Whoo Hoo! Go, Failure!

You won’t ever succeed until you have continually failed.

This was the advice I was given about sending out my queries for Dragonfly Prince. Isn’t it encouraging? It’s no wonder I’ve been hitting disillusionment hard. I think it’s also because I’ve been reading fine print. Stuff like,

“In publishing your book, it is necessary, to the extent that any rights apply, that you waive any and all foreseeable inconveniences to Filmore Paukits Publishing, Inc., including but not limited to digital rights, moral rights, your right to any specific point of view, your right to any values you might hold dear, your right to think, your right to breathe, etc., where at all advantageous to the marketing philosophies of our company.”

I realize that the point of a Grant of Rights has to do with advertising. Specifically, it allows marketing to present my book in a way that’s considered the most appealing. Still, it has me thinking about the rights I might be asked to give up. I want to have a say in what the cover illustrates. I want to know my work retains the spirit I wrote it in. I want to have the ability to keep someone from editing out an aspect that, to me, is crucial to the story, replacing analytical content with sensational nihility that I’ll regret until my dying day. I’m not talking about editing; I am concerned about bias and censoring. It’s wrong to take an artist’s work and conform it to current views – which change – and stymie the author’s true views – which should remain the author’s prerogative to change.

I think publishers nowadays are squeamish. And they should be. It’s a tough market. No book company wants to make decisions right now that might negatively impact its reputation. That’s why a good literary agent is important. If I’m going to make the effort of catching a publishing company’s attention, I want to do it well and efficiently, while being aware of what I’m getting into.

I’ve sent out four queries. Yes, four. When I find an agent that piques my interest, I read everything I can find about her. (Yes, four ‘hers.’) I make a list of her literary interests, quirks and good qualities. I read over her book deals. I weigh in the things I don’t care for. I ask myself, “Do I think I could work with this agent? Is she too (I go through many adjectives here)?” I’m basically investing in a relationship before I’ve composed the letter! I have to stop kidding myself. This is called finding any excuse to drag my feet. I can’t become callous to rejection if I don’t make the effort to be rejected!

I think the beauty of this whole endeavor is: I’m living in a time when there isn’t any avenue of book publishing that I can’t explore on my own. I need to give this agent search my best effort and be patient. At this point the only thing that’s holding me back is me.

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Review Unto Others

Writer networking and support is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I’ve arrived here via free fiction-writing communities, where I meet writers through reviews. I don’t have any previous relationships with these writers. I like that. It keeps my feedback real. In the free novel-writing world, it’s perfectly fine to leave a glowing review on a rough draft version of a story. The writer is just beginning. The potential’s there, but the story has a ton of mistakes. My review may mention a few, but it would be pointless to dissect the whole thing in the initial stages. (Sometimes I’ll try to talk the writer into letting me beta, my fingers itching to dispel the distractions I see in an otherwise great story.)

Now I’m stepping through the looking-glass to find… basically, the same review setup, only now it involves money and literary integrity. These new eBooks on Amazon, perched on virtual shelves, call to me at 99 cents. The summaries are often appealing. If there are reviews, I will read them. I’ve read a few where readers have commented with something like,

“There were grammatical errors, but this writer is new.”

“I admit I was hoping for a more rounded understanding of some of the other characters besides the main character.”

“I didn’t always relate to the main character. When events happened in the story that called for a strong reaction, there wasn’t really one.”

That’s pretty important stuff there. And some of these reviews come with four and five-star ratings. That’s not helpful. It’s like looking for a good cookie recipe, finding one with a 97% approval rating and 50+ reviews, and making a flour-heavy, tasteless dessert.* It’s a waste, and not just for other readers. It’s a waste for a writer who has talent and needs to hone his/her craft!

Why aren’t these reviews telling the whole story? Putting myself in the reader’s shoes, if I were given a free book and told, “All you need to do is review this when you’re done,” I’d think it was a great idea, initially. Free books! Yum! And, please, let me give you my opinion. What about further incentive from a writer-friend to swap books and review? I see the benefits of back-scratch reviewing, but I think the review itself is synthetic. The pressure to be kind will taint the whole experiment. It’s some mad twist on the golden rule. Whatever I say can no longer be entirely genuine. Think of little Fred, the poor fellow who volunteers to take a dose of Uncle Harvey’s Cure-All Old Indian Remedy, while Uncle Harvey rattles on about all the amazing things that the ‘elixir’ is going to do for headaches, gout, tuberculosis, freckles, abscesses, and hair loss. Little Fred sees the hope in the townspeople’s eyes; he’s aware of their breathless anticipation as he tilts the bottle for a swig. Is Fred going to say what he’s expected to say, perhaps physically convincing himself of the positive outcome?

As a reviewer, I think a published work should be held to a certain standard of quality. Should I praise a book with poorly structured sentences, underdeveloped characterizations, plot holes, dangling story threads, orphaned paragraphs of information, lost and wandering commas, etc.? The story can have incredible potential, but it hasn’t been placed in a comparable environment. Shouldn’t I address those issues? Shouldn’t my rating reflect the difference I see between it and the surrounding literature?

I don’t think a reader has to analyze the plot structure, tallying the arc points and subplots, to know if a story is the real thing; but there are some things that can be expressed objectively that I’d like to know as a prospective reader:

1. Grammatically speaking, is the book well-written? Could it use some work?

2. Is the pace of the story comparable to others of its general genre (adventure, mystery, horror, romance, etc.)? Exception: There are some works that employ eclectic pacing, but the skillful writer knows how to use it without losing the interest of the reader.

3. When contemplating what to write in the review, are there any negative aspects that are automatically ‘forgiven’? What are they, and why? For example, some stories speak to a reader through personal life experience, so one might overlook what the narrative lacks.

Finding any of these means the book probably needs a good going over.

With the book industry turned on its head, the readers are the ones to come to the rescue. Yet, reader/reviewer influence declines when the information in the reviews becomes overwhelmingly unreliable. That’s why it works against every writer to misuse the review system for unwarranted self-promotion, or to flatter in a weak moment; no one will trust the comments or ratings. It benefits everyone to use the power of the review to distinguish the works of merit. It really is about being kind and genuine. By ‘reviewing unto others,’ you’re really doing yourself a favor in the long run.

*Yes, it happened to me. And, yes, it was bad. I tweaked it into a great cheesecake crust, though.

This *is* the Manuscript You Were Looking For

After looking over client lists of agents to get a taste of what literary agencies are endorsing, I’m thinking it’s time I learned the Jedi mind trick. Have you read some authors’ bios lately?

Initial. Initial. Smarmy was terminally ill from the age of two, which explains much of the philosophical trauma he endured as a child. In his teens, he established his own business, ‘Nightshade Window Treatments,’ from which a friendly cult began, dedicated to educating others about the advantages of poisonous vegetation. A part-time volunteer for the Association for the Beautification of Carnivorous Reptiles, he paints abstract portraits on crocodile teeth to help raise funds and awareness. He has a pet platypus that travels with him to book signings because ‘Curby’ won’t sleep unless he’s wrapped in Smarmy’s silk scarf. Smarmy always wears this scarf; it marks his triumph over his 14-year addiction to Ace of Base.

Okay, I would love to read this in a real bio. My own will include my short stint as a bad fortune-teller and my award for being the worst slob at camp. But I can’t compete. Padawan training, you are my only hope.

Dealing with the Bean Burrito

I did it. I sent my first query.

Manuscript Rejected.

Here are some excerpts from the rejection letter and my responses (which I didn’t email back or anything – I wasn’t feeling that indignant):

Agency: Your manuscript isn’t right for us at this time.

Me: But you only saw the first 50 pages! Are sure? Are you really sure?

Agency: There are numerous agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript.

Me: Well? Who are they? Do you have a list?

Agency: “Don’t give up!”

Me: That’s nice. I can’t dislike you as easily now.

So, what am I doing? Am I jumping in with both feet, composing query letters like a madwoman? Nope. I’m reediting the editedly overedited, edited-again version of Dragonfly Prince. It must need sprucing up, including the 350 pages the agency never set eyes on. And I know this is wrong. I know I need to let it go and concentrate on researching literary agents’ backgrounds to find that perfect fit. But… it… has… to… be… perfect!

Obsessed. I’m completely obsessed at this stage. I want to present the story, but I can’t present the story because it might be rejected if I present it with its current flaws. So I don’t present the story to anyone, and it haunts me like a bean burrito. This stinks.