Thursday, December 31, 2009

just finished reading

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston. My review here. Anybody else read? Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

good news and cheer to ring in the new year!!

Long-time blog buddy Jill Myles's book, Gentlemen Prefer Succubi, is available in stores today! You go, Jill!

who has finished reading THE GATHERING STORM and wants to chat about it with me?

Don't click on the comments unless you've finished, since it will be FULL OF SPOILERS!


Your resident Wheel of Time fanatic,



Monday, December 28, 2009

Author Question: What Does It Mean That I'm in My Second Printing?

Got a little letter:

Dear Moonrat,

I'm a recently published author. I just got my first-ever royalty statement from my agent, and it turns out my book hasn't earned out yet. I was surprised, because I heard a couple months ago that the book went into a second printing only three weeks after publication. I did some math for myself, and I don't understand how the book couldn't have earned out if the first print run sold out. Can you explain? Should I be worried something fishy is going on?


First of all, my dear, you should be very happy about the second printing--that means that the performance of your book exceeded expectation (as expectation was established after sell-in).

But to answer your question, no, you shouldn't be worried about fishiness. There are many reasons a book goes back to press, and all of them have something to do with stock availability (while only some have to do with sell-through).

Two things to remember:

1) Publishers only expect (on average) a 60% sell-through (in the US--UK and Commonwealth are smarter about their stocking and tend to not get as many returns, although exactly how much smarter I'm not sure). However, almost 100% of the first printing is shipped out to stores. The other 40% is returned after 2 months or so (or the laydown period).

2) Books always sell more strongly in certain markets than others. If you write a book about cow farming, it is simply not going to sell as strongly in urban areas as it does in rural, even if it becomes a national bestseller. So certain vendors will return in a higher portion than others, depending on your particular book.


You say your second printing was only three weeks after the book came out--to me that says that the book was selling successfully in various accounts, who then proceeded to run out. But they ran out so close to the initial pub date, returns hadn't come in from other accounts yet, meaning there was no available stock to send to the placed that needed it. Your publisher needed to reprint in order to provide stock to the vendors that were selling it strongly.

Another reason your publisher may have to reprint without selling out is a surprise order. This may come from a book club sale--some book clubs buy finished copies instead of printing their own. It may also come from an unusual account. Some of the box stores like Walmart or Costco come in with last-minute very large orders, and your publisher may have already printed without enough run-off to accommodate these large orders.

This means that a second--or even a third, or even a fourth--printing doesn't necessarily indicate that the first printing sold out. What's a better indicator of whether your first printing has sold out is how much time has elapsed since your book came out combined with the number of reprints. After two months, accounts that were not selling your book will have returned it, and those returned copies will be recycled to accounts that are selling. So if you go back to press after that two-month mark, for example, that's probably a very good indicator that your first printing is gonesville (in a good way).

Does this help?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Winner: Rachel Stewart

Her blue eyes looked this way, that—
saw nothing.
She smiled, a smile she learned when she was young,
and never quite forgot.
She stayed near her podium, usually,
in the middle front of the room,
where she would not lose her way
in the cavern between the desks.
She might walk a bit,
talk a bit,
and you’d see her hand reach behind her
for the podium
because if she could find the podium
she’d know where she was.

Once she’d done talking
and once we’d begun writing
she’d go back to her desk.
Two steps to the stand, turn right and left and shuffle,
because gold labs
don’t like crushed paws
and she wouldn’t step on
the man in her life, the one—
the corporeal one—
who stops her before
she falls into a hole in the sidewalk,
who steps with her
carefully down the stairs,
who sleeps on the floor during class
and plants himself always by her side.

She illustrated a poem for us once
on the whiteboard.
She drew a squiggly fleet of ships,
stick-figure demons and restroom-sign women.
We laughed to see them,
and to see her laugh, too;
she knew how strange it was.
She told us about limericks and diamantes and ballads
and blind school and guide dogs and faux pas.
We laughed, and learned, and heard new things,
and saw
she saw.

by _*Rachel*_

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Finalist: Merry Monteleone

First impressions are bullshit. You hear all the time about making a good first impression, but the truth is that your first thoughts on a place or a person are the sanitized version of what they are on the outside. How poetic that the first impression of my high school was the smell of bleach mixed with the subtle waft of guilt and the staccato click of heels on faux marble floors.

My aunt opened the door to the Assistant Principal’s office, waving me in. As I made my way carefully past, she grabbed hold of my arm and whispered in my ear, “I had to tell them you were from a broken home.”

The last two words resonated, they came out the way you’d make an excuse or tell a lie. I couldn’t see how it would be more broken if you took a chainsaw to it, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to point that out, so I nodded in that conspiratorial way.

My aunt waited outside while I sat alone in Assistant Principal’s office, figuring I was in for something. She eyed me from behind her desk, and then walked sure-footed around the room to sit directly in front of me. Her skirt didn’t move, like cardboard fitted around a lithe frame as she folded her arms and waited. For what, I had no idea.

Finally she said, “You’re not what I expected.”

“What – am I too cute to be a delinquent?”

Okay, I didn’t say it. It’s the way I’d love to write it in fiction, though. I wasn’t quite nervy enough to be that obnoxious to adults. That was my first meeting with Ms. I, and I knew, just knew, the woman had my number. She had this way of looking at you that made you want to confess things you didn’t even do but, more than that, it laid you bare. There was nothing hidden in you that her well-placed glare couldn’t prod until it choked you with the effort to keep your blasted secrets down.

Once I started classes, I realized that most of the students never saw Ms. I. The Principal did announcements and assemblies. The Dean dealt with demerits and lapses in uniform (Catholic school, for the devout or devious, take your pick). Ms. I, well, she was the heavy – called in for serious discipline problems. Most of my friends only knew her by sight, and the fact that she knew my name was usually greeted by loud gulps and that “Damn, I’d hate to be you” look.

I had a fondness for debate, especially with the religion teachers – my very favorite win was when a teacher my freshman year ended a theological argument with me by saying, “I’m right because I can give you a detention”. I wore combat boots with my little plaid skirt. I was a regular pain in the ass, I was, and yet I managed to make a good number of friends, when I wasn’t hiding out with my sketchpad in the art room.

After school, a bunch of us would sometimes hang out at one of the hamburger joints a few blocks away. We’d play cards and drink sodas and sometimes get cheese fries. I walked my friend, Candy, home after one such excursion. We were school friends and I’d never been to her house before. We walked in the back door and this Amazon of a monster that turned out to be her mother grabbed Candy by the throat and slammed her into the wall so hard she cracked the ceramic tile with her head.

It’s a funny kind of guilt you get from walking away from something like that. I stood out in the alley for what seemed like forever, staring up at her window, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do. And it seemed like you had to wait for your friend to make that call, it was her family and I couldn’t very well go after her mom. But walking away, man, I can still feel it, that sense of impotence that gnaws its way from your tonsils to your toes. A normal person might have called the police or something. I kind of went by the fight or flight principle and doing the normal thing sounded so wrong in my ears.

There were other things going on with Candy, too, but her story isn’t my story and I feel funny elaborating too much here for fear of hitting too close. It’s enough to say that she had a rough way to go. I don’t think anyone at school knew how bad it had gotten for her. You don’t see those things in high school. You see what’s in front of you, not what’s in front of anyone else.

In our sophomore year, Candy wound up on some bad paper at school. She had to check in about her grades and she had a lot of stress about paying the tuition, because she was working two jobs to pay it herself. Added to all of this, a group of seniors decided to make her life miserable. They cornered Candy at her locker more than once, caught her in the bathroom, knocked into her on the stairs. They spread nasty rumors about her, inside and outside of school. And they generally made a bad situation about twenty thousand times worse.

So, being the trouble maker I was, I put my skills to some use. I did a few things I probably shouldn’t have. I didn’t tell Candy anything about it. I just quietly went about getting even, and figured I’d get them to leave her alone and that would be that. Except it wasn’t.

I found out during passing periods that Candy got pulled out of class and brought down to the Dean’s office. See, one of the things I’d done was to leave a less than nice letter in the girl’s locker... it might’ve been considered halfway decent prose, for a horror writer... and of course, Candy got blamed. But because she already had some issues at school, it was the last straw.

By the time I got down to the Dean’s office, Ms. I, the Dean, and the Principal were standing over Candy as she sat sobbing. I’d never seen her cry. I’d seen her crack ceramic with her head, I’d seen her seconds after getting cornered in a bathroom stall by five girls who were twice her size, but I’d never seen her cry.

I stood in the doorway, knowing I had to say something but having no clue where to start. I gripped my books to my chest so hard I could barely breathe, but I doubted I deserved the air.

“This doesn’t concern you. Go to class,” the principal said. She was a tiny nun who scared the hell out of me, even on a good day.

“Well, it kind of does,” I started, and I might have stuttered a bit before continuing, but honestly I have no idea how I got any words out at all. “I wrote that note in your hand.”

The look on Candy’s face, I can’t even describe it. You’d think angry, I’d have been livid. You’d think incredulous or annoyed or, stand there for a second while I beat the bloody tar out of you, but it wasn’t any of those things. It was heart-in-her-mouth thankful, and I knew damn well I didn’t deserve that, either.

My tongue swelled and my throat ached, and in the pit of my stomach that little ball of terror started spinning into vivid images of my impending downward spiral. I don’t even remember walking into the room, but there I was, sitting in the chair next to Candy. She was sent back to class, while the principal’s eyes dilated in my general direction – coiling, ready to strike.

I was done. I knew it. They’d call my aunt and tell her I was expelled. Again. Forgot to mention that part, didn’t I? I’d already been tossed out of my first high school, and it pained my aunt to no end to use the term, “broken home”, how mortifying to have a relative from one of those... still less mortifying than admitting they were such a fuck up that they’d get thrown out of school... and here it was, proof that I didn’t deserve the excuse. I was inexcusable.

As my tiny, yet formidable, principal opened her mouth to speak, another voice broke the air.

“Well, it was loyal. We are trying to teach these girls loyalty and compassion for their fellow students, and as misguided as this was, the intention was to help her friend during a very hard time...” It was Ms. I.

You know, I can’t remember the whole speech. It took me at least the first few minutes to register that she’d taken something I’d done, something ridiculously bad, something they could have probably pressed criminal charges for, and spun it into... character? And the shock, because seriously, I thought all of those nods hello were her way of reminding me that she was watching me. Not watching out for me. Let me tell you, too, I don’t think I’ve met anyone yet who could spin that argument so flippin’ well. In the end, I walked out without even a detention. My parents never knew.

Two years later, we were all getting ready to graduate. There were ups and downs to my high school career – teachers I adored, some not so much... I found writing there (being that this is an essay about writing mentors, you’d think I’d have mentioned that sooner). My creative writing teacher was awesome; I won all sorts of accolades for the writing contests, and expanded my literary and artistic tastes in ways I wouldn’t have even dreamed of four short years earlier. And at the very end, standing in the auditorium, I thought about where to go from there.

I knew what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be, what I was really – but it was just a pipe dream. People like me don’t become writers. That’s for other people. Blessed or better or, well, not me. And I decided that I might like to teach – theology of all things. It was my favorite subject next to literature. My senior year religion teacher was thrilled that I was leaning in that direction and he mentioned it to Ms. I.

Ms. I said, “No she’s not. She’s a writer.” Then she looked dead at me and said, “You’re a writer. I expect to see your books someday.”

That was it – simple, not elaborate. She said what she had to say. But she believed it, before I would even consider it a possibility, she believed it.

Here’s the thing, the essay was supposed to be about my writing mentor, and I’ve had many. I’ve had teachers who have supported me and believed in me. I’ve had critique partners and writers who have taught me so much more than I could have taught myself, who’ve helped me develop as a writer and a person, and shared with me pieces of their journey.

I’ve never had one discussion about literature with Ms. I. I have no idea if she understands the first thing about the rules of fiction, or what she reads or whether she’s ever tried writing. What I know is that she saw me – black, white, and every shade of gray. And whatever her first impression, however many times she should have written me off, she believed I was worth the effort, worth a second chance, worth making a run at a pipe dream, worth believing in. There are many writers who I owe debts both large and small throughout my own writing journey – but without Ms. I, there might not have been a first step. And what she gave me, no book can teach.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Finalist: Peter Cooper

Who the Hell Is Willard Price?
by Peter Cooper

While working b'ind the counter of my local Borders store,
A customer of youthful age approached me to implore,
That I should share my wisdom on which new book he might buy,
Ideally, without vampires, ghosts, or broomsticks in the sky.

Delightedly, I gave a grin and bid him walk this way,
Towards the tiny scrap of paranormal-free YA,
And reaching for the titles, I drew out something nice,
A ripping-yarn adventure tale, by author, Willard Price.

He screwed his stud-pierced nose at me, and stared like I was mad,
Then uttered words that stung me, worse than any slap I'd had,
“Who the hell is Willard Price?” he gave a mocking cry,
And I fought hard, against the urge, to poke him in the eye.

“You’ve never heard of Willard Price?” I kept my tone polite,
“It’s gripping, thrilling, heads above this modern YA shite,
Willard takes you places so exotic, far away,
'Twas he who made me want to write, and so I do, this day”.

“Well good for you,” the youth looked bored, his heart no longer in it,
“I write too, I text at nearly 50 words per minute.
But maybe I should simply listen, to my friends' harangues,
And buy that new release about the fairy with the fangs.”

And as he left, I sadly slipped the book back in its place,
There to wait for someone new, to set their heart to race,
Who the hell is Willard Price? The modern youngsters say,
But they don’t write them, like they used to, back in Willard’s day.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Finalist: Rachel Green

Her Constant Companion
by Rachel Green

There is one person above all who has influence over my writing. He has mentored me through seven Harold and Jasfoup novels, the Gospel of Lucifer, a Laverstone murder-mystery, a book of Jasfoup's shorts and two collections of poetry and is with me now and every time I put pixels to digital paper.

His name? Oh yes: Earl Grey.

Not the present Earl Grey, of course, nor the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister and author of the Reform Bill of 1832, but the tea, flavoured with bergamot oil, that bears his name.

Oh! how he woos and delights me, this tincture of leaf and oil. He is my constant companion, sending my flights of fancy souring and my two fingers tapping away at the keys in an orgy on indulgent writing, pausing every few sentences to sip from his china mug. Today's is a handspan tall with a delicate painting of a red poppy gracing the china.


Alas, he has become cold to me, but momentarily i shall go into the kitchen and return with him piping-hot in my embrace, and we shall venture down another chapter of my latest together. Together with his recently discovered niece, Lady Grey, the book takes shape under my hands with plot twists worthy of the convoluted scent of bergamot itself. How we shall laugh and dance when the last page is written and we turn to cover design!

Oh! How we laugh.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Finalist: Gemma

Tribute to Andy
by Gemma Noon (Somewhere South of Heaven, The Literary Project)

Andy was my first real boyfriend. We were 15, invincible, naive and ambitious. He was going to be the top engineer in the country, probably work on the first deep space shuttle or something equally cool. I was going to be a writer. I'd win all sorts of prizes and be bigger than all the bestselling authors combined. We believed in each other. Nothing else mattered.

We were going to marry. Date set, ring on my finger, everything. We were 19. Then we realised it was habit and we weren't in love. I didn't write anymore. I concentrated on getting a degree and a "real" career. Andy stopped dreaming about building Starships. He focused on the machines he welded up, the guitar he played and the motorbike he loved. We grew apart, had nothing in common. After a while, I cut the ties.

A few years later, on my way back from my "real" job, I looked up and saw him through the bus window. It was a shock, and I started to think about giving him a call to catch up on old times. It felt odd, and I didn't know if he would be happy, angry or amused at any contact from me. I didn't want my friendship to be rejected. So I didn't call. I figured if we were meant to be friends, then fate would intervene.

Andy died the following day. Motobike crash, on the road where I lived. He was 23.

If it could bring him back, I would be rejected a billion times and be thankful for every single one of them. All I wanted was the chance to tell him that there were no hard feelings, that I wanted to be friends, that I missed his geekiness and the daft comments he'd come out with. He was the first person to ever have complete faith in me, and I knew that I had wasted his support and his kindness. We were never meant to be, but I am a better person for having known him.

I started to write again. It was stilted, poor, and far from publishable. There is a lot of bad poetry in there, as well as short stories that were unremarkable at best. It helped; even the bad writing helped. I don't think what I write is bad these days. I think, if he could read it, he'd think that his faith in me was vindicated. I know he'd be cheering me on, and waiting for The Call to tell him my work was about to be published.

Andy taught me that life is too short for you not to pursue your dreams. His death has taught me that if you put things off, like writing that book, making that phone call, seeing an old friend, then you'll wake up one day and it will be too late. You can't rewind time, no matter how much you might want to. He also taught me that if you don't seize the opportunities that come your way, then fate just might intervene and take them away from you for good. If you don't take risks, then you'll never achieve anything.

I'm not afraid of rejection anymore.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Finalist: Dave Alton Dodd

Something to Spit at
by David Alton Dodd (refriedgringo)

She would spit much like a boy would do, and it reminded me of when I played baseball, of how we would all spit sometimes. I couldn’t remember her name for anything, even then and certainly not now. Our only encounters were either in class or after class with a bunch of other students. She was quiet and not very remarkable in any particular way; there was the short curly hair and the deep brown eyes and nothing attractive or unattractive about her. But outside she spit, often and unembarrassed by it, and after a while I thought it to be quite an awesome display of rude behavior.

"How do you do it?" I asked her one time.


"You know, come up with stories like that. Where do you get them from?"

She shrugged. "I don’t know." And she then became interested in something else.

It is the only conversation I remember having with her. She studied people, and seemed to notice everything. I am quite certain that she has never thought of me in all of these years, but I have thought of her, especially in the last ten years or so. She was a natural. She was an amazing young lady and I have often wondered why I never saw her face on the inside jacket-cover of a book at some point.

* * *

It never occurred to me that I should be a writer someday, I was too busy investing my time in studies and activities and work that would never wind up leading me toward anything I even remotely enjoyed. When I was a teenager, my mother gave me her old black Underwood manual typewriter with the round keys, and since I had spare time in those days I would pound out very bad chapters for what would have been a very bad novel. It was fun. Halfway through high school I lost interest in the story and in the typewriter. And then came college.

My original major was music. I was a good musician and performed in a rock band and wrote maybe one hundred songs before I was old enough to legally drink alcohol. I had a knack for picking off easy college course electives, and since the college permitted it, I took creative writing poetry for the maximum three semesters. I remember some people smoking in class near an open window and the professor didn’t seem to mind. We would read our poetry aloud and others would comment on it. One guy actually showed up with bongo drums one day to accompany his poetry. I can’t remember the professor’s name, but she was a very sweet lady letting us do just about anything in the name of poetry.

In that fourth semester, for some easy credits I enrolled in creative writing fiction. The professor of that course was the department head in English, a kind gentleman who smoked a pipe. He wrote book reviews for the Los Angeles Times, and often shared them with us. I had no designs on writing, but I was easily able to turn in enough short stories to satisfy the requirements. The professor was kind to me with his grading of my work, and my work was horrible. Even at the time I couldn’t imagine how or why he liked it.

* * *

Not long after that semester was complete, I had managed to knock up my girlfriend – chronic endometriosis be damned. I quit school and married her and pursued steady employment in the engineering field. It was a miserable marriage and quick divorce came with no surprise. But by then, whatever career I wanted in music was an afterthought. I began to drink, a lot, every evening after work I would narrowly avoid trouble and somehow manage to get home. I needed something to occupy my free time.

I noticed the advertisement for a sports writer, part time in the evenings, and thought it to be a perfect diversion. I set up an interview, which did not go so swell at first. The sports editor asked me about my journalistic experience, of which there was none and he frowned. I told him that I could write and offered to prove it. He pulled out from his desk drawer an old clipping, a box score of a football game. I sat at a console and hammered out a story in about fifteen minutes, based on the statistics and my imagination.

He hired me on the spot.

That job kept me out of trouble in the evenings, and I was grateful for it. It didn’t pay much, but my day job was okay, and there were times it was a lot of fun. I would attend a sporting event in the press box and possibly interview coaches and players and then zoom back to the office and write a story to beat the deadline. It wasn’t writing, I never considered it as such. It was a game, much like the games I covered.

It didn’t take even a year until I wanted to write an article that they refused to print. The article was honest, and I had my facts straight, but they didn’t feel it would be in the best interest of the community readership. I quit a week later. I remember thinking about that young lady with the curly hair and wondering if maybe that was the same reason I had never seen her work after I left college. Maybe someone did that to her, too.

* * *

A couple of years later would find me married once again, this time living in Mexico. I worked in the United States of America, and was often used for my writing skills along side my ability to generally figure out mechanical problems. But it still never occurred to me that I should write until I began a journal on the internet, until people started to tell me that I was any good at all. What did I want to tell them? That they should have met this girl I went to college with, how wonderful her stories were.

The teacher, the head of the English department, would read her work to us back in that class. We all knew it was hers. We all knew she was a natural-born writer, if there is such a thing. And we were all so lucky to have been in that audience. I think about her now, and she is why I write. I figure that if I haven’t seen her face for all of these years, then perhaps she’s a musician and I should be the writer. I’ll never be as good as she is, but at least I have something to shoot for, or perhaps, something to spit at.

I actually sold some writing along the way, which is encouraging. But I know if I sell novels, then one of those novels will have a character, a female, with curly hair and dark eyes, spitting whenever she is outdoors. It’s appropriate. And should she somehow discover that novel and read it and contact me about it, then I will invite her to trade places with me, because she is the storyteller. To have written a story about her would have been enough.

- David Alton Dodd 12/11/09 (aka refriedgringo)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters Contest Results!

I said I was going to post results on Monday, but now I'm going to make everyone doubt my identity as an editor at all by being AHEAD of deadline.

Thanks so much to everyone who entered! It was a real pleasure reading all the entries. It's a trite thing to say, but it's true--I did not really enjoy having to narrow down the list. (Insert pity party here.)

Ultimately, I decided on one winner and five finalists. This was because I had only one copy of the prize (the signed copy of the book that inspired the contest, which I have also pictured here to add visual variety to my ordinarily text-heavy posts). Also because I find "deciding" things to be very difficult, so this would be an exercise of spiritual/character growth for me.

There were some very funny and heinous monster stories, but I guess I must have been in a pretty sappy mood when I was judging (which is a risk you run with me) because it appears I tended more toward tearful and/or heartwarming mentors and muses stories.

Without further ado...

Finalists (in no order at all):
David Alton Dodd
Rachel Green
Peter Cooper
Merry Monteleone

Grand Prize:
Rachel Stewart

I'm going to publish one finalist a day for the next six days, starting tomorrow morning, so that everyone can enjoy. Winners, please let me know if there's a blog link you want me to embed in the post. Also, Rachel S, please send me a good mailing address so I can pop your signed book in the mail.

Thanks again for making this wonderful fun for me. Hope everyone else had fun, too!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mentors, Muses & Monsters contest closed!!

Thanks everybody for the fabulous entries! I have a lot of reading to do :) I think I'll announce the finalists Monday and post the winners next week.

Thanks again! Hope everyone had fun.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Heartbreak (Or, On Losing a Beloved Author to Someone Else)

There comes a point in one's career as an editor at a small press when one's beloved authors are taken away from one by other more famous presses with more money.

One is both stupefied by the tragedy, and kind of flattered.

On the one hand, one loved that author as madly as one is wont to love one's authors. One feels horrifically jealous of the new editor who will be usurping this intimate creative role, and also feels (if unfairly) vaguely betrayed by this once-beloved author to whom little things like money, power, and career success matter more than your expert advice. One can't help but feel that way, even when one would have totally advised the same author as a friend to take the (much) bigger offer.

On the other hand, one can console oneself that one was a vital stepping stone in this author's career. If one had not thrown one's heart and soul into making the author's last book everything it possibly could be, perhaps the author wouldn't have caught the attention of this new, more moneyed publisher. Perhaps the author would still be a midlist, small press, or debut author. So this is in fact a triumph for one as well. One will be able to say, "Oh, Huge Star? I totally discovered Huge Star. Yeah, that was me. Those were the days." And it will totally all be worthwhile.

Yes. These are happy little tears. Sniff.

Contest entries due tomorrow!

Rules here in case you misplaced them.

You still have 36 hours to send in your tales of inspiration and horror about a person who changed your path to becoming a writer. Thanks to everyone who's already submitted!

Friday, December 11, 2009

contest reminder

Happy Hanukkah! May all who are celebrating have a peaceful and well-fed time with family. Not being Jewish, I am making a gingerbread house this weekend instead. But if you are not doing either of those things, and are at a loose end, you can spend ALL WEEKEND working on your Mentors, Muses & Monsters contest entry. Rules here.

(Don't worry, busy folks, you still have until Tuesday.)

let's all make fun of Jason Mraz!

JES sent me this video of a hilarious kid mock-covering Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" on a ukelele.

Yes, the video's funny, but now I'm going to get all nerdy about it. Can I also just point out that this kid is a freakin' genius? I have no idea how old he is, but the ukelele playing is dang tootin'. And he's either a genius at comedy--making fun of the sentiment of the song with the facial expressions? Mocking the intent by reducing the lyrics to blah blah blahs?--or a genius at music--ignoring the lyrics entirely but somehow catching the every little inflection, like he's deaf to everything but the music?--or both.

You go, little genius uke kid.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Carol for Queriers

Miss Snark's First Victim had a writerly Christmas carol re-writing contest, and Janet Reid sharply identified this entry as pants-wettingly funny.

Here are the rest of the entries; pretty hilarious all around.

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

RtP: Book contracts should be embarked upon like marriages. As Jane Austen shows us, every woman is best served in marriage by saying no at the beginning. The men as, the women say no, the men have to try again with better offers; all end up happy. And everyone knows Jane Austen would serve for almost anything.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

finally, a round-up list that's interesting!

Here's the Guardian's "Books of the Decade" column, in case you didn't catch it elsewhere. It's interesting because it doesn't make claims about which books were best, but rather which books were influential, and speculates on why particular books got attention at particular points. There is one "winner" and several runners-up for each year, 2000-2009.

It's a teensy bit British-skewed, but not so much that it's irrelevant to non-Brits.

Let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Writer Question: An editor requested my manuscript at a conference. What should my expectations be?

Someone wrote in:
Dear Moonrat,

I have a conundrum. I was at a writers' conference and an editor from a house I really admire asked for my manuscript! Obviously I was thrilled. I sent along all my materials as soon as I got back to my house. More than a month has passed now, though, and I haven't heard a peep. What should I do? What's the protocol in a situation like this?



First, are you asking me if it's ok to follow up? Sure. A great rule for follow-up with an editor on requests is one month. Less than one month and you're psycho and annoying. But once you reach the 32nd day, you're totally in the clear.

Edited to add: Please note: this is apparently not an industry standard. Below is Janet Reid's comment that 90 days is the minimum wait time before it's appropriate to call. Perhaps this has to do with how long I expect to be allowed to consider proposals from agents; I can see why agents need much longer to consider, since they don't have any third party sifting through proposals for them. Other agent/editor friends, do you agree? 90 days?

As for the best way to follow up, email. Don't call. (Here's why if you're curious why using the phone is the worst idea in the world.)

But there's another issue at the heart of this story, and it's one that comes up for everyone who attends a conference and meets with an editor. There's no agent in the equation. This means you're in a very weak negotiating position. There's no one but lonely you to apply pressure on the editor, and there's no pressure on the editor except a random unrepresented author with no other competitive prospects. Since you haven't submitted widely, there is zero chance of an auction or competitive bidding scenario, and furthermore, if a contract is issued, you'll probably end up with a contract that's a lot less favorable to you than it would have been if you'd been in a stronger negotiating position at the beginning.

Here's my post, which you've already read and are certainly tired of, about why you should have an agent before you submit to a publishing company. Now a conference connection is a very special scenario--of course you should follow up on that contact! But keep trying to get an agent. In the worst case scenario, the editor passes, you're back and square one and might as well go about the rest of your journey in as strong and forward-thinking a manner as possible. In the (supposed) best-case scenario, the editor offers on the book, you still need an agent to help you negotiate the contract (and also to figure out whether you want to take the deal, or hold out for something that might be a better fit for you and your book).

Hope this helped.

Monday, December 07, 2009

contest reminder

One week left to submit! Mentors, Muses & Monsters contest rules

Gravity's Rainbow Read-Along: Week 11 (p 701-776)

WE DID IT!!!!!

Thanks to everyone who read along with the #gravrain people--I never would have made it through this book without a team of people spurring me forward (and I don't use the word "never" hyperbolically here).

So (tear) our last Gravity's Rainbow chat... thoughts/feelings?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

and the Sylvester Antonio saga comes to a most satisfactory conclusion!!

Of course you remember Sylvester Antonio, my diabolically clever kitchen mouse.

Well, today, after months of avoiding all the exterminator's best-laid plans, the little bugger trapped HIMSELF in our cylindrical garbage can (easy to climb into, way hard to jump out of). That's what he gets for being greedy!!

This means I was able to lift the plastic bag out of the can, walk the squirming fellow downstairs, and free him in the street. The RM wanted to spray him with Fantastik or something equally inhumane--their mutual struggle was rather more painful for the Rally Monkey than for Sylvester Antonio, and alas grudges that deep are hard to fight--but I prevailed. So:

a) Sylvester Antonio is no longer living with us rent-free!
b) nobody died! (at least, not in my kitchen; whether Sylvester Antonio can outsmart the neighborhood cats is now his problem)

Which, I think, really brings us back to Lou Monte.

Friday, December 04, 2009

contest reminder

Just a reminder that I'm having a contest! Rules here:

Mentors, Muses & Monsters contest rules

I've had some great entries already, and can't wait to see more!! A fertile topic, indeed :)

for the last several weeks

I've been sharing my apartment with three other people, none of whom (for various reasons) have to get up and go to work in the morning.

You can imagine how sad it is at 7:45 in the morning, sitting in my common room in only the rainbow glow of my beatifically winking Christmas tree, lacing my shoes in the dark to the choir of snores from three peacefully sleeping people.

It makes a girl feel justified in eating pudding for breakfast.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What Can I Expect of My Agent?

Ok, we've done my descriptions of my dream author as well as what I think you, an author, should be able to expect of your editor. After much ado and reflection, it seems silly to me that we haven't done a comparable post for agents.

I have worked with many agents, and have seen many different agent styles. Some, although totally opposite each other, are equally successful. There are a spectrum of ideal relationships, but there are also some absolutes. Let's start with those.

Full Fiscal Disclosure

You are an author whose property is making your agent money (however much or little it may be). That means that if you ask for a financial record of your account--how much your royalties have earned out, what fees have been deducted from your earnings--your agent should furnish said account with little to no dilly-dallying. Agents do run businesses and may have payment schedules that you will have to respect, but you are

a) entitled to your money eventually (if maybe it's not right this second immediately payable, you should at least know what is forthcoming and when)

b) free and open (and timely) information about what monies are owed to you by your publisher or any other entity.

For most agents, this goes without saying. Duh. But yeah, there are some shady players in the game. I told this story many years ago, and now can't find a record to it, but one of my authors discovered only by asking me point-blank when I let him know we were reissuing his book that his first edition had earned out. His agent had been telling him it hadn't made any royalties that period for the last 15 years, thereby exempting her from having to send royalty statements. Meanwhile she was keeping his money, and has now disappeared. Crappy, I'd say.

It doesn't happen often, but I gotta put it out there.

Comfortable Communication
You should not be afraid to talk to your agent. You shouldn't feel entitled to harass your agent 24/7, as in theory she has other clients, but you can't be afraid to reach out to her if you have a question. You should also expect straight and honest answers to those questions.

Some agents have policies of sheltering their clients from bad news, since their clients are less hardened by business. Other agents believe in 100% honesty, and forward editor rejections verbatim. Some tailor their strategy to their client's personalities. Both ways are excellent ways... for different groups of people. You may be the client who needs the kid gloves, or you may be the client who functions better with straight information. It doesn't matter! Both kinds of authors are wonderful human beings. What does matter is that your style matches your agent's, so that no unnecessary frustrations are introduced into your relationship.

How will you know your agent's communication style before signing? ASK! Now's a great time to practice how you're going to communicate together.

Your agent probably won't be your best friend--it is, mostly, a business relationship. But sometimes she will be. I do know of some agent/author relations that are characterized by so much camaraderie that they are basically constantly in touch, so I'm not judging you if that's your thing. The point is, don't have expectations about how intimate you'll be with each other. But do be very, very able to communicate with each other. A fantastic agent whose communication style doesn't mesh with yours may actually be a bad agent for you. It's worth thinking about.

Frequently Asked Questions

Other areas are grayer, and I can't give definitive yeses or nos. But here are some factors that may be relevant to your case, and which you should take into consideration at the onset.

Should I expect to sign an agency contract?
Not necessarily. Agencies, in my experience, run 50/50 on this. Some work with an author on a per-book basis, others work on a career development arc. But have the agent lay out all these policies for you at the onset. Don't be afraid to ask what their programs are for other clients.

Should I expect my agent to line edit my book?
No, you should not expect it. Some agents do edit, and some specialize in editing. Many of my favorite agents are real top-notch editors, and the manuscript comes to me looking as shiny as a newly minted penny. But some agents specialize in marketing, publicity, and contacts. They may not do any editing at all. Again, both methods have their merits; I know awesome agents on both ends of the spectrum. But you may be an author who needs more editing, or you may be an author who needs a more dynamic marketing force behind you.

Be honest with yourself--or have someone else be honest with you!--about how much editing your manuscript needs pre-submission. The reason I say this is if your manuscript is pretty rough and it turns out you have an agent who submits stuff as-is, you may find yourself getting rejected by houses that would have taken you seriously if the manuscript were cleaner.

Should I expect my agent to submit my book right away?

Well, yes, your agent needs to submit your book at some point; otherwise are they your agent? However, don't be hogtied by timeframe. Some agents edit or work on submissions lists for months. Do you want an agent who's going to submit right away? (Because that may or may not be good for your particular book, depending on a lot of factors.) But this is something you should certainly talk about at the beginning--what the submission plan is.

Should I expect my agent to submit my book widely?

No, not necessarily. A submission program varies from book to book, genre to genre. But my personal belief is that you should be able to talk this through with your agent beforehand, and she should be able to explain what her plan is and why.

Should I expect my agent to share the submission list with me?

My personal belief is yes, a client deserves to know who is reviewing their manuscript. Some agents are reluctant to share this information fully with clients; I imagine it has to do with not wanting to jeopardize editor relationships if a client has a freak-out and does inappropriate contacting.

Should I expect my agent to share all the editor responses with me?
Which way do you prefer? Talk it through at the beginning.

Should I expect my agent to pick up the tab?
Again, this varies from agency to agency. Typically, agencies will bill clients--after the client has earned money, that is--for the following things (and ONLY the following things): postage; expedited mail; photocopying. If your agent is billing you for other things than those, look twice at your statement. Some agents don't even bill for those things. Either way, remember it IS your money (see above) so there should be full disclosure about the fees you're being charged if fees are being charged.

NB it is NEVER ok for an agent to charge an editorial or publicity fee to a client unless that has been negotiated beforehand, and even then we're on shady ground. It is against AAR regulations for an agent to charge you any fees that have not been fully disclosed beforehand, and furthermore, things like freelance editing or freelance publicity that take place in the same establishment that is repping your project constitute huge conflicts of interest. Also, it is never appropriate to charge reading fees or representation fees--your agent will work on commission, as set forth in your agency agreement (if you don't have a contract with your agent, the agency agreement will be in a clause in your contract with your publisher), and will take a pre-determined portion of your earnings after the book is sold based on how much it sold for. If an agent is asking for other fees pre-acquisition, do snooping to see what other people think about that (but to me, I'm hard-pressed to see how that's not shady).

I'm not going to take a specific position on whether or not it's appropriate to charge pre-negotiated additional fees for specialist colleagues to edit or work on publicity for a book, because I know of a couple (not many) agents I work with who do this and seem to be genuinely providing services they wouldn't be able to on their regular commission, but even in the best of cases it makes me a little nervous. It is a practice prone to abuse (as you can probably guess from all the blog reading you've done). If an agent tells you you need a freelance editor to go through your book before it's ready to submit (which a lot of people do), it seems more kosher to me if the editor is not someone who works for the agent or on their payroll. Ya?

In fact, many agents have specialists who work in the agency on client books for no additional fees--remember the agency will profit from the success of your book. Some great agents have marketing managers to help develop projects at zero additional fee to the clients. Not every agent can afford that, but it makes a lot of sense for the ones who can, doesn't it?

Let me know if this is clear as mud or what, or if I can flesh out/develop. Also, agents, please chime in with yays or nays.