Friday, December 14, 2007

Throw A Rock And Hit A Writer...

One of the most startling things tourists from the US find in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv streets while they take a stroll, are the incredible amount of street cats that populate the cities. The city managers have over the course of the years, attempted to bring this blight under control coupled with the ASPCA, but cats are still all over. When my mother, years and years ago used to visit here, she would love to say, "If you throw a rock in Jerusalem, chances are you will either hit a lawyer or a cat." And certainly it is true there are more lawyers here then one knows what to do with, but I think most of us would kind of hope the arc of the rock would miss the cat and let us say, graze the lawyer. A gentle nudge as it were.

Well, things change. The world moves on. Technology has taken over our lives. And so today, the saying should be changed just a wee bit. "If you throw a rock in Jerusalem, chances are you will either hit a writer or a cat."

Everyone I meet these days is a "writer" or an "author". I do not say this with any embedded cynicism by the way. I think self-expression is a very good thing. But recently while I perused the pathways of the Internet, I have come to amend that statement once again.

"If you throw a rock on the Internet, 99% of the time you will hit someone claiming to be a writer. The other 1% of the time your rock will land in a no-man's land."

Recently with a bit of tongue in cheek I talked about the new Internet craze, Facebook. (The Book Will Not Make You Succeed - You Make The Book Succeed). And in truth Facebook is somewhat fascinating, in that gadzillions of people secretly found a way to waste their time by throwing kisses, hugs, booze, cats, balloons, and every object you can possibly think of at each other. They flirt, they take virtual showers together, they talk and they babble. It truly is a fascinating aspect of human culture in our day and age. And every time they do something you get hit with an email!

On Facebook there are groups. Much like the "old technology" of Yahoo groups and Google groups. Anyone, as far as I can tell, can start a group, about any subject under the sun. So of course one should not be surprised that there are quite a few "writing" groups on Facebook as well. Some have already garnered a few thousand members. And what is actually interesting, is that there is no snipping, no foolishness and certainly none of the Absolute idiocy one finds on other writer Absolute writer forum boards these days. Isn't it amazing that when people from all over the world get together, in a decent forum, they can actually deal with the topics at hand?

But back to the point. So these groups allow many of the writers to emerge from the closet as it were. Some of course, make the major boo-boo of posting their work on Facebook itself. Others publish it in their blogs.

But the major lesson is this:

Everyone is becoming an author these days!

To be sure I myself got into trouble when I joined a group whose Administrator had begun it to give some more PR to her own business. I did not realize this at first, however, it is perfectly legitimate to do such things. So when this person started posting about the great possibilities of self-publishing, I posted back a reply not in favor of it. Well I got smacked down! OMG! On Facebook yet! I still cannot figure out if the person is a PR company, or offering her services to be a go-between. One of those people who promises to get you an agent. Is this individual legitimate or just a shell for a scam?

But you know what? Everyone is an author. And no matter how many times we write about scams and such, grown people will often do childish things. Simple as all that. And they are often parted from their hard-earned money.

Back to the point... yet again!

Sites like Facebook (Gather as well) are slowly making inroads into our way of acting, reacting and thinking. It is a very swift exchange of information, and there is certainly an ever-increasing "information overload" going on. The trouble is no one person can cover it all. Trends come and go, but the art of writing certainly is loved and cherished still, if one is to judge by the numbers.

I assume, and this may be a faulty assumption, most of the writing is just for fun though many have professional aspirations. Still if one wants to get a handle on things that interest people today, and write about it, I can think of worse endeavors than to spend a few days looking at Facebook and Gather and studying the actions and reactions of people. You are not going to get famous on Facebook. It wont raise your Google ranking for your name. But it will allow you a peek into the changing world of things.

So when you do your research, go to Gather and Facebook and throw a rock. Make it a light one and don't hurt anyone. But chances are you are going to hit a writer or a would be author. Chances are as well, you will end up wasting an enormous amount of time. But it is better than watching and episode of Law and Order or CSI for the fifth time! And besides, on Facebook if you do publish your latest chapter, you can at least get all your listed friends to read it! Just throw them a hug and a kiss and a balloon!

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Manless In Montclair - The Genre Of Memoirs

It is rare that I will do a book review here at Cobwebs Of The Mind. And in truth the following book review for Manless in Montclair: How a Happily Married Woman Became a Widow Looking for Love in the Wilds of Suburbia is not so much due to the nature of the book but the story behind it. Let me be a bit clearer. Not the story in the book itself, which is basically a fictionalized account of the true story of Author, Amy Holman Edelman. It is due to the way one woman was able to take her own life experience and parlay that into a book which has garnered a great deal of interest.

In 2001, Amy Edelman went out one day, she returned to her home to find out she had become a widow with her husband's sudden death. At that point Amy did not give up on life, which is something very tempting to do. After a few years Amy decided it was time to try and find a relatinship which would lead to marriage. The story of this quest is documented in Manless in Montclair.

What I want to bring to the attention of readers of Cobwebs Of The Mind is the ingenuity and perhaps even gumption of how Amy turned an event into her life into a book, which is actually a memoir but a fictionalized one. The message here is there are stories everywhere, if you are willing to let the world read about your most intimate thoughts. The genre of memoir is usually reserved for the famous and infamous. However, even in this genre, one can turn around and find that specific niche and idea which will enter the market in a positive way. And while I certainly do not wish upon anyone the events which took place in Amy Edelman's life, it is an education for writers who are sifting through ideas and possibilities on what to write and how to write it.

It is true though one must be careful in this genre. You should have a story and a message. Few people want to read a fictionalized account of how wise your grandparents were. To be incredibly crass but completely realistic, tragedy sells, but it has to be written in a way which interests many people, and something the public at large can relate to. And again it is worth repeating, once you decide to go down this path, you must be willing to lay your soul bare and express its pain as well as the joy. If you cannot do this, memoir writing is just not for you.

The following is a review up at Amazon on the book by Jamie Driggers.

When Isabel went out to get her teeth whitened, she didn't know that she would return to a life she couldn't recognize. Husbands shouldn't die unexpectedly, leaving their happily married wives as widows. And young daughters shouldn't request a new daddy for Chanukah. Where is a suburban woman supposed to find love when she thought she was out of the dating pool for good?

Manless in Montclair is a fictionalized account of Amy Holman Edelman's own journey. Sudden widowhood was bad enough, but finding a new daddy for her girls through 21st Century dating had its own challenges. When internet dating, dating services and speed dating didn't work, she tried an email blast offering a free trip to the person who found her next husband.

In a journey back and forth through time, from dating her husband, through their relationship to his sudden death, we get to know what makes Isabel tick. She isn't just another woman desperate for a man; she is a mother desperate to honor her daughter's wishes. You have to laugh at her antics while also feeling sorry for her situation.

I admit that the time travel in the beginning of the book was disconcerting. It took a while before I felt relatively confident about what was going on. It also felt like we spent most of the book in about two weeks worth of time and then went into hyper speed because of the method. Also, East Coasters will probably better relate with this book than Midwesterners as many topics were rather foreign to me (I've been in the burbs my whole life). But overall, it did work, so give her a chance and stay with her.

Manless in Montclair is a witty and heartbreaking story of coping with sudden change.
You can also read an interesting though short interview with the author up at Yahoo News. However this book does on the market, one can only wish Amy Holman Edelman only joy and happiness from now on. And may she and all of you out there who celebrate it have a wonderful Hanukkah - full of light and love and chasing away the darkness.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Book Will Not Make You Succeed - You Make The Book Succeed

Way back on June 22, 2006, I published a piece here at Cobwebs Of The Mind, called, "Viral Technology - An Introduction". This piece was aimed at bloggers and trying to help them understand what in the end causes one site to be successful while another fails. MySpace and more recently, FaceBook, are excellent examples of "viral" technology at work. Especially Facebook, which seems to grow in astronomical terms.

Up until the other day I viewed Facebook as a curiouso. I thought of it as another MySpace only a lot more technologically minded, in that it's structure was open and allowed people to contact others with a unique method of causing everyone to enter the system and spreading the word. Even the Home Page of the user screams "viral system".

I personally used Facebook simply because a good friend asked me to join, and then I could be kept abreast of some parties and events they organize and go to. Most of the time I ignored it. Another click and a massive waste of time. Then one day, my nieces, somehow found me on Facebook and sent me messages. Of course they told me not to hit on any of their friends and to change my picture! But they also told me it is boring because I only have one friend listed!

So my nieces became my friends and then my nephew. I was up to four friends! Now, the original person who instigated my joining Facebook to begin with, started bugging me to "get more friends" as well. Relentless, she was. Drove me bonkers.

So one day I log in, and in a moment of madness, I allow Facebook to read all my Gmail contacts, saying to myself, "o.k. out of all these people in my gmail account maybe one or two will show up". Boy was in for a shock. My friends list went from four to Zoom.

So what does this all have to do with Writing?

Ahh two important points here. Here was my big shocker. In my private email account which I used for Facebook, there were quite a few agents, editors etc. Most of these agents I had queried at one time or another. And suddenly, they were showing up as friends in Facebook! Now that may not be astounding for you, but to me it was an eye-opener. And I will try and explain.

You see, I have always looked at the mysterious world of getting published, as being somewhat arcane and behind the times. Just witness the amount of agents who still refuse to accept any query or submission via email and you may get my drift. It also is a very slow moving world. Of course agents, editors and publishers think they move fast enough thank you very much, but truth be told they are no where near to speed as other industries.

Another factor is something I have noticed as well. In my mind I call them the "traditionalists". These are the people who resist any change, any nuance of innovation in the publishing industry. Any type of change smacks of a new way to take advantage of writers. And whereas, readers of Cobwebs Of The Mind know I am a great fan of sites such as Writer Beware, who does an awesome job, I still find much of the way we work and how we work to be in the middle ages.

So yes, I was kind of shocked at this sudden ability to view profiles and gasp!, even pictures of the agents who were second to God to me for much of my writing life (though no more).

And this whole experience got me to thinking about the nature of the game. Publishers and agents will tell you this, without any embarrassment, nor should there be, that if you want to break in to a non-fiction field, you must have what is known as "name recognition". This is just another term for "viral systems". In this case your own name is a "viral" system. Your own expertise. They rely on word of mouth in almost the exact same way that Facebook does.

So if you are an unknown novelist or non-fiction writer, what you must do in your search for a successful career in writing, is create your own "FaceBook". You must "market" yourself. You must be smart and allow people to know who you are and spread your own FaceBook around. This is not a secret by the way. It is simple common sense.

The day your ms. is accepted for publication is the day you need to start being a FaceBook. Not when the book is published, and not even on the pre-publication date. But months before. You need to "spread the word", "create the hype", and put notices up on your "wall" in your own Facebook. How do you do this? That is an excellent question, and I will share one failure which I had in this area.

I run quite a few blogs as hobbies. I am not one of those believers that you are going to make zillions on blogs. Topics of interest to me actually. One of those blogs is named, Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen. This blog is described by myself as:
A humorous look into the adventures of a single parent who learned the hard way and with a great deal of trepidation how to cook, feed his children, friends and the rare date with a measure of dignity and (hopefully) good food - Recipes Included! And it is all KOSHER to boot!
(No this is not a plug for the blog!) When I began Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen, it was a mixture of frustration and just a desire to entertain a few people. Frustration because I had tried to sell a humourous though "real" book on recipes and humor, to the publishers aptly named of course "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen". My agent at the time loved the idea. But I had NO "name recognition" - I had no "Facebook". So the answers came back and almost all said, along the lines, "Great idea. Good reading. But no commercial name recognition."

Lots of terms were used but it all boiled down to "Who the hell is this guy who is writing recipes? Is he famous? Is he on TV or Radio? Is he a famous chef?" Witness the success of the new cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld, Deceptively Delicious, (wife of the famous Jerry Seinfeld).

So on the advice of a friend I just took Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen from a book into blog format. And to my total shock, and I do mean complete and total shock, the blog "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen" became famous in just a couple of months. It won awards. It had thousands of hits a week. People from all over the world were submitting recipes, and kosher ones to boot.

So after a few months, I tried again on the book vein. After all, I could now lay claim to the fact that "Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen", as a book was a viable and popular project. I could prove it with numbers. To me it was a no-brainer. And guess what? Again I got back:

"Who the hell is this guy who is writing recipes? Is he famous? Is he on TV or Radio? Is he a famous chef?"

My own "FaceBook" still did not make it in the big leagues. It was a frustrating lesson and a depressing one to boot. But a real one. In 99% of the cases, the book is not going to make you famous or rich or sought after - You are going to make the book! In other words: The Book Will Not Make You Succeed - You Make The Book Succeed.

Publishing is moving forward. But your work is not going to become an overnight sensation even if you have a thousand friends in Facebook. You need to create and work on, along with writing your book, your own Facebook. So anyone who told you the business of a new, fledging writer is to write, and only to write, is full of crap. You don't only have to write. You have to sell yourself. You need to create your own unique Facebook.

Oh, and by the way, before I forget. I am Ted Gross on FaceBook. So add me as your friend. My nieces are telling me that I really do need more friends!!!!

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Kindest, Most Compassionate And Wisest Man I Have Ever Met On The Face Of This Earth

I usually try and refrain from really personal things on my blogs, especially on Cobwebs Of The Mind, where the goal is to discuss the aspects of being an author and the life of one. However, today I will break from this tradition just once, as it is something that I think I must write about. Maybe, I am getting hit with "memoir disease" so excuse this post if you are not into it.

Tonight and tomorrow is the "Yureitzeit" that is a Yiddish word, which means "Anniversary of the Death" of my father. This year it worked out on Thanksgiving. The Hebrew calendar is Lunar and thus we go according to Hebrew dates and not English ones. It also is a fact that my Mom's birthday (who is long gone as well) is Thanksgiving. So I guess this year is a double whammy for walking down memory lane.

I am astounded that my father has been gone for 26 years now. One would think after so much time a child will no longer miss his father or mother. Time heals all wounds as they say. Certainly after 26 years it is time to move on. Or is it?

I have lived through a great many events in my lifetime. I have met thousands of people. I have seen pure goodness and pure evil. I have been the recipient of both evil and good. I have taken part in war and reaped the blessings of peace.

Through the years I have listened to a great many people express themselves. I have watched them and their actions. I have learned or try to learn from everything and everyone.

And I would still give my right arm for the wisdom my father possessed in his little pinky. In this sojourn upon the earth, I have rarely come across one whom I could hope to compare to Pop. And I have never, ever, come across anyone, who had the kindness and compassion for all humanity that Pop had.

He taught me from a very young age two simple rules.

"When you see," he would say, "someone better off than you, do not let jealousy take hold. Because you never know what that person is carrying around inside and what his sorrows are. And when you see someone worse off than you, always remember, 'If not but for the grace of God there goes I'."

That is great advice. Best you can get as far as I am concerned.

Pop was kind. Too kind, some people would say and have said. Perhaps you can never be too kind, I truly don't know. He knew the measure of compassion that people required. This was a measure of his wisdom.

This is not the place to eulogize Pop or Mom, nor is it the place to describe how much good they did in this world.

When I was all of 20 we went to visit my Grandmother's grave. At that time Pop had been without his Mother for 21 years. (I never met any of my grandparents.) I will never forget that day in the cemetery in Queens, off the Long Island Expressway when snow flurries floated down from the sky. Pop drove to that grave as if he had been there the day before. Not one wrong turn along the many pathways in that huge cemetery. Then Pop stood over his mother's grave and cried like a baby. And I remember thinking a not so good thought at the time. I remember wondering if I would be able to cry like that 20 years after my father died. I did not think it was truly possible to be honest. Pop was well, Pop. He was special beyond the words that a post in a blog can describe. I was not Pop. I could not see myself that emotionally upset 20 years after my parents died.

Well it is over 20 years since he died. I miss him terribly. Still. And I know I will always miss him, even if I live to be 120. It simply is the legacy he left me with. I have learned the hard way and with great pain, that when you know someone like Pop, well you have no control over the tears.

But this I also know. Pop was the kindest, most compassionate and wisest man I have ever met on the face of this earth.

In the end that is all I wanted to say. That is my thanksgiving on this holiday of Thanksgiving. Thank you Pop and thank you Mom - for being mine.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

If You Write Short Stories ... Another Opportunity

The following came to my attention yesterday and the information is worth passing on. Z7 Novel Writers, Short Story Writers, & Poets Support, Information & Critique Group is a serious forum for writers, though not well known. There are many posts there which concentrate on helping writers, and listing writing opportunities, contests and information on markets. One of the members there, P.D.R. Lindsay, takes time to list every month or so, markets for writers under the title, P.D.R. Lindsay's Short Story Markets. Her newest post, "A Mixed Bag Of 25 Markets Plus A Jan 31st Deadline Comp" appeared yesterday. It is worth your while to check out.

In the same vein the editors "The Deepening", an Internet short story web magazine, which has announced a time-out for awhile and is no longer accepting submissions of short stories, in a surprise announcement now is offering this really exciting opportunity for writers. Of course, you are going to have to check out what rights you are selling etc. etc. - but the full post can be found here - Call for art, fiction, essays, poetry, & mixed media submissions.

I am taking the liberty of quoting the post as it is in public domain.
January 1, 2008, The Deepening is open to:
  • Poetry, fiction, and essay submissions, limit one per author, payment, royalties based on sales (see below). Send us only your best. Word length limitations: 30,000 words, preferred 500 to 2000 words. Flash fiction, short-shorts, vignettes, slice-of-life, memorials, okay, but they MUST be riveting. GENRES INCLUDE ALL EXCEPT EROTICA, PORN, CHILDRENS AND YOUNG ADULT.
  • Art submissions to illustrate the accepted poems, essays, and stories, payment royalties based on sales (see below) with full bio and promotional pages dedicated to that artist. Send portfolio to us, and, if you are accepted, when we have a final list of stories, assignments will be distributed. See genre list above.
  • Art submissions by artists as stand-alone presentations. Work must be unique, visually stimulating and unerringly executed for print publication. Composites, mixed media and article presentations accepted. Payment: royalties based on sales (see below)
  • Mixed media and collaborative projects accepted. (Authors and artists working together, author/artist are one individual, art telling a story without words.... Payment: royalties based on sales (see below)

Think of this as hard-bound, book-sized "fun" and get creative! "Intrigue me. Mystify me. Enthrall me," as our editor-in-chief is so fond of saying. I add: do that both visually and in your prose. Be BRILLIANT!

Deadline for submissions is April 30, 2008. Response in July 2008. Previously published submissions, okay. Simultaneous submissions are NOT okay. Exclusive submission of your work from time of submission to response deadline is mandatory. Withdrawal of any submission will be noted for future reference.

We are anticipating book release in September, 2008. The book will be listed in the Ingrams,, and will be made available for distribution through Barnes and Nobles, their right and prerogative to stock inherent.

If we do not receive enough quality entries or if life circumstances prevent fulfillment of this I get run over by a truck (let's hope not), all accepted submissions will be returned, their rights fully reverting to their creators.

MORE ABOUT PAYMENT: POD will most likely be unless we find someone we like better with the same or better service. Net profit will be calculated as of June 1 2009, whereupon we will decide if the book's sales warrant continuing its publication and distribution. Net profit at that time will be calculated, then distributed within 30 days or by July 1, 2009, through PayPal at the following rates: 10% for The Deepening, 90% distributed to contributors calculated on a per page basis. You must accept payment upon distribution through PayPal AT THE TIME OF DISTRIBUTION or forfeit such payment forever, so keep your PayPal account active, verified, and in good standing, please.

All editorial decisions are the right of The Deepening and its agents, editors, and owners.

SUBMISSIONS ADDRESS AVAILABLE on January 1, 2008. E-submissions ONLY.
Please refer all questions etc. to the Z7 Novel Writers, Short Story Writers, & Poets Support, Information & Critique Group. By the way it is worth your while to join and enjoy the help of your fellow authors. And Good Luck!

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Musings On The Query Letter

When I was a kid in the middle ages, just when humanity started emerging from the dark ages, we used to travel to Florida for a couple of weeks during winter vacation. Plane rides were a hoot then. You could talk to the pilot, go into his cabin, and actually not worry about too much. Mom though, was scared to death of planes. She would get nervous and antsy every time we got on one. She would also insist on asking the pilots if they had a drink or were coming straight from having a fight with their wives. Mom was a great believer in the psychological equilibrium and happiness of the person who was going to take her up a few miles into the sky.

Every time I had to send out a query letter I wanted to ask the agent the same thing before she or he read it. Did you have too much drink today? Did you have a fight with your spouse, the kids, your parents, the dog? Are you calm and relaxed? Are you ready? Can I get you a cup of tea? Coke? Water? Buy you a meal? Does Fido need to be fed?

I have admitted quite a few times in Cobwebs Of The Mind how I really suck at Query letters. I have also posted quite a few times about the importance some agents (or maybe most agents) put on the query letter. Now it is time to get real.

Query letters are for those who really don't have an agent. Or even for those who have a publisher but not an agent yet (though having a publisher without an agent is usually just a matter of saying "I have a bona-fide publisher but I do not have an agent yet.") I know many hopeful authors spend oodles of time and aggravate themselves endlessly on the right words to put in a query letter. Many put more work into the query than they would into the opening sentences in their books. They spend hours putting letters together into words and words into sentences.

There have been gadzillions of books written on just how you can write a query letter that will sell your material. There have been gadzillions of conferences and courses teaching authors just what to get into those 250 words on that one page of a query letter. And for sure knowing how to write a good query letter is probably an important thing. It is like writing advertising copy for yourself and your work. Think of back jackets on books that you know. Punch lines, leaders, teasers.

The agent you are writing to in effect says: "Tell me why I should look at something you wrote, when I have at least 1000 other query letters in my in box." That is a fair request. Though it is not your fault any agent feels overwhelmed by their in-box. They wanted the job, they want to make money, they want to do it, I have no pity for their in-box even when you are astonished by the numbers as you can see in this post over at Bookends, LLC - "Query Recap". Hey, it is your business and job. So if queries do really get an agent new and good clients, why complain at the numbers?

If you have not yet guessed this already, at many agencies your query letter is going to first be read by some intern, college or graduate student who has been hired to weed out the bad queries. Just read the blog of the one calling herself "The Rejecter" if you don't believe it. Her subtitle of the blog, which irks the hell out of me, though I happen to think "The Rejecter" is a cool lady - "I don't hate you. I just hate your query letter."

You pray they will know how to read, they take their job at least 25% seriously, and they can understand more than three word sentences. And you hope they actually get to read most of the queries sent to them so they can pass them on to the "real" agent, if they deem it warrants it.

So if you are an unknown your query is going to be first read by an intern than maybe by an agent. In other words that image in your mind of the agent sitting down with a happy smile and loving your query has to be amended most of the time. To be sure there are agents who read query letters straight out but many, just for you knowledge, don't see those queries until the intern lets them out of their computer.

That is the nature of the business, or so it seems. Either get that query letter right or hope your Mom is a literary agent. Well, that is what they tell you.

I have a few friends (and yes they will remain anonymous) who are in the publishing industry. I have had many discussions with them about the query letter. Some from the perspective of authors who have sold books, others who are agents, and a couple who are editors. As you may be able to tell the subject of query letters bugs the hell out of me even though I know agents sometimes have to "query" an editor. Imagine that! Your query to an intern than an agent who in turn has to query an editor.

Ack! Queries. Ugh!

So where am I going with all this? Well, here is an honest to goodness quote from one of the most successful literary agents in the non-fiction arena. I kind of take liberties when we email, and I began an email once, "Here is my sucky query letter." I would not suggest you try such a thing unless of course the one getting your query is your wife and you are on great terms with her!

So here is the quote. Take it or leave it.
...and there are no really good query letters - the ones I get that tell me this will be the next best seller or everyone loves this, I delete after that first sentence, lol
So lesson to be learned. In your next query letter resist the urge to tell the agent how great your writing is, and how you are the next best-selling author. And pray the intern is in a good mood, the agent has not fought with their spouse, and the sun is shining and the angels smiling.

Remember all that stands between you and your ten million advance is a great query letter and a few years in the White House.

And never forget the true, real purpose of the publishing industry:

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Impotence Of Proofreading

The other day in a rush I sent something important out for someone else to read. (Don't you just love the anonymous something and someone!) Well, I am not revealing who or what it was, because it is not really important to this post. The fact is, I was in a rush and I was doing a few things at once. I cannot multi-task to save my life, and this was no different.

Well, I was lucky the person that received the ms. that I sent was a friend. An hour or so later they wrote back and asked me in all seriousness if I had proofread what I sent. Well I thought I did, but since I was working on a deadline with a few things, I guess I really messed up.

Instead of spelling route - I spelled root. Instead of commas for some reason semi-colons appeared. Some sentences were cut in the middle and spaces were all over the place. I was so embarrassed and learned my lesson. Never ever ever multi-task when you are editing or proofreading.

In a fit of laughing at myself I started kind of perusing things for proofreading. And I found this video below at Youtube. This is really a treasure. Enjoy it.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Query Letter And Partials

It seems this just may be "query letter month" for agents. With summer over and the Frankfort Book Fair behind them, I assume the query letters are piling up and up upon the desks and in the email in-box.

As I mentioned before in the post, A Few Interesting Tidbits..., over at Bookends, Jessica has taken the needed valium, and offered to comment on query pitches left in comments in the post, Perfecting Your Pitch. And actually Jessica seems to be doing it quite well, as she took the first six that were of interest to her and did a fine job in critique, in the post, Pitch Critiques Round 1. Of course, old Snark fans will not find the cutting-edge sarcasm we were used to in Miss Snark, but then again, it is much easier to see the problems and positive points when laid out in a serious professional manner. Jessica should get an award for taking the time in order to help those fledging writers out there. If you are courageous go leave your query in the comments, (but follow her suggestions first in Perfecting Your Pitch. And even if you are not that courageous take a good look at the Critiques and follow them as you will learn something.

Over @ Pub Rants, Agent Kristin, of the Nelson Literary Agency, has taken a different approach to query letter writing. In a series of posts so far:
Here Kristin runs through the various types of queries for some different genres. What Kristin does is basically take well known books and show you how they might be pitched to an agent. This allows you to focus on the overall requirements for a query letter, and lets you see just how your genre may be pitched. I personally gravitated to the Blog Pitch Workshop (Part IV) as Kristin does something there which to my mind is quite important. In that Pitch Workshop she shows you how to pitch "Literary Fiction" which personally I think is one of the hardest things to pitch. (Combine literary fiction with short story collections and you really have a big problem!) Here I will give you a little quote from the Literary Fiction Pitch Workshop.
"Since I’m in a serious mode after Story Of A Girl, let’s move on to the hardest type of novel to pitch well in a query letter— literary fiction.

Now why do I say this is the hardest to pitch? Because literary fiction, typically, isn’t driven largely by plot elements, unlike most genre fiction. More often than not, the focus is on character development. Now that doesn’t mean that literary works can’t have a high concept to drive it but often that is secondary to what is to be explored.

However, I highly recommend that if you write literary fiction, you find that catalyst or event that launches the story because every work of literary fiction does have it."
From experience, I have to agree that Literary Fiction is incredibly difficult to pitch, and certainly does not present the normative possibilities when writing your query letter. Take a look at what she does in that post if you are writing Literary Fiction.

I strongly suggest if you are in the midst of writing your queries, or want to learn what this stage is all about to go take a look at Bookends & Pub Rants.

Next on the list is let us say your query works. Now the agent turns around and requests a partial from you. Over @ The Rejecter the anonymous query letter reader (who has a bit of snarkiness in her!) has posted two interesting posts on the partial process. The first, The Literal First Five Pages, tells you what to do when you are asked for the first five pages. Actually the suggestions in this post are fairly logical and straightforward, but then again who knows what the person is thinking when they actually receive a request for a partial.

The second post, Inside the Partials Process, is a bit more down-to-earth and makes you realize your partial is still a long way off from the end of the road. This lays it out for you - straight and to the point. Since The Rejecter is actually the one who reads this stuff, it is not a bad idea to take a look at her posts on the process and try and follow most of her suggestions. Remember though two points. She is talking from the perspective of one Literary Agency. So read, understand and then follow the clear and good advice she gives, but always make sure the agent you are dealing with wants the same thing.

Well there you have the Query round up. One other place which may be worth your while to search out. When Miss Snark upped and left us bereft of her wit, she kindly left her blog up and did not delete it. You may want to take a look there, but be warned, there is an incredible amount of posts and information in her blog to wade through. And if you are not used to her "snarkiness" you may be turned off by her approach. Nevertheless it is still an important source of information for writers and authors.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Truly Humbling Experience

Just a couple of years ago, which in Internet speak is like 2 centuries ago, setting up a blog and getting it going was a bit more difficult than it is today, but on the other hand much less intimidating. Today you need a plan and a way of implementing it. You need to find a niche to be able to take your blog from out of the slimy morass of millions of others, and write about something that is of interest to many people and not just yourself.

I was at an engagement party the other day where someone I know well, wanted to discuss blogging. To be honest I was not in the mood - when I leave my house, or I am finished with blogs for the day - I do not want to deal with them anymore. This person told me that one blog they had set up was the good ole topic "how to make money on the Internet". I rolled my eyes of course but kept my remarks to that type of blog basically civil.

Then at the same party, not a few minutes later, I was cornered by someone I did not really know, begging me to explain in great detail the process of how to get published. You see this woman had of course an incredible manuscript that would sell millions of copies. "Was it done?" I asked. "Oh no" she answered laughing. "It is all in my head, but I could write it in one month! I just need someone to give me a good contract." I laughed and it was a good thing she did not understand I was laughing at her and certainly not with her. I naively asked, "Are you serious?" and she said "Of course I am." Then she proceeded to ramble on and on about this book of hers. I interrupted as soon as it was polite to do so, and told her the Internet was a great place to start to get information on what to do with her book "that would sell millions of copies even though it was not written and still only in her head", and made for the exit with my son.

Yet in truth, when I look at blogs out there and the plethora of "required" add-ins just to get your blog noticed when it is new, it is truly intimidating. Of course you start off with Technorati, (the use and value of which I am not convinced of even after a year). Then comes the RSS feeds, mostly supplied by the excellent FeedBurner site, the value of which I am 100% convinced is necessary and critical to any new blog not written by a celebrity. Of course there is Blog Rush, and Blog Catalog, and Digg and Stumble Upon and delicious and statistics and on and on and on. The list of "necessary" enhancements and tools grows by the day.

One site which I truly never understood is Stumble Upon. And yet, when I examine my statistics for this blog and Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen, I find from time to time, tens of entries being made from Stumble Upon. So finally I decided to take a close look at it, and though I walked away still not understanding the attraction, it proved to be a truly humbling experience.

At Stumble Upon you can download a toolbar (either for FireFox or for IE). Since I use FireFox I took that add-on. Then with the toolbar you can mark off topics that are of interest to you and go "stumbling" on web sites and blogs that are about that topic. So I chose books, cooking and writing and began to stumble.

I thought I was well aware of the numbers of people that blog about cooking, so discovering there were thousands upon thousands of blogs did not at all surprise me. Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen was started as a lark and a hobby for a specific niche. And in the year since it has been up I have met many, many others who blog about food.

What was humbling though, was the number of web-sites devoted to and about writing and books. The list of writers and authors who have begun blogs, some to just showcase their work (which is a big big mistake) and others to write reviews etc. was endless. I stumbled from one blog to another often finding the blog had been abandoned or just left to wallow in the Internet soup for dying sites.

It was humbling to discover so many thousands (and probably tens if not hundreds of thousands) of people all blogging, web-siteing (my made-up word) and otherwise Interneting (another made-up word) over the same topics over and over again.

I always said that the old joke "If you throw a rock in Jerusalem, you will either hit a lawyer or a cat" should be changed to "If you throw a rock in Jerusalem, you will either hit a would-be writer or a cat". It seems the Internet too is populated by many many many would-be writers. When you think of it, no matter what the subject of a blog or forum is about, hell, you have to write something!

So many dreams and so many broken dreams. It is hard to wrap your mind around it. People who feel the need to write, to express themselves. Sometimes the dream is so overpowering they are taken in by scams and pay their last cent to see it come alive. Which is sad I admit. Very sad, and yet very humbling.

I began to wonder last night at how powerful these personal dreams can be. I am not talking about peace on earth or an end to war or an end to poverty. I am talking simply about each individual's personal, private dream. How so many end up being dashed. How we sometimes dream and wish for the wrong things and for all the wrong reasons. So much wasted effort at times.

So here is a piece of advice one can find written a million times in the byways of the Internet. It is not new nor is it something recently discovered. One small piece of advice. If you want to write a book, a story or just your own memoirs (ugh! not another memoir!) first write it. First see if you can write. Then see if anyone is actually going to like your writing enough to pay for it. And believe me, that second step is really hard.

Dreams are a dime a dozen. So dream about what you have talent for. Otherwise well, you are hoping for the wrong thing in the wrong place in the wrong time. Wasted effort and wasted talent which should be applied elsewhere. And if you must write, if that inner urge wont let you sleep, if it haunts you all the time and you must write, then go that route. Just know it will usually be incredibly lonely and frustrating and full of agony, unless you turn out to be the next golden author. But novels and books are not written in your head. No one will buy words never written that are jumping around in your head. You need a pen, paper and computer and a great deal of patience and aspirin. So don't knowingly set yourself up for failure.

Otherwise you may as well start another blog and call it something unique, like, "How To Make Money On The Internet".

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A New Slice Of Life For Short Stories

Once upon a time, in a world hungry for stories and a publishing industry eager to gobble them up, there were many, many magazines and newspapers which offered writers a chance to showcase their short stories. A great many writers did get their start this way. Asimov, O'Henry, I.B. Singer, Jack London come to mind just to mention a few. The magazines were plentiful and the stories or novella's were just what the public wanted.

Somewhere along the line the tastes of the public changed. When dealing in fiction "more was better". The Novel became the sine qua non of the fiction publication industry. The plethora of magazines devoted to short stories became smaller and smaller. Of course, the big bad wolves dressed up as Marketing experts told us that it simply was market forces at work as the magazines closed their doors one after the other. To be sure the more devoted magazines to the art of the short story remained, and the redaction of the market proved only the better for them. But for the writer of short stories, especially the new, untested writer, found it more and more difficult to get a short story published in a legitimate market.

Then came the Internet, where one might think the short story market could flourish, giving short story writers exposure to the world at large. That promise as well has not panned out, due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the slow movement to read a book or story not in a print format.

Lately, there seems to be some (not a great deal) but some movement back to the short story print magazine "anthology". The newest entry into the market is Slice Magazine and it seems the editors here are getting it right.

So for you short story writers here is some basic information but I strongly suggest you go take a look at the Slice Magazine website, which by the way, is done very well with clear format and clear divisions for information. They also seem to have "themes" for each edition but these as well are a bit fluid. As they write:
We are currently accepting material for our March, 2008 issue. The theme for article submissions is "Heroes," and, as always, all other submissions are open-ended.
The editors over at slice (former book editors), describe their magazine as follows:
Slice is a new literary magazine created to provide a forum for dynamic conversations between emerging and established authors. Slice is the brainchild of two book editors who have had a firsthand view of how difficult it is for new authors to break into the world of publishing. Our mission is to pave a space for these writers who may not have a platform but show the kind of talent that could be the substance of great works in the future. We are equally dedicated to celebrating established writers, whose work moves beyond the boundaries of writing to not only redefine literature, but to inspire new voices to grow. Slice magazine's first issue will be available in print September, 2007.
That sounds exciting and positive for those who really would like to break into print. And now what do they accept?
Slice magazine welcomes short fiction, nonfiction, and novellas for serialization. For novellas, please submit the first three chapters, along with a synopsis. We're looking for anyone with a fresh voice and a compelling story to share--basically any work that really knocks our socks off. At the moment, we're not particularly drawn to experimental or heavy-handed genre fiction. However, we may have issues in the future with themes that lend themselves to such writing. Check out the description of our most current issue to see if your writing fits. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable as long as we're notified immediately if the work is selection for publication elsewhere. All submissions should be previously unpublished. All submissions must be submitted electronically, in the body of an email. We cannot consider submissions as attachments. Be sure to include detailed contact information. Please allow two to three months for us to reply to your submission. While we are currently unable to pay for published material, we hope to reward our writers by creating a wide audience of readers who are just as passionate about literature as we are.

Please send your submissions to
All great especially the SS part. But do not get too excited just yet. The one drawback is the publishing schedule.
Slice is a print magazine published twice a year in March and September. Our first issue will be available September, 2007.
Alas! I would assume that the editors are still testing the market demand. Twice a year will mean that Slice Magazine will be deluged with submissions and thus the competition is that much greater. It would be great to see a reputable magazine publication, publish 12 times a year and join the ranks of The Paris Review, Harpers, Atlantic and the rest of the crew, not to mention the awe-inspiring dream of hitting the New Yorker pages with a short story.

Well, there it is. Sounds good, the drawback being the publishing schedule. But who knows? If it works and they get enough advertising dollars, maybe they will expand the publication schedule. For now it seems a good bet if you have patience. Go take a look at Slice Magazine. Who knows? Maybe a new slice of life is waiting for you.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Marriage Between American Idol And A Star Is Born

I can remember the first time I saw my children watching "American Idol" I told them I did not want to see that program on my television. Of course I got laughed at and ignored and they made me watch a whole show to prove that it was a colossal waste of time. But one does not argue with success nor can one argue these days with Simon or House or the rest of the fad that ingrains the viewers with the message - "Nasty is good. Nasty is important. If you want to get ahead, be nasty" message. But enough ranting about the educational messages of television and society.

Thing is "American Idol" is incredibly popular as is the knock off of it in Israel, "A Star Is Born". Everyone and their pet cat seems to watch it. And to tell you the truth, after listening to some of the singers, I must agree that it did find talent that would otherwise have gone to the wastebasket of anonymity and oblivion.

It did of course take the publishing industry a long time to catch on to another money making possibility. It always takes it a long time. When email is the preferred method of communication the publishing industry still insists on snail-mail query letters and book proposals. Of course they will tell you, "they" meaning agents and publishers, that if they opened their email address to query and proposal email, it would be flooded in a week. I believe them. I also know that there is an invention called Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, so I just don't fall for the excuse. And no one in his right mind is going to convince me that it is more preferable to have 6000 envelopes piled high in the corner of their office than 6000 emails waiting in virtual space.

Oh did I digress? Sorry about that. Anyways, the publishing industry did finally begin to catch up to the "American Idol" format. Contests began, many of them scams and you can find them littered over the Internet and exposed for what they were, over at the fine blog, of Writer Beware. But then, some of them had to be legitimate. Right? And sooner or later the contests began to hook up with publishers - or publishers with contests, depends on how you look at it.

Prizes, contracts with Literary Agents, contracts with publishers, all were the carrots dangled before the wide-eyed hopeful author. Some took a few bucks to submit others were for free. But the path was slowly being cleared. Resistance lessened. What was once a novelty (not a novel yet but just a novelty) slowly became something writers were getting used to.

Gather had a First Chapters Competition for mainstream fiction, and a second contest for Romance Novels and now for Mystery/Crime Novels. Amazon announced its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. There are a few others who got together with publishers, panels of judges, and created legitimate contests with clear rules. Nothing fishy, nothing untoward, nothing which had a hint of "scam". To mark the change in our attitude towards these contests, just take a look at these two posts over at Writer Beware. In a post entitled, "The New Fad in Publishing", followed a few days later "More on the Amazon Breakthroug...", even Victoria Strauss's normal nose for smelling a scam, didn't find a foul oder here. (Indeed she was even approached to be one of the judges and considered it.)

Well, it turns out that was is good for America is great for the rest of the world. It was inevitable this fad would sooner or later cross the oceans to the tiny country of Israel. But of course like everything else, in Israel there is a new better twist to this fad. And it may make sense for us to follow what happens with it, because though it has been almost tried in the US - ("almost" does not mean much though), I have no doubt this little twist will make its way back to the publishing empire of the world.

So let us start explaining shall we? Last Friday, in the weekend paper (the weekend Paper in Israel is published on Friday) my eyes hit a small little item about a short story contest. The original piece was published in Yediot Achronot here. That link leads to a Hebrew article which I will translate for you. But a couple of points are necessary here. First Steimatzky Books, is a well known (almost monopolistic name and company here in Israel). They have book stores in every mall, every city you can name in Israel and then some. They are also book publishers of late. They do not scam, and as far as I can tell this contest is completely legitimate.

It seems Steimatzky began a short story contest (in Hebrew). They had 3000 entries which were submitted to them. They had a panel of judges, which was announced. These judges are fairly popular and well known authors in Israel. In other words reputable, well-known authors lent their name and prestige to to the contest to find the best short story. That is a plus, by the way. It lends a big chunk of legitimacy to the contest.

Out of the 3000 entries the judges picked 30 semi-finalists. These were promptly put up on a special site for the short stories which you can access here. And here is how it works. The public gets to read the stories and vote on them. The votes by the public will make up 60% of the final vote and the votes by the 5 judges will have a 40% weight. The 10 stories having the most "votes" (in the percentage above) will rise to the next round.

Now here is the kicker. American Idol in the flesh or should I say on the TV in print! Steimatzky Publishers and Channel 2 here in Israel, (popular channel but too many damn commercials!) got together for the final stage. They will produce a show (series of shows?) on the 10 best stories which will be voted upon (though am not sure exactly how that will work - I could not find the details on it.) The winner will obviously get fame and television, and a contract for their first book.

So, though this is a very new arena, it seems that it is the wave of the future, fad or no fad. Honestly, I have no idea if any real talent will be found. I don't know if that next great Hebrew novel will be written by one of these finalists. I do know this is an arena that obviously the two mediums of publishing and television have joined together to see if they can make money from it. How one presents a short story on television without a screen play is beyond me, but then again I am not a television producer. (Maybe they will sing it?)

So is it a fad? Is it silly? Can you really find talent this way? American Idol did from what my kids tell me. The next Da-Vinci code? The next O'Henry? Poe? Tolstoy? Hell, let us just settle for the next Hemingway.

Shrugs. Can't answer those questions. It is not a scam. It is legitimate. It is also great publicity and Israelis, if they love one thing, they love to read. So, it does bear watching. It does bear scrutiny. We may find this method goes the way of E-books for the next few years (which are still a monumental failure). Or we may find it becomes a hot "thing" (there is a great word "thing"!) producing the next "Idol Author".

I do know this. I still cannot write a query letter to save my for me it is back to pencil and paper and waiting till the television contest begins so I can have fun watching these poor authors sing their stories.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Few Interesting Tidbits...

Over at Bookends, in a recent post entitled Perfecting Your Pitch, one of the agents, Jessica, has decided in a moment of total insanity to be gracious enough to review your query letters. Miss Snark used to do this once or twice a year, and I think it drove her to drink and almost kill Grandma Snark. I wonder if poor Jessica is aware of the Pandora's Box she just opened! Here is a quote from the above post.
To participate, here's what you need to do. Submit through the comments section your pitch—that one sentence or one paragraph in your query letter that you're using to grab an agent's attention. I'm going to randomly pick and choose and critique as many as I can. As I critique the pitches I’ll post them on the site for all to read and make comments on.

So, brave readers, here’s your chance. A free critique from me. Post them in the comments section and I’ll start my critique as soon as the first one is up (note that the critiques will be posted in future blog posts).
So if your query letters suck as bad mine do, and if you have no clue how to pitch your entire book in five words to three sentences, then by all means go for it. I simply do not have that much courage!

Depressed with writing? Had it? Enough is enough? You have been shopping and editing a manuscript for years and years and all you have to show is a pile or rejection letters? I strongly suggest you read this post, over at Dystel & Goderich, entitled "Stacey Glick on why, "Sometimes it Pays to Not Give Up". This agent submitted the manuscript over a period of "several years" to publishers Fifty-Four times (yes you read that number right - 54!) until she got a yes! But wait! When the book was released in its soft cover edition after the original hard cover printing it was picked up by Target Book Club and has sold over 100,000 copies! Go take a look at the full post, it will give you hope and put wind back into your sails and give those dreams something good and positive to feed on.

Some normative rules if you are going to contact an agent:
  1. If an agent says contact by snail mail, do not contact by email, and if they say only email queries do not send a snail mail query.
  2. Do not send in your query more than once. It will sometimes take days to weeks to get an answer. Be patient. (Yeah, Right!)
  3. If an agent says "No" the answer is "No". Pleading, begging, crying or getting nasty because you know you have the next great Novel on your hands is not going to help. Move on.
  4. Get their names right and spelled right. (Yes, I have made that mistake a few times, and of course I noticed it after the email was sent out.)
  5. Short and Sweet. Less Is Better.

Most dedicated authors who have done their homework know about the following three Internet web sites, however, I have found in conversations that many do not.
  1. Agent Query is free, to the point, and certainly deserves the title as one of the best web sites for writers. Looking for an agent? Plug in relevant search times about your manuscript, genre, type, etc. and you will find a listing of agents and information on how to contact them. Agent Query is a favorite of many of those searching for an agent and actually works for a great deal of people. It is one of those sites that should be on your "must bookmark list" if you are seeking an agent.

  2. Literary Market Place has been around for a while, and certainly years ago was the "Bible" of the publishing industry. LMP as it is known for short, on the web, has both free and paid streams. I still have a dog-eared copy of LMP from years and years ago. What LMP does is list the Who Is Who of the publishing industry, including agents. Names, Job Titles, descriptions etc. Including Agents. And most in the publishing industry are listed in LMP simply because it is one of those time-honored traditional places where your name must appear if you work in publishing or as an agent. (In the 1980's I found my first agent through LMP). If you are considering going the paying route, you can either buy LMP in book form or join the web site as a paying member though the price is steep - $399.00 US annually or $19.95 US weekly. Or you can purchase the Literary Market Place as a book, (2008 edition should be out soon).

  3. Another site which you should know about is Publishers MarketPlace. This can help you find an agent if you are so inclined to do research. Many agents use this site to list their newest sales and some post "rights offerings" for books they represent. If an agent has said "yes" to you, or you are doing research, it is a fairly good place at times, to get a handle on the sales this agent has made recently. To do basic searches it is free. You can join for $20 a month and then list yourself (if you think that will help...but don't bet on it!)

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind