Archive for the 'The Industry' Category


QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue

So I’ve been following QueryFail. (Waits for screams of horror to die down.)

QueryFail, if you haven’t heard of it, is the latest internet storm to break over the industry. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. Basically, a group of literary agents got together on Twitter and decided to offer a free service to aspiring authors: explaining how not to get a literary agent. So they tweeted examples from personal experience — poorly-written cover letters, creepy “gifts” accompanying novel samples, authors who flat-out lied and got caught. (Complete archive here, in multiple formats. If you download the .rtf, remember to read it from the bottom up!) Everything was carefully anonymous; no author identifying info was given, and most of the examples were spoken of in general terms, with the exception of cover letter quotes. (Here are some examples, with analysis, from participating agent Elaine Spencer.) Many authors were amused and pleased by this information, and considered it valuable.

Many more authors… well, went ballistic.
Continue reading ‘QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue’


Rebel Tales

So, back in the day when I was an aspiring writer who spent more time reading about writing than actually writing, one of my favorite places to lurk was Holly Lisle’s website (which is not to say that all lurkers there were writers who didn’t write, this was just my particular case).  If you’re a writer on the internet who has any interest in the whole aspiring writers community side of things, chances are you’ve heard of Ms. Lisle and have your own opinions, but if you’ve never seen her site, go check it out, it’s certainly worth a look.

Moving on. Now, I will be the first to step up and say I admire what Holly has done for fledgling writers. While I don’t agree with her on a lot of stuff, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Holly if you’re a writer looking for some reliable guidance on publishing and writing life in general. Her website is a smorgasbord of information, all free, which is awesome considering you usually pay a lot more for a lot less buying a book on writing.

Recently, however, she’s started in new direction,  one that, quite frankly, completely baffles me.

Continue reading ‘Rebel Tales’


Waiting games

I’ve realized that in order to survive as a writer, you have to have one very essential skill. No, I’m not talking about grammar, or the ability to craft beautiful prose, or a keen grasp of plot dynamics.

I’m talking about patience.  Holy crap, but you have to have absolute bucketloads of patience in this biz! First there’s the patience when you start querying agents. Then there’s the agonizing wait after one of them nibbles and asks for a partial. And if they then request the full manuscript, dearest gods above and below, but the seconds drag like eons while you anxiously await the verdict.

But then you achieve that next step! An agent calls and offers to represent you! Hurrah, no more of that agonizing waiting!

Err…  Except that now you get to experience the joy of being “on submission,” and you have to ramp up the patience one more time as you wait to hear back from editors who have your manuscript. Some people are lucky enough to hear good news in just a few weeks, while others languish for months and months… (and some folks, even with an agent sending the book out, never do get a yes, but we’re going to try and stay a bit more positive here!)

Then you get The Call from your agent. Yay! Your book sold!  Now all you have to do is wait for your book to come out, right?


If only it were so simple.  No, then you get to wait for your editor to send you a revision letter, because even though they loved the book enough to offer you money for it, they have puh-lenty of “suggestions” for ways it can be made better.

After revisions there are some smaller waits, such as waiting for the copyedits, and the page proofs, but those are somewhat minor waits, because it’s not like you’re waiting on someone to give their opinion.

And that’s what so hard about so much of the waiting in this game–you’re not just waiting for something to happen. You’re waiting for someone to give their opinion of something you’ve labored for months or perhaps years on. Each one of those “Will they love it?” waits is a time for massive nail-biting/comfort eating/endorphin-producing-activity of your choice.

Right now I’m going through another one of those agonizing “Will they love it?” waits: reviews. Holy crap, but I think this is the hardest one so far! The advance copies were sent out long enough ago that I know the recipients have had several whole days–at least–to read their copy. Days! Several! So why haven’t they written their reviews yet? Why can’t they read–and write–faster??  What’s wrong with these people? *sob*


The next wait will be the wait to see the sales figures. I’m not sure I’m going to last through that one.



My shameful lie about short fiction

From time to time I get asked if working to establish oneself as a short story writer is helpful when trying to write and sell novels. My stock answer is that, while it can’t hurt, it’s hardly necessary, and that the only really good reason to write short stories is because you love writing short stories. Shorts pay too little and require too much labor to make them worth writing for any reason other than you love writing them. Writing them doesn’t teach you how to write novels any more than running sprints trains you to run marathons. Also, the audience for them is small, and in talking to book editors and agents, I’ve come to the depressing conclusion that many of them, probably most of them, don’t follow the short fiction field.

In thinking about it, though, I’ve come to realize that my stock answer is a load of horse poo. I was lying. Short fiction totally helped me sell my first novel.

With the exception of a few anomalous print appearances that nobody read, I date the start of my short fiction career to 2001, and while I’ve never been the most prolific writer around (I mean, I’m not a freak like Tim Pratt), I’ve been able to count on a handful of publications in good anthologies and magazines every year. A few years ago, I started to get occasional inquiries from book editors wondering if I had a novel in the works. In each case, the conversation began with them mentioning some specific story of mine they’d read. Indeed, Juliet Ulman, the editor who acquired Norse Code for Bantam, initially wanted to know if I had a novel based on my story, The Osteomancer’s Son, which she’d read in Asimov’s. I’d like to believe that Norse Code is so brilliant that it could have radiated right through a manila envelope and compelled an editor to lift it off a slush pile and write me a check, but that’s not really how it happened. My short fiction publications helped.

And, no, writing short stories is not like writing novels. Novels are longer, obviously, but they’re also shaped differently. They require different rhythms, different approaches to pacing, to weaving plot and character. More than that, though, they require a different degree of faith to complete. If you finish a short story only to find that it’s a big pile of suck, you’ve wasted a few days or maybe a few weeks. It shouldn’t be devastating. But do the same with a novel, and you’ve squandered your ENTIRE YOUTH.

Which is why it’s useful to work on short stories, at least until you’ve done it enough and failed at it enough and garnered enough rejections that you move beyond that point and start to sell some. Because then, even if you squander your better years on unsaleable novels, you can take some satisfaction in the success you’ve experienced as a short story writer. And the science fiction and fantasy genres have long, proud traditions in short fiction. Success in the continuum of those traditions ain’t no small thing. It’s good to be able to feel good about something when you’re in the depths of novel despair. So, yes, while the best reason to write short fiction is because you enjoy writing short fiction (life’s too short to spend it doing non-mandatory things you don’t enjoy), I can say that short fiction helped launch me as a writer of novels.

And if my novel career withers and dies before it’s had a chance to really get going, I know I have a form and a field and a home for my other writing. And since I enjoy writing short stories, I’ll be okay. Now, if you hate writing short stories, most of the preceding is probably irrelevant to you. Short fiction is by no means the only path to novels. But it was mine.


Lessons learned: public speaking and lectures

I just got back from lecturing at a workshop for aspiring writers that was put on at the Barnes & Noble in Metairie. I was the first one up, and my hour was devoted to: Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. I’m no stranger to public speaking, in fact I consider myself to be fairly good at it, but I realized (after the fact) that this was the first time I’d ever lectured on anything to do with the craft of writing. Since I still think of myself as up-and-coming at best, it turned out that I was not as self-assured (whether real or faked!) as usual. And, I discovered that being a sole lecturer in front of 20-30 people is far different and far more intimidating than being on a panel at a con, where you can play off of each other or sit back and say nothing if you have run out of things to say.

Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t go badly by any stretch of the imagination. I think I was able to get my points across and people seemed to enjoy the talk. But I certainly think I could have done a better job of it, and I’m hoping that I do so the next time I give a writing-related presentation.

So, I figured I would share with all of you a few of the things I learned during (and after) my lecture:

1) The material that you think will take 30 minutes to say will actually take 15, especially if you are like me and tend to talk faster when you’re slightly nervous. I went through my notes, glanced at my watch, and was shocked (and dismayed) to see that only fifteen minutes had passed.

2) Plan for being slightly nervous. I didn’t think I would be, since I’m used to public speaking, but since I was, in fact, a bit nervous, I had a much harder time thinking “off the cuff.”

3) As a corollary to #2, use note cards, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. I had three pages of notes typed out, but when you’ve run out of things to say and are bit nervous, it’s very hard to scan a page to see what you haven’t covered yet. Note cards would have made the presentation easier to keep track of.

4) Don’t depend on audience interaction. I had anticipated speaking for about 30 minutes, and then throwing it open to some interactive stuff. However, since I was first up, the audience was still fairly reticent and hesitant, and I had to work a bit to get them to respond and ask questions.

5) Have lots of examples ready. This was the biggest thing that could have helped me out. I’d decided to deconstruct Star Wars to show various examples of Goals, Motivation, and Plot. (That’s going to be my post for next Saturday!) Unfortunately, it didn’t take as long as I’d hoped to discuss what I wanted to discuss, and I was caught off guard by trying to think of other examples off the top of my head. (See #2) I could have prepared a number of “deconstructions”, and it would have been a far simpler matter to just not use some of them if I ran short on time.

6) Have a handout. The lecturers who followed me had handouts. I did not, and after seeing how effective it was for keeping the topics on track, I regretted not having one. It doesn’t need to be much–even just a page of the high points–but it gives people something to look at and take notes on.

7) Bring something to write on. This one I did do. I brought a folding easel and a large pad of paper, and I was very glad I did, especially since I had not brought a handout. Even though my scrawls were barely legible, it helped me focus my thoughts, and also helped me slow down a bit while I wrote stuff and drew arrows.

8 ) Wear clothes that don’t show sweat. See #2 again.


And, finally:


9) If you brought a recording device with you so that you could record your presentation, do your best to remember to turn it on and hit the record button. *facepalm*


–Diana Rowland


Be a Writer

A while back I was skimming posts in a very popular forum/bulletin board for writers, and ended up with two semi-related rants. But after writing the rants out, and then reading what I’d written, I decided that my rants were probably a bit too rant-tastic for this site, so I decided to rewrite my rants into something more along the lines of “Observation and Advice.”

 Observation #1) I swear to god, if I see the quote about how you should only write because you Love Writing and not to Be A Writer one more time I’m going to scream.   I would like to humbly disagree with the oft-made assertion that one should write for the Love of Writing before writing in order to Be A Writer. I understand where the posters are coming from (I hope.) I would like to think that they are advising aspiring writers to keep the stars out of their eyes, to let go of the dreams of fame and fortune, and write because they love to write.

Except. If you’re writing with the goal of Being A Writer (i.e. a professional writer), then the love of writing is pretty much a given. Anyone who doesn’t have a love of crafting words and stories isn’t going to be willing to endure the torture and flaying and depression and difficult road to publication. It’s pretty much a self-culling herd.

Therefore, I give the opposite advice: Make your goal to Be A Writer. I believe that if you have any aspiration whatsoever of becoming a writer who is actually paid money for their work, then you absolutely must at some point want very badly to Be A Writer.

Without that desire, there’s no drive to improve, no need to learn the business, no fire in your belly that pushes you to finish what you’re working on and then start another project. Without that desire to Be A Writer, you won’t be able to swallow pride and accept criticism. I think that once a person accepts that whatever they’re working on isn’t going to be sold and published, then that’s when they stop trying. That’s when their work loses that extra little spark. I’m not talking about literary genius, I’m talking about that life in a really cool story, that extra mile that the author pushed because it mattered, because they wanted their audience (see? Other people reading it?) to love it as much as they did.

But more than that, I think that if you don’t have the desire to Be A Writer, then you’re not going to be willing to put the time in on the business end of Being A Writer.

Because, let me tell you, Being A Writer is a job.  I haven’t been doing it all that long, but in this past year it’s been driven home to me that it’s a job. (Don’t get me wrong–it’s an awesome job and it’s the one I’ve always wanted, but there’s a lot more work involved than just writing words for a story.) And, like any other job, you can do it half-assed and get half-assed results, or you can put A-level effort in.

Which leads me to Rant Observation and Advice #2) The search for an agent. 

Again, I read a number of posts on this subject. Yes, I totally remember how frustrating and depressing that process can be. I know that in today’s market it’s pretty much a necessity to have an agent if you want to sell a book to a major publisher, and I remember well that sense of desperation when the rejections started rolling in. I didn’t have a personal referral to my agent, and I didn’t meet him at a conference or convention.  I landed my agent the traditional way–with a query letter. 

What kills me is the number of people who shoot themselves in the foot during this process.  I would like to offer some helpful advice to those readers who are currently or will soon be in a search for an agent to represent their work. If you’re searching for an agent, that would seem to indicate that you want to sell your book, i.e. be a Professional Writer. And, if you want to be a professional writer, then you need to treat your search for an agent like a profession, because at this stage of the process your JOB is finding an agent.


Research which agents handle the type of fiction you write. It’s not that hard. I mean, seriously, you have the internet. That’s all I used when I did my agent search, and there are quite a few free sites. And, in the same category of research: Address the query to the agent. Not To Whom It May Concern

Make sure you’re querying a reputable agent. Again, there are many sites to help you figure this out.

Every agent out there has guidelines for submissions. And yes, they’re all different. Deal with it. They have zillions of submissions to wade through, and those guidelines are there to help them do their job in the manner that best suits their own personal style. Asking all agents to do things the same way is like asking all writers to sit at the same type of desk and use the same word processing program and listen to the same music. Do what I did, and make a spreadsheet with columns for agent/agency, date submitted, material submitted, submission guidelines, response, etc.  

And yes, you’re going to have to describe your 400 page book in a paragraph. Yeah, it sucks, and it’s not a great representation of how wonderful your work is, but again, it’s the best system in place for dealing with the 50-100 queries that most agents get every day. Practice. Read queries for other books (again, that cool thing called the internet.) Get others to read and critique your query.

Keep trying. And, in the meantime, keep writing your next novel.

[more pompous ranting deleted] 

 Good luck!