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 submissions@slicemagazine.org.
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 life...so 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

Monday, October 22, 2007

Writers, Authors, Squiggilers And Vonnegut

Those who know me, and some of the long-time readers here at Cobwebs Of The Mind, know that since I read "Slaughterhouse Five", oh so many years ago, I was a fan of the now deceased Kurt Vonnegut. A big fan. Over the years, though some of his statements did border on the outrageous (we are all allowed a flap now and then) reading Vonnegut became something akin to an addiction. So I am going to sprinkle this post with just a bit of Vonnegut - simply because I can. Statements like this from his work "The Sirens Of Titan":
"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."
As writers or authors or squiggilers (I made up the word so sue me!) we become obsessed at times from going to blog to forum to blog to web site trying to gleam that one piece of information that will help us get our message through in that horrendous, stupefying devil's creation known as the query letter. Or once we are free of the devil's backside in the query, and then we made our proposal or sent in those first few chapters or pages, and then we are asked for a "partial", and then we are asked for a "full"... Goodness gracious, you guys know the routine. Often we are ready to swear the system was created by a bunch of business people who got high and drunk all at once - and figured out a way to destroy any writer's dreams.

But of course, it is not the case. We all know that it is true that 90% or should I say even 99% of the stuff written out there (cause that is the sad truth), is just not worth killing those poor trees for. So we have our sifters and our witches; our demons and our torture chamber. We submit those queries, we spend hours on the Internet and with our head buried in the plethora of books - telling us how to write, when to write, where to write and the worst sin of all - what to write about.

I have noticed an explosion in such books written by people whose names, which my lack of culture, erudition, knowledge and finesse, I am totally unfamiliar with. There are so many people telling us how to write and what to write - and making big bucks off of our desire to just plain write. We are most assuredly one of the biggest, most sucker-oriented "self-help" market that exists. And I'll be damned - but 99% of those books telling me how to write are written by people who have the "How To Write Book" as their first publication credit in the world of writing.

So why do we write? The odds are against us - hell we may as play the slot machines in Vegas with better hope of at least winning something! Of course the Vonnegut-ian answer to this is as follows (from an Interview with Robert Scholes, October 1966):
"Well, I've worried some about, you know, why write books...why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it's been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with...humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it's presumably to encourage them to make a better world."

Here is a famous seven point writing plan from Vonnegut (quoted in Science Fictionisms (1995), compiled by William Rotsler):
  1. Find a subject you care about.
  2. Do not ramble, though.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Have the guts to cut.
  5. Sound like yourself.
  6. Say what you mean to say.
  7. Pity the readers.
Yes pity the readers and don't take pity on yourself. Write but understand that not every word is gold (only mine are!) And understand that if you have this addiction and are stupid enough to want to deluge the world with your writing - it is going to usually be a long, hard and very lonely road out there. You know you are not alone, and you should never think you have been abandoned. Perhaps you will never become an author, but never believe you are alone.
"Still and all, why bother? Here's my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone."
See why I love Vonnegut?

What we do often forget, is that our own knowledge and perhaps skill is actually enriched when we read. What a thought! Reading! No, I did not say writing, and I don't mean any "self-help turn yourself into a writer in 30 days or your money back" mumbo-jumbo. I mean READING. (Argh! Did I scream that word?)

True there are so many books out there how do we decide to spend our $20 or so a month on books. Or maybe it is $100. Or maybe even $1000. Even $1000 a month will not keep you up to date or allow you to find the books you would want to read!

The Internet is a gem at times. At other times it sucks, totally completely sucks. But I discovered - yes, I am Columbus and of course no one knows a thing about this - I discovered a very engaging set of web pages, hidden mind you, and only I have the key, at the New York Times. There, if you manage to wade through the New York Times Book Review (don't deny it - you read it and fantasize about the day when you will see your book reviewed there!), there is a section called "First Chapters". Guess what that is? Well, I will keep the surprise to myself, and you can click over to it and enjoy.

In the end though, most will continue to plug away - writing and editing, cutting and changing, query lettering and partial submitting and praying.

Here are two Vonnegut quotes for you:
"I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak."
"Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."
And no, you cannot get away with calling a semicolon a transvestite hermaphrodite. Only Vonnegut can make that sound totally right!

So you squiggle away. You write. You think of yourself as an author. You fantasize when you go on-line to Amazon seeing your book on that best-seller list. You work hard at it. You sweat. You seek encouragement but you will exist on tea, coffee and cigarettes without human contact if you have to. You say to yourself these are the dues one must pay. And you may be right.

You even become your characters. You laugh and cry with them. They say things that make you ROFL - ("roll on the floor in laughter", for you non Internet junkies. Sheesh where have you been living?) You become those squiggled characters. Pretend somehow crosses the line between what is on your computer screen or in your notebook and what your reality is. Maybe you LOL ("laugh out loud") or LMAO ("laugh my ass off") suddenly without any reason at the dinner table and your spouse and kids or parents are seriously beginning to think you need therapy. Beware! As Vonnegut put it so well:
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."
So take this advice. Take it seriously. Stop. Go read something. Walk outside and breathe the air. Get off the computer! Yep that is right. YOU - OFF THE COMPUTER NOW! Go to your book store and browse. And if someone starts up a conversation and asks you what you do for a living or for a hobby - make up something - anything - just don't say "I am a writer". Forget that is what you do for a few minutes or hours. Buy a book. Curl up on the couch and read. Or better yet - get the biggest damn ice-cream cone you can put down in one sitting, and lick away.

In an interview by David Brancaccio, NOW (PBS) (7 October 2005) Vonnegut had this to say:
[Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope]

Oh, she says well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.
And while you are eating that ice cream or reading your new book, or just enjoying the feeling of the air on your face and knowing how wonderful it is to be alive, and you assured that you are about to spread your wings - always remember:

Oh! I almost forgot - here is a great Vonnegut quote for you!

"Humor is a way of holding off how awful life can be."

(Thanks go to WikiQuotes for the Vonnegut quotes.)

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Tentatively Sticking My Foot In The Water... Yet Again

I needed a hiatus from the trials, tribulations and sometime headache of dealing with blogging, especially at Cobwebs Of The Mind. For a few months I put is aside, letting it gather dust, as other responsibilities had to be attended to. Unlike my other forays into the world of blogging, posts at Cobwebs Of The Mind have to be thought out and actually say something, (or not as the case of your sensitivities and judgment may be.)

It never ceases to surprise me how we tend to accept stability in the world around us and then perspective granted by the passing of time somehow allows us to view some real serious changes. In the blogging world of literature, writing, agents and publishing - change over a period of time seems to be the norm.

In the past six months since my last post here, when the day came when and I realized enough was enough and let us take a time-out to go play in the sandbox, many changes seem to have taken place within our little blogging world.

Miss Snark upped and left. This was not unexpected, by the way, however in reviewing my bookmarks and links (half of which over the past six months simply stopped working and the owners dissipated into the mists hovering over our virtual world), I find that no one has taken up the vacuum. Perhaps it is because Miss Snark, indeed, was a one time phenomena, and no one has the time to put into a blog that she did. Truth be told, many of us were addicted to her cynical wit and often straight no BS advice. Sometimes such an approach is just what the doctor ordered.

The Rejecter is still at work, though seems to be on a cut back schedule. She has tried to adopt some of the "snarkiness" from Miss. Snark, but by her own admission, this is a query letter reader, so in the ultimate importance of things, her advice though often great, seems to be taken by most of us with a few grains of the proverbial salt.

The denizen scam-busters are still at it, and Writer Beware is one blog I sneaked a peek often during my self-imposed exile. Sometimes I do find it difficult to follow the stories about messes and scams that writers seem to gravitate to at times, but I put that down to my senility. Of all the blogs out there for writers, Writer Beware is truly a public service.

Then, of course, there are the literary agents who blog. Most, not all, seem to have kept up on a fairly steady stream of blogging and advice. Much of the advice is usually to the point and excellent, but then again, much of it also presents a personal view of the agent involved. My favorite among them, though, Lit Agent X, has certainly cut back on her blog and her informative posts. It seems her move Folio Literary Management has taken up a great deal of time. Her posts were usually full of information and written in a straight way with a kind attitude for the writers who are trying to break in to the industry. Of course, BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency, is still a wonderful blog to peruse, as is, Pub Rants of the Nelson Literary Agency.

The Deepening too, went to the great virtual cemetery of the virtual world. Personally, and for obvious reasons, I believe it is a loss and perhaps it is a lesson for all of us in expectations and perseverance. The Internet is a harsh battleground and takes no prisoners. Though I think this one on-line magazine, did have a great future ahead of it. But alas, it too, is no more, and I wish the editors and owners luck in all their coming endeavors.

In short, the blogs may change, the web-sites come and go, but the rules of the game, and to no great surprise all remain the same. (All right, maybe more agents are entering into the world of "modern technology" and are no longer demanding the snail-mail letter and are willing to except email queries - which is a plus.)

Over time, I have made friends with quite a few published authors, others who are on their way to be published, and yet others who are still upon the query letter route. It has been an enlightening and interesting experience. I have heard stories of writers, agents and publishers which we would never read on the Internet - good, bad, pretty and some damn right ugly.

Many of the authors, hopeful and established, I have had the pleasure of sharing emails with, all go from the ecstasy of hope to the despair of fear of failing. I have learned even those who have 5 or more books to their name, and have even been on the Best-Seller lists, suffer with each work the same self-doubt which plagued them from the beginning. I have also learned certain rules were made to be broken in the quest for a good agent and entrée into the world of publishing.

And there are too many, who still feel that their ability to make a one-line quip or witty remark turns them into bona-fide writers. They hang on the forums and writing circles, which are good for information from time to time, but sooner or later, one should realize that writing is just that -writing. Either you do it or you don't. That too is a lesson to be learned. Writing forums and blogs as well, (like this blog), can become a massive waste of time and energy. In the end result, the normative route to publishing is the old writing-agent-publisher route. Of course you can go POD or self-pub, and of course you can create a pdf with an E-book in mind, but the facts are simple. In order to have your book published via a normative route the path is laid out and the stones are slippery from all the wear they have upon them.

The contests as well come and go, with new trends being experimented with even by traditional publishers. Many of the web-sites who have decent names, such as Gather, have coupled with traditional publishers. And @ Writer Beware they keep us totally up-to-date on what is legit and what is not, if you are so inclined to enter the contests.

One rule which to be honest I always knew, but never accepted is that you just never know what will work and will not work. Instincts are great, and work for us most of the time, but sometimes one has to take a deep breath, and just go for it. When I had started my other blog, Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen, I thought it would honestly end up as curiosity for maybe twenty people. Little did I realize that it would garner the interest and following it has in one short year. It was a round-about lesson me in the world of writing as well.

So, everything changes and nothing changes. You first write, then you have to find an agent, then the agent has to sell your ms. to a publishing house, then you have to sign a contract, then you have to wait for pre-publication and publication, then you have to work hard to market your book and put in the public relations, and during all that besides your daily activities, you must write your next book and your next and your next.

The one thing that didn't change is what I consider to be the utter genius of the folks over at Despair.com. Sometimes when they release a new "Demotivator" I am willing to swear that the one who wrote them was or is an author. So in the spirit of some true Despair (which as you know deep in your heart is something we all partake in) I have included two new ones from the folks at Despair (one above and one below). Don't let them blow the wind out of your sails though. Just remember them from time to time to put a more realistic edge on your goals and dreams. And if you have written, gotten an agent or published in the time I have been musing in other things, drop a line or comment about the book or agent or story you have. If it is of interest to the public I will be glad to post it here at Cobwebs Of The Mind.

Now Go Write!

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind