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