One of the tasks I’ve set myself while Rivers and Roads is in Beta is to “Get To Work on My Next Project.” To this end, I’ve begun scribbling in a brand, new journal. I’m interviewing potential new characters, drawing maps, making rough outlines.
The trouble is, I’m not quite sure what my new project should be. If it turns out I can’t generate Industry interest in Rivers and Roads, I’ll need to try something completely different. The only trouble is, just what, exactly, can I try that is different from what I usually do, but is still something I would want to read?
In case you haven’t yet read my post about Books I Might Not DNF, I’ve grown picky in my old age. As far as I can tell, nobody nowadays writes what I really long to read. Which is why I started writing in earnest about eight years ago. And I’m not going to waste the years I have left writing stuff that doesn’t make my heart sing. I did that for a living, for decades! I don’t do That Stuff anymore.
But if The Industry is not interested in what I want to read (which would certainly explain why I can’t find it in bookstores) then how am I going to write Something Different enough (that is to say, similar enough to what everyone is already publishing) to get a foot in the door without compromising my principles? And just what are those principles, anyway?
I scribbled on, and on, until I finally distilled my thoughts down to a concise handful of main points I was/am not willing to compromise under any circumstances in my efforts to pique Industry interest. Five is not too many, right?
The Five Immutable Laws of anything written by Kim Beall
The Magic Is Real – objectively, empirically real within the context of the story-world, and not merely real within the narrator’s own unreliable head.
The protagonist is an adult – preferably over 40.
The protagonist is a human woman – though under some circumstances she may be a deceased human woman. Ghosts are people, too! Within strict limits, some vague claim to a long-distant non-human ancestor may be permitted.
The setting is in the contemporary United States of America – no long-distant past, no romantic foreign places, no fictional worlds, and absolutely no Cotswolds!
The world is Beauty – This beautiful world may be under threat by grimdark evil, and we may get bone-shuddering previews of what might come should the protagonist fail, but the goal of the characters is not merely to survive in a grimdark world. The goal of our protagonist and her allies is to preserve the beauty, even if they have to go through hell (and several sequels) to do it. The Final Image, if the protagonist succeeds, is of a world that is worth saving in its own right, and not just a bleak container within which hominid DNA may continue to replicate a while longer.
Addendum: Things that are Right Out as I will throw up if I have to write about them, so please do not even suggest them:
Sexy shifters of any kind
Shifters of any kind
Toxic relationship tropes between the protagonist and the love interest. (This is why my protagonist is a grown-ass woman, FGS.)
Sexual attraction to a toxic male (see above) (except, within limits, for some incidental side-characters)
Chiseled abs and perky breasts (except, within limits, for some incidental side-characters)
Conflating ghosts with demons
Needless to say, this idiotic rigidity of mine makes it hard for me to find anything to read, let alone write anything that The Industry will consider looking at. But if I’ve learned nothing else about tropes (even my own) I’ve learned that they can work, if done right. People will gobble them up, if only the author can think of some way to turn them on their heads.
It’s all about Positioning.
With this in mind, I’m not even going to wait until Rivers and Roads makes its the way through the querying process to whatever end. I’m already starting to churn my Immutable Tropes around in my mind. I am determined to, and I know I can, honestly and with integrity position them as something agents and editors are actually looking for. (Because another thing I’ve learned from the past few years is that there are, in fact, lots of people who are just as hungry as I am for what I write.)
I’m still also gonna write the sequel to Rivers and Roads, though. I don’t want to Emeraldize Geddy and Wing, after all!
The question gets percolated around Twitter all the time: Do you consider yourself to be an author, or merely a writer?
Here’s the thing: it’s not open for debate. The definitions of the words “author” and “writer” are about as clear and precise as the definitions of words like horse, pen, or coffee (she said, looking around the room for objects with clear-cut definitions.)
The word “author” has the same root as the word “authority.” If you have authority over a piece of writing, you are its author. Not aspiring. You actually are the author.
Most people make the mistake of thinking you are “merely a writer” until you get paid for what you wrote, and until then you are an “aspiring” author. Nothing could be further from the truth. I used to get paid to write all the time. I wrote technical manuals, software guides, corporate safety newsletters, website content, all kinds of stuff. And I got paid for it! But I was not the author of those materials. Those materials legally belonged to the company for which I wrote them. The bylines and copyrights on them referred to the company, and my name didn’t show up anywhere on any of them.
On the other hand, when I was a young teen, I wrote dozens of what you might call novels. They were read only by my closest friends and ended up being stashed in a shopping bag in my closet when I left home. I may have been aspiring…to get rich off them some magical day! But until then, I was still the author of those materials. The byline on all of them said “by Kim Beall.” And even though I was just a kid, the copyright to them legally belonged to me the moment I wrote them down. In very fact if anyone had published any parts of those works for any reason, even if they did not make any money from them, if they had not credited me as author they would have been breaking the law.
Note: there is one circumstance under which it is correct to refer to yourself as an “aspiring author.” That is if you are always only planning to write, but never actually do it! Then yes, you are aspiring like crazy here. You will become an author as soon as you start putting words on paper (or disc.) (Or cloud. You know what I mean!) But yes, until then, you are merely aspiring.
If you write stuff, you are a writer, regardless of whether your work is advertising copy or fan fiction. If you get paid for what you write, you might be an author, or you might be a corporate asset. Both these things are fine. But remember: if your name is on the things you wrote, you legally own the copyright to it and you are the author, even if you never make a dime. Every court in the land will refer to you “hereinafter as The Author,” should you ever find yourself having to reclaim your work from someone who misappropriated it. This is regardless of whether you or they ever make any money from it.
If you write stuff on which your name rightfully belongs, then stop calling yourself an “aspiring author.” Stop shrinking away from referring to yourself as what you actually are. You are an author. Own it!
PS: Those stories I wrote as a teen and left behind at my parents’ house? My mom saved them for me for decades, and gave them back to me when she knew I was old enough not to throw them out. Bless her – I hope she’s enjoying Heaven, now. Her corner of it, I am sure, has a WalMart and a Gabes within walking distance of a Red Lobster and an Asian buffet!
As a woman who is blessed to have met and married every woman’s dream: a partner who Loves To Talk to Her, I have had to resort to some extreme measures to obtain unbroken time to write without interruptions. These measures include but are not limited to: going somewhere else to write (I love my local coffee shop!) and erecting a large easel in front of my office door with “Shhh!” spelled out in glittery hearts on a large project board. Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how to attach electrified concertina wire to this sign, so it’s all too easy for said beloved partner to just poke their head around it and interrupt “for just a sec – I promise this really is important!” several times per hour.
In an attempt to clarify what actually is and is not important enough to interrupt me with while I am writing, I drew up the following document. I don’t know if it will help, but I offer it here for you to use as a template should you find yourself encountering similar difficulties communicating boundaries to your well-meaning loved ones. (Note: My husband is a consultant who teaches online business classes to adults, so you may need to edit the “Basic Rule of Thumb” to fit your own situation.)
When It Is OK to Disturb Me While I Am Writing
Basic Rule of Thumb:Do not call my cell phone or pop in to personally speak with me except for matters about which you, yourself, would find it appropriate for someone to interrupt you while you are actively in the process of teaching a class full of live human students.
To assist in clarification and choice-making, Specific
Instances of such matters are defined below.
Do not attempt to speak with me during my writing day unless
one or more of the following conditions has been met:
Our house is on fire
The house of Someone I Care About* is or has recently been on fire
The town we live in is on fire
The town I work in is on fire
You have a lead on a new puppy for me but want me to meet it before you commit
Someone I Care About* (see definitions in the “People I Care About” section below):
needs to be bailed out of jail
is in Grave Mortal Danger
(Note: “Grave Mortal Danger” may include but is not limited to being admitted to the hospital or having been in an accident. “Grave Mortal Danger” does not include wanting money to pay bills, has the flu, has an administrative question, wonders where something is, is concerned or excited about the status of Today’s Politics, or has heard a great joke.)
Viggo Mortensen and/or Geddy Lee and/or the ghost of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien are standing at the door asking to talk to me
Peter Jackson called and wants to discuss the movie rights for my book
A movie producer other than Peter Jackson has called and wants to discuss the movie rights for my book AND will rescind their offer unless I call them back before evening
Everything else, including a unicorn taking up residence in the potting shed, can wait until evening. Also, if Christ has returned, I probably already know about it.
* People I Care About
For purposes of the above Instances, the following individuals fall under the category “Someone I Care About.” (Please note that I have additional friends scattered throughout the world, about whom I do care, but these would be most likely to contact me directly rather than through you via our landline.)
my children and/or their spouses and/or their children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
your children and/or your children’s significant others and/or your children’s significant others’ children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
my siblings and/or their spouses or children and/or their children’s spouses or children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
my cousin and her spouse and children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
my last two remaining aunts or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us (I do not, as far as I know, have any remaining uncles. If someone calls claiming to be my uncle, he is almost certainly a scammer.)
Any of our immediate neighbors, or anyone (except Donald Trump) about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
Any former member of my son’s rock band, including Hunter’s dog Zappa, or anyone (except Donald Trump) about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
Our cats (but not the chickens. I mean, I care about them and all, but their demises are rather too common to be remarkable anymore.)
Note that I do not include my parents or your parents in the above list, as they are deceased, but if any one or more of them attempts to contact us for any reason at all, please do feel free to interrupt me!
No, seriously. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t find any comps for my own work, and that is a Big Problem. So I would be delighted if you could prove me wrong.
I am trying to find a way to say all this without being negative, but I’m having a hard time not going into rant-mode. Thank you for bearing with me as I try again.
Conventional advice, for authors who want to be traditionally published, states that I need to read, read, read so that I can demonstrate my knowledge of the market and so that I will know, when the time comes, what books and authors to use for comps. And! That’s not good enough: said books need to have been written within the past five years; said authors need to have debuted in the past five years. It’s the latter part of this I’m having tremendous trouble with.
I have tried! I have tried and tried and tried, over the past five – OK, more like ten or even more – years, to find a new author, new books to love. I have, for the most part, failed. I even joined a book club that specifically reads and discusses fantasy books. They have introduced me to award-winning books by modern, traditionally published authors once a month. I have paid good money for these books, and forced myself to try to read them. I confess, I have finished few of them. My unedited gut-response would have been, “I enjoyed cleaning my toilets this week more than I enjoyed reading this book” if I weren’t trying to be nice at book club meetings.
Part of it is that I have reached an age where I realize life is too short to spend what little free time I can find, forcing myself to read or watch “entertainment” I am not enjoying. But, since I have started writing books, myself, much of my difficulty is that I utterly fail to understand why I should “just give it a chance. It finally stops being dreadful and begins to pick up and get good around page 100 or so…” when I know that I, as an author querying my own work, could never, ever, ever get away with that sort of thing! (I’m sorry, Meg La Torre, but I hated Nevernight. I really, really tried, but I haven’t been able to pick it back up since I put it down somewhere in the middle of chapter four.) It makes me want to tear my hair and yell “WTF!” Only, not the acronym.
I have, of course, also heard people in the publishing industry saying “OMG you should never let anyone in The Industry hear you saying you think everything coming out today is crap! That’s an insult to them and to all their clients and readers. How can you expect them to support you when you just got done insulting them?” And this is a legit point! But I’m not saying the books coming out in recent years are crap. They’re just not for me. I’m saying I really don’t think I could, or should, force myself to read, and then write, stuff I have never enjoyed and almost certainly never will, in order to obtain representation by claiming my own work is comparable to said other work. And I don’t think there’s an industry professional out there who would advise me to try to do that, anyway!
But it’s not like I’m not a reader and therefore don’t understand good storytelling. I used to read voraciously! From the time I was a pre-teen (um, that was in the 60s) until recently, I would literally read two or three books per week. Even when I was a parent of young children, living paycheck to paycheck and had to get up and go to work at 5 a.m., I would stay up late to finish that book, because I was enjoying it so much I couldn’t put it down.
These days, though, it feels like I’ve already read everything I might ever have enjoyed, and nobody is writing anything new for me. I swear I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say I would literally rather re-read a book I already own, over and over (and have done so) than read most of the stuff that is coming out nowadays. Did I say “most of?” I would actually settle for just a handful of new books I could enjoy, once in a while. Would, say, three or four a year be too much to ask?
Unfortunately I have, in the past five years, read two – count them: two! – traditionally published books I actually enjoyed. They were really good, too! I recommend them to everyone I talk to about books. One was Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, and the other was John Dies at the End by David Wong. But I can’t use these as comps because neither of them is 1) in the genre I write in or 2) published in the last 5 years. (I have also enjoyed several self-published books, to which I have been exposed through networking with other writers. But I can’t use those as comps. Or can I?)
So, is it that there literally aren’t any good books coming out these days, or is it just that I’ve grown old and am unable to adapt anymore to “all that stuff kids today seem to think is so keen – get off my lawn!!!”
And, even if I, personally, don’t like the kind of stuff the
kids on my lawn like, surely there are other readers out there my age? I’m a
fekking Boomer, FGS! You would think there should be lots of readers like me out
there, and other writers writing for their huge market-share. What are my contemporaries
reading? Are they reading stuff they don’t enjoy, either, just to have
something to read?
I am quite serious when I say what finally pushed me over the edge, after decades of intending to write a book “someday,” was the fiftieth or so time I left the bookstore disappointed and empty-handed because I could not, even with the help of the knowledgeable staff at my lovely indy bookstore, find anything I wanted to even take a chance on reading. That was when I realized I had to write it myself. Surely I can’t be the only person in the reading world who is looking for the kinds of things I’m looking for? In fact I know I’m not, because people (of all genders, but also of different ages) have told me they really enjoyed my work and hope there is more of it coming. (Only a couple of these were relatives, so you can stop right there with that line of response!)
What, exactly, am I looking for (and writing) then, that is in such dearth out there in the world that I not only have to write it myself, but also can’t find any comps in order to traditionally publish what I write? Because you know what happens when an author dares to say “But I can’t find anything like it.” The response is always:
“Oh, don’t be so precious. You are not that unique! Everyone thinks they’re writing ground-breaking stuff that nobody else has ever thought of before!”
But no. Seriously. I literally, honestly, absolutely am not kidding or even exaggerating when I say I Can Not Find anything like 1) what I want to read or 2) what I write.
So FYI, if you’ve made it this far and think you can help
prove me wrong (and believe me, I want to be wrong about this!) here is
what I want to read / am writing:
First and foremost, it is written for adults, with adult protagonists. There’s a reason, dammit, why 70% of readers who purchase Young Adult fiction are actually Adult Adults. It’s because there are so many adult readers who want magic and wonder in their lives. They are forced to resort to the children’s section of the book store because Everyone Knows magic and enchantment cannot happen to grownups. At least, if it does, said magic can only be dark, miserable, painful, and end in dismay, making you regret for the rest of your life ever having wished for magic in the first place. To expect real enchantment without having to pay a dire price for it is childish, right? Once you grow up, you need to accept the fact that life is only about horrible things winning in the end. I think this is a terrible message the modern world is trying to ram down our throats, and the statistic above bears out my belief that I am not the only one who refuses to accept it.
The magic (within the context of the book) must be real. Not some kind of Scooby-Doo trope where it was all just someone tricking the protagonist all along or, I don’t know, the fact that the protagonist was nucking futz the whole time.
The female lead has to have a brain. Usually when I beg people to please, please, please direct me to a book or author who writes according to the first two criteria above, they inevitably say “Oh, sure! There’s this author who writes this whole Wacky Witch series!” and I go to Amazon and “Look Inside!” and realize it’s chick-lit. The entire plot revolves around the female lead being unable to stop making ditzy mistakes. Kind of an anti-Mary Sue sort of thing, I guess. If she had a brain, there’d be no story – it’s a laugh a minute. I honestly have no problem with chick-lit and a little mindless entertainment once in a while. I’ve even read a few of these stories, while floating in the pool with a margarita in my hand. The trouble is: it’s not what I write, so I can’t use it as a comp. Maybe I could do one of those cross-comp statements like: “My work is Kim Harrison meets an MC who is smarter than a hairbrush.” Might that work?
Gore for the sake of gore, gratuitous violence, rape, incest, and (especially) suffering or endangered children are RIGHT OUT. Also I am completely over vampires and werewolves and other shifters, serial killers, and demons who have OCDs about not letting people’s guts stay inside them. I want (and write about) paranormal magic and entities, yes, but it is not automatically necessarily evil. Regardless of what Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to teach us, ghosts and demons are not the same thing. Get a dictionary! Anyway, a ghost does not have to want to rip your lungs out for you to be afraid of it, when you first meet it. The supernatural naturally frightens humans, just because we are not comfortable with The Unknown. It is this sense of “there is more to the world than we can possibly know” that I am after – not just the fear, for its own sake, which this realization initially causes. Besides, when a story becomes all about lovely people dying in grisly ways, for me, it is no longer scary – it is now tragic. I feel more pain than fear when forced to read or watch this stuff. If I wanted to pique my jaded modern emotions with profound sorrow, pain, and tragedy, all I’d have to do is turn on the news.
Now we are getting into “preference” territory. That is to say, what follows are things I would love, love, love to see in books I might potentially buy, but am unable to find, no matter how hard I look. So I write them instead, which is why there really, literally, actually are no comps available, in modern literature for me to use. (Please prove me wrong! I would be so happy if you did!) These things are:
The stories take place in the modern age. Not in ancient Ireland or in some dystopian future. (I was over dystopia almost before it ever hit the scene, anyway.)
The stories take place in an ordinary setting wherein any one of us might find ourselves through no extraordinary means.
This ordinary setting is even, oh my god, is it even possible? In the good ol’ US of A! Rather than in some inaccessible, magical place such as Through A Portal or in the Cotswolds or some other place like that which doesn’t really exist. (No, I don’t believe the Cotswolds actually exist. After all, MS Word doesn’t believe they exist!)
The stories happen, as I’ve said, not only to actual grownups (with brains, remember) but to ones who are over twenty nine years old, who have some life experience. Maybe even have grown children of their own!
I could get away with using a story as a comp if the protag
is only 27, or if it takes place in, say, modern-day Madrid, or ancient Ireland,
or on another planet. One difference like this could work – two or more would
be stretching it too far. With just one difference like this, I could do a
combination-comp, along the lines of: “My work is like Amazing Positive
Adult Fantasy That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland meets Contemporary Small
Town USA. All I have to do is somehow find and read Amazing Positive Adult Fantasy
That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland, published within the last five years. And
I am legit having real trouble doing that.
The point I am trying to make, with my work, the sense I am trying to create, is that you, yes even you, a grown-ass adult who is successfully slogging through a standard adult life, could accidentally stumble at any moment into a world of magic and wonder. You can find out that dragons exist. Right here, right now, in your podunk little boring town. When you do, you will be able to bring your life experience to bear to not only survive this strange, new life, but also defeat the dragon, or maybe even make it your ally.
If you can point me to a book like that, I might be able to use it as a comp. Even if it wouldn’t work for me as a comp, I would be grateful because I would finally be able to read a new book all the way through!
If the kind of book I’m trying to buy/read/write is not edgy enough for you, fine. You do you. I am not writing for you. If you think the only people who like this sort of thing are laughable, weak-minded children, get off my lawn.
I’m now about a quarter of the way through drafting the final book in Callaghan McCarthy’s story-cycle. Soon it will be time for someone new to step forward and tell the story of Woodley, USA from their own perspective. To this end, I am issuing a casting call for potential lead characters to headline the next series.
During the course of your employment as Lead Character, you will experience newness and wonder (whether you like it or not) and you will have your entire belief structure fundamentally challenged and overhauled. Your heart will probably break a few times, but you will be provided with allies who will nurture you through this. You will probably also face some physical dangers; unfortunately, you’ll be on your own regarding how to get out of these particular messes. Your job is to figure out how to save not just yourself but your friends, the farm, the town, and ultimately the world. (You will almost certainly never understand exactly how the fate of the world figures in all this, of course, but it’s still your job to do it.)
Requirements include but are not limited to:
Adult human female with some life experience. You do not need to have grown children, but this is not a “coming of age” tale. Please have a few hard-learned lessons under your belt that have made you stronger and kinder.
Some cynicism and a few PTSD symptoms are OK, but complete douchebaggery will be considered a deal-breaker.
Preference will be given to those with 100% human blood, though if you suspect you have a long-forgotten faerie or deity somewhere in your ancestry, you may still be considered.
Skinny twentysomething characters with large breasts and flawless skin need not apply.
Please answer the following questions on the reverse side of this sheet:
What are you running from?
What did you hope to find when you arrived in
What did you really hope to find? I mean
originally, back when you were a kid, before they convinced you it couldn’t
actually be found in the real world?
Do you believe in ghosts?
If you are a fictional character and wish to be considered
for this position, please transmit your answers to my muse ASAP.
Note: While Woodley, USA is a diverse community, I do not feel that I, as a writer, am qualified to represent, through my Main Characters, challenges I have never personally experienced. While you will be acting alongside characters of many different ages, races, species, genders, physical abilities and neurological types, I feel that stories which feature these characters as the main Point Of View are best told by #OwnVoices.
A long time ago in a universe far, far away, I sent a copy of my debut novel to one of my favorite authors of all time. I sent it for no reason other than to thank him for inspiring me by writing some of the most enjoyable fiction I’d ever read, and also to thank him for his support. His support had come, many years before, in the form of what is, to date, still the best writing advice I’ve ever received. That advice, to paraphrase quite heavily, is: “Qwitcherbitchin’ and write!”
Imagine my excitement when I received an email this past June from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (to which I have been subscribed since I was a teenager – and I won’t tell you how long that has been!) The email asked me to review, before release, a copy of an overview of Seven Turns this favorite author of mine had written in his “Books to Look For” column for the July/August issue. I’ve been bursting at the seams ever since, dying to tell you all about it. Now it is finally July, and I can tell you!
The overview of Seven Turns is the third listing down, right between Philip K. Dick and John R. Little … seriously, am I allowed to yell “Squeeeeee!” now?
My favorite part is where he refers to some of the spirits Cally encounters in Woodley as “deities.” I wouldn’t have expected most people to recognize that’s what they (some of them!) are, but of course Charles de Lint would know a deity when he sees one!
Naturally I also immediately sent him a copy of Moonlight and Moss. Not sucking up for another review or anything, but I want to see if he recognizes the other deities, because this volume deals much more heavily with the denizens of the faerie side of the meadow gate. (Oh, who am I kidding – he’ll not only recognize them, but is probably on first-name terms with some of them.)
Now, if you are one of my fellow writers in the #writingcommunity and you are wondering how to get your inspiration flowing, how to find time to write, wondering if you’re just a hack or what, here is the best advice I can pass on to you:
It’s official! The release date for Moonlight and Moss is May 31, 2019. But you can pre-order it right now (see links below)!
Now, I’ve never understood authors who make their pre-order price higher than the regular price. It’s like you’re punishing your biggest fans for their enthusiasm. I think my Biggest Fans should be rewarded! Honestly, I’d make the Kindle version like 1 cent for pre-order but Amazon doesn’t allow anything lower than $2.99, so I did my best! The pre-order price is $2.99 – after June 1, the price will be going up to $4.99. Barnes & Noble has made the paperback available for $11.99; after release it will go up to the full price of $15.99.
My journey to deciding to self-publish was fraught with self-doubt and anxiety, but I’m glad now that I did it. The interior design stuff (especially getting the pagination to match up with my table of contents) was kind of a nightmare! But I really had a lot of fun being an active participant in the cover design. I’m really proud of the final product, and I hope you’ll like it, too!
Let me state unequivocally, here, for any other authors
considering whether to self or traditionally publish:
Fear of “loss of creative control” should never be a factor
in deciding whether or not to publish traditionally because, frankly, it’s a
complete and utter myth.
Even with traditional publishers, the author retains authority (that’s where the word “author” comes from, peeps!) and has final say over any and all suggested changes. Fear of “loss of creative control” was not why I decided to self-publish Moonlight and Moss. I chose this route because it became evident to me early in the querying process that it was highly unlikely any traditional publisher would ever be willing to pick up the second book in a series. Once I finish Cally’s story arc in the Woodley, USA universe (this will happen when Rivers and Roads is released in 2020) I will begin a new series. It will probably also take place in Woodley, but since it will be a whole new series with a whole new main character, I will be ready to begin pursuing traditional publishing again.
Because I have other things to do besides going crosseyed formatting text for PDFs and .epubs. I have many books to write before I sleep!
Oh, and that reminds me: Who would you like the main
character of the next series to be? Is there anyone you’ve already met whose
story you’d like me to explore from their own point of view? Or would you like
a new main character all together? Let me (as the YouTubers say) know in the
I’ll start, here, by thanking all the agents who have sent me rejections. I know agents have somewhere on the order of bazillions of queries to get through daily. They barely even have time to paste in boilerplate rejection verbiage and hit “send.” Many, nowadays, don’t even do that. So, when I get a rejection that gives me even the slightest hint of why the agent decided to pass on my project, far from being bummed about it, I am actually grateful.
I often feel like I’m working in a complete vacuum with regard to trying to sell my work. I feel fairly confident that my writing, itself, is good. Good enough, I mean, though of course any writing can always be improved and polished. The manuscript I am currently querying is as polished as I can make it, with critique partner and beta reader feedback. I am fortunate that I don’t have to work in a vacuum, there. On the other hand, the query letters I send out about said manuscript, well, really, the only feedback I can get about those, from real industry insiders, is through rejections.
OK, yes, I know: there is a ton – multiple tonnage, really – of Querying Advice on the interwebs. But much of it is conflicting or grossly outdated. Even AuthorTube videos by actual literary agents offer advice that conflicts wildly! I wade through all this cognitive dissonance and snatch desperately at what seems to be the most common advice. I do my best to incorporate it all into 350 words or less but, in the end, I’m totally winging it. I have no way of knowing – not really – whether or not my query letter is really the killer pickup line that will get me the girl, or just a slap in the face.
Most of the rejections I get are some form or other of the standard boilerplate: “This is not on my list.” And, if this is the actual reason for the rejection (rather than an attempt at the most inoffensive waffle possible) I can’t complain about it. My little world of Woodley, USA is never going to fit neatly onto anyone’s list – it crosses too many genres. Agents who rep Fantasy seldom rep Horror, for instance. Not that there’s any Horror in my work, but nowadays the word “ghost” is synonymous with “guts splattered all over the walls” and I totally understand why some people are not interested in that. God knows I’m not. And, sure, it’s not fair that when a Fantasy-inclined agent sees the word “ghost” in the second paragraph of my query, they roll their eyes and ball up their fists and hiss through clenched teeth, “Oh, FFS, why don’t these #^&$@ writers ever bother to look at my profile – I specifically stated I do not do Horror!”
But it is what it is, and until Western entertainment culture undergoes another sea-change (a sea-change I actually hope to help incite with my work!) I have to figure out how to deal with the situation as it is.
Two rejections I’ve received recently, though, contained completely new and different feedback! This gives me hope that I’m at least getting better at writing query letters. I mean, I’m sure these rejections are also copy-pasted – I can imagine agents need to send this particular one out a thousand times a day, too. But, honestly, I got a little giddy about these because they made me think the agents who selected this particular verbiage from their copy-paste choices had actually got past the word “ghost”!
They said, basically: “The concept of your story just
did not draw my interest strongly enough.”
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dear Agents, for this
specific feedback! Even though it may seem like a slap in the face to some, it
was a gift to me, and I truly and honestly do appreciate your having taken the
time to send it to me.
My first response, of course, was to think, “Oh, OK, so what can I do to change my story to make it more gripping? Give it more pizzazz! How can I make the stakes higher? Maybe I should give in and put in some guts splattering across a wall here and there after all? Oh, I know: a climactic car-chase where the world will end if I don’t make it over the cliff in time to rescue the president from terrorist dragons from Alpha Centauri!”
And then I said:
My story is what it is. It is what it is because that’s exactly what it needs to be. It is internally consistent and beautiful. It gave itself freely to me from an eternal well of Story, and I will be true to it in return. The world does not have to be about to end in order to make the stakes heart-wrenching. Kittens and little children do not have to die horribly. I will not change the actual story itself, even if that’s the only way to get myself an agent. (I don’t believe it is, mind you. I just don’t know how to sell the damn thing, is all.)
Because I know it does, in fact, “draw my interest strongly enough.” I know for a fact that it does this to other people, as well. I am even reasonably confident that the kinds of people whose interest is drawn are not all that uncommon. These are the people I wrote it for. People who, when I describe it to them, say “Oh, I LOVE that sort of thing! Where can I find a copy?” Readers who say, “OMG I hope there’s going to be a sequel – I want to read more about this world!”
If I change my story in order to land a publishing deal, I will be betraying them. And I will be perpetuating the literary vacuum that led me to write this story in the first place because I couldn’t find enough of it in bookstores. There are people out there who want to walk down Main Street in Woodley, USA, and sleep in the Rose Room, and bump into George in the hall in the middle of the night, and jump the fence into the meadow and discover what lies beyond. Hang in there, peeps: I’m still trying to figure out how to reach you, but I am reaching!
All this by way of saying, I am grateful to all who have contributed the various data that has helped me make a decision. Thank you readers, critique partners, beta readers, and literary agents. I think I’ve made a decision? I’ve been trying to make this decision since last fall. I think I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and self-publish Moonlight and Moss. Maybe. Probably. I will probably do this sometime in May 2019 (which is about a year since Seven Turns came out.)
On some level, it feels like I’m accepting defeat, but I’m not, really. I just don’t want to leave my readers waiting too much longer for the sequel to Seven Turns. My pride isn’t as important to me as loyalty to my readers – they’ve earned it! That’s the only thing of which I am absolutely certain.
I am fully aware that the second I hit that “Publish” button over at IngramSpark, I will turn to check my inbox and see I’ve just received an offer of representation. Because of course I will. Murphy is a real jerk, sometimes! OK all the time. Maybe I’ll kill him off in my next book.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep gathering data and polishing my querying skills so that someday when I finish this series and start a new one, I will – as I am still determined to – obtain agent representation.
A werid thought occured to me this morning as I watched my husband playing with the cat. OK, weird thoughts occur to me all the time, but the gist of this one was:
Some readers are dogs, and others are cats.
Dog readers, when they open a book, want all that high action immediately. They don’t want you to stroke them gently on the head – they want vigorous rib-thumping pats and scratches and rubs with both hands which will, if all goes well, morph quickly into a wrestling match. They want full body contact, and lots of it – they want you to really throw that ball just as far and high as you can! They don’t want you to build up to it or demonstrate how, if you hold the ball at a certain angle, the logo glitters in the light. They just want to chase the ball or, even better, flop down on the ground with you and wrestle the ball. If you try to take a breather they will run circles around you barking and jumping, and if you don’t throw the ball again pretty quick, they will give you that big, sad, betrayed look.
I am what Jackson Galaxy calls “bi-petular.” I usually have both cats and dogs in my household but, I have to admit, even the dogs who have loved me best have been a bit disappointed with me because I, myself, prefer to play like a cat. I mean, sure, I can throw the ball pretty high, and even throw it repeatedly, but I just don’t dig wrestling.
Cat readers, when they open a book, want to see the feather lying on the ground, fluttering tantalizingly in the gentlest breeze. They want you to tug it just out of reach. They want your foot under the quilt to wiggle and a little bit to the left, and then to the right or, even better, unexpectedly to the left again. They are not interested in the ball until they see how the logo glitters in the light. They will pounce on the ball if you roll it gently toward where it might escape under the couch, but if you pick it up and throw it, they will simply leave the room. They like it when you carefully seek out and gently scratch that spot under their chin, just behind the ears, that makes them flop over onto their side and purr, but if you try to rub and thump them the way you would a dog, you are almost certainly going to lose some fingers.
Of course there are exceptions in both cases, and gray areas, and pets as well as readers who are – and like – a blend of both.
I tend to be more of a cat-type reader. I guess this goes for movies and television entertainment, too. When my husband wants to watch an action movie, that’s a good time for me to go into a different room and get some writing done.
As a result, I guess I tend to write more for cat readers. I imagine dog readers might never get to the part of the book where I throw the ball really high. Now, this is always the part where I’m afraid cat-type readers are going to give me the stink-eye and stalk away to go and sleep on top of the laundry basket, but somehow they never do. Maybe by then I have twiddled the feather-teaser to the point that they will do anything, even chase the ball across the meadow, to see where it goes.
Yes, yes, I really will throw the ball! Who’s a good boy? WHO’s a good boy? You are! Yes! You are! Meow!
Afterthought: On proofreading this, I noticed that in writing about dogs, I used a lot of verbs and gerunds, but while writing about cats, I tended to use fewer verbs and more adjectives. Hmm…
As promised, here is my little tale of “Why I Might Have to Self Publish Whether I Like It or Not.”
As most of you know, I am currently actively seeking representation for “Moonlight and Moss,” which is not technically the sequel to Seven Turns, though it takes place in the same universe. And has the same main character. And happens chronologically just a few months after the end of Seven Turns. But still, it’s not a sequel, per se! I have been careful to make sure it could stand alone, if someone reads it who has not read Seven Turns. Beta readers have assured me it is in fact perfectly easy to follow even if they do not know what happened in Seven Turns.
Still… try explaining that to a literary agent. I mean
without adding the above ninety or so words to an already-probably-too-long
Agents, as a rule, are not keen on picking up an author mid-series,
and I can’t say I blame them. Some are OK with this, though, and I will continue
to search for one.
But why not just publish Moonlight and Moss through my existing publisher, you ask? The one who published Seven Turns? Well, this is where it gets tricky. I like my existing publisher just fine, but they don’t have the capacity to give my work the kind of service I feel it deserves. They do not have a marketing department, for one thing, and yes. Yes, yes! I’ve already heard it a million times! “But today’s authors are expected to market themselves!” Yes, I know! And I do! I do All The Things. I’m not very good at it, but just look up at the top of this page and click the link to the previous post to find out why I am not interested in learning how to become good at marketing.
“Fine, then,” you say. “This means you are
doomed to obscurity because unless you are published by the Big Five, the
success of your writing is based solely on
your marketing skills.” This is not completely accurate for two
reasons: 1) There are more than five publishers who don’t expect their authors
to be the only person on the marketing team and 2) my work is, in fact, good
enough for the Big Five. (But that’s a different discussion all together.)
The thing is, it’s not just about marketing – it’s also about distribution.
I had never heard the word “Distribution” before Seven Turns came out. Well, not in the context of publishing. I didn’t realize, until after I started trying to market my work, that bookstores do not like having to deal with Amazon. My publisher – like many other small, independent publishers – distributes only through Amazon POD. I noticed early on in my marketing efforts that the minute I used “the A-word,” as they called it, bookstore managers would grimace and shake my hand and wish me luck. I didn’t understand what was going on until the owner of my own lovely local indie bookstore explained it to me.
Apparently, Amazon treats booksellers like crap. Amazon considers its colleagues in the publishing industry to be competition, and Amazon does not appreciate competition. It wants to be the only game in town. For this reason, it does not offer retailer discounts on books, nor does it offer a return policy on unsold copies, as do the book distributors who work for other publishing companies.
Mind you: your local bookstore will happily order a book for you from Amazon, but they will not make any profit on it, and they will have to eat the shipping costs, as well, but they will do it for you because they want to be your friendly neighborhood bookseller. They will not stock Amazon KDP-produced books on their shelves, though some do happily stock them for me if I order them myself with my author discount, then carry them to the store myself and hand them to them to sell on a commission basis.
This works fairly well for me, for my local booksellers, but I am not going to be able to physically carry or ship copies of my book to every bookstore in the country, and that’s where I want my books to be available: in every bookstore in the country. For that, I need a distributor.
So what I am searching for, now, is a publisher who works with
an actual distributor, so that booksellers can obtain copies of my books the
way they do the other books you see on their shelves. I may be able to find
this publisher on my own, or I may need to obtain representation from a
literary agent to find one for me. I’d much rather have an agent, if I can.
Except that “the serial problem” mentioned above
is making this already daunting task several orders of magnitude more
I have been advised by industry professionals to just scrap the entire Callaghan McCarthy/Woodley, USA storyline and start over with a new series, which agents will be more willing to look at. But I’m not gonna do that, y’all. I’m not going to pull a George R. R. Martin on you! I promise I will finish Cally’s entire story arc before I start writing the stories of some of Woodley’s other denizens.
This means that if I do not get some more traditional nibbles
for “Moonlight and Moss” soon, I will go ahead and self-publish it,
so that people who are clamoring to find out what happens next with Cally and
Ben and George and Emerald are not left hanging. I had originally intended to
release about one volume a year, when I set out, and I am determined to remain
as close as I can to this schedule. If this means I have to self-publish the
next two volumes, so be it!
And then I’ll start in on the story of one of Woodley’s other quirky citizens. Who would you like it to be?