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Edit Letters and Ending Terms and What’s Up With Referrals?

As usual, when it rains, it pours.

I have arrived at the next stage of The Book Deal. First came the offer. Then waiting. Next came the contract. Then more waiting. Now the edit letter has arrived.

No waiting. Just working.

Between all the revising I need to do and the term ending this week at school, I’m a bit busy. So it might be quiet here at the blog for a while. I’ll try to pipe up now and then.

One word of advice for the savvy aspiring writer. Remember that a referral to someone’s agent is not typically something you ask for. It’s something that’s offered. And you definitely don’t ask an author who doesn’t know you from the crossing guard down the street.

I had a referral once from a writer who knows me (and more importantly, my work!) very well. It went as far as an R&R (revise-and-resubmit) but didn’t pan out. The referral was a gift—something I didn’t ask for, but was very grateful to be offered.

Be professional. It always looks good.

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When It’s NOT "Just Jealousy"

News Flash: Not all teenagers love and adore each other. (They’re just like younger kids and adults that way.) When one teen hates another, there seem to be two routes. The hater makes no secret of their hate, broadcasting it to the world, or they act extra-super-sweet-and-nicey-nice around their hate-ee.

The second is just about as obvious as the first.

Then there’s the response from the hate-ee’s friends once the hater moves on, particularly when we’re talking about girls:

“Forget it, she’s just jealous.”

It’s true at least some of the time, I’m sure. Envy gets ugly easily enough. But it’s become a sort of default response to being hated, or even just disliked. “It’s not my problem—they’re just jealous.”

What if they’re not? What if someone’s beef with me has nothing to do with my possessions, my status, my accomplishments? What if it has everything to do with how I’m conducting myself? I see kids who really don’t like other kids, and have really good reasons for it. Boys who disrespect girls, students who disrespect teachers, kids who try to cheat or cause trouble. And I’ve seen those kids brush it off with the “jealousy” excuse. Pointing fingers at the hater distracts me from what I need to see—my own face in the mirror, my own actions and character.

That doesn’t mean we need to beat ourselves up every time someone has a problem with us. But taking it as a prompt for some quick self-reflection couldn’t hurt.

This is part of why I don’t feel inclined to celebrate my successes in a sense of “Ha! Take that, haters!” If there are haters out there, I’m not always sure of the reason behind their hate. My success stands on its own. Separately, I’ll celebrate when I manage to knock down any of my own tendencies toward bad conduct …

… leaving the haters to worry about their own selves.

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Bitterness Isn’t Sexy

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about humility being sexy. Today, a little time on the flip-side with what isn’t sexy.

The writing/publishing world is an easy one to get bitter in. No matter our route and no matter where we are in our journey, there’s always someone who’s gone further faster, gotten more, done better.

A fellow querying writer who gets a gazillion requests on a derivative story with a so-so query while you can’t get a peep out of agents.

A fellow self-publisher who races to #1 on the charts without seeming to lift a finger.

A fellow agented author whose novel sells in days while your agent has been shopping your second manuscript for six months after striking out with the first.

A fellow published author who gets the red-carpet treatment from their publisher while you have to pound the pavement yourself if anyone’s even going to hear about your book.

So what do we do about it?

Some people send nasty replies to agents’ form rejections. Some leave bad reviews on their “competitions'” books. Some just plain badmouth their peers. Some chat-bomb Twitter events that industry professionals have given up their scant free time to host and do little more than spew venom.

What good did any of that ever do anyone? I have a hard time believing it even makes the perpetrator feel better—not in any real way.

Here’s what it’s not going to do: Endear you to other writers. Or agents. Or editors.

Or readers.

Did you notice something in the list I gave earlier? All those people are supposed to be our “fellows.” How about we treat them like it? We can be happy for them while hoping to soon be a bit happier for ourselves.

If nothing else, it’s got to be better for your mental health.

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Spell-Check is Your Friend. Seriously.

Long before I ever thought I was creative enough to write any kind of fiction, my relationship with the written word held a particular distinction. I was English Student of the Year in 9th grade. That was the year of sentence diagramming (among other things).

Let me tell you, I diagrammed sentences like nobody’s business. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics now, but it did give me a pretty solid hold on some tricky grammar, comma rules, and the like.

That was me and English for a long time. The Technician. I wrote perfect essays that were exactly what my history teacher wanted to see. I wrote killer research papers and aced my technical writing class in college.

These skills still come in handy now. Just ask Mindy McGinnis, whose comma splices I’ve helped hide from her editor.

In the effort to develop my inner novelist, though, I try not to dwell on those technical aspects. I even make a conscious effort sometimes to let them go, allow myself to make “mistakes” for the purpose of flow and voice. (This was easier once my linguistics professor taught me the difference between Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar.)

That aspect of my journey has helped me ease up on the “Fix It!” button every time I see a grammar or spelling error. (Okay, the reaction’s still there. But not as violent as it used to be.) I’m sure other novelists are very in-the-creative-moment, especially when drafting, and leave those things to be cleaned up in editing/revising. To stay in that creative zone, they may even turn off the spell-as-you-go feature that pops up with those red/orange underlines when you misspell something.

Awesome. Whatever works for the individual writer.

But some seem to forget that we do need to run a spell-check eventually.

I know, spell-check isn’t perfect. It’s annoying when it dings every one of your proper names, or made-up words for another language, or even perfectly spelled calculus vocabulary. And it won’t catch misspellings that happen to be proper spellings of other words. It won’t save you on a “phase-vs-faze” debate.

I’ve heard some say they don’t worry about such things, because that’s what editors are for. Sure, editors should be able to catch the errors so subtle, your eye glides over them. But leaving flat-out wrongly spelled words that five minutes with spell-check could catch?

That makes it look like we don’t care. It doesn’t look professional. It doesn’t look like we respect the agent/editor/other human being we’re sending our work to.

So, my plea for the week. Save someone a headache. Show them you care.

Run a spell-check. 🙂

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Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from … Food Network??

I admit it, I’ve been completely addicted to Food Network lately. (You’d think it’d do damage to my waistline, but I’ve found when you see all this extravagant, wonderful food that’s far better than anything you can get your hands on in real life, you don’t actually eat that much.)

In particular, I’ve watched a lot of the competition shows they have: Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef America, Chopped, Sweet Genius, etc. And I’ve learned a couple of keys about being classy while competing against your peers.

#1 Don’t Compare Really, I already knew this, but I’ve seen just how ugly it is when it doesn’t happen on these shows.

The classiest competitors talk about what they were going for, how they went about it, what inspired them, and so on. They don’t even mention what their fellow contestants did. The focus is on what they did, and is it good enough?

Inevitably, someone comes along who makes some remark (either blatant or backhanded) about another chef’s dish or execution or style, or how their own is better. Every time, I want to mute the TV. It makes me cringe and grit my teeth.

This applies easily to the writing world. It’s harder when I’m in the fight, rather than watching from the other side of the television, but it’s still important. The important thing is my writing. How I pull it off, whether it’s good enough … not whether it’s better than Writers X, Y, and Z. And if I must have such thoughts, I should keep them to myself. Or at least vent them in absolute privacy.

#2 Don’t Talk Back to the Pros Oh, when contestants (on ANY reality show) talk back to the judges, I want to scream at them and run away, all at the same time. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t even have to take their advice if you don’t want to. But you should respect that there’s a reason they’re sitting in judgment and you’re not. They have expertise, and have earned the right to be publicly opinionated.

Again, obviously applicable to writing. How often have we seen people bashing agents, editors, and publishers? Posting comments to their blogs about how they’re outdated dinosaurs and no one needs them anymore? Or those horror stories about writers who send scathing replies to form rejections of their queries?

Yeah, publishing’s changing, but really? That’s no excuse for dissing people who DO know a thing or two about the industry. Have some respect, and behave professionally. It’ll make YOU look better, and who doesn’t want that?

So, thank you, Food Network, for reminding me not to be a full-of-myself jerk as I attempt to navigate the world of getting published. I’m sure everyone who has to interact with me thanks you, too.

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If You Think It’s Easy, You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

DISCLAIMER: I have not self-published (yet … I know, I keep saying that). That said, I’ve gone through a lot of the necessary processes—practicing, if you will. I’ve played with designing covers, some of which you can also see by clicking the title tabs at the top of the page. I’ve done interior formatting and had proof copies made. I’ve made eBooks in both EPUB and MOBI formats (not just preparing my Word doc for some company’s automated conversion process—I figured out how to do it myself).

So that’s the headspace the following chunk of opinion comes from.

There’s a lot of buzz lately about literary agents forming e-publishing wings. Some are set up more to facilitate their existing clients’ self-publishing efforts, while others seek to be full-fledged publishers. The latest is over at Bookends, with lots of very passionate responses on both sides of the is-it-ethical and is-it-smart debates.

I’m not going to weigh in on those aspects. People far more intelligent and experienced than I are already doing that. But there’s a particular idea in the responses that I’ve seen many times. Not just there—I’ve seen it in various writing forums whenever self/e-publishing comes up:

“Do it yourself. It’s easy.”

Okay, the physical act of uploading your manuscript to Amazon, B&N, or Smashwords is easy. But I’ve been scoping out the results, and it’s clear many writers are missing the truth:

Doing it is easy. Doing it well is hard.

Forget the trials of marketing, getting anyone to even find your book among the many on Kindle. I’m just talking about the front-end job of getting it prepped for daylight. Let’s look at the aspects that as a reader make me tear my hair out.

* * * * *


Oh, my … covers. My brother is a graphic designer. I don’t know nearly as much as he does, but I’ve absorbed a few things through conversations with him. And I’m not saying my covers are super-fabulous—remember, I’m just playing and experimenting so far. (But an editor at HarperCollins did compliment my Fingerprints cover. *blush*)

Do you honestly have a good eye for design? Or do you think most things look “good enough”? Scanning the Kindle listings, it’s not hard to spot a “homemade” cover. (And I will say, certain smaller publishers aren’t much better with their cover designs.) If you’ve cut elements from different images and stuck them together, have you really made it look like one seamless whole that was meant to be that way?

In most cases, no.

So, what to do? Pay for a graphic designer? Maybe. But if so, beware. I’ve seen freelance graphic designers with credentials and everything who create crap cover designs. If you’re paying far less than $100, you might get a very nice (but basic) cover, or you might get something my high school students could out-do during their lunch break.

If you want something really high-quality, that doesn’t scream DIY from a mile away, you have some options. Invest some real money in it. Have/develop the skills and tools yourself. Or be lucky enough to know someone with the talent who’s willing to do you a favor.

And for goodness sake, make sure you have the proper rights to use any stock images you need. Just because you found it on the internet and did a right-click/save doesn’t mean it’s fair game. Same goes for fonts. (You didn’t know you can’t just use whatever fonts you have installed on your computer? Go do some homework.)

* * * * *


I’ve already done a full rant on this subject before, so I’ll just reiterate a few things.

If you use a meat-grinder, you get hamburger … not steak.

Maybe you like hamburger. If you do it very carefully and make sure the “meat” going in has everything just right, you might be able to get a five-star, gourmet burger out of it.

Personally, I have a hard time trusting automated conversions, even specialized ones like Kindle uses. I really don’t trust an automated process that takes one file and spits out five or six different formats. You don’t have to be a control freak like me, but triple-check your results in ALL formats to make sure the result is pristine.

* * * * *


Oh, yeah, this is about a story people will (hopefully) read.

This is the biggest roadblock for many. To get the kind of intense, whip-it-into-shape editing my friends with Big-6 publishing deals have gone through, you would have to spend more than $1000. It’s not just proofreading, though some of the errors and typos I’ve seen in self-pub’d works still make me shudder. Here’s a little story to illustrate:

Once upon a time, there was a novel posted at an online writers’ community. I read the first few chapters and thought it was marvelous. Surely this would be picked up by an agent. Surely it had a better shot than most at being published.

Alas, it did not happen. Eventually, the author decided to self-publish. I remembered loving what I read, so I gladly made the purchase.

As I read the whole thing, I was heartbroken. It quickly became obvious why it didn’t make it on the traditional route. Nothing to do with the mechanics of the writing; everything to do with the craft of the story. Repetitive recaps every time a new character entered the picture. Disbelief that could no longer be suspended even by a reader eager to love the story (such as myself).

There are those who say you can edit well enough if you have a good critique group. I believe that can be true. But is your critique group tough enough on you? Do they know enough to spot overarching problems, or are they just good for helping you polish and tighten sentences?

If you can’t afford a 4-digit editing bill (and really, how many of us can?) there are other options. Read with a critical eye, not just for the words on the page, but how the story is shaped and woven together. Look at some books on craft until you find some that work for your style, genre, etc. Maybe take a class or two.

And if you’re lucky enough to find critique partners who really know what they’re talking about and can tear your work apart in a way that makes you thank them for the torture … dig your claws in and never let them go.

* * * * *

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what goes into making a self-published book top-notch. It’s NOT easy. (Neither is going the traditional route.) It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to spend your life savings. It does mean you should work your tail off … and put in some major time between finishing the “writing” part and putting the product on the market.

Is it worth it? After all, you’re probably only charging around $1-5 for your eBook, right? Maybe you’re embracing the concept of a pulp fiction revival and are glad to be a part of it.

That’s great. But I say you should still respect your readers enough to make sure anything you put in front of them is nothing less than awesome.

Did I miss anything? Other pet-peeves in self-published work? Or am I just way too picky? 😉

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