Insight. Powerful Powerful Insight

Some people like "How To" books. They buy "How to be a better ____" books over and over again when to me they so often repeat the same information or contradict one another. Sometimes they read like the person read the other book and decided to do his best "this isn't really plagiarism" impersonation. Needless to say, I had a few bad experiences with such books early on and have for the most part given up on them. (I follow Donald Maass on Twitter, where he posts insightful tweets to make a person a better author, which I find to be an adequate middle ground.)

Then there are magicians. I never wanted to be a magician, but who doesn't love a good magic trick? I grew up during Penn and Teller's rise to fame, which means I hit the tail end of quality magic. More popular magicians who got on TV for not eating were stupid and ruined the profession for people with genuine talent. Give me Ricky Jay any day of the week rather than some asshole in tight pants dancing around a stage hyping up something that doesn't offer a beginning much less an ending.

So, with my curmudgeonly devotion to older magic, I've never heard of Brian Brushwood. I only know of him now because someone linked me to his blog on Google+. On his blog, he's posted a letter exchange with Teller (yes, the one that doesn't talk; that doesn't mean he can't write).

I offer you the entire post because the context makes Teller's words all the more powerful. His closing paragraphs are what got me. His talk about being something other than a magician. Over the years I've often met people who were truly gifted at something other than writing who so badly wanted to be a writer. It reminded me of how much I wanted to be a soldier when I'm very clearly not built for soldiering. Sometimes, when I'm down and worried that I won't ever cut it at being a writer (even though I've been writing longer than I've done anything else), I think, maybe I'm better at something else. Maybe I'm not supposed to be a writer. I'm supposed to be a ______, and I'm wasting all these years writing novels when I should be _____ing.

But Teller should have been something other than a magician, and it's that something that makes him so great at what he does. For the first time ever, that lingering insecurity feels like a blazing torch, I'm carrying to my own professional olympics. Holy shit, I should have been a _______ which is why I'm going to be such a great writer!!!

Thank you, Teller, for your wisdom. And thank you, Brian, for sharing.

Targeting Your HTML

I thought I had blogged on this before but Blogger is being difficult, and I can't find the post. So I'm posting (reposting?) for reference, as there are some bloggers out there that still need to learn this lesson.

For all examples in this explanation, we are going to use [ and ] but when you write the actual code, you should replace them with < and >. Here is how you make a hyperlink in your blog post.

[a href="URL"]Site Name[/a]

Ta-da! Now users can link to a website from your site, and that's super nifty. There's only one problem. When they follow that link, they leave your site. You don't want readers to do that, especially if they're not done reading what you posted. The goal is to keep users at your site while providing them all the entertainment and information they need. You are an Oracle, a font of wisdom, but they'll never learn that if you're sending them elsewhere.

So what do we do? We target the hyperlink. There are various targets that have various applications, but in this situation, we only care about one of them. You want your hyperlinks to open in a new tab/window. (Whether it's a new tab or window is up to their browser settings so you don't worry about that.) How do you make the link open in a new tab/window? Like so:

[a href="URL" target="_blank"]Site Name[/a]

You don't need any punctuation to separate commands, so don't go adding a comma or anything. Write it just like I have it above and the next time someone follows one of your links, it'll open in a new tab, leaving your page still available to them so that when they're done reading what you linked to, they can easily return to your own content and continue to learn from your wisdom.

So let us practice:
[a href="" target="_blank"]Penny Arcade[/a] becomes Penny Arade once we replace the brackets with angle brackets.

Click on that link.

Welcome back! I assume that you read the comic and possibly a number of other archives but eventually you closed that tab and look, we're still here!



And there you go, kiddies. Now go forth and hyperlink correctly.

An Excess of Riches

I'm learning something new about myself. When I have a full requested by an agent I like, I stop querying. It's not an intentional, "This is it. No need to send these things out any more!" It's more of a, "Damn, that's hard work. I'll get to it later." Later just happens to come after I hear back on my full request.

That's not entirely true. Later will come after a month or two before my common sense kicks me in the back of the head and says, "What are you waiting for? That's two months another agent might have been interested in your work!" My common sense wears cleats, so I don't like it when it kicks me in the back of the head.

But, here I've received a full request and here I'm not sending out queries even though I should be. Really, I should have been sending out queries for the past two months. I even had multiple rounds of feedback from Jennifer S. Wolf. So you'd think I'd be all over that.

Well, then I had a new idea for a novel, and I wrote that instead. Then I revised that novel. And the day before I finished revising that novel to send to beta readers, an agent asked me for a full of a third manuscript. So querying seems so out of place.

Oh woe is me! I sent a new novel to beta readers and received a full request for a separate novel so I don't feel up to querying a third novel. Gee, Joe, that must be a rough life you're leading there.

It's actually kind of awesome. It's also kind of confusing. My process has been: write a book, query a book, write a new book, get rejected, query new book, write a third book, get rejected, and so on. This whole revise a book, write a book, send off a full, query a book makes me all dizzy!

So all that self-aggrandizement is really meant to say, query. Don't sit back and wait. It is not in your best interest. At worse you garner multiple rejections (okay, at worse you garner someone telling you you have no talent and should stop breathing) and at best you garner multiple offers of representation and can declare a Thunderdome among agents to see who you will pick.

Either way, there isn't much reason for you to rest on your Laurels. Your Laurels are tired of you resting on them. They told me so. Get to work and give your Laurels a break. They work hard enough as it is without having to put up with your ass in their faces.

Realigning the Thought Tracks

There is some common wisdom shared among authors that has gotten twisted by the internets, like playing a game of operator/telephone (depending on where in the country you grew up--basically a message is relayed through a number of people and it warps with each passing). The very wise advice was, "Don't quit your day job and think to support yourself with a writing career."

Fewer and fewer authors are able to write full time, especially those that don't have spousal revenue/benefits to take advantage on. Certainly it's challenging to make a living when you don't have a backlist to generate revenue on top of your new advances. George RR Martin once said that an author should not quit his day job until his backlist royalties equal his advances that total sum can support his lifestyle. I think this is a good and simple rule of thumb to follow.

Unfortunately, the advice has been warped to say "Don't get into publishing to make money."

Bull. Shit.

There is no better reason for you to get into publishing. It is the best reason to get into publishing.

You want to write a book because you love to write? Fine, write it. You don't need to publish it to satisfy that goal. You wrote it. Goal accomplished. What are you trying to get it published for? The one is completely independent of the other.

You want to be published so more people read your story? Self-publish on Amazon and set the price for as low as it can go. If you just want people to read it, nothing gets your work out there like a free book on a major distribution platform. The numbers say a first-time midlist author can expect to sell only 2000 books. You can pass that total if you're just giving it away, can't you?

So why are you publishing? You just want to hold the book in your hand. Go to Lulu or Ingrams or hell even Publish America will get you a paperback for you to hold onto. Certainly they don't have the thousand hoops you have to jump through to get published by a major house.

Why are you publishing? To be a professional. And professionals get paid, kiddies. Don't think that getting paid for your writing makes you any less noble. Don't think it besmirches your art. If you're going to publish, you do it for the money. Know how royalties work. Know quarterly statements and quarterly taxes. No rights and revenues and plan strategically.

If you are querying agents and pursuing publishing, you are announcing to all parties that you expect to get paid. Don't shy away from that fact and for the love of god don't tell people not to get into publishing for the money. Just tell them not to quit their day job.

Which reminds me of a second thing I've been hearing lately. Actually, I've been hearing it for awhile but it seems to connect with this post very well. There are some agents out there who have VERY helpful blogs that really get into the challenges that agents/authors face in terms of boilerplate negotiations and rights disputes, royalty statements, etc etc. Someone will inevitably comment to the post saying, "See, this is why I want an agent. So I don't have to worry about this stuff."

Bull. Shit.

You will learn the business of publishing, my friends. You know what they call people who let other people manage their business? Suckers. You want an agent because they know people in the industry. They know the workings of the publishing contract. They know likes, disklikes, preferences, and dirty tricks. They're your consigliere. But you're still the motherfucking godfather. All those numbers and percentages and conditions and timed changes may seem intimidating, but you will learn them all. Because in the end, the only person that's really looking out for you is you. There's no guarantee you'll end up with a top shelf agent. There's no guarantee you'll end up with a top shelf editor. You are your business and you need to protect yourself from the failings of others.

Having an agent and an editor are good things, in my opinion. They are powerful tools for publishing. Their DeWalts not piddly Black & Deckers. But you need to read the instruction manual and make sure you don't put a screw right through your thumb.

You're not alone in this great endeavor, but you are the captain of your ship. Know how to sail.

Could It Be Any Clearer

Pearson, Inc is the parent company that owns Penguin and Pearson Education. They are the world leaders in trade and educational publishing, respectively. It also owns the Financial Times, Dorling Kindersley, and other ventures. Their 2010 numbers were just released. One point in particular is of relevance to people like you and me:

Last year [2010] almost 30% of all our revenues were for digital products (42% if you count those blended paper/digital programs). Our digital education platforms now serve almost 60 million students, up 43% from last year.

Let that soak in a little bit. The LARGEST publisher in the world made 30% (or 42% if you prefer) of its revenue from digital products. And the fact that they differentiate between digital and digital/print blend is HUGE. These aren't fudged numbers. Pure digital content made up nearly 1/3 of the revenue of an $8.7 billion year.

That's 2,610,000,000 dollars in digital revenue. 2.6 BILLION.

The digital age is here, my friends. Welcome to the future.

The Rhythm of My H--Fingers

I wrote today. By itself this is not a big deal. I write a minimum of five days a week. Near the end of JH, I was writing seven days a week1. But I had a powerful flu that caused me to do not much of anything but sit on the couch under a blanket and watch TV2.

I went back to work yesterday, but just didn't have the energy on the train to write. Hell, I barely stayed awake. I read on the way in and the way home. This morning, though, I made myself take up the keyboard and give things a try. I was in the middle of a chapter and was worried I'd struggle to find the rhythm, so the sooner I started, the sooner I'd figure things out.

The good thing is that I was able to remember where I had been headed and finish the chapter. I even wrote a few things I hadn't expected. But it reminds me how important rhythm is to the way I write. There was a team building exercise we did in my fraternity called a rock pull. Take an 800-1200 pound rock from the local quarry. Drop it off 1.7 miles away from the house. Drill three holes and install ribar. Tie off ropes that lead to three logs. Each log is wide enough for four people. This was the pledges' rock. They'd stay on the logs the entire time. The other spots (we were a small house) were filled by active members. Everyone was on the rock. Look at the things you could accomplish as a team that you couldn't accomplish on your own.

Now at some point during the pull, you'd want to take a break, but you couldn't take a break. It was a thousand times more difficult to pull the rock from a stopped position than while you were moving. As long as the rock was moving, you could keep going3.

It's the same with writing. It's so much easier to keep going than to stop and start. The rhythm propels you forward. In those instances where you have an extended stop, I recommend skipping back a few chapters (never start over, that's just a whole mess of trouble that violates the rules!) and read. Read your own work until you find the rhythm and can press forward. If you just start back up where you stopped, that break may become noticeable.

Few of us have the luxury of writing a book from start to finish without interruption. The key is to make it look as seamless as possible.

1 I'm actually trying to tone that down. My wife was starting to get annoyed with me going out weekend mornings so we never had breakfast with one another. I'd like to start using my weekends for hobbies that have fallen to the wayside. Problem is, I love writing so much that it always feels like more fun.

2 A streamed a few new movies on Netflix that I had never seen before. "Bottle Shock" was a great movie with Alan Rickman and Chris Pine. We also watched seasons 1 and 2 of Angel and season 1 of Psych on DVD (which we own and have seen repeatedly). Like I said, it was a powerful flu. Lots of time in front of the TV.

3 There was a scheduled break half way there. To my pride and pleasure, no pledge ever fell off the rock in the years I was there. Only one member ever refused to pull and his dickitude has already been illustrated in a previous post here.

Minimum Word Counts

When I lived in St. Louis and began to finally put genuine effort to a career in writing, I began the Third World, an epic setting required of every major fantasy author. To that point, I did not read critically. I read what I enjoyed and read for enjoyment. I did not stop to ponder word choice or sentence structure, pacing or plot. I just read. And because of that, I just wrote.

I wrote chapters for the story of that chapter and gave no thought to reader fatigue1 or for that matter writer fatigue. Both CAUSE AND CONVICTION (originally titled THE END OF BLISS) and A CIRCLE OF CRIMSON STONE have chapters that are 10,000 words long. So when you look at the Queue and you see a word count of 40,000 words, that means that book only has 4 chapters written.

Shortly after this, I joined my first writers' group. The response was the same as everyone else's response would eventually be: shock. One chapter is 10,000 words?! Are you crazy? That's so long? Is it? I didn't think it was. Perhaps it was just a difference of genre. They wrote thriller, sci-fi, women's paranormal and...well, not sure about the last lady. But none of them wrote epic fantasy. So clearly mine was more appropriate for my genre.

Was it? I was sure I had read plenty of epic fantasies with similar word counts. But there would only be one way I could know for sure. I went home and pulled books off my shelf. Martin, Williams, Rothfuss, and others. All epic fantasies, the bellwethers of word count. 250k minimum per manuscript. Then I did a cast off2 on a sampling of chapters in each novel. I got the evidence I needed.

The average word count was 2000 to 2500 words per chapter. In the monsters of the genre, the chapters were still only 1/4 the size of the chapters I was writing. Instead of having 25 chapters, they had 100 or more. So, in my next work, I decided I'd try writing shorter chapters.

My next work was BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE which ended up with chapters as short as 500 words, though most averaged about 2000. This proved to be a good move on my part because--as you can imagine--writing 10,000 word chapters can be exhausting. So now, as a rule for first-draft writing, all my chapters will be 2000 words long (minimum). This has been a great yardstick to use. 1100 words and I'm not fleshing out the scene enough. 4000 words and I've included too much back story. 1800-3300 words seems to be a great sweet spot.

This is also why I'm able to write in order and so quickly. I write 1000 words on my way into work. I write 1000 words on my way home, completing one chapter. 5 chapters--10,000 words--a week, and in 2-3 months, my novel's first draft is complete.

1 It's a weird psychological effect, but readers don't seem to handle long chapters well. They get mentally tired and want a break. Even if they don't take a break from reading, a chapter break seems to reset the internal clock, give them a sense of advancement, of knowing the story is moving toward its end. I could take the same ten-thousand word chapter and split it into two five-thousand word chapters, and the response from readers would be more favorable toward the latter. It's weird, but I've found this to be the case regardless of region or reader level.

2 The whole 250 words/page thing? Yeah, that's crap. That's the metric you use in a meeting when you're asked for the total page count and you haven't done a cast off yet. If you want a quick but accurate measure of how many words there are per page, you take a book of like design (you may not realize it, but books have different interior designs allowing for greater or fewer words per page), and do the following. Find five to ten pages that have a fair balance of dialogue and description (not all description and not all dialogue). Count how many words appear in the first five or six lines and divide by the number of lines. This gives you a word-per-line average. Then count the number of lines on each page and divide by the number of pages: lines-per-page. Divide the total word count by wpl average. Multiply this result by the lpp average and that is your projected page count.

There are ways to get even more precise page counts, but this one can be done in 5 to 15 minutes and is accurate enough for our purposes. For adult fantasy, the word count per page is closer to 300 to 350 per page rather than 250. Over the course of 100k-250k, that extra 100wpp can make a big difference.

Print is Killing Publishing

Whether you love the smell of paper books or not, digital distribution will be the primary means of accessing text-based media within your lifetime. Three years ago I was in a meeting of department heads and vice presidents and all the people that make decisions on things. We were discussing the company's ebook strategy. Three years ago, Flashpaper was new and xml-ebooks were in their first iteration. We were on the precipice and most people didn't know it.

We're now over the precipice, in case you're wondering. We're falling. Argue all you want that you prefer paper. We'll hit the bottom soon enough.

Flashpaper seems like old hat now. XML is realized (not fully, as we continue to experiment with enhanced ebooks). HTML5 and CSS3 are the vanguard of the mobile revolution, where computers play second hat to smart phones and tablets. The entire publishing paradigm is shifting and those companies that deal with text-based media are trying to figure out how to handle such a rapidly changing market.

At this meeting, standing a the precipice, we discussed the marketplace, the challenges of digital sales, and most importantly, the challenge of pricing. I asked what I thought was a simple enough question: Why don't we just sell content directly to the consumer?

Now at the time, ebooks represented less than 1% of total sales. MUCH less. The industry moneymaker at the time (and currently, though not for much longer) was paper books. Paper books sold in stores and online at Amazon. A book's marketing budget was much smaller than what was needed to force any one particular title to the forefront of the consumer consciousness. So much of the business depended on customers finding the books while looking for other items. (You know the "people who browsed this item also looked at X, Y, Z" suggestions on Amazon? Those are a big deal.)

The answer was as simple as the question. We can't sell directly to customers because it will upset the market. Cutting the middleman out of a particular part of the market would rock the boat for the much larger revenue generator.

In truth, the answer isn't so simple. It is short, but it embodies so many challenges that publishing isn't willing to tackle. How do you set up a marketplace? Which department owns it and maintains it? Will this require new staff and the costs that go along with them? How does a marketplace work? (I cannot express to you the number of meetings I had to have with directors and VPs explaining what meta-text and catalog searching is.) How do you handle international sales? How do you draw users to your market without the goods of other publishers that are offered in the collective of a place like Amazon? How do you establish industry market standards without provoking (more) anti-trust accusations? How do you sell books?

Did you catch that last one? How do you sell books? Publishers are really good at selling books to the market. Publishers are not very good at selling books to the customer. The industry grew up in cooperation with the market, not in opposition to it. Publishers do not have the staff, the institutional knowledge, or the will to bring anything but a marginal effort to bear when it comes to direct selling.

How does that affect you and me? You get the agency model of ebook selling. Ebooks cost as much as their hard-back brethren because the cost still accommodates the middle man. Rather than a 50/50 split between author and publisher, the whole thing is muddled by including a third party to act as a literary fence.

With the inclusion of self-publishing arms and fourth-party catalogs like Smashwords, marketplace e-bookshelves are less accommodating than ever for browsing. There aren't enough ways to hone searches aside from direct keyword searches. If you want to see fantasy, you get sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. And a LOT of it. And a lot of that, self-published. Sure Tor might not represent 100% of the fantasy market, but when you trace so many of the imprints up to their parent corporations, you'd be surprised how many of them are owned by the same people (Penguin owns at least four different fantasy imprints. Tor at least three, and so on). Bundle all these titles into a top-notch database driven search engine, slap a nice marketplace on the front of it, and all of a sudden you don't need to charge $17.50 for an ebook. You can charge $10 and make more money than you ever did before.

With the rapidly changing distribution paradigm, the obligations of playing nice with the market because of print will soon be meaningless. The problem is, by the time that happens, the publishing industry will have given up any opportunity it had to establish itself as a market option for readers of its work, will have allowed Amazon to muscle its way into the industry despite spats with Macmillain (which I still contend Amazon won despite [or because of] the application of the agency model to ebook pricing [something that will bite publishers in the ass]).

The game is being played while we fall. When we hit the bottom, the game ends, the new era of publishing begins, and only one victor will get up and walk away. The more we fall and the more I see the game played, I predict that victor to be Amazon. If decisive action is not taken, publishers, authors, and customers alike will lie broken and bloodied at the foot of the Cliffs of E-sanity.

The Rules (and their Subclauses)

1. One work in progress (WIP) at a time
    a. A work may be suspended to revise a draft of a previously completed manuscript or edit galleys of a manuscript being published

    b. A work may be abandoned if it is not salvageable and a new WIP begun

      i. If an abandoned WIP is resumed, this original work must be stripped for usable content and the manuscript begun anew

2. No revision until the first draft is complete
    a. Revision is permitted to re-establish rhythm if a WIP was suspended to revise the draft of another manuscript

3. Do not write a work that does not have a title
    a. This title can be changed at any time but may not be eliminated outright

4. Write a minimum of 10,000 words on those weeks that are designated "writing weeks."
    a. A non-writing week is a "reading week" wherein a book/books will be read to recharge creative batteries.

5. No more than two consecutive weeks may be designated as a non-writing week, barring extenuating circumstances (e.g. professional obligations, wife in the hospital, etc.)

6. Write chronologically
    a. If inspired, write only until this inspiration is spent and place this at the bottom of the WIP until the story reaches the point at which this inspiration can be assimilated
      i. If inspiration for a non-WIP work occurs, write a blog post tagged "ideas" to satisfy such inspiration then return to the WIP

7. Do not create a project folder for the WIP until the first draft is complete (this is bad luck).
    a. A project folder can be created to store supplementary files (scraps, maps, etc) but the manuscript file must remain in the general "novels" folder of your computer.

8. Copy the manuscript file to a flash drive and secondary storage device every two weeks (or more frequently) to prevent catastrophic data loss in the event of Eee PC theft or destruction

9. Do not show the manuscript to anyone else until it has been revised to second-draft status
    a. A second draft constitutes a minimum of one (but may include more) pass that reviews and revises every chapter of the manuscript

10. Do not query agents until the manuscript is revised to third-draft status
    a. A third draft constitutes the dissemination to qualified third-party reviewers and the application of their feedback to every chapter of the manuscript

Redux: There is No Such Thing as Writer's Block

Not quite sure why people are so much more willing to read blogger than live journal as one is just as easy as the other (other than displaying in reader, but we won't get into an RSS feed discussion). Anyway, because it has reared its ugly head again, I feel inclined to repost one of my earlier journal entries on writer's block. It doesn't exist. Stop making excuses.

I can't remember who the author was, someone I respected immensely at the time (Kurt Vonnegut Jr. perhaps?), but I read his opinions long long ago and to this day, I have found them mostly accurate. I say mostly because physical and psychological factors can also play a part in one's writing, so if you're exhausted, overly stressed, or in some other way not prepared to write, it may be frustrating if you're trying to push yourself through. Excluding such instances and focusing directly on writing (when you're in the proper state of self, when you should be writing), there is no such thing as writer's block.

I'll say it again, there's no such thing as writer's block. If you find yourself stuck, unable to move the story forward or unsure of where to go from where you are, you're not "blocked." You've made a mistake. Go back and review what you've written. Somewhere in there is a mistake. When you've corrected the mistake, the story will continue to progress normally. Thus, writing without mistakes will yield a fluid process from beginning to end. Granted, by fluid process, I don't mean that you'll write a publishable book on your first try. There's still revision and corrections to be made. But it's a serious mistake that stops a writer cold.

I have yet to discover this claim to be untrue.

Beware the AYFKM, My Son

There are plenty of reasons a person may stop reading your book at the beginning: overwriting, underwriting, rehashed plots or story elements, a disconnection with the protagonist. I can't even list the number of books I've picked up and put back down before the end of chapter 1 (it's a long list). That's the important part. I can't list them. I don't even remember most of them. Those books are discarded from my memory as not worth remembering or filed into the "not right for me" category. The worst that happens when someone starts to read and dislikes your story is that they stop. They might go so far as to comment that they did not enjoy the story when the subject matter comes up. Sure it stings and you want all the readers you can get, but in the grand scheme of things, much worse things can happen.

Like the AYFKM--the Are You Fucking Kidding Me moment. This is so much more dangerous than a person giving up after page two. The AYFKM happens much later in the book. The reader has invested time and money, but more importantly has invested in the story. He or she cares for what's happening, cares for the characters and the outcome. There is something at stake. Then you hammer the square peg into the round hole and that whole investiture comes apart. You shat on their feelings with your plot decision and there are consequences for your action.

AYFKM Level One
The reader immediately stops reading the book. They then seek out others to vent their frustrations, say like a blog post. ;) They're not waiting for conversation. They're starting the conversation. This isn't the same as weighing in with a "yeah, I just didn't like xxx main character, so I never read the series." This is "I was reading xxx and yyy happened. Are you fucking kidding me?!?!"

AYFKM Level Two
The reader immediately stops reading the book and refuses to buy any more books in the series (or possibly no books by you ever again). They actively begin conversations, but rather than voicing their frustration, they tell people that the entire experience is a waste of time. Stay away from this series. The author completely ruins everything that came before it (*cough*HPbook7*cough*). If you're lucky, this person may read the back cover copy for your next series, but as far as this one goes, it's dead in the water, and they're going to try to sink it with everyone they know too.

AYFKM Level Three
This is where all the bells and whistles go off. The torpedo is in the water and the submarine has to dive before everyone on board is killed. You didn't just waste their time, you hurt them on a personal level. For whatever reason, the bond they established with your story/character was an intense emotional investiture, and you just gave them a golden shower. You have made yourself an internet enemy. Nothing you ever write will ever earn you forgiveness. They will hunt you across the internet and make you pay. They will troll your blogs, spoil your Twitter hashtag conversations, and even show up at conventions to tell you how much they hate you. Nothing breads entitlement like an open mic and anonymity (aka, the internet), and you're about to suffer the worst of it. And you deserve it (or so they think).

And the real trick is, beneath all this self-assured rage, the person has a point. There is quite possibly, a fundamental flaw in the event that set them off. Too often an author will bend the plot to accommodate a personal desire/whim at the expense of immersion/realism. I know writers who decide what the beginning and end are going to be, what they want the plot to be, and they'll beat the story as hard as they must to move it from point A to point B.

I had a level one AYFKM moment this evening, that I will put behind the cut because it includes spoilers.

I've arrived at Lowell, reading BLUE FIRE all the way home. I have 20 pages left in the entire book and I'm at the tail end of the climax. Rather than driving home and finishing it there, I head up to my car in the parking lot and continue reading. I am that invested. We're not going anywhere until those last 20 pages are accounted for.

The big bad is defeated (for this book at least), the mysterious machine is going haywire, and the big damn hero has to make a run for it. Using the BDH's unique powers, the MM has killed people, disintegrated objects, and is destroying the BB's palace all around them. Walls and floors and ceilings are crumbling. RUN!

The BDH takes two survivors with her (as BDHs are wont to do). They run through the palace, walls exploding around them and the roof about to collapse on their heads. And just when they reach the door to the outside world, to freedom, to survival, one of the rescuees stops them. You see, using the BDH's unique power, the MM disintegrated her clothes. He stops them--INSIDE--and gives her his tunic lest she go outside naked.


A palace. Not a shack. Not a shanty. A motherfucking palace is about to fall on top of you, and you're going to stop and put on a skirt?

Let me guarantee you, if I was naked and fleeing a crumbling palace, the world would see my swinging cod before I stopped to put on a pair of shorts and give that building one last chance to drop a rock on my skull.

And it's a palace. Why didn't they stop outside the building on the grounds? What palace doesn't have grounds? You already described how long the walk was. There have to be grounds.

I loved this book. I devoured it. I got it yesterday and was 20 pages away from finishing it today (and I read slow). As soon as that happened, I turned off my nook and came home.

I have since finished the book and the ending is of a satisfactory nature that I will buy the third. As a result of the AYFKM moment occurring so close to the end of the book, my enthusiasm for the next installment is considerably depreciated. Time will heal this, of course, but where I was champing at the bit for book 2, book 3 can take its time.

How many people did the BDH kill in this book (middle grade my ass)? But she can't go outside naked. This is a pervading fact of American fiction (both in text and in screen) and it is incredibly stupid.

Pay Attention, Stupid

Google Home Page has been increasingly deficient in updating modules with new blog posts. I follow a collection of industry people who post daily and lately, some of their posts haven't been showing up until days later. That was another impetus for me to switch from LJ to Blogger. The Blogger Dashboard is much more effective at telling me when content is available. (I'm told it's the same thing as Reader, but I started with Google Homepage when I had a lot of non-blog modules included as well, but they have fallen away over the years.)

One such industry person is Jessica Faust from BookEnds, LLC, a literary agency I queried for BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE. She posted her form rejection letter on her blog today, and I wanted to compare it to the one I received (identical, in case you were wondering). It struck me that it was only to BM&BBQ and not WCO. Why hadn't I queried her again?

So I went to her agent page and saw the reason. She only reps contemporary fantasy, which Black Magic was. Wanted is pure classic fantasy.


Now, if you've done your homework properly, you know I'm wrong. She reps contemporary, fantasy. That reads "contemporary [COMMA] fantasy"

You see, that comma was at the end of the line and I skipped right over it. Right over. Woosh! Here's an agent whose blog I follow daily (where I participate almost as frequently) who I could have queried MONTHS ago, but because I missed one stupid comma, I did not send her anything.

So the rule that says do your homework before querying an agent? Here's a sub-clause: Pay attention, stupid.

Oh yeah! While the above remains a smart lesson, in this case, the decision not to query was intentional. I read an interview with Jessica where she voiced a firm opinion of word counts, which WCO surpasses by 30,000+ words.

The Impotence of Proofreading of Proofreading

For those of you who do not know, my day job is in publishing as well. I commute to Boston (writing the majority of my manuscripts on the train in and out of the city) and toil away in a cube for a major publisher. This is not the first publisher I've worked for. The formula I put forward is: take the decade of your age (I turn 33 this Saturday, so my decade is 3), subtract 1, and that's how many publishers you've worked for. This holds true a ridiculous amount of the time. Publishing is an incredibly incestuous business.

Oh so long ago (going on 8 years now), I began in book production. These are the people who actually manage the typesetting and printing of your book. When you miss your deadline, it isn't your editor that makes up that time. No, it's the project manager that has to maintain your pub date with half as much time. Keep that in mind next time you're missing your deadline. If they have to make the same date, that means they have to cut things out (like proofreading, and let me tell you, that's one of the first things to get cut).

Anyway, I bring this up because I was ruminating on life as a lowly Associate Project Manager. My boss, in an effort to maintain the type of publishing she started in (back when leading meant something more than just a value entered in InDesign/Quark) made me proofread everything that came across my desk. We started with the red pen and then moved on to Track Changes in Word. I'm getting close to "graduating" and getting to act like a modern project manager and not the old-style project editor (a style the company had only just abandoned and which many publishers still use today despite the cost savings of using freelancers). I turn over a Word file. I've put a lot of spit and polish into this thing. I've used the company's style sheets (with the most bizarre rules for commas) and gone over it with a fine-toothed comb. This is a winner.

"Are you sure this is final? You're done with it?"

"Yes," I say with confidence--a confidence I gripped like a vice before it flee from that discerning stare she'd use on me.

She hits F7. I always forgot F7 is the hotkey for Word's spelling and grammar check. Really, I forgot about Word's spelling and grammar checker. I never used the thing because it always caught so many words that were actually words that it felt like a waste of time.

Wouldn't have been a waste that time. The thing didn't even get off the first page when it caught an error. She looked up at me, discerning turning to withering. Was that the end? Oh no, we went through the entire document, one error after another to show me how much I still sucked.

Being a fantasist, you can imagine how difficult spell check is (especially using OpenOffice, which has some pretty basic words missing from its dictionary). Fantastical names, places, monsters. Weapons that haven't been used for a thousand years or never at all on this world. Spell check seems like a headache. But let me tell you, friend, it's a worthwhile headache. It'll save you embarrassment down the line. Let my early publishing shame serve as a lesson for all: F7.

But how, Joe? you might ask. How can you ask us to wade through all those errors-that-are-not-errors? Because, I answer, you will create a dictionary for your wip.

Most word processors use a standard dictionary. Do NOT just add wip-specific words to this default dictionary. These words may be similar to real words that you may misspell later. Or they may be similar to other words you create for other wip and then everything goes to hell. No, sir, you're going to create a new dictionary for each manuscript you write (with a handy exception mentioned below). If you're using Word, a new dictionary is a copy of the default plus any new words you add. You can name this dictionary whatever you want. Hence, if I wrote in word, the dictionary I would currently be using would be "Jehovahs_Hitlist" or something along that line. When you click on a word marked as an error and say to add to the dictionary, it gives you a choice of which dictionary to add it to. When you are done with the wip, you can then change your Word processor back to the default dictionary.

This is one of the places where OpenOffice really shines. Rather than duplicating the default dictionary, you can choose which dictionaries are active at any time. Thus, "Jehovahs_Hitlist" is only the words I add for that manuscript (and I can go into that list and edit/delete terms as I choose). For series works, you can have have a series dictionary rather than a per-wip dictionary OR you can have individuals. Then, when events from those separate works collide later down the road, you can turn on and off the dictionaries relevant to the work you're creating. (OO also maintains the "ignore all" list even after you've shut down the program, so you don't have to do it all again when you restart later like you do for Word.)

What this gets you is that when you F7, you'll find genuine misspelled words, and your document will be all the cleaner for the effort (not to mention a list of all the custom words you created for your wip that you can then add to your stylesheet for the copyeditor to reference). Now, spellcheck isn't the end-all/be-all. Homonyms and Homophones still lurk within your pages along with the errant auto-correct-to-new-error. Always check your work before you send it off to beta readers or agents. You don't want to end up being this guy. When you finally send it off, it'll be much better for your effort.