Pub Rants

Category: Writing As A Career

Writing as Business (Part 2)

STATUS: Bursting at the seams. Got two bits of exciting news for one of my clients and it’s under gag. We’re not allowed to share yet. So I guess I’ll just tease all my blog readers with it instead.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LET’S STAY TOGETHER by Al Green

This topic obviously resonated with quite a few people. In all honesty, I probably should have one of my clients do a guest blog about the topic of finances as a published author. Hopefully they’ll all just chime in on the comments section.

Okay, if you are a published author, here are some things that I recommend.

1. Find and then pay for a good tax accountant who can give you sound accounting advice for your writing business. You may start as a sole proprietor but as many of my authors have done, when real money starts coming in, it may pay (as in tax advantageous) to be an LLC or an S-corp instead.

When I say “pay for,” I mean it. It’s worth every dime to pay a CPA for his/her expertise. Be sure to ask around to other writers and get recommendations for a good one. Like all people in service industry, levels of expertise vary.

Gee, that’s true of agents as well.

2. When you have your contract, note the dates in your money management software for when you can expect to get paid. Then pad it by two months at least. I say this because things don’t always happen on time. The contract can take 2 to 3 months to negotiate and then it’s always another 6 weeks after signing for you to get paid. Foreign monies take even longer than that. As the agent, I always expect payment 6 months from when I’ve sent off the contract to my client for signing. It can take that long. For one client, the foreign publisher lost the contract and it took us a year to get paid. And that was even with me bugging them every other week for it.

You as the author might run into draft problems and not deliver the manuscript on time and so that d&a payment you were hoping to trigger might not happen until several months later. Trust me, this happens more often than not so keep that in mind.

So a couple of addendums to this:
–If you are a debut and your career is young, don’t start by living off your writing. I think you’ll find yourself in a world of hurt if you do that. Writing money is gravy money. Not factored in as part of the monthly living expenses but it can pay for a great vacation or a down payment on a car or what have you. Personally, I say put all of it into a good interest CD that you can’t access for a year. That way you’re forced to ignore it for a while. But heck, I know that’s not always feasible. I’m just suggesting it.

–Don’t quit you day job until the back end royalties can pay for your daily living expenses without issue. Back end is the royalty money you earn once your advance has earned out. This does not include the advance you might earn for your next book because that’s an advanced that hasn’t earned out yet. And just an FYI, statistically speaking (and this is by no means exact), only about 10% of books actually earn out their advances. The good majority of them don’t. And here’s another interesting tidbit, if a book does earn out the advance, it can take 2 years or more before that happens. One of my authors just earned out (which is hugely exciting) but it took 4 years. Now you know why I emphasize back end royalties that pay your daily living expenses without an issue.

3. When you get your check, pay your taxes right then and there. Now some folks are really great money managers. If you are, then you can ignore this. However, I think the majority of us are not quite that anal and I’ve heard stories time and time again where authors don’t do this and find themselves in a world of hurt. Work with your tax accountant to find out what is the likely percentage that you’ll owe and don’t wait, just mail the dang thing to the IRS and tell yourself, this was never my money anyway. If you don’t have a tax accountant, a good rule of thumb is 20% of whatever the check was and send that in. If you’ve overpaid, you’ll get it refunded.

If you’re disciplined money manager, okay, stick the monies you owe the IRS into a high-interest bearing account and then only draw from that account to pay your quarterly taxes (April 15, June 15, Sept. 15, Jan. 15). Make some money on the interest at the very least. Now if your honest with yourself and know that you’ll fall into the trap of thinking the next advance will pay those taxes, don’t wait. Mail your check to the IRS the minute you get your check from the publisher or agent. I can’t force you to do this but I’m really encouraging it.

4. When you get your check, pay yourself first. What exactly does this mean? That means you put away money for retirement even before you pay your bills. If you’re under the salary cap, open yourself up a ROTH IRA (one of the best investing tools out there because when you retire you won’t be taxed on monies you withdraw from a ROTH because you will have already paid the taxes on it). Damn straight folks. And even if you are not good with numbers and investing, just go to Vanguard’s website and look at the ROTH IRA here. Sign up for an index fund that follows the S&P 500. Usually those are the safest with the least amount of crazy ups and downs.

Max it out. Pay in the full amount you are allowed to legally in any given year.

And folks, I’ve been investing for years but I’m no expert. My suggestion here is not to replace advice from a professional financial advisor but if you don’t know where to begin, maybe this will help you to get started.

I’ll also try and dig up the money management/investing titles of all the books I’ve read over the years. It might be a good reading list for you.

5. Open up a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension Plan). You’re a writer and you’re self-employed. This is a retirement vehicle for the self-employed and it allows you, percentage wise, to put the most money away for retirement than you can in an IRA.

6. If you are living off of your writing, create a budget with all your expenses and only pay yourself X amount a month and stick to that. That way you won’t suddenly run out of money and be really anxious for your next payment (see above—which might get delayed, or yikes a contract canceled, or a manuscript rejected and you have to pay back the advance). All grim scenarios but can be a reality.

7. Buy yourself something nice to remember your first check by. I know. Totally opposite of everything I’ve said above but your first check from your first book advance is special. Celebrate it.

Then do all of the above.

Do You Run Your Writing As A Business?

STATUS: I tackled exactly one thing on my To Do list today and there are something like 20 items that need immediate attention. I’m still wondering how that happens.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD by the Beatles

Today I had a morning meeting with my tax accountant to review my company’s P&L (Profit and Loss Statement) and the Balance Sheet. We wanted to review how we were doing in comparison to last year. We analyzed our current cash flow, upcoming expenditures, quarterly taxes, and generally made certain that we were financially sound and would continue being so.

Just three weeks prior to this meeting, I had connected with my bookkeeper to evaluate the P&L and Balance Sheet to see if anything was out of whack—which, interestingly enough, always happens. Just the nature of accounting.

Years ago, I read in a book (and I wish I could remember the title) that Americans who spent at least 1 to 2 hours a month reviewing their finances, discussing budget (or for heaven’s sake creating a budget), learning about investing, reviewing one’s 401k or Roth IRA, and just generally doing money management ended up 10 times wealthier than their fellow Americans who didn’t. (And it didn’t matter where these money planners started in terms of their income.) This book also highlighted that 90% of Americans spent more time watching TV did they spent on managing their money. I believe it.

So where am I going with all this? If you are a writer, even if you are unpublished, you need to treat this like a business. You need to sit down at the beginning of the year (or the beginning of the quarter) and create a business plan for yourself and your writing. This is how much I’m going to budget for my writing, for paper, for ink cartridges, for getting an agent, for attending a conference to learn the craft, or for joining a site like Backspace, and so on. You need to an excel spreadsheet or quicken or whatever money program you use to track expenses and hopefully, monies earned.

Why? Because even if you are unpublished, it makes good money sense to know exactly how much it costs you a year to pursue your dream. It allows you to plan. It shows you the cost benefit (or not) of pursuing this as a career. It gets you primed and ready for when you are published author and you definitely need to be doing this, budgeting appropriately, paying your taxes, and deciding on when you can write full-time versus when you need to keep that day job.

You might as well start making a good habit of it now. Besides, don’t you want to be one of those people who are 10 times wealthier than their counterparts who never discuss money on a regular basis? I know I do—which is why my tax accountant and I spent 2 hours discussing it this morning and this is just one of many sessions we’ll have throughout the year.

Mea Culpa—Never A Position Of Strength

STATUS: Ack. Is it really almost 1:30 in the afternoon? Time to hit that TO DO list hard.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONESOME TOWN by Ricky Nelson

Or another title might be—don’t tweet in anger if you don’t like your book review.

I’m not sure how many of you have followed the Alice Hoffman Tweet debacle but here is briefly what happened. After a non-positive review in the Boston Globe by reviewer Roberta Silman, Author Alice Hoffman shot off 27 twitter tweets in response—one of the tweets included Silman’s email and telephone number and Hoffman urged her fans to respond to the review.

Uh, authors don’t do this. A reviewer is entitled to his or her opinion (hence, the point of reviews).

If you don’t like a review, you don’t like it. Move on. Trust me, mea culpas are not a position of strength. Regardless of whether you are justified or not, this does not put you, the author, in a positive light.

And, as Hoffman realized, you’re just going to end up having to issue an apology through your PR firm.

Now I think you can tweet about how sad you are about the bad review but why draw attention to it? Lots of readers pay very little attention to reviews. Recommends by friends are the largest seller of books. Your friend might not have remembered the Globe review but they might remember this tweet debacle.

So what will be accomplished? Is all publicity good publicity? Maybe this was a great promo stunt and readers will wonder whether they agree with the Globe reviewer and thus buy the book to read it?

What do you blog readers think?

My thought? I think people reading about this incident will just think Ms. Hoffman can’t handle criticism and maybe that old adage applies: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Criticism and bad reviews are a risk in publishing.

Dancing With The Stars Analogy

STATUS: Today was my final round of meetings. I’m taking tomorrow off and then heading back to Denver.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MAD WORLD by Gary Jules with Michael Andrews
(I rather like this remake of an old Tears For Fears song.)

When I was at the Backspace Conference last week, a fellow agent made an analogy that I thought was rather apt. Here’s my lame attempt to paraphrase the thought.

For all other forms of art, say being a dancer or a painter or a musician, the general public rather believes that it takes years of practice to master the art form. In fact, the artist might do an apprenticeship, take classes, study under a master, or have many practice tries that are then thrown out.

People, in general, don’t actually believe that if they take one tango class, they are ready for Dancing with the Stars.

But for whatever reason, this same viewpoint doesn’t apply when it comes to writing novels. Lots of aspiring writers really do think they can hammer out a first novel without studying the art form, without participating in a critique group, without learning the mechanics and boom, get a publishing contract. Get a big advance. Become a bestseller.

Now I know that my blog readers don’t think this way—because you read this blog as well as other industry blogs. You guys are smart enough to know otherwise but I’d say that for at least 50% of the queries we receive, the writers contacting us did very little to master the craft of writing. In fact, they probably didn’t even bother researching elements of the biz.

And yet they think they are ready for Dancing With The Stars. They get angry with agents who they perceive as impeding their success because we aren’t recognizing their talent. And these same writers make it that much harder for you savvy people to be heard through the noise.

So my little rant for the day.

The Black Sheep of Fiction Writing—Guest Blogger Carolyn Jewel

STATUS: Lots of meetings at the end of last week so I’ll type up some notes and get that to you tomorrow. Book Expo is starting on Friday (could it get crazier?). And just a heads up that I’m at the Backspace conference all Thursday (May 28) so if you are in town, you might think about attending. And a reminder, there’s only a couple of days remaining in the Brenda Novak auction for Diabetes. I’m doing a breakfast at RWA (or in Washington D.C. if you live in the area. You don’t necessarily have to be attending the conference just as long as you are in the City). A 24-hour read with an intense critique.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME by Jewel

For me, Carolyn is one of those amazing writers who should be getting a lot more attention than she is. Her historical romance, SCANDAL, was a tour de force. Reviewers were stunned at how complex and sexy it was. It’s as good as anything that the established titans are doing in that genre.

And the same is true for her paranormal series that begun with MY WICKED ENEMY. The writer she is compared to the most? J.R. Ward. If you are a romance lover and haven’t picked up a Carolyn Jewel book, I only have one question for you. Why not?

So in the spirit if huge generosity (as this blog entry took some time to write!), Carolyn teaches you the art of the back story. From some of the sample pages Sara and I have read lately, this is a lesson that any aspiring writer (no matter the genre) should pay attention to. Enjoy! Happy Release Day Carolyn.

Backstory: Can’t write with it, can’t write without it.

Most writers have heard repeatedly that backstory is bad. I’m here to say that backstory isn’t bad; it’s just misunderstood and misused. In fact, I’ll lay it all on the line right now and say that the more backstory you have the better. With some pretty important caveats. Yeah, there’s always a catch, isn’t there?

Please keep in mind that I am speaking in generalities here, though I will give concrete examples. Your specific story may call for a different use or construction of backstory. After you read this, don’t rush back to your story to slavishly apply these principles without more.

What you need to do, what you MUST do, is figure out how to adapt these concepts to the story you are writing. You need to make sure you understand why we, as writers, even talk about something called backstory. It’s not easy, but the time you spend thinking about it will serve you and your writing very well.

What is This Backstory of Which I Speak?

That’s easy.

It’s all the stuff that happened before a story actually starts. It’s the baggage your characters bring with them to their story, their hang-ups, history and life stories. It’s the political and historical past that matters to the story you’re going to tell.

James Michener is one writer who built a reputation by including ALL the backstory in his actual story. Other writers, however, are not James Michener and they (we) do not have his special dispensation for backstory. Do not let Michener lull you into thinking it’s OK for you to describe the formation of the universe before you get around to introducing your characters.

Backstory can be a swift and sure route to readers who end up enjoying a book that isn’t one you wrote. But it’s also the key to making your story resonate and having people dying to find out what happens next. Powerful backstory will do that for you.

A frequent mistake I see from writers who are starting out (or sometimes, just in an early draft of a work) is too much backstory revealed. They write prologues, start their story too soon, or most egregious of all, stop the story dead to explain how the hero’s mother abandoned him as a child and therefore he believes all women will abandon him.

The problem is that we are not writing a story about the backstory of our novel. We’re writing about what happens BECAUSE of the backstory. Readers aren’t very interested in what happened to the heroine ten years ago. They want to know what’s happening to her right now. Every single time you stop telling your present story to relay the past, your story dies on the page. D. E. A. D.

Because of this, backstory is something you release into the wild in small amounts and, whenever possible, indirectly through active, present-story events. I like to think of backstory as a door I am not permitted to open except in case of dire emergency. My job is to find a way to include the backstory without opening that door.

Sweat over writing a scene in which your hero interacts with the heroine but is driven by his abandonment issues without ever explaining that he has them. Yes, I know. It’s hard. (This is me, shrugging.)

What to do In Case of Dire Emergency

Eventually, you will probably have to explain something about the past. The less time you spend doing this the better. (That’s time on the page, by the way, not time working on how to figure out where, when and how much.)

When you’ve reached the point where you have to insert some backstory or risk confusing your readers or making a character seem unpleasant or illogical, then make the revelation count. Make the reveal complicate things or add complexity to a scene or characterization. Do it and move on.

Depending on the sort of writer you are, you may or may not have all this worked out in advance. I never do. I spend a lot of time re-jiggering where and when I reveal backstory. If you’re like me and are on the write by the seat of the pants side of the spectrum, you’ll need to pay a lot of attention to where to place, add, move or remove such scenes as your story develops. If you’re more of a plotter, then these are all things you’ve struggled with before you start writing chapters. It doesn’t matter where in the process it happens, as long as it does happen.

And Now, Some Concrete Examples

In my June release, My Forbidden Desire, my heroine, Alexandrine, is a witch who doesn’t have much power. She knows she’s adopted and has searched for her biological parents, with some limited success. She has an adoptive brother she believes is dead. She also wishes she had more power and regrets that she doesn’t fit better in the normal world to which her lack of magical ability more or less relegates her. Creatures she’s only read about actually exist. There really are demons and there are mages who use their power in horrific ways. She also has an amulet she hopes will boost her power.

The hero is Xia, a fiend who hates the magekind because they kill and enslave creatures like him. He hates witches in particular because he was betrayed by a witch and ended up enslaved because of it. He also hates them because his species is attracted to the magic, and he doesn’t like being vulnerable. Unbeknownst to Alexandrine, her amulet contains the spirit of a murdered fiend, and though she thinks its supposed power doesn’t work on her, in fact, she’s bonding with the amulet in a way that may cost her her life. Xia intends to release the spirit of the trapped fiend and end its suffering.

These two paragraphs of backstory are condensed for this article, by the way. My challenge was to find a way to reveal these elements without directly visiting the past unless or until there was no other choice.

I could have started the story with Alexandrine finding the amulet or started with a scene about how Xia was betrayed by a witch. I could have started with Alexandrine trying to use the amulet, or, even, with Xia being told he has to go protect a witch. Any of those choices would contain a lot of emotion, and they certainly would have mattered to the protagonist.

Keep in mind, however, that My Forbidden Desire is about Alexandrine and Xia and the collision of all that backstory.

How Backstory Helps you Figure Out Where to Start

My Forbidden Desire is not about Alexandrine finding the amulet or trying to use it. It’s also not about Xia having been betrayed. It’s about what those two characters do BECAUSE of the backstory I’ve laid out.

Another way to look at this is to consider at what point the backstory carries so much weight in the present that forward motion is unavoidable.

If I’d chosen to start with Alexandrine finding the amulet, the other backstory does not come into play. The identity of her biological father doesn’t matter at that point. Nor does the existence of fiends. Same with the betrayal Xia experienced. If I’d started with her finding the amulet, I would have ended up with a very different story.

Instead, I chose to start My Forbidden Desire with Alexandrine meeting the brother she thought was dead. That isn’t enough on its own to make the story move forward. Her brother is there because he’s learned mages are willing to kill her for the amulet. Since he’s leaving the country in a few hours, he’s arranged for her to have a bodyguard – the witch hating Xia who hates her even more when he learns Alexandrine’s biological father is none other than the mage who once enslaved him.

All the backstory is present in chapter one, but not all of it is explicit. From page one on, the story has no choice but to move forward. Alexandrine’s father is after the amulet and willing to kill her to get it. She is now sharing her small apartment with a creature she thought wasn’t real. Xia has to protect a witch whose father once enslaved him.

And neither of them knows just how much their world has changed.

Some Nuts and Bolts Tips

It’s been my observation that more often than not a prologue makes things worse, not better, in terms of backstory. If you have a prologue, I suggest deleting it (at least temporarily) while you confirm that it really truly needs to be there. Just because you like it isn’t enough reason to keep it around. This, of course, is true of every single scene in your story.

The use of “had” in your prose is a strong signal that you’re dumping backstory. It’s boring. Stop it. When you find yourself writing, He had gone to the store that day, never knowing his mother had been packing her bags while he had been buying Frosted Flakes.

Find another way. If that goes on for more than two or three sentences: snooze. Think up a scene or predicament or even a secondary character through which you can imply or otherwise reveal this information directly and actively. It’s hard work, I know.

Summing It Up

I am of the firm belief that every writer must find her own way to truths about writing. My advice is to think about what I’ve said about backstory. If you disagree with me, and I’m sure some of you will, spend some time making sure you understand exactly why you disagree. It’s quite a valuable experience. After a good faith effort and study, use the parts that resonate with you and discard the rest.

I’ve always been frustrated by articles that wrap up their writing advice in pretty metaphors that show off one’s prose more than they give concrete advice. And yet, there’s gold to be mined in those metaphors. So here’s mine:.

Backstory gives your story heft, weight and shape and help you find a way into your story. But for all that, backstory isn’t your story. It’s just chasing your story down a dark alley.

Guest Blog: Janice’s Editor Donna Bray On The Pain Merchants Title Change

STATUS: TGIF! As you know, I’m off to London this Sunday. That means blogging might be sporadic for the next 2 weeks while I’m abroad but I’ll try and keep y’all in the loop on UK happenings and the London Book Fair.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE COURIER from Last of the Mohicans soundtrack

Our guest blogger for today is Donna Bray, co-Publisher at Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.

“I wonder if anybody at the publishing company is reading these (great) comments and wishing you guys were in on the brainstorming sessions!”

As a matter of fact… we are.

Many thanks for Kristin for letting me guest blog here in response to her posts, as well as the dozens of interesting, smart, and impassioned comments.

An important part of an editor’s job is balancing the creative vision of the author with the realities of the marketplace. And there are dozens of people involved in this balancing act with me –- sales, marketing, publicity, design, production — all of whom care deeply about book. And certainly in the case of Janice Hardy’s book, the folks at Harper were incredibly excited about her as a writer and about the potential for the trilogy. So, you can take the extra interest as a blessing or a curse. If these people didn’t love the book so much, they would not have invested so much time and money in getting the best possible title and jacket.

(Ah, the jacket –that’s a whole other post.)

I myself take it as a blessing.

But to answer another reader’s question — “Do they ever tell you why they change the title for a book?” The short answer is – yes! The long answer speaks more to my publishing philosophy — there was no “they,” only “we.” A book doesn’t suddenly become my book or Harper’s when I acquire it – it belongs to “us”, and we all want the same thing – to create a wonderful book with an arresting package that will get great reviews and sell, sell, sell.

So, back to THE SHIFTER: While I do still like the title THE PAIN MERCHANTS (as I see many of you do, too!), I can also see why our sales team were leery of it – is “pain” in the title a turn-off? Is it misleading, or not middle-grade enough? To their credit, despite their initial hesitation, sales came around to the appeal of the title and presented the book to the retail chains as THE PAIN MERCHANTS – only to receive a negative reaction there.

I shared the feedback with Kristin and Janice at every stage of this process, and together we decided to explore different options. We were at a bit of a loss, at first (see Kristin’s list of other, discarded titles -– was there anything we hadn’t already thought of?!). But ultimately we made the right decision — we all wanted to give this first novel its best shot at success. We came up with a title that reflects the story (it is about a shifter, after all) and that feels middle-grade and fantasy. This could lead into another discussion of the importance of strong and clear positioning of a title from the outset… but let me not digress, especially in another person’s blog.

I have in the past stood up for a title that sales was unsure of — some felt, for instance, that WE ARE THE SHIP by Kadir Nelson was not obvious enough, even with the subtitle “The Story of Negro League Baseball.” Every day, editors and publishers do support the vision and instincts of the creative people we work with –- and we bump up regularly against the demands of the marketplace, which presents more and greater challenges daily. We may struggle on the way to the final book, we may disagree, we may have difficulties or disappointments -– but if it all begins with the idea of “we,” there’s a much better shot of getting to happily ever after, with author, agent, and publisher counting our big piles of beans…

The Pain Merchants Title Saga

STATUS: I leave Sunday for London and the London Book Fair. I’m heading out early as I have a whole week of meetings with UK publishers.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU by Whitney Houston

Titles are always a fascinating discussion I think. For this project, the author Janice Hardy and I were involved every step of the way.

First off, and you couldn’t tell this from the original pitch blurb, THE SHIFTER is middle grade fantasy. When Donna Bray at Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins) bought the trilogy, she mentioned that the title would probably have to change for this audience. Since titles change all the time, it wasn’t a deal breaker—especially when Donna pre-empted in a very good deal (in Deal Lunch speak). We were over the moon to be part of the Balzer & Bray debut imprint launch list which is happening this fall. We’ve gotten lots of extra press that might not have happened if that weren’t the case.

But back to the title. As Janice mentioned in the comments section, her UK publisher is actually keeping the original title. I guess what works across the pond gets the thumbs down on this side of the Atlantic.

So here’s the saga. We knew right after the sale that a title change was requested so we got cracking on some alternatives. Right off, we came up with a title that everyone at B&B liked.

So the title “The Pain Merchants” shifted to “The Healing Wars: Nya’s Curse.”

Great. All parties were happy. Then Donna went to sales conference and the title didn’t play well with the sales reps but they like The Pain Merchants. So back to the original title (which of course Janice and I were pretty happy about).

Great. We were set. Got the title. We were also involved in the cover discussion at this time. We saw at least 4 or 5 different cover concepts that were being considered. Settled on one that we all loved. Then that got shot down at sales conference as well. Back to the drawing board for the cover but hey, at least we have a title, right?

Nope. Then sell-in to the various accounts happened. The accounts didn’t like the title (but were great with the new cover concept which is the cover y’all saw yesterday).

Okay, we couldn’t have Healing Wars or Pain Merchants. How about Pain Shifter?

Nope. That didn’t work as the accounts didn’t want the word “pain” in it. When BN, Borders, and the bigger independents say nay, guess what happens? You ditch the title and come up with something else.

THE SHIFTER is what the accounts liked so that’s the title. With the really wonderful cover art, I think viewers will get that it’s fantasy and not paranormal (which would be shapeshifters, vampires and the like).

Also, if you look under Janice’s name at the top of the cover, you’ll see we managed to save something. We liked “The Healing Wars” for the series title and there it is.

Here’s a partial list of some of the titles we played with (and hey, they can’t all be gems!):

A Talent for Trouble
A Touch of Trouble
Hands Full of Secrets
Sisters of Hope and Sorrow
Unwanted
A Choice for the Hidden
The Luminary’s Bane
The Broken Healer
Healer’s Curse
The Secret Shifter
A Bargain At Any Price
The Pynvium War
Takers
The Missing Apprentice
The Price of Pain
The Price of Pynvium
She Who Has No Choice Has Trouble
Killing Touch
Shifting Pain
A Choice for Those Who Can’t Choose
The Secret of Pynvium
A Miracle for Geveg
Trading on Misery
Trading on Pain
Nya’s Curse
Nya & The Luminary
Nya’s War

Tomorrow I’ll share the submission letter.

Am I Hooked Or Not Hooked?

STATUS: Today was pretty quiet because of the President’s Day holiday. I like that. I accomplish a lot and it isn’t even Saturday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS by Queen

For 2009, I’m pretty much on conference and contest hiatus. There’s just too much of a time crunch to take on extra tasks or travel but last year, I had promised to participate in a very interesting contest. When January rolled around and it was time to say ‘yes’ to the commitment, I was true to my word.

So over the weekend, I did the Secret Agent contest on the blog misssnarksfirstvictim. Obviously the secret it out but over the weekend, I was reading and commenting on 60 submitted first pages.

The question I had to answer was: “Am I Hooked? Why or why not.”

In other words, it was exactly like reading our slush pile but in this case, the submitters got feedback.

Yeah, I thought that might perk up your ears a bit. And it’s definitely worth popping over there to read the entries and my response to them. I signed each of my comments with the moniker secret agent.

Since I have the wonderful Sara, it’s been a while since I’ve read the slush slush (so to speak) and I’ll tell you right now that two problems rose to the surface on why I said “not hooked, wouldn’t read further” on some of the entries and I’m going to share those two things with my blog readers right now.

The two top problems were:

1. To much telling instead of showing the character in the scene (or too heavy a reliance on back story to jumpstart the story).

And

2. Not enough mastery of the craft—in other words, the writing needed to be tightened. Too much wordiness, overuse of adverbs, immediately explaining what was just revealed in dialogue, etc.

So if you are wondering how an agent reads and responds to an opening page, you might want to give that blog a look and read through the entries and the comments.

And here’s another interesting thing to note. When I did the contest, most of the the participants had already responded to each entry. I deliberately did not read any of the response comments until I had left my own comment first.

I was amazed at how often the things that tripped me up where spotted and noted by the author writers participating and reading the blog contest.

You want those folks for your critique group. I’m just saying….

When An Imprint Goes Bye-Bye

STATUS: For this week, I’ve been ignoring non-urgent emails to make sure I finished up some contract and royalty issues. Today I dug into the 225 that were awaiting my aattention. I’m down to 175. Guess I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’VE GOT YOU UNDER BY SKIN by Dinah Washington

Yesterday I mentioned that Bowen Press was closed down but not what happens to all the books that were that list. Basically, the answer is not much—in the literal sense and in an ironic way!

Literal Way
Books are sold to a publisher. Imprint might be listed in the contract but publisher still reserves the right to change how a book is published so if the imprint goes bye-bye, the publisher still owns the right to publish the book. In this case, any book sold to Bowen Press is still a book sold to HarperCollins and nothing much is really happening. The books will still be published by HC.

But in a whole other way, everything is happening. Books on this list get moved to other existing imprints. The books get assigned to other editors. The books could be cancelled (although I haven’t heard any stories in this case—yet). And this leads me to the irony part.

In the Ironic Way
Nothing much will be happening for these orphaned books because when the agent originally sold the project, one of the pros in choosing Bowen was to have the title on the launch list. There are lots of big pushes for a launch. It can be a huge benefit.

Well, that just went away.

Instead of the excited publisher, Brenda, who bought the book, we now have an editor who just got assigned a title or titles to his/her already crowded list. Hum… how much attention will that title get? [note: agents can be instrumental in getting a book assigned to a specific editor but this isn’t always possible.]

There was probably a marketing person and publicist assigned to this imprint. Now it goes into the general HC pool.

Now if one of the titles was planned to be big, chances are good the publisher will still do the big push as the momentum started months ago for titles about to be released and stuff is already in play. Those titles will more than likely be fine.

For the other titles? They might be missing out on some love which is where the agent steps in and starts raising some ruckus to find out what will be done for their orphaned project. But we aren’t miracle workers, we can raise a fuss but that doesn’t mean the publisher will respond.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease though. If we are noisy enough, they might step up and do some stuff just to shut us up.

This is also where I, as an agent, would encourage an author to step up on the promo plan. The author should have been working on this before this moment in time so if they have, this is a good opportunity to make sure the new publicist etc. has the promo plan in hand that the author can discuss with him/her and get some positive attention. [Publicists are more inclined to help those who are willing to help themselves.]

And if they haven’t, guess what the author needs to be doing pronto!

The Art Of Getting Blurbs

STATUS: Completely slammed today so I haven’t had a chance to do anything with my trip notes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MONEY BURNS A HOLE IN MY POCKET by Dean Martin

So I’m going to be totally lame and let a lovely author make my point for me today. An author of mine alerted me to this post by Lauren Baratz-Logsted over at Red Room and I personally think that every author and aspiring writer cut and paste this advice into a file that you can review over and over.

There really is an art to requesting a blurb. A way of handling it professionally. A way of being gracious if a request is declined. A way of being gracious if a request is granted (goes without saying) but sure enough, one misguided author has managed to flub it completely.

So here’s the link to Lauren’s advice.

Not to mention, Red Room is a rather cool place. You might want to look around a bit. Lots of good stuff for writers on this site.