Today in stupid advice

I can’t even pretend to be polite about this. It’s ridiculous.

Yes, some of the greatest SF/F writers out there love to read SF/F, some don’t.

As a writer you should love to read. If you don’t read you … it’s hard to explain but consider it Furthering Education or whatever the devil that modern phrase for it is when teachers are required to go back to college every few years kinda thing.

But reading should be something you love.

This and it’s myriad copies (seriously, I find it both terrifyingly cult-like as well as exceedingly telling that these are always worded nigh identically) are phrased in a way that clearly implies “so you known what is selling right now and you can write that”.

I call bullshit.

Don’t believe me? Follow editors and they’re all wanting to see something new and different and lament all the agents who’re only accepting the tried and true.

Look at how many clones of Twilight failed to garner its numbers. The Harry Potter knockoffs. Too, look at the insane number of people of all ages who prefer YA because it’s where they can find something different … to say nothing of YA not actually needing a special genre tag for “this isn’t depressing, dark, etc”.

In short the people like Ms Dawson who say this are horribly out of touch.

You want advice on writing? Look to the successful writers: Ed Greenwood, Neil Gaimen, Terry Pratchett, Spider Robinson, J K Rowling, Saladin Ahmed, Jeph Jacques …

What do they all have in common? They didn’t look at their own genre for anything. Not really. Pratchett’s Discworld stuff started out parodying Dragon Riders of Pern which is a fantasy novel, but I’m pretty sure that is not what the Dawsons of the world mean.

In many cases they utterly defy genre. Ben Bova acknowledges that Spider’s stuff is not, strictly speaking (and doubly so back when Ben was editor of a major SF magazine!) SciFi, but where the hell else could Spider’s stuff find a home?! It definitely wasn’t Romance, Horror, Mystery, or Western. It could be called SF/F if you squinted and turned your head upside-down … so, what the hell! True, Spider reads SF/F … because he likes a good Heinlein, not because it has anything to do with his work.

Ed Greenwood is a librarian whose home is packed to the gills with tens of thousands of books, all of which he has read. So, okay, yeah he reads Fantasy … and cooking, and architecture, and biology, and mystery, and horror, and poetry, and … he just likes books. And that diversity of tastes influences his work.

The thing is, do your thing. Whatever that thing may be. Try to sell it to an agent if you like, but agents are … no one’s sure why … a bit obsessed with finding the next big clone of the current hot trend; like it costs them anything to accept something great and just actually do their flippin’ job! But publishers won’t let their editors accept unagented stuff anymore. But luckily traditional publishing is really just great for an advance which is pretty paltry and for being distributed by Ingram which I probably misspelled and don’t care but is also pretty much the distributor for All Things Book for US audiences (sad but true, Reagan & Bush’s dismantling of antitrust laws was a Bad Thing … not that publishing much got enforcement of them anyway).

Still, as truly awful as they are (and words can’t express how awful they are) it’s as effective or more so to be available on Amazon which is easy enough to do. Though I’ll be damned if I’ll engage in the modern day slavery of Kindle Unlimited (exclusivity to Amazon and I make a piece if an arbitrary sized pie made of pocket change that Amazon sets?! Fuck that.)

But read what you like, write what you like. And remember: Ursula Vernon doesn’t read SF/F. But she writes it and can’t seem to stay off the bestseller lists 🤷‍♀️.

Some advice from an agent

Recently I decided to present my mental chaos to a professional.  Agent, not psychiatrist, I mean.  From Query Tacker I found Ms Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Literary Agency.  As she kindly presented some very helpful answers I decided I would share them with you all.

First, a little about the agent.

Jordy Albert is a Literary Agent and co-founder of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. She holds a B.A. in English from Pennsylvania State University, and a M.A. from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She has worked with Marisa Corvisiero during her time at the L. Perkins Agency and the Corvisiero Literary Agency. Jordy also works as a freelance editor/PR Director. She enjoys studying languages (French/Japanese), spends time teaching herself how to knit, is a HUGE fan of Doctor Who, and loves dogs.

She is looking for stories that capture her attention from beginning to end; stories that have heart, and characters that are hard to forget. She loves intelligent characters with a great sense of humor. She would love to see fresh, well-developed plots featuring travel with unique, exotic settings, competitions, or time travel. Jordy is specifically looking for:

* Middle Grade: contemporary, fantasy, action/adventure, or historical.
* YA: sci-fi, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, contemporary, historical–Though I am open to looking at other sub-genres, I’m looking for YA that has a very strong romantic element.
* NEW ADULT CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
* Romance (contemporary and historical).
** I am open to YA LGBT, and would love to see a YA or NA romance set during WWII (and/or the 1920s) with a time travel element.

Please do not send:

* short stories
* non-fiction
* poetry
* mystery/thrillers, or suspense.

E-mail Jordy at jordy@thebookeralbertagency.com
Befriend Jordy on Facebook
Follow Jordy on Twitter

And now the Q&A:

Ms Albert,

I’m an author with a dilemma and would appreciate your professional take on a matter if I may have a moment to trouble you for it, please.

I’ve begun a four book series.  Two books are written, one could be published tomorrow if I chose to self-publish it.  This one, though, is presenting my dilemma.  I know nothing about the YA/Teen market (and haven’t a clue what this “New Adult” mentioned on your agency’s site even is), I know nothing about the market for romantic-comedies.  Or, more to the point, I’ve researched it enough to know:  I’m really confused.

New Adult is a relatively new genre, but it has gained momentum in the last year. In fact, a number of self-published New Adult titles have gone on to do amazingly well. New Adult falls in the age range 18-25 (college age or just out of college).

On one hand I’ve found a lot of things saying there’s nothing a traditional publisher + agent can offer me that isn’t perfectly counterable with a plus of being self-published.  On the other I’ve learnt that this may not be true.  I’d appreciate the voice of experience to untangle this nonsense.

Examples:

“You get no more or better promotion from a publisher — they just stick an ad in the trade mags which are only seen by bookstore book buyers”.  A counter to that I’ve seen is that one shouldn’t underestimate the power of being on a physical bookstore shelf; something that CreateSpace can’t offer, as their sizes are non-standard and there’s nothing to influence the store’s buyer to pick it over Penguin or Tor’s latest offerings.  The counter to that, being that word of mouth is the most important thing, just get some people talking, sit back and wait.  Then there’re arguments that a good agent is also a good publicist and would get your book talked about by … Ellen, Oprah, or whomever.  I assume that’s true to some extent, but can imagine the person saying it was being overly optimistic.

Publishers have resources that an individual might not have, such as contacts as newspaper, magazines, etc….publishers also have years of experience. While the publisher does help market a title, how well the book sells or does not sell doesn’t rest solely with the publisher. It’s important to market yourself: do a blog tour, do book signings, review another authors’ work and see if they’d be willing to return the favor, have a cover reveal, etc. 

“You’ll never get a movie deal as a self-published author, no matter how well you sell.”  Now this one I did hear from someone in the publishing industry as a reason to take an agent.  Supposedly, a traditionally published book with 2000 copies sold is actually going to have less trouble selling movie rights than a self-published book on any best sellers list you care to name.

I would sort of agree, and not just about a movie deal. There are foreign rights, audio, tv, merchandise, etc. Agents will be able to negotiate to make sure you get the deal that’s in your best interests.

My own comment on this is, and was in my reply back to her:  most major self-publishing options do include foreign publication.  This is not the same as translation and what have you.  Just, take Apple iBooks for an example:  put your book up there, click a few things, and you’re in 52 countries.

“The publishers are just trying to rip you off — you’ll have to sue to see your royalty cheques.”  Now, admittedly, this was from an author who had to do just that, and then had to sue (then fire) his agent for lying about how much the royalties had been and embezzling some of that.

While I can’t say this has never happened, I think it is really rare. 

While it’s true — she has a vested interest in saying this isn’t true or is rare, but think on it this way:  she could say it’s very common — for the publishers — and that it’s a good reason to have the agent who can keep on them about it.  Either she’s none too clever or this is a perfectly legit answer.  I’m inclined to feel it’s the latter, especially since she acknowledges that it does happen.  Still, we must all make our own opinions.

And one specific to my own newest title(s):  “They’ll never accept a book over 100k words, let alone any kind of series.  You may as well DIY”  I’ve seen little to counter this, actually.  I mean, obviously, someone takes series or Twilight and Harry Potter wouldn’t be with major publishing houses.  And, unless I’m mistaken, Ms Meyers’ book 1 is quite a ways over 100k words.  Still, it does seem to be exceedingly rare.

This is somewhat true. There are exceptions to the rule, as your examples demonstrate. But an agent/editor is unlikely to look at a full manuscript if the word count is over 100k, especially if it a debut author. I’m not saying they won’t, but it would be unlikely.

Looking around you in a given work day … well … what would you say to any or all of those points?  What other critical arguments in favour of one model or another would you care to chime in on?

For a new author, I would definitely recommend trying to secure an agent. Agents will help guide your career, and steer you in the right direction. Also, while I think self-publishing is a wonderful option for an author, I think that it can saturate the market with books that might not be edited, polished, or all that well-written.

Ah, editing.  She’s right, really.  If you do not have a good friend who can edit — and I mean well — and you can’t afford the rather high prices to hire your own professional editor (one who, please remember, is only looking for you to pay them that once — they don’t have any incentive to care if your book does well as the publisher’s professional editor (theoretically) does) then I second her recommendation:  get an agent and/or publisher!  There’re books out there which could be so wonderful, but are unreadable for all the grammar, orthographic, and layout problems!

One point of my own:  I noticed you specifically are looking for YA LGBT stories.  The very few agencies or publishers I ever found looking for those directly — sans your own agency — all seemed to be the very … I tend to put it as the “We’ll get you in every gay pride store in America!” but are no more likely to get me on a B&N shelf than CreateSpace kind of crowd.  Is there any special difficulty, any special … anything … that one ought to look for or consider if their story is LGBT themed that a more old fashioned boy-meets-girl writer would never have to?

I’m open to stories that feature LGBT themes…it might be more difficult to find the novel a home, but it seems like it’s a little more common in the market today.

is there any resource you might recommend for “how to write a query letter”?  I mean, logic and knowing what the word Query means told me most of what a query letter is (thank you Georgia public schools for the fabulous and indispensable education).

From the Query to the Call by Elana Johnson. You can download a copy at http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/p/books.html …Also Querytracker.com. It lets you search agents and keep track of your queries.

Which brings me to my final decision:  I’m going to continue gathering and examining a list of potential agents.  In the mean time I’ve contacted some options that might make for a resounding voice to start the word of mouth with a bit of a shout.  If I secure that, then I will self-publish.  If I don’t … I believe I will try some more agents.  I just can’t bring myself to give up.  I’m stubborn that way.  I rather sincerely thought I could just give the agent thing a go and then move on if it didn’t pan out, but it’s become something of a challenge.  I’m a sucker for challenges, especially ones I’m sure I can win if I can out-stubborn the problem (Why yes, I do have cats and have had them all my life! How could you tell? ;))

A decision, of sorts, and not reached lightly

After much thought, and thanks to some very thought provoking conversation — both in the commentary, as well as among friends — I’ve reached a decision, kind of.

I am going to look carefully at the agents I’ve discovered through http://querytracker.com.  I owe myself the investigation of those agencies, at least, as well as owing any of you excited about seeing these books out — simply put, I’d rather you had more ways to get them, unless I get an overwhelming response that you’d rather have them now from one e-store than a year from now in 1000 stores physical and online alike.

I’m being highly selective.  I’m carefully considering the agent‘s “what I accept” list juxtaposed to her list of titles and clients to be sure that what they think they mean is what I think they mean.  Also, there’s the inescapable fact that all too many agents seem to say “oh, it’s most important that it’s a great story!” but their client list indicates they’re looking long and hard for “the next best way to cash in on the latest hit trends”.  I don’t believe any of the agents I queried before are as bad as that, or bad at all, but such agents exist and I intend to skip them over.  I’m also being selective on another front:  I’m going to try to see how well known, how well selling their client list is.  I’m not looking for an all-star cast, who’s who of the NY Times Best Sellers list, but if she’s got 50 titles under her belt and they’re every one of them the picture of obscurity … I can do obscurity tomorrow and keep the 15% commission for myself!

If I find a promising agent, I shall query further.

I reached this decision after much agonising and arguing with myself and others.  I was finally won over on this ground:  I want this book to be accessible.  If I can reach more hand, more eyes, and more minds with an agent and a publisher, then I should like to have an agent and publisher.  If I could convince myself, or if I could hear a compelling argument from another, regarding that visibility from self-published I’m certainly open to it and would self publish the story June first.  I will say I don’t believe it matters if I’m on a Barnes & Noble shelf or exclusively with Amazon, iBooks only or in every ebook seller offered as part of Smashwords‘ premium catalogue.  I mean, the whole word of mouth matter.  Suffice to say, with an agent and a publisher I’ve got more mouths saying more words on my behalf and any words I can pass on my own.

I do and don’t want to do this.  Frankly I hate writing query letters.  It’s tedious, it’s also terribly difficult — I’ve no self-esteem where they’re concerned.  I also hate waiting; I’ve got a story, and I’m anxious to share it.  I still may self-publish.  For one, I may decide against querying any more agents, if that’s the case … I’m giving myself until 31 May to have queried even 1 agent.  If I have, then the publish date will move to either 1 September, or the “hear back by” date of the last agent submitted a query — whichever is longest.  I’m going to give them time to make up their minds before I make up mine.

I’m sorry.  I know if I said:  if it’s not picked up by 20 May it’ll be published 1 June.  Still, there also hasn’t been any voices crying out in disappointment and sorry “No!  Jaye, please, stop this horrible internal contention and give us the rest of your story!”  I suppose that means I’m not really disappointing anyone but myself by changing my mind.

In the mean time, I want to try something different for Ready or Not.  I’d like to select some … in fanfiction they’re often called “Beta-readers” but I seem to recall there’s a niftier and classier term for it that most fiction writers use, but it escapes me right now.  I’d like to select 3 people to be my guinea pigs for book 2.  Given that the series is written such that one book flows to the next to some degree a selected reader will get a free ebook copy of Love or Lust to give them some reference and establishment.

How to be selected?  Nominate yourself.  The means to do this?

  1. Comment on this post
  2. Go here and send me
    1. Your name
    2. Your email
    3. Your file preference — ePUB, MOBI, PDF
    4. Your three favourite scenes/lines/parts of the sample chapters and what it is you liked about it (if it just tickled you or some other thing that boils to — I don’t know, I just do — fine, you just do.  Say so).
    5. Why?  Just answer whatever you think I mean by asking it.
  3. Wait until 11am EDT the 2nd of June for me to announce the ones selected.

How depressing

Just checked up on my agent submissions:  so far half of them have either been rejected.

Well, sort of.

One agency doesn’t exist any more and two are the “if you haven’t heard from us by …” sorts.

Useful resource fro anyone looking for a literary agent:  http://www.querytracker.net

  1. you can keep track of who you sent things to and when (beats skimming through GMail looking for the sents and replies!)
  2. It’s got a bleeding agent search by things like genre

certainly worth a look.

Another one down

Ready or Not (concept only)Here in the wee small hours of another Hellish, Georgian, what-is-this-spring-nonsense-of-which-you-speak day I have finished writing Ready or Not!

I’m thrilled, and exhausted. This one was a lot harder to write than Love or Lust was, and I’m worried that Book 3 will be just as difficult. Book 4 I’ve very clear thoughts on, and am quite looking forward to.

Still, I think I have a handle on things. I’m going to take a bit of a rest, take time to type up what I’ve written, then let that marinate while I get some editing done to Love or Lust I discovered a particular scene needs after learning a bit more about playing guitar. When I’m done I’m going to get to work on book 3 before I start editing Ready or Not. It makes sense in the way my mind works, but I doubt very much I could explain it.

In other news I’m still waiting on word back from over half the agents I sent queries to. I suppose that’s a good thing, in that it means they’re (probably) giving my query some serious thinking about, but at the same time I kind of wish I could get one who reads the query and is all immediately “This is great! I would love to represent this story!” Sadly the opposite has been true, as three rejections came within 48hrs of being submitted. Ah well, this is a hard story to sell to mainstream, I’d probably have 6 agents offering me contracts if it were Færie Patrol I was sending out. YA Urban Fantasy is being seen as instant cash in the bank by the agents and publishers right now; everyone wants the next Twilight.

Baker’s dozen

Thirteen agents.

Thank god for computers and the ability to copy and paste blocks of repreated text.

13 isn’t many, really, and it brings me up to 18 total queries.  Not a lot, but a fairer sampling.  For my eyes’ sakes (some of those site were not pleasant to look at) I’m done for now.  Might grab another few tomorrow or Wednesday.

Still, 13 more agents … just because Google suddenly decided to be co operative.  Go figure.

When it rains, it pours …

My God! I suddenly have a ridiculous pile of agents and agencies that look promising.

I will spend this week sending out queries. I do still plan to put a deadline to be accepted or self publish. Love or Lust will either be on the hands of an agent, being shopped to publishers, or it will be self published by the start of June.

I wish to give the agencies a reasonable time with which to respond, but I also don’t wish to sit idly on a completed story. I’m sure there are plausibly hundreds of relevant agents out there, if I can but find their names and sites. I will play that game to a point. When I could only find two promising looking agents, I didn’t like giving up so I looked – cautiously as I don’t need an agent, but I looked. I found a whopping three more. Today Google’s results were utterly different! Two pages of results I’d never found before before I decided to stop and get ready for bed! These were the top matches!

So I will continue to selectively query, but to a much deeper and broader pool (a wise thing, I should think, as it give the agent idea a far fairer chance). After this week, though, no more searching. This new pool of results gives me a more comfortably sized list, and looking much longer risks pushing my June deadline in order to give the agents fair time to respond.

Good night.
Wish me luck.

Agents

Suddenly Google is being more helpful.  I’ve gone from two solid sounding agents and a few flaky looking ones none of whom looked like they were remotely relevant to my search except to be literary agents to several agencies.

I’m not querying them all, I’m still being selective by criterion I’m sure I couldn’t explain since I’m not fully aware — call it Vibes and move on — but I am querying several.  I shan’t bother naming them all, but I would like to list some of the more interesting and promising ones whether I’ve queried them or not just to (hopefully) help others.

By all means, if you’d like to suggest an agent or agency for me to query leave a comment or shoot me a message.

A small list, but there you are.  There actually was another agency I was trying to find, I stumbled on them once upon a time looking for a SF agent for something and now I can’t find them.  Pity.

Publishing, agents, and my thoughts

To be frank, I think self and indie publishing have a bad rep.  I know that, part of it, is deserved; far too many people out there who went to a vanity press like Lulu without any actual work except pressing buttons on a keyboard until there were thousands of vaguely English (or French, Italian, Japanese, or whatever) words spread across a few hundred pages.  Sad thing is, there’re books out by major publishers that are hardly better, really.

The sad reality is that, while self-published and indie press are gaining momentum and a foothold, while they are being given respectful nods from the likes SFWA president John Scalzi (well, he’s given up the post to someone else, but he hasn’t taken charge yet, that I know of — I’m not a member and doubt I ever will be, so I don’t watch closely), but by the same token no matter how many copies you sell a self-published title and some indie press titles don’t qualify for membership.

The reality ought to be that putting it out yourself with today’s POD and digital options what they are, that a self or indie published title gets the same respect as any other.  If it’s good, it’s good, if it’s bad it’s bad.  This isn’t the case.  A book that sells less than 2000 copies, but through Tor, might get a movie deal.  An indie or self press that sells that many can forget it, unless you know someone.  A book on the NY Times bestsellers list, might get a deal (self or indie, I mean), but they still might not.  Another sad fact.  Apple is the only electronic distribution channel that allows everyone to arrange for pre-orders.  Can’t do that through Amazon’s KDP or CreateSpace, nor Kobo or Nook or … anyone, let’s not be silly here, I mean you’re not a serious author or publisher or whatever!  You’re just a cute child making a four page picture book with crayons and running to Mother.

Until this perception completely changes, for some authors, self publishing really shouldn’t be the way to go.  An agent, a big publisher, years of waiting to see your book … that’s the only way.  Oh, sure, you can say “It’s more important people see it, than anything else, so I’m selfing it.”  Bully for you.  The point is, you’ll have to be a mix of lucky and prolific to make and maintain a living.  If writing is a hobby you’re quite good at, this is fine, but if you wish it to be what you write on census forms as your job, then probably not so much.

Now this isn’t to vilify the traditional publishing methods.  Some agents are very nice people, some publishers apparently try quite hard to do their job well.

The fact remains, some genres and types of books you pretty much can’t self-publish … the market doesn’t really exist yet.  The would-be professionals should stick with agents and traditional methods, while the quality hobbyists pave the way, and of course you could elect to write something to help in this, by all means.  Want to do middle grade reader books?  Want to be in the Scholastic Book Fair?  Yeah, and look around, there’s a reason that Goosebumps and Fear Street, Baby Sitters Club and Sweet Valley are still fairly common at certain age ranges.

In other cases it’s nothing so dire.  Erotica or Romance?  DIY or take an agent, the question is just how fast do you want to make those sales, and do you want an advance?  SF?  Don’t bother, in my opinion, with traditional model.  If it isn’t Military SF and NEW Space Opera (which in my opinion isn’t Space Opera) you won’t sell it to the big boys, and even if you write the stuff they want the typical rates are just insulting, you may as well go DIY for all the difference it’ll make, unless you really need a bit of lump sum cash to make a downpayment on a car, or some such.  Westerns?  If your name isn’t Louis L’Amour you’re probably better off self publishing … or possibly not depending how you look at it — Westerns are pretty close to dead, so possibly that Advance, if you can get one, will be the only pennies you see for the book.  Mysteries?  I couldn’t say, if it isn’t the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block I haven’t really read it, well … the first half dozen Sneakie Pie and Rita Mae Brown books, too.

Research.  All I can say is research, and when in doubt try to get your questions straight, straight forward, and clear and then find a good, helpful person in the industry to ask them of.  An agent, perhaps, or an editor.  Don’t ask them about your work, ask them about the details in general.  Ask them for the numbers, for the fact, for the stats.  Ask them for what one might expect.  Then think, soul search.  Are you writing for money?  Possibly you want to go major publisher, unless you know you’ll be prolific — self-published work doesn’t necessarily sell many copies, but a few copies over several books adds up well, but a few books with an advance might be a nice lump sum you can invest.  Writing an obscure thing?  Is there actually a major publisher out there who’ll touch it?  Might just as well do it yourself.  In the end it’s up to you, what do you want out of your writing, how do you want people to find it, and so on.

I still feel that I’d rather self-publish most thing, but Now & Forever, for example, I have decided (given a positive response from an agent) to traditionally publish.  It seems a better choice given its genre, but I’ll merrily drop it onto the world myself if they say no, because think it’s a fun, cute story and had fun writing it so I’ll have fun sharing it as well, how and via whom doesn’t matter.

Exploring possibilities

So I’ve made a couple of agent inquiries this weekend.

Really not many. As I know how to do this on my own I was quite particular in who I elected to send inquiries to rather than sending to every agent I could find. I thought, Why not? There’s nothing to lose, and an advance to gain.

There goes money again. Well, frankly, I may write because I have stories I wish to tell, but we live in a crass capitalism and I like to eat and have a home, and wages don’t go far these days.

In the end I submitted to two agents only:

Ms Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency and Ms Diver of The Knight Agency.

I was promptly rejected by Ms Diver. I wasn’t very surprised. I’d actually changed my mind about submitting an inquiry to that agency, initially I hadn’t felt very interested.

This does not mean Now & Forever is not going to be self published, only that it might not. I should expect a reply from Ms Lakosil before editing will be done so no delays there, and I she expresses interest I’ll discuss detail regarding time frame expectations and so forth to decide if I wish to go a traditional route.

In truth my opinions of publishing came largely from my love of SF. The SF houses are, in my opinion, trying to commit suicide. As such I want nothing to do with them professionally. While it can be truly said that publishing houses are all suffering some malady of the mind and a terrible case of short sightedness it is to varying degrees dependent on the publisher and, most importantly, genre. Romance, it seems, is a touch less demented and as such I’m willing to test the waters a little and see how I feel.