Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Preview

Here's a preview of what's to come in 2011.

Since I'll be studying for actuarial exams this year, my writing will be curtailed.  This coming year, I'll concentrate most of my efforts toward self-promotion.  That is, though I won't do as much writing, I'll still reach out and try to get my stuff out there.

My goals:
  • Continue writing in this blog (even more so if I can help it).  Of course I will detail all my self-promotion efforts as I go along.
  • Explore the online aspiring writers' community.
    • Join forums.
    • Try out electronic critique groups.
    • Learn what other opportunities lie out there.
  • Fix Chapter 1 of Escape from the Planet Justice and then...
  • Research sci-fi agents and send out query packages.
  • Search out a local critique group.
  • Look into local writing groups.
  • Complete the first 4 chapters 3rd draft of The Silver Lining and then...
  • Research Mormon-themed publishers and send query packages.  (I consider Chapters 5-14 to be send-able.  If time permits, I'll continue the 3rd draft through the end of the book.  Also, if I happen to have an agent at the time, I may go through the agent instead of approaching publishers directly.)
  • Continue working on short stories and send off to magazines when completed.
    • "A Turn-screw tlhImqaH": This story is completed and already appears in the 8th Actuarial Speculative Fiction Collection.  It was well received on the foremost actuarial forum.  I'm going to try submitting this to a Star Trek audience and see how it's received.
    • "Actuarial Weeding": I might as well continue with my plans to enter the 9th Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest.  I have one month to write and submit the story.  Perhaps this time I'll win a prize.
    • "When Time Flows West": Already completed, I just need to start submitting this story (and build up my rejection letter stack).
    • "The Depths of Inner Space": 1st draft complete.  After a 3rd draft, I can start submitting it.
    • "Descendant History": An idea I hope to pursue this year.
    • Other short stories as time permits.  I may consider writing a non-sci-fi short story targeted toward a specific publication.
  •  Attend another writer's conference - especially if a sci-fi agent is in attendance.
  • Pursue any other opportunities that arise...
Good luck on your own writing goals, and may you have a successful year.
Mel

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mel-o-rama's Year in Review: 2010

Here ends another year.  Come with me as we journey through that year that was called 2010.  What did I accomplish?

  • I finished the 3rd draft of Escape from the Planet Justice.
  • I researched publishers, sent out query packages for "Escape from the Planet Justice," and got several rejection letters.
  • I completed 10% of the 3rd draft of The Silver Lining.
  • I submitted my already completed short story "A Turn-screw tlhImqaH" once and got my first rejection letter from a magazine.
  • I wrote the short story "When Time Flows West," but I have yet to submit to a magazine.
  • I completed the first draft of the short story "The Depths of Inner Space." (It's nowhere near ready for submission.)
  • I subscribed to my first sci-fi magazine and started building up my (written) sci-fi input.  Of course, the magazine I chose was Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show.
  • I won NaNoWriMo this year while typing out the first 50,348 words of my newest unfinished novel Time Sleuths.  (If you would like to read these hilarious adventures - what I have so far - let me know and I can send you an epub file.)
  • I started this blog - a small step in increasing my online presence (which I hope balloons into something more in the near future).  This includes the following original vignettes:
  • I joined my first writer's network: the North Carolina Writers' Network.
  • I attended my first writer's conference.
It was a fun year.  I'd do it all again!

Mel

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What I Got For Christmas

Merry Christmas!

This year, my wife went with the aspiring author theme.  She gave me a moleskine notebook for writing down notes, a copy of the 2011 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market guide, and a copy of the software Scrivener for Mac.

I'm especially excited about that last item.  I had never heard of it before, but it looks like a lot of fun.  In the least, it looks like a better word processor than Word, and it allows you to organize separate files in one big binder (like chapters in a book).  You can also get easy access to your research (not sure how that works yet).  And when you have a finished product, you can export the whole thing (or pieces) into most any useful type of file (doc, pdf, epub, etc.).

Once I use it for awhile, I'll tell you more about it.

Aren't wives great?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas, Santa Claus

For Christmas, I'll present this party game / family tradition (my aunt taught us this).  I have no idea where this story comes from, but it makes for a fun time.

Everyone starts with an exchange gift and gets in a circle. Whenever the words "Merry Christmas" are read, pass the gifts to the right. Whenever the words "Santa Claus" are read, pass the gifts to the left. When the story is finished, everyone in the circle opens their gifts. Have fun!



Merry Christmas, Santa Claus

My name is Merry Christmas. Once upon a Merry Christmas time, old Santa Claus set out to see about his Merry Christmas arrival. So I set out to find him, calling “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas” to everyone I met and asking people if they had seen Santa Claus.

“Seen Santa Claus? Have we seen Santa Claus?” they would ask. “No, we haven’t seen Santa Claus,” but I went on looking for Santa Claus.

Then all at once, there was Santa Claus down the block. “Hi, Santa Claus! Hey, Santa Claus! Santa Claus, wait for me. I’m Merry Christmas.”

Santa Claus turned around and shouted, “Hey, Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho! And Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!”

Soon Santa Claus and I hurried off together, but before we could get very far, a child who was standing in a window called, “Is that you, Santa Claus?”

Santa Claus nodded, “Yes”.

Then with a happy look the child said, “Who is that with you, Santa Claus?”

“This is Merry Christmas,” said Santa Claus. “You never have Santa Claus unless Merry Christmas is there too”.

“Well, hello! Merry Christmas!” said the child. “I didn’t know Merry Christmas was a person.”

“I tell you,” said Santa Claus, “It takes people to be Merry Christmas. People are what make Merry Christmas and Santa Claus too.”

“Thank you, Santa Claus,” said the child. “I’ll remember that.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Spock's Space Flare


All you Star Trek enthusiasts have seen this episode.  Spock's in charge of this away team of 7.  Well, now it's down to 5, since two redshirts (actually, they wore yellow - but it might as well have been red) got killed by some ape creatures.  Now the 5 of them are trapped on this planet.  They can't be beamed up and they can't communicate with the Enterprise because of some green stuff in the atmosphere.  They've spent too much fuel in their shuttlecraft fighting off the ape creatures.  Some bureaucrat tells Capt. Kirk on the Enterprise that he needs to end his search so they can hurry on to jury duty (or whatever they have to do on Markus III).

In other words, things are looking bleak for Spock and his crew.  This is where the video clip below begins.



Since the ape men are coming, Spock has no choice but to launch the shuttle.  They don't have enough fuel to break orbit.  Spock tells them they have about an hour left.  They still can't contact the Enterprise.  They're going to die unless they do something.

Spock makes the irrational decision to jettison and ignite their fuel.


Scotty says, "What did you do that for?"  Now it'll take six minutes for the fuel to exhaust, and then they'll immediate begin their descent into the atmosphere.  Spock has sped up their demise, but to what end?  Just to send up a flare?

Back to the Enterprise: Sulu - while demonstrating his awesome ability at pushing buttons - looks up to the view-screen and says, "Look, Captain!"  Now they know exactly where to continue their search.  Guess who's about to be saved!


Now why would I bring up this classic blast from the past?

Because all you ever need to know you can learn from Star Trek.  ;)

Spock had no idea what was going to happen when he jettisoned the fuel.  There was a high probability that the Enterprise was long gone.  As Spock said, "There was no one there to see it."  But he got lucky.  Sulu saw it, and they got rescued.  In hindsight, Spock's only "bad" decision would have been to not send up a flare.  Had he taken that inaction, the shuttlecraft would have been in orbit much longer than six minutes, but they wouldn't have been noticed, and they would have died.

Sometimes I feel like I need to send up my own space flare.  I'm an aspiring writer.  Nobody knows who I am.  It takes a lot of talent and energy to get noticed (mostly energy).  But I don't have a lot of time to work with.  The day job gets a large portion of my life force.  My family gets another portion.  Other obligations take up most of the rest, and there's not much left over to put into writing.

Two years ago, I had made the decision to set aside actuarial exams in order to give myself more time to push forward my writing career.  To delay these exams is to delay the corresponding raises that come from passing each exam.  It is also to delay my progress in attaining full actuarial credentials.  Yes, I set aside some of my professional development so I could put up a space flare and hope that someone would see it.

I've made a lot of progress in the last couple of years.  I now have two finished novels, a few short stories, and I've started a blog and have attended my first writer's conference.

However, my time has elapsed and now I must return to the actuarial exams.  I am starting to descend back into the planet's atmosphere.  My space flare is running out, and no one has seen it.  Or rather - some have seen it and thought it was just a meteorite.  Now I must meet my fate among the green stuff.  Choke choke gag!  Burn!  Ugh!

Then again, life isn't that bad.  Even though I won't be writing as much, I can still submit my stuff to publishers and agents.  In a best case scenario, I'll be a full fledged actuary in two years, and I can go back to writing again and get a third book finished.  Should an agent or publisher see the remains of my space flare during that time, I'll gladly set aside these actuarial exams again to pursue the opportunity.

We'll see what happens.

Well, good luck to you - all who are putting up their space flares.  May you be seen and rescued!  In another couple of years, I'll put up another space flare and I'll come to join you.

Happy writing and ... *crackle* *buzz* *choke*

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Shopping

It looks like I'll have to take at least a week off of writing (including blogging) in order to get Christmas shopping done.  I guess that's one drawback from doing NaNoWriMo.  During the month of November, every free moment went towards one of two things: writing or relaxing.  I left no time for shopping!

Now here we are in December.  I've been working the last few days on my next blog entry, and it's eating into my Christmas research time (and I haven't even finished it).  So, for my own sanity, I must give up a few things temporarily.

This is a little frustrating, as I'd rather be giving up other stuff.  It shows that writing is a relatively low priority in my life.  It doesn't pay the bills.  It doesn't make my family happy.  It doesn't help me meet my other obligations.  Right now, writing is nothing but a hobby - the cold reality.  My life is just plain busy.

It's so easy to throw up my arms and give up the whole thing and say, "The world doesn't need another writer, anyway."  It would definitely make my life easier.  But then again, I should chill.  I've been working hard this year trying to push forward my non-existent writing career.  I've made great strides.  I can take one week off, and it's not the end of the world.  At least, I think it's not.  :)

Catch you next week!
Mel

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Winner 2010



Yeah!  I did it!  I don't know what the monkey's for, but that's about what I feel like after having written 50,000 words this month.  If you check out my NaNoWriMo profile, you'll see that it says "Winner" now.

Now I can get on with life - do more blogging - start my Christmas shopping - kiss my wife.

If you'd like to see the first chapter, just click on my profile link above and click on "Novel Info".  If you'd like to read the 170+ pages, let me know and I just may share it with you.  But be aware that this is an unedited 1st draft.  It has mistakes.  It also has different styles throughout (not sure which one I'm going with yet).  It's got some pretty funny parts, though.

If you do read through it, I'll ask you (informally - too early for a full critique) what you liked about it so I'll know which parts to milk and how to fix the parts that don't work so well.  

It's been fun.  I'd recommend this exercise to anyone.  If you're a writer, consider starting a novel next November.

Going to bed soon,
Mel

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Conference Report - Who Was There - Part 1

As I continue my report on the NC Fall Writer's Conference I attended at the beginning of this month, I will introduce some of the people I met over the next week or so.

Before I begin the specific introductions, I'll attempt to describe in general who I saw.  Last week I spelled out five stages of the Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success.  By far, the vast majority of the participants were somewhere in the first three stages, and perhaps the beginnings of Stage 4.  There were a few published writers, quite a few more self-published authors, a lot of people who had finished products, and even more who were still working on their first book.  There was even one participant who hadn't started writing yet, but just loved reading.

I was a little disappointed in the seeming absence of Stage 4 and 5 writers - that is, the established writers and the famous writers.  Except for those who were listed as workshop leaders and panel participants, I didn't see some other particular NC authors I hoped to see.

In particular, I was holding out hope that the famous NC sci-fi writer, Orson Scott Card, would be there.  It would have been fun to meet him and talk with him in a informal setting.  But it was not to be.

Then again, now that I think of it, it makes sense that if a famous person is going to be there, they're going to be asked to cover a workshop or panel.

So, keep in mind - if you're planning on attending a writer's conference, check out the list of workshop leaders and panel participants.  If you don't see your favorite author listed, you're probably not going to see him or her at the conference.  Everyone else is going to be of the Stage 1 to Stage 3 variety (and a few beginning Stage 4s).

I was happy to meet a lot of good people.  Though they are not yet famous, everyone there had a story to tell - even the one participant who hadn't started writing yet.  Any one of these writers could be the next John Grisham or Isaac Asimov or Martha Stewart.

Once I wrap up NaNoWriMo, I'll come back and start with the introductions.

Mel

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success

In my research, I see different paths to becoming a successful writer.  Though there is no one way to attain your dreams, all writers seem to fall into one of the following five categories.

1. BEGINNING WRITERS - these are people who know they want to write.  They have stories to tell, but they haven't written a lick beyond a fun short story here and there.  Or they may have several beginnings of novels, but nothing completed.

2. PRACTICED WRITERS - these people have an actual finished product.  They have finished a novel.  Or they have written scores of completed short stories.  Or volumes of poems.  They usually have a better understanding of what it takes to get published.  They are more likely to have edited their work, and have probably gotten close to writing their first million words.

3. PUBLISHED WRITERS - these people are published.  An editor has deemed their work worthy to be distributed to readers.  The writer actually receives money.  This includes self-published authors who are sufficiently acknowledged by the public.

4. ESTABLISHED WRITERS - these people are actually making a profit from writing.  They can quit their day job if they so desire.  They most likely have several books published and their works appear in several magazines.

5. FAMOUS WRITERS - these are the cream of the crop.  Almost everyone knows their names.  The books that they write will survive for centuries.

The number of people in each of these group is a reverse exponential function.  About 99% of all writers fall into the first bucket.  Then out of the 1% that make it past the first group, 99% are in the second group, and so on.  Making it from one stage to the next is a major achievement worthy of celebration.

I consider myself to be in Stage 2, and I'm working very hard to make it to Stage 3.  Everyone starts in Stage 1, and it can take a very long time to get to Stage 5.

Consider the recent success story of J. K. Rowling.  She started at Stage 1 as a Beginning Writer like the rest of us.  She pursued education to help refine her talent.  After a divorce, she went through poverty and during that time she was able to put together her first novel: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  She officially hit Stage 2 in 1995 at the age of 30.

Next came the lengthy process of trying to get the novel published.  Even though her talent was noticed quickly, she was rejected by twelve major publishing houses before Bloomsbury took her on.  They published her book and she officially entered Stage 3 in 1997.

That first Harry Potter Book was received quickly.  It won all kinds of awards.  Scholastic published it over here in the US.  She wrote the next three sequels in quick succession.  I don't know exactly when, but sometime between 1997 and 2000, she entered Stage 4, meaning she was making enough money on writing alone.

But even then - who knew about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling beyond avid book readers?  Sure, she was hitting the New York Bestselling Children's books list like crazy, but how many names of the New York Bestsellers list do you recognize today?  It wasn't until 2000 or 2001 - after she had published the fourth Harry Potter Book - that she made it into the mainstream - Stage 5.  That's when people who don't read books started reading her books.  And boy, did she hit big!  The rest is history, and I'm going to see Part 1 of the 7th movie sometime in the next few days.

So, there you have it - the Aspiring Writer's Spectrum of Success.  After you figure out what stage you fit in today, what are you going to do to get to the next stage?

I wish you luck and I hope to see you with me in Stage 5 in the near future!

Mel

NaNoWriMo - Week #3

Yeah!  I survived week #3 of NaNoWriMo!  I wrote 15,000 words this week, bringing the grand total to 40,000 words.

This week was very difficult - with a little writer's block and just getting tired.  With a big marathon today, I was able to get where I need to be.

Next week, I plan to write 6,000 words before I leave for turkey-day.  Then 4,000 words to finish out the next week.  And then I'll be done!

I'm going to sleep now - catch you later.

Mel

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Conference Report - My Meeting With an Agent

Tonight I'll give details on my meeting with agent Daniel Lazar.

Overall, it was a good experience.

To set the stage a little, up to now, my biggest frustration has been sending query packages to publishers, only to receive rejection letters that say, "We don't want it, but good luck placing it elsewhere."  The letters never give advice on how to improve my query package.

Well, Dan gave me the long-sought-out valuable advice I've been looking for.  I had to pay $150 for the service, but it was mostly worth it.  He showed me what was missing in my query letter.  He also gave advice on fixing the first chapter.  He also answered general questions I asked concerning the writer/agent relationship.

Like I said last week, when I walked into the room, all my nervousness mysteriously went away.  When I saw Dan, I knew right away that he was human, like me.  He wasn't a mysterious god-like intimidating gatekeeper bent on destroying my dreams.

1. AGENTS ARE HUMAN.

The room was set up like speed-dating.  There were six to eight tables laid out - some for other Manuscript Mart sessions and others for the Critique Service.  At first I was concerned that the room would get too loud, but that didn't happen.  I could hear Dan just fine and vice-versa.

So, I shook hands with Dan; said I was glad to meet him; and was prepared to give my three-sentence verbal pitch, but that never happened.  He had already read my query letter and first chapter.

After a little small talk, he dove into what I sent.  Immediately I could tell that he would not be picking me up as a client.  After a few seconds of disappointment, I got over it and listened to the advice he had to give.

In the query letter, he pointed out one thing (hopefully implying the rest of the letter was fine).  My letter looked something like this: <my info in header> <date> <Dan Lazar's info> "Dear Mr. Lazar:" <Three sentence intro to my book> <a quick sentence stating the number of words in the novel and the style of the novel> <a short paragraph asking for the opportunity to send the entire manuscript> <a short paragraph listing my very few credits> <a last paragraph thanking him for his time> "Sincerely," <signature>.

The one thing he pointed out that my book intro needed more information.  This is what I had written:

"Thomlin Hywater is trapped on the prison planet Justice.  He wants to escape and exact revenge.  However, when he discovers the <minor spoiler alert>."

He said simply, "We need more info on the character.  Who is he?  What is he like?"  He pointed out that there was lots of white on the bottom of my page, and I had room to add more.

2. AGENTS REALLY LIKE TO SEE INFO ON THE CHARACTERS AND THE SETTING THEY'RE IN.  NO NEED TO BE TOO BRIEF.

As for my first chapter, (which you can read here), he gave three main observations.

A) My writing is energetic.  He said that it's clear that I want to get to the action.  However:
B) I went so fast that I failed to set the stage.  Where exactly are the two brothers?  What does the space station look like?
C) But at the same time, at around page two, you can see Thomlin get lost in his thoughts.  It's meant to fill in the reader, like (as Dan called it) a brain-dump.  However, in a real life conversation, no one would be able to think that much in such a short amount of time.  It basically stops the action.

At first, I think I got a little defensive.  Dan kept harping on how much he wanted to know about the space station.  But the truth of the matter is, I don't really care about the space station.  It's simply where Thomlin lives.  The planet Justice is what the book's all about - and I describe the heck out of that place.  We're only on the space station in Chapter 1 and we never go back.  Chapter 1 just explains how he gets to Chapter 2, where the fun stuff begins.

But then I realized - if a publisher/agent doesn't like Chapter 1, they're not going to read Chapter 2 or 3, etc.  In other words, if Chapter 1 starts on that dang space station, then I had better care about that dang space station!

3. CHAPTER ONE NEEDS TO BE PERFECT BY ITSELF.

In other words, Dan told me exactly what I needed to hear.  With this in mind, my plan is to do an edit (my fourth draft) of Chapter 1, and possibly all the way through Chapter 3, and then send some packages to more agents around February.

I then asked Dan if he looked at my synopsis.  (Synopsis = a 600-word summary of the plot, complete with spoilers, plot-twists, etc.)  He said, "Oh - I almost never look at those.  They're as painful to read as I bet they're painful to write."  Some agents look at synopses, but it sounds like a lot of them want to read the actual manuscript excerpts.

4. SOME AGENTS/PUBLISHERS DON'T EVEN LOOK AT THE SYNOPSIS.

About this time in our discussion, he told me that he doesn't do science fiction, so there would be no way that he could represent me.  I asked if there were other agents at his agency (Writer's House) that did science fiction.  (Remember that I said I would go for a referral?)  He said - yes, they do some science fiction.  However, the woman he was thinking of would not represent my book, as she does more paranormal science fiction.  I wasn't sure if he was giving me the "no one would touch this" treatment, but he looked sincere.  I asked a couple of follow-up questions and learned:

5. AGENTS ARE BRUTALLY HONEST.  (THIS IS GOOD.)

6. AGENTS DON'T DO WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW.  IN OTHER WORDS, IF THEY DON'T SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFY THEMSELVES AS SCI-FI AGENTS, IT REALLY MEANS THEY DON'T DO SCI-FI.  (It would be bad if they tried and ruined your chances of getting published.)

7. EVEN IF AN AGENT DOES SCI-FI, THE AGENT MAY STILL SPECIALIZE - THAT IS, ONE MAY DO SPACE OPERAS, ONE MAY DO PARANORMAL, ONE MAY DO ONLY HARD SCI-FI, ETC.  (An agent will be brutally honest and tell me if they don't do my kind of stuff.  I can cut down on query letter submissions and time spent if I specifically target agents that I think do my stuff.)

Even though Dan doesn't do sci-fi, he impressed me with his knowledge of Asimov, Clarke, Robert Jordan, Babylon 5, and Deep Space Nine.  Are all agents this well rounded and well-read?

I asked a few more questions. 

How long does it take to get published?  Depends on the author/luck/etc.  Even if an author gets published, he doesn't succeed until enough books sell.

Does the agent help sell the book after it's published?  Generally, the agent doesn't do this, but will often give good advice on what tactics the author can use to sell more books.  Also, the publisher will most likely provide a lot of help in the selling arena.

Dan also provided two sources I can use to look up agents online:

publishersmarketplace.com
agentquery.com

Then that was pretty much the interview.

Did I get my full $150 worth?  I could look at it this way:  $50 got me the opportunity to talk with a real life agent.  Another $50 got me a real criticism of my submission packet.  The last $50 got me a chance to be picked up by an agent (or get a referral). 

My only complaint is that of the choices provided, there were no sci-fi agents for me to talk to.  Even if I wrote the perfect submission packet, it appears that none of the then-available agents did my stuff, nor did they know anyone who did my stuff.  So, I didn't really have a chance to be picked up or get a referral.

But then again, I may find that Dan Lazar's suggestions may be exactly what I need to add the edge that will get me noticed.  If this happens, then the whole $150 I paid would have been more than worth it.

Would I do it again?

For a second-time experience, I would only do this if I could speak with a sci-fi agent.  I learned a lot the first go-around with Dan, and a second go-around would not add much more info unless it comes with a real chance of being picked up by an agent.

However for a first-time experience, I'd certainly do it over again.  If you have a completed manuscript and you're getting rejection letters, then by all means, pay a couple hundred bucks for this opportunity.  You'll learn a lot - especially if the agent you talk with happens to be Dan Lazar.

Stay tuned - more to come next week on this conference.
Mel

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Week #2

I'm happy to report a successful week #2 of NaNoWriMo.  I met my goal of 15,000 words this week, and now I'm up to 25,000.  That's about 90 pages, and 7 chapters of good old Melvyn humor.

Now I'll rest until Monday, and start another 15,000-word week.

If you're doing the NaNo, then send me your name so I can add you as a buddy.  (I have no one now. :( )

Happy writing!
Mel

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writer's Conference - The Day After Report

I did it!  I went to the NCWN Fall Conference.   I learned a lot.  I'm exhausted.  It was worth every dollar I spent (well - except for perhaps $30).

I promised a full report once I got home, but there's just so much to report.  I'm going to have to break it up into a few separate blog entries as I absorb what I learned over the next month or so.

For today you get the quick recap.

I woke up early.  I drove to Charlotte.  This weird guy with purple headlights wouldn't leave me alone on the highway.  I think I finally lost him around Statesville.

I found a parking spot.  I found the hotel.  It took me awhile to find the lobby.  The building is one of those triangle designs like that famous building next to Times Square.  And there weren't any signs that said: "Lobby upstairs - take the escalator to get there."  Before I went up the escalator, I was literally in the hotel, but I couldn't find it!

Then I found the place to sign in.  The breakfast panel discussion had already started.  I was surrounded by about 100 people I didn't know.  And they all looked like introverts like me.  I had all these business cards to hand out, but I didn't know how to do it.

I went to my first workshop (a future separate blog entry) about promoting yourself.  I gave out my first business card - to the presenter.  She gave me kudos for stepping out of my comfort zone.

I felt like everyone was avoiding me.  During the break I went to the exhibitor tables.  Those people were happy to talk to me.  One publisher asked me to send a query package to him.  I'll have to look him up.

Next came the second workshop about critique groups (another future blog entry).  I was too nervous to listen - as my Manuscript Mart was coming at 11:30.  My hands were shaking, which is funny - as I've never had stage fright since elementary school when I learned that my desire to perform usually outweighed any nervousness I had.

At 11:30, I left the workshop and met with Dan Lazar, an agent from Writer's House.  When I saw him, my nervousness went away, mostly.  It stayed with me enough for me to say a few random things, but in all it was a good experience talking with him (another blog entry).

When that was over, I think I relaxed enough to enjoy the rest of the day.  I went back into the second workshop when they were talking about what destroys critique groups.  Afterward, I gave my business card to the presenters and asked them a couple of questions.

Next came lunch.  That's when I started talking with other authors and getting to know them.  That's another blog entry or two where I'll describe the people I met.  Any one of them could be the next John Grisham / T. S. Eliott / etc.

During lunch, Georgann Eubanks gave an awesome overview of some NC history related to literary people.  After her presentation, she took us on a tour of Charlotte to talk some more about literary history in that area.

But before the tour, she signed books.  There was momentary confusion as we writers were trying to figure out where she went.  We didn't want to be left behind.  After ten minutes of aimless wandering, we learned that she was behind the table signing books.  Funny!

While waiting, I met my first sci-fi/fantasy writer (more on him later).  When he met me, he said, "Another genre writer!"  I was excited, and we ended up talking to each other a lot.  It turns out that we sci-fi writers are a minority among writers.  In fact, I was amazed at how many writers there were working on projects related to North Carolina.  I guess people like to write about "real" things.  No wonder most people were trying to avoid me!

During the tour, we stopped at Charlotte's ImaginON.  That place is a literary dream for children.  In front of this library, there's a little playground area featuring a set of old style typewriter keys stuck in the ground.  (This playground also happens to be a few feet away from the high voltage blue line - funny!)

We kicked the kids off the playground to take a group picture on the typewriter keys.  I took the "X" key to sit on.  While there, I yelled to the kids looking at us, "Read more books!"  My colleagues laughed.  One of them said, "Tell your mom to buy our books!"

After the tour, it was time for the third workshop (you guessed it - another separate blog entry) about creating a good website.

By then I was business card handing-out pro.  I was already getting exhausted and it was only 4:30 PM.  I had to rest.  I sat down and ended up sitting with two authors who self-published (yet another separate blog entry).

Then came the faculty readings.  I listened to Suzanne Adair read the first chapter of one of her Revolutionary War novels - very interesting stuff.  Jessie Carty read some poetry from her collections "The Wait of Atom" and "At the A&P Meridiem".  She laughed at her own decision to chose playful titles that people can't spell.  Then Julie Fenderburk and Maureen Ryan Griffin read some poetry as well.  I don't do well listening to poetry, so I was surprised not to be bored.

Happy hour came next, where I talked with a few more people and handed out business cards left and right.  Some people said, "Okay - thanks," as if they didn't know what to do with it.  I got back quite a few business cards.  Funny thing about happy hour: everyone had to pay for their own drinks.  I don't drink, but I learned after the fact that "happy hour" means you pay for drinks at reduced prices.  A soda would have cost me $4, so I'd hate to see the regular price.

Next came the dinner banquet.  I sat at the same table as Margaret Bauer of the North Carolina Literary Review.  When she heard I did science fiction, she got excited and said I should submit a story.  She also talked me into buying a copy of their science fiction issue from 2001.  At the reduced price she was offering, it was a good deal to get all the information contained in that magazine.  I also talked with someone else who I'll mention in a later blog entry.

At the banquet, Cathy Smith Bowers (NC Poet Laureate) read some poetry and told stories about poetry.  It was good stuff.  She decided to go with the humorous stuff.

The night finished off with an open mic session.  I can't believe I actually signed up.  In the morning, I said "Heck no!"  Then around lunch, when the announcer said, "There are still slots," I told myself, "If there are still slots, I'll sign up."  There were still slots, and I signed up.

They split us into two separate rooms.  We speakers had 5 minutes each to read excerpts of our work.  Everyone of us had something to say.  Some of us were better than others in delivering, but there was definitely no trash and drivel.  I went with comedy - reading my IRC blog entry from last month.  It was a hit and got lots of clapping.  A person before me gave a very well rehearsed performance of an entertaining dragon poem (he claims it's a poem for people who hate poetry).  We went between funny readings and very serious readings that take the listener's heart and stomps it on the ground.

Then one person said something that nicely summarized my experience at the conference.  He had recently left his job to write full time, and he said, "These are my people," talking about all the other writers at the conference.  We all have something to say.  We are all at different stages of our writing career, but we're all trying our best to do what we love the most:  Write, write, and more write.

Then I left the conference.  I learned a lot.  On the way home, I turned the radio off so I could absorb everything I learned.  I realized that I'll be spending the next few months fully absorbing it all.  Now I'm exhausted.

Till later - happy writing.
Mel

P.S.  If you're ever driving downtown, don't use the "Yeti" voice setting on your GPS.  It doesn't help at all.  Whenever the Yeti said, "Uh ugy-uh hewgug-ug uh" it was because he was fussing at me for missing my turn.  Also, at random points during my trip, it would yell, "Uggh!"  I guess that kept me awake.  But for my next trip, I'm going back to the British chick's voice.

NaNoWriMo Update

The first week of NaNoWriMo is over, and it was a smashing success for me.  I'm now at 10,145 words - just a tad bit ahead of my schedule.  This completes three chapters.

In Chapter 1, Conner Rosen is propositioned to join the Time Sleuths.  In Chapter 2, he considers the proposition.  In Chapter 3, after we see how deep in the throes of depression he's in, he finally decides to take the case.

Tomorrow I'll start Chapter 4, where he actually begins the first case.

If you'd like to follow my progress, or if you'd like to read Chapter 1, click here, and then click on "Novel Info" to see Chapter 1.  (Keep in mind this is a first draft - we're not allowed to edit - just get words down on paper.) 

This next week, the goal is to write 15,000, which will put me at the 25,000 mark (halfway).

I wish luck to anyone else out there NaNoWriMing.
Mel

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writer's Conference - Last Preparations

This will be my last post before the writer's conference this coming Saturday.  (At midnight tonight, I enter the world of NaNoWriMo.) 

I'm just about ready for the conference.  Here's a preview of what I expect.

Early-o-clock on Saturday - wake up and drive down to Charlotte - try to get there a little early to find a good parking spot, etc.

Dress = business casual, so I'll wear nice shirt, pants, black shoes, and no tie.  I will probably take a small bag to carry materials I may collect.  I'm still debating whether to have some first chapters ready to hand out.

8AM: Registration begins.  They also have breakfast and "Brilliant at Breakfast Panel Discussion: The Past, Present, and Future of Writing in North Carolina".  It's an open discussion during breakfast.  It'll be fun to listen to.

9AM: Session I Workshop: "Promoting Yourself" with Linda Rohrbough.  I hear that this is a really good presentation.  If for some reason this session is over capacity, my second choice is: "Creating Archetypal Characters Instead of Stereotypes in Mystery and Suspense Fiction" with Suzanne Adair.

10:30 AM: Break - this is my chance to talk with people, exchange business cards, check out the booths, etc.

11:00 AM: Session II Workshop.  Since I have a Manuscript Mart appointment, I can't stay for a whole workshop.  I'll either go to "Panel Discussion: Critique Groups" with Michael Shinn and Chaytor Chandler, sit near the back and leave at 11:25.  Or I'll stay with the booths and network with anyone else not attending a workshop.  Or I may go hide somewhere and practice my verbal pitch.

11:30 AM: Manuscript Mart with Daniel Lazar.  This is my big moment with one-on-one time with a real agent.  I'll pitch my completed novel, "Escape From the Planet Justice," and we'll see how it goes.  Best case scenario, he may take on my book.  Next best case - he'll refer me to someone else in Writers House.  Worst case - he'll give me some good advice on how to fix my pitch so I can better find an agent or publisher the next time.

11:50 AM: The Manuscript Mart ends.  I can either go back into the Session II Workshop.  Or I can do more networking.  Or I can go hide for thirty minutes and think about what Daniel said to me.

12:30 PM: Luncheon.  We'll eat while we listen to Georgann Eubanks talk about her book "Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont."  We'll hear about NC authors and all that stuff.

1:30 PM: Town Hall Meeting.  The Director Ed Southern will answers open questions.

2:00 PM: Literary Walking Tour with Georgann Eubanks.  We'll walk around Charlotte and learn some of its literary history.

3:00 PM: Session III Workshop: "From Writer to Entrepreneur: How Building a Theme-Based Web Site Can Take You There" with Ashley Thomas Memory.  Here I'll learn how to spice up my web pages.  (Will this blog get a makeover?)

4:30 PM: Break - more networking and visiting booths.

5:00 PM: Faculty Readings - I'm not sure what happens here.  I've never been to a reading before.  I'll probably have to choose who to listen to.  There may be a good chance to talk to the reader after the reading (networking).

6:00 PM: Happy Hour - I really don't know what happens here.  I don't drink, but I'll probably carry a diet-coke glass with me.  Supposedly holding a drink helps you network better.  I'll play this one by ear.

7:00 PM: Network Banquet with reading by Cathy Smith Bowers.  She's the NC Poet Laureate.  I'm guessing she'll read us some poetry.

9:00 PM: Open Mike - I've never been to one of these.  If there's an opening, I may get up there and tell my IRC story.  Or I may listen and soak it all in.

10:00 PM: It's over.  I'll drive home.  Get back at late-o-clock.  Then crash after church the next day.

Sounds like a fun, full day!  If any of you are going - I hope to see you there.

Mel

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Writer's Conference: Agents - Part 4 - Who Is Daniel Lazar?

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In just one week, I'll be attending my first writer's conference.  Today I'm going to further research the agent I'll be meeting: Daniel Lazar.  This will help me plan my approach and help me get to know the person I'll be talking with.

First off, here's his picture.


He looks like a good agent.  His picture emanates confidence, personality, competence, energy, etc.  These are good traits in an agent.  Without these, how could an agent get my books noticed?

Daniel has been with Writers House for 8 years.  His preferred genres are listed as: Literary and commercial fiction, Women's fiction, Historical fiction, Thrillers, Mysteries, Gay and Lesbian, Young adult, Middle grade, Graphic Novels or Memoirs, Judaica, Memoir, Narrative Non-fiction, Fitness, Pop-Culture, Humor.  This is a wide range of topics.  I'm still a little unclear as to whether this includes sci-fi.  It could fall under "Literary fiction."

Let's take a look at some books he's helped push through.  I'll go to Amazon and see what's said over there.  (We'll see if these links work months from now.)

The Bells by Richard Harvell (4.5 stars) - This is a book about bells, singing, and Vienna - all interesting topics to me.  I'd most likely enjoy this book (being a musician myself), but I wouldn't write this kind of book.  Richard has a couple of books under his belt.

Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan (4 stars) - About 1920 immigration and something about Chinese workers.  A first published novel by this author.  Not my kind of book.

Nothing Left to Burn by Jay Varner (3.5 stars) - A story about firemen, family secrets, etc.  Sounds interesting.  Author's first published book.  I'd read it.

You Say More Than You Think by Janine Driver (4.5 stars) - nonfiction how-to book on mastering body language.  I'd probably scan through it.  Janine Driver seems to have a few how-to books published.

Eve by Elissa Elliot (4 stars) - a retelling of the Adam/Eve story from Eve's point of view.  Looks interesting.  This is something I might write from a Mormon perspective.  Another author with just one book.

Scared of Santa by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins (3.5 stars) - contains pictures and stories about children being scared of sitting on Santa's lap.  Looks pretty funny.  I would probably make up a funny children's book on this subject (I'd write the words and let someone else draw the pictures).  Another first book by Denise Joyce.  Nancy Watkins seems to have a couple of credits.

What Would Keith Richards Do? by Jessica Pallington West (4.5 stars) - a book inspired by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.  Looks interesting.  Another new author.

Okay - so far I see that Daniel has helped to sell a different variety of books.  These are mostly new authors.  There seem to be no sci-fi books in his list of accomplishments.  Daniel is not one of those agents who deal with only established authors (that is - easy to sell).  Rather, he seems to do a very good job at getting the new author noticed.

If he finds my stuff interesting next week, there's a good chance that he may consider to take on my book himself.

Still - there's that sci-fi thing.  I keep reading that sci-fi is a different creature when it comes to getting published.  Yet, it can't be that different.  As far as I know, sci-fi book contracts look the same as other book contracts.  Do sci-fi publishers only deal with established sci-fi agents?  This is stuff I don't know.  Perhaps I can ask Daniel in my session.

Whatever the case, it appears that Writers House does do some sci-fi.  They've helped with Stephanie Myers' books: the "Twilight Series" and "The Host".  She's a fellow Mormon writer - once an aspiring writer like me and now an established best-selling author.

Writers House also helped with the Fablehaven series - another Mormon author.

If Daniel doesn't do sci-fi, it would do me well if I could get a referral from him to someone else at Writers House.  The referral may be a dead end, but then again it could give me the edge I need to get someone's attention.

Either way, I'll keep this in mind if everything falls through - I haven't lost anything.  That is, if I get no leads next week, I'll just continue on with my plans.  Once I'm past NaNoWriMo, and past my December/January short story writing session I'll launch my agent initiative.  That is, around January/February, I'll send tons of letters to unsuspecting agents and see what happens.

Till next time...
Mel

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here's My Business Card

My business cards arrived today.  They look pretty cool.  Here's a picture...


Now I'm ready to hand these out at the writer's conference next week.  I can't wait!

Mel

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Preparation Week

Next week starts NaNoWriMo and also the Writer's Conference.  So this week I'll be having planning sessions for my NaNoWriMo novel: "Time Sleuths".  I'll also attempt to wrap up all my conference research.

Then starting Nov. 1, I'll be stuck in the world of NaNoWriMo while I write 50,000 words during the month of November.  I already have my schedule planned out.  This is roughly how many words I'll have to write to keep up:

Week 1 = 10,000 words.
Week 2 = 15,000 words.
Week 3 = 15,000 words.
Week 4 = 6,000 words.
Week 5 = 4,000 words.

I've just now registered with NaNoWriMo, and created my profile.  (Evidently my earlier account was deactivated.)

Also, I will read a little Douglas Adams to get myself in the mood to write hilarious stuff next week.  Oh, yes - this should be a fun week!

I'll catch you later!
Mel

Writer's Conference: Agents - Part 3 - The Approach

In two weeks I will attend my first writer's conference.  One of my goals is to network and hopefully get an agent to consider representing my book.  Once at the conference, how do I approach an agent?  How do I catch their attention without chasing them away?

I've searched for advice on the internet (links included below), and here's a quick compilation of what I've learned.

First off, it appears that (reputable) agents usually come to these conferences announced.  What this means in my case is that the three agents I list in Part 1 are the only agents I can plan on being there.  Other agents may be "preditors".  (That's "predator" + "editors" - something I'll explore in a later blog.)

Since I've signed up for the Manuscript Mart, I don't have to worry about a cold-call approach.  I'll get to talk to an agent for about 25 minutes.  I have an appointment to meet with Daniel Lazar.  I've already sent the first 20 pages of my novel, a synopsis, and a sample query letter.  The purpose of the session (what I'm paying for) is for me to pitch the novel, and for Daniel to critique it.

There's also a chance that he may decide that his agency, Writers House, would want to represent me.  If Daniel doesn't do science fiction, perhaps he'll refer me to one of his colleagues.  Then I would follow up with a query letter to his colleague.  Though, if I go in there and flub the pitch, this extra stuff won't happen.  I'll get the critique - and that'll be it.

I'll have to prepare my verbal pitch.  This is going to be very difficult, because:  #1) I'm an introvert; #2) I'm not a salesman; #3) I hate hearing myself speak.  But in the same vein, I know that most writers are just like me.  If they can overcome these shortcomings, then so can I.

I need to act natural - start off with some small talk.  Try to talk about the agent, and not about my own life history.  That means I'm going to have to do a little more research on Daniel and his agency.

Don't act desperate - agents hate that.  I think I have this one handled - as I know that if the agent thing doesn't work out at first, I can continue on without an agent until I find one.  See more about this in Part 2.

Be thankful for the time the agent spends listening to me - even if he bashes my pitch and my dreams into smithereens.  Whatever happens in the session, I'll learn something - and in 25 minutes, Daniel will tell me something I can use to increase my chances of finding a publisher or an agent.

The main verbal pitch itself needs to be short - something like one or two sentences.  It should cover the overall gist of the story without all the plot details.  Then if the agent asks questions, I give more details.  Again - each answer needs to be short.  I should be prepared to answer what books are similar to mine.  What makes my book different?  Why would people want to read it?  If I believe in my book, then the pitch will sell itself.

Also, I will keep my eye open for any other opportunities that arise.  Perhaps other reputable agents will come unannounced.  Perhaps I'll strike up a conversation with the other two "announced" agents.  I could talk with Quinlan Lee about my future children's book plans and ask for advice.  Or I could talk to Sally Hill McMillan about Southern literature (something I don't really do, but would love to hear about that market).  Or I could skip the agents and directly approach editors, such as Kevin Watson and ask him about local opportunities.

Whatever happens, I need to have fun.  I'll still learn from the other conference sessions.  I'll meet other writers.  I'll exchange plenty of business cards.  I'm only just now beginning this "Hello world" thing, and whatever happens, I know that I'll keep pushing forward.

Wish me luck - and I'll let you know in two weeks how it went.
Mel

PS: Here are those articles.
How to Pitch Your Book at a Writing Conference
Networking and Promotion Through Writers' Conferences
How To Approach a Literary Agent In-Person
How to Turn Off an Agent
The Writers Conference Pitch

Friday, October 22, 2010

Worst Week Ever

Well - maybe not "ever", but so far it's my worst week since starting this blog.

Let's see - this week I was sick.  My day job has been pretty demanding.  There's been hardly any time to work on my blog or my novel.  On top of that, I realized that the whole Chapter 2 I've been working on (3rd draft) really really sucks!  And I'm going to have to rewrite almost the whole thing.

Man - now that I wrote it down, it doesn't seem all that bad.

Well - so there you have it.  If you're having a really crummy week, start your own blog and write about it!  Very therapeutic!

At least I know how to fix my Chapter 2 now.  That's good - right?

(Still a sucky week!)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Business Cards for the Aspiring Writer

I keep reading that aspiring writers need business cards.  It's all part of that thing called "Networking."  I have no idea how it works, but I do use business cards in my day job.  In fact, a couple of weeks ago I went to a day-job conference and I handed out at least twenty cards, and I got a lot of cards back.  That's what you do at day-job conferences.  So, writers do the same thing?

What would I put on the card?  The day-job business card is easy to put together.  In fact, I just went to my company's intranet, filled out a template: my number goes here, my email-address here, the company logo there, my official job title there.  It was that easy.  I didn't even have to pay for it!

But now, I want to put together a business card to hand out to people at a writer's conference (in three weeks).  I don't have a writer's job title.  Do I put "Aspiring Writer"?  I have no real writing credits to claim.  Where do I go to get business cards?  (I know my day-job wouldn't flip the bill.)  How much do they cost?  Would a cheap quality business card doom my chances of being networked into the system?  Do I go with a fancy design, or just a standard simple old-fashioned professional card?

Let's see: if I google "freelance writer business cards", here's a site that comes up:

http://www.zazzle.com/writer+businesscards

Those are some pretty fancy looking cards.  Let's see: here's one with a picture of a typewriter to the right, and stuff to the left.  It sells for $19.10 for a pack of 100 cards.  I can choose several background colors: white, cream, gold, etc.  Non-white colors cost extra.  I'd like to know how fast they can send the cards, but I can't go any further in the website without creating an account.  Maybe later, guys!

Let's see: here's an article on whether or not business cards are still worth it:

http://www.urbanmusewriter.com/2009/03/have-business-cards-become-passe.html

Well - the fact that the article mentions that they still pass cards to each other at conferences implies that if I don't have cards - I may stand out as being non-networky.  I guess I don't want that.

This other link has some interesting business cards.  I don't think I'll get this wacky!

http://www.quicksprout.com/2008/09/20/creative-business-cards-that-make-you-look-twice/

Okay - I finally found a website with advice on writer business cards.  They write that I should "look for sharp designs that reflect <my> genre and avoid busy graphics."  They also mention VistaPrint, Moo, and Zazzle.

http://inkyfreshpress.com/2010/03/business-cards-for-writers-part-i-why-writers-need-business-cards/

Or I could just go down to the Office Depot and have them whip together some business cards.  Yikes - so many decisions!  (And all I want to do is write and magically have everyone read my stuff!)

Well - I'll let you know how it goes.  I'll post a picture once I get a card put together.

Happy writing!
Mel

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What's an IRC?


I recently sent a query package to a Canadian publisher.  Their website mentioned: "Make sure to include IRC for reply."  As it turns out, I can't send the normal SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) because US stamps are good only for mailing in the US.  Plus, you can't buy foreign stamps at the US post office.  The answer?

IRC stands for International Reply Coupon.  It's the universal stamp that lets you send a letter anywhere in the world (except in your own country).  Or it's a coupon that you substitute for the right number of domestic stamps to put on the letter.  Or ... okay I don't know what they do with these.  I just know they work.

So I had my package ready to go.  I went to the local post office.  The plan was to buy an IRC, stuff it into the package, seal it, and mail it off.  I asked the postal worker, "Can I have an IRC, please?"

"A what?"

"International Reply Coupon.  Do you have any?"

She went back to her co-worker.  "Hey, Bob!  You ever hear of an I ... R ... C?"

"Hmmm ... IRC?  You know what, Jane?  I think I saw one of those a couple of years ago.  Let me look it up."

He found one of these:


Then he said, "I found one, but it expires 12/31/2009.  And they haven't given us any more.  They don't do it anymore."

I replied, "Well, these Canadians want me to send an IRC.  If I don't include one, they're going to put my stuff straight in the circular file."

Jane (or whatever her name really was) said, "Why don't you put a couple of dollars in the envelope?  That should cover it."

Yes - I could just imagine it.  Those Canadian editors would take my money, pocket it, and then place my manuscript in the circular file.  Yeah, right - like they're going to take the time to go down to the money exchanging place (I'm sure they have a temple for that) and then go down to their Canadian post office just to mail me a rejection letter!

I gave Jane and Bob the "you don't know what you're talking about" look.  The dude behind me was getting impatient.  Then Jane said something like, "Listen - I've been doing this job for 20 years and that's what other people do."

I left the post office and went home frustrated.  I looked up on the internet and learned all about IRCs.  You can read all about it on Wikipedia.  Then I called the national post office hotline to see if they could help me find a local post office that sold IRCs.

The lady told me, "All post offices are required to carry the most current IRCs.  Here's a post office right next door to you."

I answered, "I just came back from there.  They don't even know what an IRC is.  What about the downtown post office, do you think they would have some?"

"You know you can order these things online, right?  It's a $1 surcharge."

I was done.  $1 was a small price to pay to get a stupid piece of paper without having to drive all over creation trying to find a post office that sold it.  Instead of paying $2.10 for an IRC, I paid $3.10.

I had to wait five days for the Coupon to show up in the mail!  My manuscript was collecting dust!  It was like it was in the slush pile even before it left my house!

Finally, I got the Coupon, and boy was it big!  It also doesn't stick to anything.  It's not a stamp.  I didn't know what to do with it, so I just threw it in the package.  I figured those Canadians know what to do with IRCs.  Then I took it to the local post office ready to tell the postal workers, "I got my IRC!"  They didn't recognize me, so it wasn't even worth bringing it up.

It was done.  My manuscript was out.  No more slushing in my house!

The Canadians still rejected me.  They did it in an email.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Writer's Conference: Registering

Here goes nothing.  I'm signing up for the Writer's Conference now.  You can check my recent posts for more details on the decisions I've had to make so far.

I've landed on the one-day option, no hotel stay, and the Manuscript Mart.  No Master Class, and no Critique Service.  Also, I've already signed up for membership in the NCWN, which provides a discount.

Okay let's see: it asks me my meal preference.  Meat or Vegetarian.  I'll pick "meat" because I'm not a poet.

My personal info comes next.  I enter in the required fields.  For the phone numbers, I'll go ahead and provide that info (home and cell).  These are people I don't mind bugging me - especially if opportunities are involved; though I'll let you know if I start getting weird spam.

Then I must choose a class for each of the three Saturday sessions (not going Sunday).  This is only for headcount purposes.  If I change my mind at the last moment, then meh.

Session I: I'll choose "Promoting Yourself" with Linda Rohrbough.  (Though the Archetypal Characters session also looks interesting.)
Session II: Panel Discussion: Critique Groups with Michael Shinn and Chaytor Chandler.
Session III: From Writer to Entrepreneur: How Building a Theme-Based Web Site Can Take You There with Ashley Thomas Memory.

Final Cost with everything considered: $200 (Conference fee - Saturday only - includes meals) + $150 (Manuscript Mart) + $75 (Membership Fee) = $425.  Wow - that'll kill my budget for awhile!  I hope this is worth it.  I'll let you know what happens!

Mel

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Writer's Conference: Agents - Part 2 - Do I Really Need One?

I'll be attending a Writer's Conference early in November, and I'm planning on approaching an agent.  Last week in Part 1, I looked into the three main agents attending the event.  I learned that none of them specializes in sci-fi.

Today I ask the question: do I really need an agent?  This is where I get really confused, as I get mixed messages from several reputable sources.

It's really time consuming to look up publishers, research them, decide which ones are right to send a manuscript, look for errors in the query submission, etc., etc.  I'd rather have an agent take care of all this so I can spend more time writing.

Yet, I read that sci-fi is a special genre.  That is - it may even be better to sell the first book without an agent.

You don't believe me?  Check out these articles.

Orson Scott Card writes: "If you're writing sf or fantasy, an agent is not needed at first. In fact, the kind of agent you can get before your first offer from a publisher is not the kind of agent you want afterward, as a general rule."  He writes that the best time to find an agent is the moment you get an offer from a publisher.  Then you're more likely to get a reputable agent.  He also adds: "If you're in another genre, however, then those query packages have to go to agents, not publishers."

Another writer, Lawrence Watt-Evans gives similar advice.  It's an older article, though.  He argues that a reputable agent has no real incentive to help an unpublished aspiring writer sell his first book.  He gives the same advice as Orson Scott Card, though.  That is: get the offer first from the publisher, and then the agents will pay attention to you.  He also mentions that Isaac Asimov never had an agent.

Some successful authors claim that they don't have an agent.  In fact, some of these authors are openly critical of agents - how they came into being and how they've contributed to filtering out too many good books.  I won't link to any of these articles, as these seem to be "fringe" opinions, and not particularly useful to me.

The SFWA offers this advice.  It states that the advice given above (Card and Watt-Evans) was once useful and pertinent, but times have changed.  There are fewer publishing companies and they're relying more and more on agents.

Finally, the SFWA provides these tips for avoiding bad agents.  These two paragraphs stand out, especially since I'm still considering signing up for a Pitch Session at the upcoming Writer's Conference:

    A writers’ conference can be a great way to network and to learn. However, don’t take it on faith that the agents and publishers who attend are reputable. The larger conferences do a pretty good job of making sure to invite only successful professionals, but smaller conferences aren’t always so careful. Some fraudulent and marginal agents are regulars on the conference circuit.
    This is an especial concern with conferences that host pitch sessions. Always research the agents/editors before you sign up for one of these sessions. And think twice–or three times–before signing up for a pitch session that costs you extra. These are not just moneymakers for the conference, but also, sometimes, for the agents, who get a cut (very similar to a reading fee).

I'm pretty sure the three agents listed by the NC Writers' Network are all legitimate.  They may not do sci-fi, but Daniel Lazar from Writer's House might be able to refer me to an agent that does.

So my decision: keep pushing forward.  I'll start my search for agents.  At the same time, I'll continue sending out manuscripts to publishing houses.  If I can't find a good reputable agent to represent my novel, then I'll end up doing the Orson Scott Card thing anyway: that is, I will have gotten an offer from a publishing house prior to finding an agent.

As for the upcoming Writer's Conference, I still have more research to do!  That means there will be a Part 3!

Happy writing,
Mel

PS - if you happen to be going to the NCWN Fall Writer's Conference, let me know and I'd be happy to meet you.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Silver Lining - Chapter 1

Here's a sample of something I'm working on right now.  I just finished the third draft of Chapter 1 of "The Silver Lining."  Click here to see the entire first chapter.  In a query package to a publisher, this is what I will send along with a synopsis of the whole novel.  And then the publisher will like it so much that she will ask me to send the whole manuscript.  (Right?)

This book is about angels interacting with humans on earth.  Chapter 1 introduces the earthly players.  Thomas is a family man - struggling to make the right decisions in life.  He's a Mormon, but his wife is Presbyterian.  You'll have to read to see what happens next...

Here are the opening lines:

    You are such a beautiful girl.

    Thomas watched his daughter, Angela, playing on the swing set. Only three years old, she could already swing by herself. That's what she learned that day. Back and forth, she kicked her legs and made herself go higher, bit by bit. Gleefully she laughed. "You don't have to push me anymore."

    She's growing up so fast. How did I get so lucky to have such a girl?

    She stopped kicking and asked, "How do I stop? Get me off!"

    "You can do it. Just wait and you'll slow down."

    Angela waited until she was slow enough, and then she jumped off and ran to her father. "Did you see me?"

    Thomas picked up the little girl with blond pigtails and twirled her around. "Of course I saw you," he said.

    "I can swing!" she said joyfully.

    "You'll have to show Mommy when she gets home. She'll be so proud."

    Angela gave him a kiss and said, "I love you, Daddy."

    Thomas smiled. Who could ask for anything more? I wish this moment could last forever.

    Suddenly, Angela giggled and ran as fast as she could across the yard, which wasn't really fast.

    "Oh no!" said Thomas. "You can't get away from me! I'm going to tickle you!"

    She screamed in mock terror.

    What a beautiful girl. Where has all the time gone? It was only yesterday when she was one, eating her first birthday cake.

Enjoy - and feel free to comment.
Mel

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rejection Letters Are Fun

I got another rejection letter today - my first since I've started blogging.  And just one day after my post on depression!  I should have waited a day!

I never know what to do when I get one of these letters.  I read that an aspiring writer will get hundreds of these before getting published.  If so, then I've only just begun.  Bring it on all you dream crushers!  Reject my novel!  See if I care!

Here's a good article on Interpreting Rejection Letters by Christine Trent.  She lists 5 categories of rejections: The Form Rejection, The Copy of a Copy of a Copy Rejection, The Polite Rejection, The "Make These Changes" Rejection, and The Detailed Rejection.

Let's see what I've got so far.  The name of my book is "Escape From the Planet Justice".  I sent each publisher a cover letter, the first three chapters, and a synopsis.

#1) Approx. 4/29/2010: I got a Copy of a Copy Rejection from a really big name publisher.  It's addressed to "Dear Author".  The name of my book does not appear in the typed portion.  It's signed "Sincerely, The Editors" so I don't know who exactly rejected me.  Someone wrote "Re: Justice" in blue letters.  I can see copy marks on the paper.  It even isn't dated.  Ouch!

#2) 5/24/2010: A Polite Rejection.  She sends an email addressed to me by first name and writes, "Thank you for your interest in <our publishing company>.  Your ms. is not what we are looking for, but your talent is obvious and we wish you the best of luck in placing your book with another book publisher," and she signs her name and title.  This letter actually gives me hope, as a real-life editor took the time to write the personal "your talent is obvious" - which lifts this letter a notch over the "Form Rejection".

#3) 6/28/2010: Form Letter Rejection.  This one is actually for a short story submission (my first short story rejection!).  My name and the title of my story is not in the email at all.  This email is worded in such a way it can be sent to anyone.  In fact, this may be a Copy of a Copy of an email.  Is that a copy mark I see on the email?  How did they do that?

#4) 7/16/2010: A Polite Rejection.  She addresses me by first name AND includes the full title of my book in the email.  Two paragraphs of the email are clearly form letter material.  One paragraph is specific to me.  She writes, "While there is no easy way to say this, I am afraid that we will have to pass on your manuscript. We just aren’t interested in the plot."  Honest, but unfortunately doesn't speak to whether or not I have talent.

#5) 10/8/2010: A Polite Rejection.  She addresses me by full name AND includes the full title of my book.  But then she writes: "Unfortunately, this manuscript is not quite what we are looking for at this time."  On second thought, this could be a really nice Form Letter Rejection.  But coming from a big name publisher, I should consider myself lucky to get my name and book title in the email.

From the conglomeration of these rejection letters - I'm wondering about my book.  Is the plot really that bad?  (Ditch the book and try to sell another one.)  Or is it my synopsis?  (Rewrite the synopsis again!)  Do I really have talent?  (Stop writing and torturing people.)  I'm not sure what to do next.

I can only keep pushing forward.  One day someone will just have to say "yes."

Happy writing,
Mel

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Me Depressed?

Today is National Depression Screening Day.  As an aspiring writer, I'm supposed to be depressed - at least that's what I read.  We geniuses are prone to depression - and I do seem to have my bouts.  One day I'm happy and pushing forward with everything and then BAM!  I don't want to do anything for a few days.  It usually hits when it starts getting cold outside, and when the days are getting slower, and I have to start worrying about Christmas shopping and taking a break from writing to do actuarial exams.  And on top of all that ...

I can't get published.

Man - sometimes life just sucks.

And then I eat some ice cream and I'm back on track.

So I took their online screening test.  Click on the link above, and you can take the test, too.  See if you're depressed.  I failed the test - it said my profile isn't consistent with depression.

And you know what?  That just plain sucks, too.  If it's not a medical condition, then I really am depressed.  I have real reasons to be sad.

Great - now I'm depressed.  I'm going to eat some ice cream.

Bonus question - does anyone recognize this artifact from the sci-fi show Warehouse 13?


Happy writing!  Or sad writing - whatever the case may be.
Mel

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Alphabetical Discrimination

Okay - let's try something here.  Start listing some war-horses of sci-fi.  Who comes to mind?  Here are a few big names.
    Isaac Asimov
    Arthur C. Clarke
    Orson Scott Card
    Michael Crichton
    Douglas Adams
    Terry Brooks
    Philip K. Dick
    Ray Bradbury
    Edgar Burroughs
    Piers Anthony
    Michael Crichton
Are you noticing any patterns here?  Let me spell it out to you: Adams, Anthony, Asimov, Bradbury, Brooks, Burroughs, Card, Clarke, Crichton, Dick.

Yes - you see it now!  They all start with A, B, C, or D!  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  Let me relate an actual experience.

I went with my friend to Edward McKay's used book store in Winston Salem.  My friend wanted to get some good Russian books.  While I waited, I thought I'd try out the sci-fi section.  What did they have?  I started in the beginning with the A's.  I got stuck in that section because that's where all my favorite sci-fi authors are.  I saw Card (had to check out his whole collection), Asimov, Crichton, Clarke.  There was a lot of good stuff.

Then my friend tapped me on my shoulder and said, "Okay Mel - it's time to go.  I got my book."

Dang!  I didn't make it past the D's.  I looked down and saw how far the sci-fi section went.  It wrapped around a corner.  Then it hit me.

"Oh no - the W's are all in that dark corner over there!  That's where my books would be!"

Yes - I'm doomed.  If I ever do get published, no one will ever buy my books, because they'll get stuck at the end of the alphabet where all the cobwebs live!

Not convinced?  Well, ask yourself - where do all the "W" fiction books sit in the library?  They're in the back where the graduate students study - and boy do they hate to be disturbed.  "Hey, could you stop turning pages over there?!  Researching over here!"  No wonder people are always checking out the "ABCD" books!

Still not convinced?  Well, think back to elementary school.  Where do the "W" kids sit?  In the back of the room, because the teacher arranged the kids in alphabetical order!  And when you went to lunch, where were the "W" kids in line?  You guessed it - at the end.  By the time I made it to the drink station, they were always already out of chocolate milk!

Still, still not convinced?  Here's another gem from the Mel-o-vault.  One January, I flew out to BYU after Christmas break.  The plane was full of B-Y-zoobies.  There was a big snowstorm, and I knew that traffic would be crazy.  I made a beeline to the baggage claim, and then to the Provo Shuttle.  I got there well before anyone else did.  The dude wrote down my name and said it would be at least another hour before the next shuttle came back.

An hour!?

I went over to the chairs and I sat.  I watched as the other B-Y-zoobies came over to reserve a spot on the next shuttle.  That line got long, and I was so glad I got there first.  Then came the moment of truth.  The dude announced, "The shuttle is here," and he proceeded to call out names.  My name wasn't first.  It wasn't second.  Everybody else got on the shuttle, and then the dude stopped calling names.

I wasn't on the shuttle.

I went up to the dude and asked, "Hey - why didn't you call my name?"

He said, "The shuttle's full.  You'll have to wait for the next one."

"When will that be?"

"Two hours in this weather."

I said, "Well, I was here first."

He answered, "There were so many of you, we had to put you in alphabetical order."  And thinking back I realized - yes he did call the names in alphabetical order.

I ended up taking the city bus.

Yes - alphabetical discrimination is real!

I just know that some editor or publisher (or Orson Scott Card's agent) is reading this right now thinking: Duh!  You're never going to get published with a name like that.  Don't you know we sort our slush pile in alphabetical order?  If your last name starts with anything higher than a "P" we go ahead and place your manuscript in the circular file.  Believe me - it saves us time, and it'll save you time.  Mr. Windham - you might as well give up now.

Well, I'll tell you what.  One way or another, I'm going to get published!  Go ahead and sort your slush piles all you want.  Do you want to know why?

Because beginning today, my name is Melvyn Aardvark, and I'm your next #1 author!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Writer's Conference: Agents - Part 1

Last week I mentioned that I'm going to attend a writer's conference next month.  As such, I need to plan things and make a few decisions, and I'll document in this blog along the way.

Today I talk about Agents (part 1).  I don't have an agent.  Some publishers won't even look at your cover letter if you don't have an agent submit your work for you.  (Though I read that in sci fi, agents aren't as important - I'll save that discussion for later.)  Some agents won't even look at your stuff unless someone else recommends you or you meet them at a conference.  Thus - one of my main goals is to meet an agent.

My ideal agent would be one with a respected name; one who does sci-fi; and one can also do an occasional Mormon-themed book (similar to Orson Scott Card).  Hmmm, I think my ideal agent may happen to be Orson Scott Card's agent.  I suppose one can dream!

While looking for an agent, I must also watch out for "predators."  These are self-proclaimed "agents" who prey on unsuspecting aspiring writers like you and me.  They know that we're desperate, and they may try to take advantage - such as offering to read our stuff for a fee (agents aren't supposed to do this), and then pocket our money and run off.  Though I suspect the NC Writer's Network would only advertise reputable agents, I also suspect "predators" may come to the conference on their own - trying to take my money and divert me from talking to a real agent.

To start with, I'm going to look into the three top agents attending this Conference.

#1) Daniel Lazar from Writers House: It says he handles literary and commercial fiction, thrillers, mysteries, young adult, graphic novels, humor, etc.  He doesn't list science fiction.  Agents that specialize in sci-fi usually list it (I think).  Looking at the Writers House website overall, I see "science" listed, but I think that means non-fiction.  Stephen Hawking is one of their clients.  Looking at the books they've agent-ed, I recognize a lot of big-name books - none are sci-fi, though.

#2) Quinlan Lee from Adams Literary: This is definitely a children's book agency.  Though I'm planning on writing a few children/young adult, I won't have anything ready by next month.

#3) Sally Hill McMillan: another local big-name agent.  It says she does Southern fiction, women's fiction, mysteries.  She specifically states that she does not do sci-fi.

Okay - from these top three, it looks like Daniel Lazar is my best bet, though I'm really getting the sense that none of these three really does sci-fi, and is not who I'm looking for.  Then I wonder - would I still approach one of them and try to get a referral?  I'll have to come back to that idea.

Finally, I should bring up the Manuscript Mart.  As mentioned before, this is a service the NCWN is providing.  For $150, they will review a book pitch and provide 25 minutes worth of review.  This could be a valuable service - as they could help me with my synopsis and query letter.  Also note that three of the four reviewers are the three agents listed above.  That is, if I really want to meet one of these agents, I have an in (for only $150).

The only problem is: it doesn't look like they do sci-fi.

One thing I could do: send an email to NCWN and ask: "If I send in a sci-fi manuscript, which agent would review it?" and see what answer I get.  I think I'll do that.

In the meantime - I must find out who else is coming.  Will other (reputable) agents be there?  If so, how do I find out who's coming?  And how do I approach them?  That'll be Part 2.

Hmmm - I wonder if Orson Scott Card's agent will be there...

Happy writing!
Mel

Friday, October 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo

What will I be doing in the month of November?

NaNoWriMo!

What the heck is that?  No, it's not a "Mork from Ork" fesitval.  It's short for National Novel Writing Month.  During the month of November, participants from all around the globe go on a writing frenzy: 50,000 words in 30 days.

I've done it twice before - back in 2006 (I gave up around 15,000 words) and then again in 2008 (won that time).  Now I'm going to use it in 2010 to begin the first parts of "Time Sleuths," a new idea I have (but still need to flesh out over the next month). 

All you Aspiring Writers (all two of you) - I invite you to join in the fun.  Make plans now.  Everyone's doing it!  Let me know and I'll add you as a friend and we can watch each others' progress.

Happy writing!
Mel