it, too. In fact, other people do like it, and not just my best friend or my husband. Plus, they all think it would appeal to the same kind of reader I think would like it. They tell me this without me asking them, "Do you think Twilight readers would like this book? Despite the fact that there is not one damn vampire in it? Or werewolf, or any other creature of classic horror lore?" So far, my instincts aren't too far out in left field.

So what do I do next? The feedback I've gotten tells me that that the story needs fleshing out in one area in particular. Everyone has said basic versions of the same thing on what they like and what they want more of. So I added more of the "I'd like to see more of this..." and people like it better. Moving in the right direction.

This was the most fun thing I have ever done in my life. I have been the happiest, the most fulfilled, writing this book and starting the next one. Do I really want to wreck it by opening myself up to the brutal rejection of trying to get published? Everyone who writes a book thinks their book is good and other people would want to read it. We can't all be right. We can't all be writers.

I decided I would just putz around online and see what's involved. Crikey. A month later I found myself so paralyzed with fear I was ready to trash the entire harebrained scheme. I am definitely not a writer. Who knew that if you "tell me, don't show me" in the story that agents and editors will summarily reject you? Everything has to be somehow worked into action or dialogue? Seriously? But as I started thinking about it I found that maybe that would work. Chapter One is now on its fifth version. Oddly enough, it is way better than the first version. They might be on to something with that "show me, don't tell me" business.

Query letters. Oh. My. Gosh. I have to get someone to foam at the mouth over a debut novel by an unknown in 350 words or less. They won't care that I lived in Argentina since my story is set in South Carolina. Or that I had research experience funded by the National Science Foundation when I was just in college since the book has nothing to do with science. Or that I ran my own business for five years since the main character is in high school. All things that have fit neatly and impressively in cover letters for other jobs I applied for. I am completely unimpressive. My only option is to communicate the hook and "tone" of my book in one to two paragraphs. I was not a marketing major. This is not my forte.

It's much easier to read agent blogs and scheme than take action. Maybe I'll just do that for a while. It's more fun than editing, at any rate. The more I read the blogs the more I see just how ridiculous it is to think I might be one of the select few to get lifted from the slums into the elysian fields of published. Or even just agented. But I notice a trend among the blog followers. Most of them are unpublished, too. And a lot are kind of whiny about it. The prevailing theory common to unpublished authors is that agents suck and don't want anything that's new, untested, or challenging. They want cookie cutter books that will sell well to the unwashed masses. I conclude two things from this. One, people would rather blame someone else and then spend all their time yelling at the object of their frustration instead of getting better. (Reading and posting on blogs takes up an awful lot of time. If we were all offline and working on our books our lot might improve.) The other is that if they think so little of the reading public, people who actually spend money and buy books, they probably aren't writing books that the reading public wants to read. So maybe the agents are right. Maybe their books aren't really all that sellable. Maybe mine is. It might not be smarter than theirs, or as challenging, or high art, but at the end of the day I bet people might buy it. Maybe I will submit to a few agents. What's the worst that could happen?