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.


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...

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!


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!

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.

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:

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:

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!

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.

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!

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!


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,

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.

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,

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.

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!

Friday, October 1, 2010


What will I be doing in the month of November?


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!

The Day Job

I've always been a dreamer.  Don't we all have dreams?  When I was young, I always knew that I was going to be a famous author and/or musician.  I went to college to learn more about being a composer.  I even got a Master's Degree.  I went years thinking it was going to work out for me, but then something happened.

I graduated.

Something about living with your wife's parents can bring you from dreamer to realist in no time flat.  Yes, I had to get a job - a real job - a day job.  Luckily, I had a BS degree in Math, and I passed a couple of actuarial exams, and that landed me my first day job as an actuarial analyst.

I love my day job.  I get to play with numbers all day.  I get to write some fun emails.  I get paid.  It lets me write fiction on the side (however, not during work hours - some day jobs let you do this, but they don't pay much).

Day jobs provide stability, income, scheduled time for you to work around, excuses to write fiction (what better way to escape your day job than to go off to your own little world?).

Sometimes I get frustrated.  It takes me forever to write a novel.  It takes me a month or two to write a short story.  Sometimes I just wish I had more time to work with.  I want to get all my ideas down on paper.  I want to see people reading my books.  I want to change the world.

The day job is nice.  It pays food on my table.  But will it provide the opportunity to change the world?  Let's see - I'm going to name the most famous actuary alive today.  His name is Sholom Feldblum.  Ever heard of him?  I didn't think so.  You can Google him and find out all you want to know about him - but let's face it - actuaries don't change the world.

Watch "About Schmidt" and you'll see what I mean.  Schmidt is an actuary at the end of his career.  He leaves his life work behind for his successor to use.  When Schmidt goes to visit his work place the very next Monday, he sees his entire life's work in the trash can.  How depressing!  The whole movie, he's just trying to find purpose in his life.  Hey - here's a clip...

We're all like this poor guy.  We want to make a difference in this world.  Yes, our day jobs provide stability and income, but they don't provide a way to change the world.  Schmidt finally finds his answer by going above and beyond the day job.  (Watch the whole movie and see.)  And that's why we aspiring writers write.  We want to change the world - even if we have to stay up till 1:00 in the morning to do it!

My advice to you: if you have a day job, embrace it.  Get the most you can out of it.  Enjoy the stability it provides.  If you don't have a day job, get one and only then worry about making money from writing.  Then keep on writing until it happens - until you make a difference.  Then hopefully, one day, you and I will join the many authors/composers/artists who make a difference in this world.