I’m back!

Well, more or less. The months-long grind at work is over, culminating with a swift kick to the professional groin as I missed my deadline despite working every waking hour (after a while I enforced a five-hours-of-sleep rule) for a couple of months, and even before that at least ten hours a day, weekends included, since January.

My apologies to those I’ve snubbed in the last while, especially those passing birthday wishes my direction. What I had planned as a glorious celebration of my half-century on this planet turned out to be a really shitty day.

I’ve taken a little time off from work since then, to get my feet under me, to get my health habits restored, and to generally feel human again. I still dream about the project, and find myself lying in the early mornings going through the solutions to some of the pending tasks on a project that no longer exists. It was so very close to being so very very cool.

The last few days I’ve managed to get a little bit of creative juice flowing, and perhaps soon I’ll be ready to write that retrospective on the last fifty years. April 2th (rhymes with ‘tooth’) has come and gone, but still deserves some observation. In the meantime I’ve got The Monster Within, which by God I’m going to see in book form this year if I have to publish it myself.

Next week I might be ready for human interaction again, so those I’ve been ignoring should be hearing from me soon. Thanks for your patience!

Time to Let Hunter Run Free

I’ve spent a lot of time writing a novel called The Monster Within. If you ask me, the thing’s pretty damn good. While I may not be the most unbiased judge of the story’s merit, I have to say that even after spending countless hours honing it, I still enjoy sitting back and reading it.

The thing is, I suck at selling stuff. I sent the novel off to some of the top agents in the biz, and got kind rejections. Almost universally the rejections actually contained specific commentary, which is unusual. The main message: We like the writing but way too many pages. The length is a problem because a) there are a lot of 300-page stories trapped in 700-page manuscripts out there, and b) the book would have taken too much physical space in a rack (can’t fit in as many copies), and would cost more to print.

As to a) above, I had completely failed to convey the complexity of the story. I kept trimming the message to the agents, smallifying the synopsis to fit submission requirements, but in the process losing so many elements of the story that of course the agent would say, “125k words for this little story? *Yawn*” The navel-gazing preamble did nothing to reassure the reader that a tight story was to follow.

Regarding b), Monster is a fantasy novel, and readers these days expect them to run fat. That doesn’t change the economics of cutting down extra trees for a guy no one has ever heard of before.

In the end, my poor sales skills and lack of perseverance led to my failure to form a partnership with someone trained in exactly those qualities, and Monster rests idle.

Since those failures, the Kindle came out, and Amazon stabbed the already-wounded bookstore chains in the soul. Nook and iBookstore followed. Books aren’t necessarily made of paper anymore. A fat novel costs the same to distribute as a pamphlet. (Well, almost.) I could publish Monster myself. Charge a lot less yet put more money per book into my own pocket.

That’s great, right? Stick it to the man! Who needs all those editors in their New York offices?

Actually, the reading public owes those guys quite a lot. The stuff the big publishers put out falls into two categories: good writing and crap that will sell anyway. In the Kindle bookstore, there is a frothing cauldron of sewage with a few choice works bubbling to the top. When you pick up a book made of paper, at least someone somewhere thought it was worth cutting down a tree. If that book has a name on it and it turns out to be a worthless piece of shit, you know to avoid that name (and perhaps that publisher), and to disregard all the glowing reviews by people who don’t actually read the books. Eventually you will find those you do trust, and by letting them screen the novels before they reach you, they protect you from a lot of crap.

Unless you get caught in a spiraling disaster like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, which doesn’t fall so much into the ‘crap that will sell anyway’ category as it does in the “remember the good old days at the start of this series when Bob had an editor?” bin. I suspect the publisher would have loved to help him tighten his story, only Jordan, as a self-proclaimed genius (I heard him proclaim it), would have none of it. The only people reading the series by then were the people with so much invested in the roughly ten bazillion pages that had already gone by that they were willing to tough it out just to get to the end.

Um… I’m drifting off-point here. I started to say that editors helped readers with a major signal-to-noise problem and then I provided two concrete counterexamples. I think in debate class this was a frowned-upon tactic.

But, signal-to-noise. That’s the key here. Editors and agents are filters, reducing but not eliminating the noise. If I self-publish Monster, I will be living in the realm of pure noise. As bad as it is in the dead-tree publishing world, it’s far, far worse in the self-publish world. There’s a lot of really bad fiction out there.

So how does one float to the top of the cesspool? How do I separate myself from the blather and unmitigated horribleness? How do I convince people who have never heard my name to spend a couple of bucks on my book?

There are two things I must do:

  • Have a great cover.
  • Make a lot of noise.

Yep, to overcome the signal-to-noise problem, I have to make more noise. It’s like being at one of those parties where everyone is talking really loudly and you realize that nobody would have to shout if everyone would just stop shouting. But to sell this book, I’ll be calling on all of you to amplify my voice. I will be resuming my podcasts. I’ll probably fire up a Web site for the book. And I will relentlessly bug everyone I know to buy the damn thing, and if they liked it to leave reviews on Amazon and iBookstore. I’ll be emptying out my address book on this one. Just tellin’ you now, so you can be ready for the awkward conversation later.

First, however, is the cover. I’ve had the cover in my mind for a long time, and one thing about self-publishing is that no joker who’s never read the story is going to put some generic “insert standard hero here” shot on the cover. (Hunter is a non-standard hero.) The biggest problem with my vision is that it will be both difficult to pull off and not especially powerful when viewed as wee icon in the bookstore. So you all have a reprieve while I get that into place.

Woefully Unprepared

At the start of September I had a plan: 1) Spend September finishing a draft of Dark War that my brother could critique and maybe even hand to people. 2) Spend October working on The Monster Within and get it ready for some serious flogging at the World Fantasy Convention. Simple enough.

Dark War started running long (other projects pushed in, I got stuck a couple of times) but I wasn’t too worried. October is a long month. Then, as regular readers are aware, I got a job. For the most part a job is a good thing, what with paychecks coming in, keeping up with technology, and getting to apply my programming skills to make the world a little bit better. It comes at a price, however, and when you jump in on a project that is running behind and people aren’t even sure how behind it is, you can run into a pretty major life suck.

And so it was that I finally took most of today off to prepare for the WFC (after a work meeting that had the benefit of getting me up early this morning). Monster is untouched, which really sucks because the first chapter could have a lot more impact, and my goal in the next few days is to get people to read that chapter. I have no current synopsis, no other sales materials prepared.

This morning I went to the WFC Web site to check out the program, and see what time things were starting tomorrow. The answer: the festivities start tonight. I’m not going to make it. I don’t think I’ll be missing anything critical, except a chance to rub elbows with people who might give me money for my work. Tomorrow I’ll hit the ground running.

1

World Fantasy Convention!

Well, it’s official; I’ve paid my money and everything. I’m going to this year’s World Fantasy convention, and I’m not at all sure how to prepare. It’s the sort of event I should have been attending for years now, and being able to do stuff like this is a fortunate side-effect of living in North America.

On that subject, aren’t these things supposed to have wacky names that end in ‘con’?

So what is this convention? As far as I can tell, it’s an event where boatloads of writers and publishers and agents and other industry folk gather for three days of… stuff. Elbow-rubbing. Looking for deals. Writers trying to get published, publishers trying to find writers that don’t suck. Panel discussions and whatnot. A few key people who are paid to come and encourage the masses. Others who have come simply for the love of the genre.

If all that sounds pretty vague, it’s because I’ve never been part of one of these things before. It’s an important part of my chosen profession, however, and contacts I make at this thing could turn my career. Or not. Or maybe I’ll make an impression with someone that pays off years from now. You never know.

I do know it pays to be prepared. To have things to hand to publishers and agents that they will love, things that at a glance will tell them that they are just dying to read my novel. “Stop the presses!” they will shout into mobile phones, “we have to rearrange the 2010 catalog!”

Another opportunity I have is to impress people in person in ways that anonymous submissions never can. I can talk to important people and leave them thinking “That guy’s an intelligent, articulate guy with a refreshing vision of the fantasy novel.” This will simultaneously be the easiest and most difficult thing for me to do. Once I get into a conversation with the right people, I’m sure I’ll do well. (I’ve been lying awake at night devising my elevator pitch.) The thing is, I’m really, really bad at getting into those conversations in the first place. I’ve been to other industry conventions and utterly bombed at networking (even at the conference about networks).

So, anyone out there have any suggestions? Both for specifics that I should take with me and for the more general hob-bobbing? Any help will be greatly appreciated!

Common Errors

Got an email from an agent today, which was exciting until I realized that I had submitted my work to the agent the same way. Still, I’d never had an email from an agent before, so I dared hope.

The message read, in part, “You have a nice storyline and a flair for storytelling. The problem is you’ve made a number of common errors that most writers fall victim to.”

Of course, there is no enumeration of what those common errors are. Clearly the agent is not prone to false pedantry about non-rules like ending sentences with prepositions. This is one reason I spend time critiquing a book after I read it, so I can identify those “common errors” and address them in my own work. In this case, the common errors may not even exist. This might just be the standard rejection email, praise and criticism alike. Everyone who submits may have a “flair for storytelling”.

So, how does one spot and stamp out these common errors? First, of course, is friendly but critical feedback from friends. If a few of you out there would like to read The Monster Within and you promise to criticize it ruthlessly, I’d be happy to send it along (although I’m reworking the first three chapters a bit at the moment, to better stun prospective agents).

Second, there’s writing school. I’ve been thinking about writing school for a while now; as with almost any other discipline professional instruction has to be beneficial. Nowhere would I find such consistent criticism than at school, and I would have a chance to air out my more literary musings. Putting a Masters of Fine Arts onto my biographical data in submissions would likely help as well, at least some of the time. I guess it’s time to look into what something like that would cost, and where the likely candidates would be.

Of course, once the Dark War screenplay is turned into a blockbuster, my worries will be over. Better get back to work.

The First Fruits of the Submissions Drive

I got home last night to find a letter waiting for me on the stairs. I really wasn’t expecting to get anything back this quickly, and I assumed that a rapid response was not probably not a good sign.

I opened the envelope and found my cover letter with some notes written on it. That is unusual; most agents have a simple form letter they return. This saves the agent time, but more important it shields them from indignant rebuttals from would-be authors. So that was nice. Normally you have no idea why you’ve been rejected, and therefore you have no idea what to do about it.

I was rejected for two reasons, and both of them may be problematic. The manuscript is too long and i break a Rule. Cut 35% of the text, change it so there is no broken Rule and they would be interested in taking a closer look.

The note went on to say that judging by the opening few paragraphs I should have no trouble finding the words to eliminate. Ironically, those words are there more for the agent than for the story, setting the mood while I demonstrate my style. (Although I have tightened it up a bit since submitting to this agent.) Then it gets right down to the action and never stops. I’ve already gone through the manuscript a few times chopping out any deadwood I could find. (Well, OK, there is one action sequence that does not ultimately change the outcome of the story, but I like it. In a pinch, I have about 5,000 words to give. Only 35,000 more and I’m golden.)

There’s another way I could shorten the thing easily. I could just chop the damn thing in half, hang the reader out to dry when they thought they were buying an entire story only to get to the end and find out that they’ve bought the first of a series. I’ve read some books that make no pretense whatsoever at providing a satisfying ending, and it pisses me off. Some of them may as well break mid-sentence for all the concern they show for their readers. Still, it’s an option…

Then there’s the Rule. I’ll have to review how I present it in the cover letter; the response seemed to think I broke the Rule for humor, which can’t be farther from the truth. Breaking the Rule is intrinsic to the way the story works, and I’m certain that if someone would read the thing they would agree with me that it works pretty dang well.

So, naturally, my first impulse was to write the very sort of rebuttal that makes agents afraid to give me helpful information. The thing is, even once I get an agent, that person is going to have to turn around and defend the length and Rule-breaking to a publisher. These aren’t arbitrary biases on the part of the agent, they are things that will make selling the manuscript to a publisher more difficult.

Hm… chop it in half, then sell the second part first. No Rule-breaking there. I can just pick up mid-sentence and carry on!


Working on the @#$&! Synopsis (again)

I’ve been concentrating the last few days on sales and marketing, trying to connect my words with people who may actually want to pay me for them. Short stories are (relatively) simple — a potential publisher (or overworked minion) reads the story and decides if it’s worthwhile. So, for that effort I need only a simple cover letter with a one or two sentence blurb about the story, a bit of biographical data, and the story does the rest, living or dying on its own merits.

A novel is a more difficult sell. Nobody has time to read all the crappy writing that comes over the threshold every day, so the evaluation process has been streamlined. This makes things more difficult for the deserving writer, but it makes things possible for the agents and editors (and their minions) who have better things to do than read bad fiction. (Better things like, for instance, reading my fiction.)

The chaff is separated from the wheat based on a few criteria; the initial submission to an agent is the minimum amount of material required to prove that the writing is not so badly flawed that it’s not worth any further consideration. The reader has a giant ‘NO’ stamp hovering over the page during the entire evaluation. An agent wants to know a few key facts: 1) Can this guy write? Does he have command of the language, with coherent paragraphs and facile use of imagery? 2) Can he put together a coherent narrative — an actual story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? 3) Are there interesting people who grow or change? 4) (bonus) Is the writer a pro who will be reasonable to work with?

Question 1 is answered with a sample of of the actual work. This is often (but not always) the first three chapters of the story. The bonus question 4 is answered with a polite, informative, and coherent cover letter. That leaves two questions which much be answered by a separate piece of writing, a marketing piece drafted solely for this purpose, called the ‘brief synopsis’. I have been wrestling with this beast off an on for more than a year, now. It is not a simple exercise. How do you distill a whole damn novel into a few paragraphs, give some idea of characters and events, and somehow retain the drama you just used tens of thousands of words to build?

I had a synopsis I was satisfied with, but increasingly I discovered that the definition of ‘brief’ that my first effort was based on was by no means typical. Back in I went with the text machete, but when I chopped out a bunch, the remainder wasn’t compelling. I started from scratch. Somewhere back in time on this blog you can read about my pleasure with the result. I managed to maintain this happy feeling for quite some time by avoiding rereading it. Now I’m pretty sure that although it sucks less than the first attempt, it still sucks.

Quite by accident I stumbled across a description of a synopsis that carried one helpful bit of information that none of the others ever did: Start with a paragraph that describes the structure of your story. The Monster Within takes place in four parts that are defined by the progression of the main character through four stages of personal change. By starting with that simple fact, then by describing the four stages, the synopsis is much more coherent and focuses attention on the character-driven nature of the story.

That synopsis advice runs counter to other help articles I’ve read, but hit me as such an obvious and practical tip that I wonder why I never did that before. Perhaps I even did, but then read too many “how to write a synopsis” pieces that focussed on simply condensing the story. (Actually, I still haven’t gone back to read my current synopsis. Maybe I snuck the structural information in there anyway. I’ll check after I finish the first draft of the new one.)

Once more must I muster all my skill to write a nonfiction article about a work of fiction, that somehow is a faithful representation as well as a compelling read in its own right. This time I’m ignoring the advice of all those helpful ‘how-to’ articles, and just trying to be natural. It’s been going pretty well, although I haven’t checked the length yet. That could come as an ugly surprise.

I should say it was going pretty well, right up until I got to the end. I left out so many plot points through the course of the synopsis that I’m stumped about how to make the ending make sense. Instead, I am sitting here writing about writing about my novel. (I suppose I’ll have to leave a comment about writing this episode.)

It just occurred to me that I could write a completely different ending that works for the synopsis. Once someone bothers to read the whole novel, the mismatch won’t matter… right?

Getting the Words Out

Writing, for me, is pretty easy. I sit, I think of things, I write them. Some days it’s difficult to think of the things I’m supposed to be writing, but there’s always something, even if it’s throwaway prose that I will never use. Still, it happens that occasionally I finish things.

This is where the trouble begins. I’ve got a novel, sitting there, waiting for me to find someone to help me sell it to a publisher. Novels are patient, just being piles of words, and they are happy to just sit there forever. Likewise, the heap of stories in my “on deck” folder are in no hurry to go anywhere.

It is difficult for me to submit my work for a critical review. My pals over at Piker Press were a great way to get started submitting stuff — I already knew some of them through NaNoWriMo, and they’ve always been kind to me. The only problem: they don’t pay. I’m sure they’d love to be able to pay the writers (or themselves, for that matter), but I’m pretty sure that will never happen.

Submitting elsewhere is more intimidating. I’m up against a bunch of folks all scrambling for the same few dollars. It’s not fear of rejection that bothers me, it’s fear of being rejected and remembered. “Oh, man, not this guy again!” Nightmare. This compounds the feeling I get in my gut when I send off a submission that the story is not ready yet. It could be better. There’s always something to improve. In this way publication is an act of mercy; I can stop trying to fix it.

Then there’s the part where I’m lazy. It’s time-consuming researching markets, reading over submissions guidelines, and crafting a cover letter. Whenever I sit down to this sort of chore, I always find something else to do instead (like write).

Two days ago I made a plan. For every paying customer at Jer’s Software Hut, I’ll submit something, somewhere. No sooner did I decide on that plan than I made three sales. I got the submissions out this afternoon — two short stories to paying magazines and one agent query by email for Monster. It feels pretty good.

The next submission will also be from the Great Pile o’ Stories, one that I think is ready for the big time. If only I could be sure…

An Unlikely Injury

The plan at Saxkova Palańćinkarna (Sax is a dog, by the way) tonight was simple: two cups of tea, two beers, and an evaluation of the effect on the first 150 pages of The Monster Within if I add two telling words in the fourth paragraph. The result: three teas, three beers, a rewrite of chapter three, and a bloody knuckle. The first results can be attributed to bad communication, bad counting, and good ideas. The last is a little more complicated. In fact, when I left Saxarna my knuckle was still intact. Indeed, as I emerged from the convenience store with a loaf of bread (the crumbs of which I am picking out of my keyboard as I compose this), I was still more or less in one piece. As I stepped out of the store and put the earphones in, however, I sowed the seeds of my own destruction.

In retrospect, perhaps it was not the act of putting phone to ear that did me in, it was my skipping over a tune in the shuffle because it was too mellow. Thus it was that “Electro” by Gwen Mars was crashing against my eardrums when I got home. I set aside my backpack, and there in the kitchen I proceeded to Rock Out. It was with a grand leaping air-guitar flourish that I cracked my hand into the ceiling lamp.

It wasn’t until after the number off the new(ish) Dickies album was over that I noticed the blood. Rest assured, by then the house was rocked.

I have a bad feeling about this…

Today the words aren’t coming very quickly, so I decided to take a short break and do a little career upkeep. WritersMarket.com has a feature called Submission Tracker which allows you to follow the progress of your work, tracking where you have submitted it, where you plan to submit it next, and things like that. With a click you can see a list of all the places you are waiting to hear back from, or all the manuscripts that are sitting around gathering dust rather than out there working.

Make that “could”. It’s been a while since I logged on over at WritersMarket.com, and there have been changes. I had a few beefs with the Submission Tracker, but I wasn’t looking forward to having to figure out a new system. As I poked around, my stomach began to twist up into a little knot. There was a section called My Manuscripts. So far, so good. I clicked and got a list of the works I’ve entered into the system to track. Only — the list seemed shorter than I thought it ought to be. Nevertheless, each entry had a link to “view submissions”. Not as versatile as the old system, but — what the #@$%$!!!. All the submissions have the status “active”! I can’t tell which places have rejected the manuscript, and which were the ones I planned to submit to next! I can’t tell which manuscripts have been published, and where. I can’t tell which agents have see The Monster Within, which are still considering it, and which have rejected it.

It appears that all submissions that were not linked directly to current WritersMarket.com listings are gone. That means, for example, that all my submissions to Piker Press are missing. If that was the only submission for the piece, then the manuscript itself is also gone from the list.

Still there are twenty-four submission entries for Monster. Some of those should show as rejected, but several were there for my next round of submissions. Now I don’t know which is which. And agencies not listed on WritersMarket.com? Information on agents and agencies I’d gathered from all over and consolidated there is now gone, along with any hint that an agent may or may not have seen my work already.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe the information is there and I just didn’t know how to find it. Maybe the transition to the new system isn’t complete yet. Maybe. The help system just says “coming soon.” I sent a message to customer support, so maybe in a couple of work days they’ll clear things up.

Right now, I feel ill.

Follow-up:
I just got a nice note from the WritersMarket.com support team saying that my data had been carefully preserved, but would not be available online for two more weeks. They attached a spreadsheet with my info as well. That is a massive relief, as well as an excuse to slack for two weeks. They also asked me if they could contact me for feedback about the new system. I replied that I have opinions on everything, and am happy to share. So, at this time I’m guardedly optimistic that everything will turn out all right.

Another baby step

I got an email from an agent yesterday, which said (more or less): “We probably won’t take you on, but we’d like to see more of your work to be sure first.”

[Edited post because I decided it’s best not to talk about business negotiations while they are going on. I don’t think there’s any big deal in this case, but it just seems like a good policy for down the road. Sorry for the tease.]

Still, it beats the hell out of a “no”.

*”partial” refers to sending a part of the novel to an agent. For many agents, the process goes something like this: Writer sends a query. A query is a one-page letter describing the work, possibly the first five pages of the story, and sometimes a brief synopsis. If the agent is intrigued by the query, she will request a partial. A partial means a bigger chunk of the story (often the first three chapters or so), and perhaps a more detailed synopsis. The agent may also begin to take an interest in personal information about the writer. Should the partial pass muster, then the agent will request a “full”, and will at long last commit to reading the whole damn story. That’s a big deal for an agent, because reading generally happens in her “free” time. Once the agent reads the story, she will ask herself “can I sell this?” which is itself a complicated question, and “can I work with this writer?” Should both those questions came back with a “yes”, the agent will contact the writer and the two will discuss the possibility of working together. Even then, it’s not a sure thing.

The cover letter I’d LIKE to write

One of the biggest hurdles on the way to becoming a commercially successful writer is getting your first book published. This requires convincing total strangers to take a chance on you, and that means you have to present yourself to total strangers in the best possible light. The first light flashing along the runway to stardom is the cover letter the agent or editor will read. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if the cover letter isn’t perfect (as long as it’s clean), but it is likely the first bit of your writing your potential business partner will see.

Publishing is a name-dominated industry. When you have never had a novel published before, you are at a disadvantage. It is much safer for a publisher to go with a writer who writes complete crap, but crap that sells. The cover letter, therefore, is all about getting an agent or editor excited about your story — excited enough to eventually risk thousands of dollars (for an editor) or hundreds of hours (for an agent). For that reason, the cover letter is all about the story, the thing the reader of the letter will eventually have to sell.

As I sit and continue to hone the letter, I feel that perhaps for me the cover should be more like the ballyhooed End User License Agreement for Jer’s Novel Writer. More about me and the way I do business than about the actual issue at hand. And so I give you the cover I would like to write.

Dear Editor/Agent

I am a writer. I’m not some guy who scribbles in his spare time, I write all the time. Sometimes I forget to eat. Man, did that ever piss off my ex-wife when I would get dizzy when I stood up from my computer and she’d ask “when did you eat last?” (only she didn’t speak so formally) and I’d think for a moment and try to remember if I ate yesterday and generally I’m pretty sure I did or I’d really be a mess now so I’d say “yesterday…?” and she’d roll her eyes and say something like “How can you even do that?” and I’d say, “well, I was in a groove” but she never appreciated that kind of stuff.

We’re still friends, by the way. She’s remarried, couple of kids, everything’s cool.

So, eating turns out to be pretty important, not just for marital tranquility, but for health as well (remember the dizzy part?), and that is why I am writing to you, dear Editor/Agent. I can happily spend every waking moment torturing myself for just the right word, but sooner or later I have to go to the grocery store, and they always want money. While I would write for free (in fact I have been for some time), I cannot eat for free.

I know, I know, it makes no sense to me, either. Accepting that, the obvious solution is to sell my writing, which is something you could do far better than I.

As a concrete example of the stuff I’d like you to help me sell, enclosed are the first few pages of The Monster Within. It’s about a mercenary named Hunter, and let me tell you, Hunter is messed up. You read the first part, and you say, “Dang, that guy’s messed up.” Then you read the next part, and you say, “Dang, that guy’s really messed up.” Then you read the part after that and you say, “Holy Crap!” but right after that is “Ooooooh.” That’s when you flip back to the other parts and say “But I thought… dang! Now I get it! Hunter is monumentally messed up, and wicked dangerous.” You gotta love heros like that. There’s sex, too, and it’s not even gratuitous.

Monster weighs in at an all-muscle 140,000 words; it’s a powerful beast that will grab you by the throat and drag you from cover to cover.

Unless you don’t like that kind of thing, of course. If you’re shy, the beast will simply hold your hand. Enclosed is an envelope plastered with stamps worth damn near a buck of my food money, just so you can get back to me. (Note that although my mailing address is foreign, my not-in-the-US-ness is not formally recognized by any government. You can pass me my grocery money just as easily as you could to any other US citizen.)

I have another work in progress, The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy, which is exactly like almost every other fantasy novel except it has evil talking squirrels and a hot stepmother.

Yours,
Hungry Writer

Notes:
There are a couple of reasons not to use this cover letter. First, it makes me seem psychotic. It’s important that people don’t realize you’re psychotic until after you ink your first book deal. After that it’s marketing gold. Second, the tone of the cover letter is light and flippant, and the tone of the novel isn’t. This would set up false expectations. One could argue that Editor/Agent would appreciate both cover letter and novel for their unparalleled (adjective carefully chosen, just beating out orthogonal) use of the English language, and would forgive the difference in tone, but Editor/Agent seems to be easily distracted.

On the other hand, the query does use “wicked dangerous”, and ends with “hot stepmother”. I bet Editor/Agent doesn’t get many queries like that!

1

Monster on a diet

It wasn’t easy to do; there was some good stuff in there. It’s just that I wanted to start with the voice of the main character. I added some at the start of the now-first chapter, giving the style of prose I do best a workout right at the top. Now, three paragraphs in, the reader will either be saying, “All right, this guy can take me for a ride,” or she will be quite right to put the book aside. Before, readers had to hang with me a while before I gave them a compelling reason to do so.

I won’t submit the revised work for a couple of weeks at least; it needs time to gestate, and there are still some rough spots to smooth over. (I still want to work in a subtle promise that at least one major character that you will really like is going to die.) Additionally, I’m working up a new cover letter with more detail about the story. It seems I have been short-changing myself by trying to keep the description down to two or three sentences. I don’t even remember where I heard that advice, but I’m glad to hear from reliable sources that’s it’s just plain wrong.

I submitted an earlier draft of my cover letter to another Web site for constructive ridicule, but it’s looking like I missed out on the constructive part. I’d point you there, but the cover letter contains spoilers. If you really, really want to see it, let me know. The ridicule part may turn out to be pretty entertaining. We’ll see when the joke is sprung.

By the way, I would like to thank Jojo for her critique of the new opening. Thanks, Jojo!

Synopsis Fever

A while back I worked up a synopsis to my novel. It’s about 25 pages long, and while I had to leave out some of my favorite nuances, it did a good job communicating the intricacies of the plot. It shows I have a good story, but it does nothing to demonstrate my skills as a writer. There’s the tricky thing—how do you condense hundreds of pages down into a quick read and keep it compelling?

You don’t.

The other day I needed to create a 1-3 page synopsis. Obviously my previous tactic of combing through the story and lifting out the most interesting events was not going to work. So I sat, blank page in front of me, and wrote a new story.

It was only a tiny fraction of the original story, really, but the little bits I did show, I tried to make compelling. I built to a moment that is only a fraction of the way into the novel, then skated the rest, but I did not hold back (as much) on the atmospheric language I love so much. I put in a rambling sentence or two, added a few details that in the grand scheme of things are small, not deserving of mention in such a drastic condensation. It still needs some (ok, lots of) work, but it is vastly better than the longer version. It’s a synopsis Jerry would write.

There are other writers out there right now saying, “Well, duh.” Thanks, guys, for making me learn it on my own. Really. It means so much more this way.

Today I needed a ten-page (maximum) synopsis. “Hot dang!” thought I, “I can take this little 3-pager and add the richness and detail to really make it rock!” I did just that. I developed the reasons Hunter must always be alone. I included a couple more moments that define how the characters are interrelated. Once I get this sucker just right (a ways to go on that score, to be sure), agents will faint dead away from the sheer power, the artistry, the raw truth that mankind has struggled for so long to find. With luck, it will even have a passing resemblance to the novel. But really, that’s secondary.

Four and a half pages. Five pages to burn, and I don’t need ’em.

Volunteers needed

I’m making some minor tweaks to The Monster Within, but as I’m going through it, there’s a place where I think the story loses momentum. It’s difficult for me to judge that, now, however, since I’ve read it about a hundred times. Therefore I would really appreciate two volunteers, one male and one female, who haven’t read the story before, who can read it through and tell me which parts seem slow to them. I would like to address the problems soon (it’s difficult for me to not dive in right now, but if it isn’t broken I shouldn’t be fixing it), so I would prefer test readers who read a lot of books and go through them in days or weeks rather than months.

Having both a male and female reviewer is mostly for my own curiosity — it will be interesting to see where opinions differ.

The “brave soul” reference above is because I’m looking for people to tell me about the parts of the story they didn’t like, and many people are not comfortable telling a creator to his face that their work is flawed. (Of course, you’re also welcome to tell me about the good parts…)

While I’m not asking anyone to sign a nondisclosure agreement, I would appreciate some discretion. There are certain parts of the story I would like to keep under wraps so as not to spoil the story for others. You’ll know what I mean when you read it.

Please email me or leave a message here in the comments if you’re interested.