During the last few months of pregnancy, usually around the fifth but sometimes as late as the eighth, a woman’s nesting instinct kicks in. Some primitive switch hidden deep inside the female brain flips, and the most laid-back woman suddenly becomes Robo-maid; cleaning, rearranging, putting away, and throwing out. Childproofing and smoothing all the rough edges of her environment. Home becomes not just a place in which to live, eat, sleep, and watch Big Brother, but a place of warmth, safety and security for the expectant mother’s child. Though the actual birthing is most often done in a hospital room in our developed corner of the world (and a less warm and comforting environment I cannot call to mind, except perhaps a mortuary), it wasn’t so long ago that Nesting also meant creating a comfortable, calming place to drop your little bundle of joy.
The Nesting Instinct is not unique to human women. Rodents and rabbits will seek the lowest sheltered spot they can find in which to nest, dogs will favor an empty box, cats will find a crawlspace or the far corner beneath their favorite human’s bed, and birds, who should conceivably already have a nest, will simply refuse to leave it.
The Nesting Instinct fulfils two obvious functions; to give the mother-to-be a comfortable, homey place in which to perform the physically and emotionally stressful act of giving birth, and to give their new life a safe place in which to be born and grow strong enough, eventually, to leave.
I suspect that most women will disagree, perhaps militantly, with the comparison I’m about to make, but since I think the analogy is a good one, and because I’ve already dedicated three paragraphs to it, I’m going to carry on. Please direct all hate mail to David Niall Wilson. I happen to know he adores it.
I’ve heard it said more than once that writing is like giving birth, and in all but the physical sense I think it’s true. It certainly can be painful (if only emotionally), exhilarating, frightening, and at its culmination, baring a miscarriage, one of the most satisfying experiences in the world. It’s a long way from bringing a real life into the world, but it is something.
Like the expectant mother, the expectant author should find a comfortable place to gather their will, focus their imagination, and begin their long labor.
To the non-writer, a writer’s peculiar rituals must seem both eccentric and egocentric. I know they do to my family and my wife. My habit of Nesting is one I know the rest of my family just doesn’t get, which is why, I think, the garage I spent a summer converting into my writing office is now more family room than sanctuary, as much my wife’s office (probably more, considering the amount of homework she does there) as it is mine. Consequently, as Spring’s playful glances toward this cold patch of the Pacific Northwest become longer, steadier, and the evenings are approaching a near-tropical fifty-degrees, I’m beginning to contemplate reviving my outside office, the one which saw me through my most productive writing season ever. A few years ago, from late Spring to early Fall, I managed two novels and a few short stories in that outdoor office, which consisted of an old loveseat, its ripped upholstery covered by a demoted comforter, a small end table with an AM/FM radio, and my laptop. Under the cover of the back patio roof, and still too close to the high traffic back door, I managed to make myself a fantastic nest.
I doubt if I’m unique in my preference for the outdoor nest, but I’m willing to bet I’m in the minority. The majority of writers who have described their nests to me paint a quaint picture of the quiet, dark room, seldom, of ever, visited by friends and family; a solitary place reflecting the inhabiting writer’s tastes. A place where the laboring artist can work in mostly uninterrupted peace.
Sounds nice, but alas, such has not been my experience.
It is possible to work without the benefit of the private space and closed door, but (once again, this is only my experience) having to work this way isn’t ideal, and anyone unwise enough to rouse me from my work is likely to experience the occasional, grumpy outburst. I’ve seen laboring cats do the same thing to a person unwise enough to poke their faces in too close to a dark, under-bed nest. Having been dragged up from my creative doze more than once to find a curious face hovering over my shoulder, I have to say I sympathize with the cat.
If the private room behind a closed door is simply not a possibility, you must at least try to find some other comfortable place, and do your best to convince the non-writers you cohabitate with to respect that space, at least when you happen to be occupying it. If you are going to be productive, you’ll have to convince them to respect you enough to give you some privacy while you give birth to your new masterpiece. Unfortunately, this might necessitate the occasional scratch or bite (metaphorically speaking, of course – actually biting your significant other falls well beyond the range of acceptable eccentricity), but if that’s what it takes to convince them you’re serious, and if they are going to be persistent enough in their disruptions to warrant such action, you’ll just have to bare your teeth and do it.
It beats the alternative. I’ve been desperate for privacy in my time, but never desperate enough to set up office in my dirt-floored crawl-space. Hopefully, I never will.
Once upon a time, a young writer named Brian Keene met an editor at his first World Horror Convention. The editor said, “Brian Keene? I’ve never heard of you.” Brian Keene responded, “That’s okay. You will.”
Sometime in 2004, an emerging young author named Michael McBride contacted me to write a blurb for his upcoming novella, Zero. At that time, I had a handful of magazine and anthology credits, a short story collection, and two novels. I was feeling pretty good about myself, convinced that it was only a matter of time before some paperback publisher (I had my heart set on Leisure) would offer me a deal and take me to the next level.
I was pleased with my writing, confident in my future, and, I have to be honest, a little cocky about my place in the new genre pantheon. Overconfidence and cockiness are not the greatest sins a guy in my position (gaining a readership and some credibility in small press dungeons of the horror genre, but by no means a name) could commit, but they are two serious inroads to the much greater sin of complacency.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We will get back to complacency shortly. We were talking about Michael McBride, and his flattering request for a blurb.
It was a simple enough transaction. He requested a blurb and I requested a copy of the manuscript. I read it, liked it, and provided the requested blurb.
Now fast forward one year to WHC 2005 in New York City, where I first met an amusing genre newcomer (at least I assume he was a newcomer, as I had only very recently heard of him) Jeff Strand. He was quirky, he was weird, he was over the top. He was a strange hybrid of Howard Stern and Goofy. I liked him, I wished him well in his career, but, to my shame and embarrassment, I did not take him seriously.
From then to now – Delirium Books publishes Broken Angel, then Hacks, both in hardcover limited editions. Broken Angel took almost a year to sell out its three-hundred copies, but Hacks sold out its two-hundred and fifty by publication date, which is a definite move in the right direction. My publisher told me he was confident that any Brian Knight novel he released would sell out pre-publication, if I continued to stay productive.
My swelling head grew a little larger.
And I waited, still confident that a mass market paperback deal would happen very soon.
But that paperback deal continued to not happen.
Overconfidence, cockiness, and complacency slide into frustration, inadequacy, and an inactivity that was half writer’s block, half despair. I have written in the interim, a young adult novel that really doesn’t fit the markets to which I’ve already sold, another novel that is not quite ready for an editor’s eye, a few novellas, and a handful of shorts, but production has definitely dropped.
In the meantime, writers like Michael McBride and Jeff Strand continued to work, to improve their craft and more importantly to practice their craft. They have built backlists and fan bases. They have not only caught up to me, but passed me by.
Good for them for not giving in to arrogance, complacency, or despair. They are my new heros.
Readers, keep your eyes out for the new guys and galls on the block, because you never know who’s going to blast off from the starting line of the small press and distinguish themselves. Give them a shot, and judge them on the quality of their work, not the obscurity from which they’ve come.
Fellow writers, always keep an eye out for the up and comers. The sneaky bastards are always only a few steps behind us. If we can’t squash them before they rise to challenge our positions in future publication schedules, we can at least look to them for inspiration. Their hope, drive, and dedication might help us to remember and rediscover our own hope, drive, and dedication. Newcomers often look up to their more seasoned counterparts for advice and inspiration, but how often do those more seasoned writers take them seriously enough to look back to them for the same? Perhaps they could help those of us who have been around a little longer forget our hard-earned cynicism and bitterness for a while, and remember what it was like to hope, and how satisfying it can be to write with that hope very much alive in our slightly jaded hearts.
Only a few years ago when someone I knew announced a bit of good news, a new book deal, a movie option, or a short story sale just to name a few examples, my immediate reaction would invariably be happiness for them. That kind of news always inspired me, affirmed my heartfelt belief that hard work does pay off in the end. It gave me reason to believe that if I kept it up the same would happen for me. These days, the good fortune of others (by which I mean the culmination of their hard work, constant diligence, and shear stick-to-it-ness, in the form of the kind of deal I still only dream about) brings about a stew of reactions that I don’t like to spend much time acknowledging, let alone talking about.
These days it seems the success of people who I consider (or had once considered) my contemporaries stirs up the worst in me. When I read a message board post by someone I have met/chatted with/drank with/given a cigarette to and or bummed one from/shared an elevator ride with/etc, that they have just made a multi-book deal with an editor I can’t get the time of day from, the happiness I do feel for them is dwarfed by jealously and a sense of failure. More often than not I find myself steering away from those communications, pretending those message board threads don’t exist, not reading the happy press release sent out by someone who damn well deserves every success they can get, and wishing they would just shut the hell up about it. Sometimes I’m able to squash the little green monster inside and offer my sincere congratulations, but mostly I can’t.
Sometimes I experience an actual physical reaction. I feel cold inside and all over, the same feeling I get when I realize I have screwed up some thing very simple, but very important at work or at home. The feeling that I have once again proven my incompetence through failure, and that even though I might not receive a good solid ass-chewing, I deserve one. You might know the feeling, the ice in the belly, oh-shit-I-just-fucked-up feeling. It’s funny that another’s earned success should make me feel that way, but we can’t always help the way we feel, or why we feel that way. People are strange and irrational, creative people doubly so.
Or maybe I’m just extra screwed up. I haven’t completely rule out that possibility. I don’t think that’s the case though.
I am going to make an assumption now. If it turns out to be an incorrect assumption I’m going to come out feeling very stupid. I don’t think I’m wrong though.
What I think is that this is common, and that most who experience this irrational jealously just don’t want to talk about it. It’s embarrassing, and it makes us feel like the assholes we’re afraid we might be.
Worse than that, this kind of stupid, groundless jealously is destructive to the creative process. It is anti-productive.
That little green monster will happily gobble all of your hope if you let it. Trying to ignore it won’t help you. The little green bugger doesn’t give a shit if you pay attention to him or not, as long as you keep him well fed.
I’m not fishing for sympathy or encouragement. All I want to do is drag my little green monster out into the light for a while. I have a feeling he may be familiar to some of you now reading this. I think recognizing the little devil for what he is could be the first step in dealing with him.
I do know he’s not fond of being in the spotlight. He prefers a nice dark place in which to lurk and feed. I know my little green monster doesn’t like being called out, and I have to add that dragging him out like this was not a pleasurable job. I’m glad I did though. I’m feeling better already.
First, I’d like to thank James Moore for covering my ass on the 23rd of last month. As always, his contribution was excellent. It’s pretty much a given that anything with Mr. Moore’s name on the byline will be good. If you haven’ had the opportunity to read one of his novels you’re denying yourself a treat.
Of course I happen to think all of the essays you’ll find here are good. Storytellers Unplugged is a cornucopia of advice and insight from an eclectic group of publishing pros. SU’s talent pool is such a deep one I often wonder why the hell Joe and David bother to keep me around.
Sometimes I think it’s out of a misguided sense of loyalty, since I have been here since the begining. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly cynical, I decide they’ve kept me around as a perfect example of just how unsuccessful a person can be in this business.
Only three days ago, after receiving a fresh bit of bad career news, I seriously considered saying to hell with the whole frustrating business. Surely I could find a more enjoyable and lucrative pastime. Collecting and recycling soda cans for instance.
I almost emailed Joe and Dave my resignation from Storytellers Unplugged, even after I decided (perhaps for the millionth time) to stick with the writing thing for a while longer. Compared to the other, infinitely more accomplished members of SU, what did I have to offer?
That is the question that has kept me awake and at my computer until five in the damn morning.
But I have finally figured it out. I have realized that there is one facet of this business where I have always excelled.
I am a magnificent failure.
I’ve been doing this for almost two decades now, and though I have found some limited success in the past eight years, I have still failed at my ultimate goal, not to become the next Big Name in the genre, but simply to achieve mass market success and earn enough with my writing to make it my only job.
I may or may not meet that goal eventually. It may happen in the next couple of years, or maybe in the next couple of decades, if I can continue to stick it out. It may never happen. Writers who are able to support themselves with their craft are the exception rather than the rule. However, every writer who has ever put pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard) has failed.
Failing is the first lesson every aspiring professional writer learns. Every professional storyteller, from those names displayed on the bestsellers rack to the rows upon rows of midlisters shelved at your local Hastings, began their career by failing.
There are lessons to learn in failure, and the most important is how to keep going in spite of the frustration and disappointment, how to learn from your mistakes, both in your craft and in your business, how to stack up each failure until, standing upon them, you may some day be able to reach your ultimate goal.
You learn to keep on trying.
If I can keep doing it, so can you.
I’m in a bubble-bursting mood today, but I’m not sure that’s really a bad thing. Some bubbles need bursting. Most of these little lumps of coal are meant for the newbies in this crazy business, who need every bit of advice they can get, and who also need a good bubble bursting every now and then to keep them honest.
1. All publicity is not good publicity. Rampaging across the Internet like a lunatic, making jackass posts on public forums, and starting pissing matches with people well established in the business just so people will see your name will not translate to sales. People will think you’re a moron, and will stay away in droves.
2. Sometimes, out of pure goodness, or maybe temporary insanity, a BIG NAME writer, and by BIG NAME I mean someone you’re likely to find on the shelves of any book store you visit, and often in the Best Sellers section, will stick their neck out and offer the accumulated wisdom of their experiences, both good and bad.
You may or may not like what they have to say (this depends largely on your ability to accept reality), but calling them out as elitists and pissing on their advice is one of the worst things you could do. You will look stupid, and the BIG NAME in question will decide trying to help the new generation of writers is not worth the hassle.
People will remember that you are the reason one of their favorite writers no longer posts on that particular forum, and they will hate you for it. See above – All publicity is not good publicity.
3. Writers are crazy. Failed writers are crazy and hostile. New and inexperienced writers are crazy and desperate. Handle all the above with care.
4. Five years is too long to wait for an editor’s yay or nay, but sometimes we still have to wait.
5. You are not the next Harlan Ellison or Brian Keene. Pretending you are will only make you look foolish.
6. You are not the next Stephen King or Peter Straub. Telling people you are will only make you look foolish.
7. People love to speculate and gossip. Writers aspire to speculate and gossip for a living. Be careful which of your writer acquaintances you confide in, or you may find the most sensitive aspects of your private life made the topic of the day on one or more of your favorite writer’s message boards.
8. You can’t polish a turd.
9. If you publish your turd through Lulu.com or Publish America, you will still only have a turd (and a large hole in your bank account that said turd will never be able to fill).
10. A large percentage of the people who need this advice will call me an elitist snob and ignore it. To the remaining percentage, who are at least willing to consider this type of advice, good luck to you! May the coming year be a productive, and instructive, one.
In the summer of 1995 I decided to get serious about something that had, up until that point, been not much more than an occasional hobby, one I took up every now and then to amuse my friends and myself. Every now and then I would write a short story, realize that I was probably the best writer since Stephen King, submit it to a couple of magazines, realize I sucked, then give it up for a while.
This time I was serious! I would paper the house with my rejection letters, I thought (not knowing just how close to the truth that thought was), until I finally sold my story.
My problem, I realized, was that I was writing short stories when I should be concentrating on a novel. Short stories were a waste of time. I certainly wasn’t going to get rich selling shorts.
I broke out my old Brother word processor, tracked down the floppy disk with the first few pages of an abandoned novel, and dedicated myself to finishing it.
This was my second attempt at a novel, the first having ended badly some five years previous when I loaned the first fifty handwritten, my only copy of them, to a girl I worked with (and had a huge crush on). The girl, Jennifer, forgot those pages after a late shift. The next morning the janitor found them on the break table and threw them out.
After another six months or so of working on second novel, the one I resumed while working a five dollar an hour construction job in Mountain Home, Idaho (an odd name for the town, since Mountain Home was splat in the middle of southern Idaho desert, and there was not a mountain in sight).
Some Kind of Hero, it was called.
Some Kind of Hero might have made a good comic book in the right hands, but as a novel, my novel, it stunk on ice. My first complete novel, much like other first novels I imagine, was not worth the stamps it cost to mail out submission packets. I eventually lost count of the number of submissions I made. I sent them to publishers, both large and small, and agents, and the only interest I generated was from a vanity publisher and a guy called Bill Appel from a company called Edit Ink.
These letters of interest came as a surprise, since I made a point of not sending subs to vanity publishers, and I had never even heard of Edit Ink, and in both cases, after coming down from my euphoria (Oh my god! They like me! They really, really like me!), I decided that Edit Ink was likely an expensive scam, and vanity publishing would be an empty victory. I am luckier (or maybe just smarter) than a lot of would be authors who threw money away on Edit Ink’s special services, but maybe not much luckier (or smarter). I was raising a family of four on five dollars an hour, and my wife did not work, so I didn’t really have the money to spend on them.
I have since deduced how Edit Ink got their info on me. Another agent sent me a rejection letter, with a request to resend the material once Edit Ink has had a chance to work with it. This rejection came with a very informative brochure about Edit Ink and their services.
I sometimes wonder how many agents and publishers were in on that scam with Edit Ink. I wonder if anyone other than Bill Appel and his partner in crime, Denise Sterrs, knows just how far spread this Quid Pro Quo went. I do know that Edit Ink set up fake agencies and publishing houses whose only purpose was to refer writers back to them.
A few years later another agent, responding to a query concerning my next novel, the equally horrible Black Day, requested that I seek out the services of Edit Ink and then resubmit. I rewrote the novel myself, even paid a local English professor to help me edit, and then resubmitted the work to her. It was, of course, rejected, as it should have been. It just wasn’t very good. Given the Edit Ink ties, however, I question whether she even read the resubmitted work.
I never did seek the services of Edit Ink, but they didn’t let that discourage them. I’m guessing quite a few of the agents I queried were affiliated with Mr. Appel, because he eventually took a personal interest and contacted me. He called my wife while I was at work, told her he was an editor, and that he was interested in one of my manuscripts.
I did return that call, thinking he was a real editor, and I still count that return call as one of the biggest disappointments in my life.
I can feel this wanting to veer off course and become a rant against agents, and I don’t want that to happen. Writers need agents. Despite my less than stellar past relationships with them, I’m still trying to land one. Maligning an entire branch of the literary field because of the sins of a few wont help me, and letting my frustration with a few crooked agents color your perception of them won’t help you.
This essay is not about agents. It is about vampires, bloodsuckers, leaches, and bottom feeders. This rant is about the people who put on pretender’s hats and call themselves editor, book doctor, and yes, sometimes agent.
After the multi-million dollar civil action filed against Bill Appel and Denise Sterrs by New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, I assumed that Edit Ink had been shut down, but upon further research, I’ve discovered that they may still be in business, pending an appeal.
Still in business, scamming naive writers.
Also still in business, the agent who referred them to me after receiving a query for Black Day, one Alison J. Picard.
Writer beware. Here there be monsters.
New writers need to know that these people are still out there, spewing false promises from their lying pie-holes, patting us on the back with one hand and picking our pockets with the other. Still trying to get their greedy mitts on our money. New writers must research every individual and business with which they intend to do business.
Google.com is your friend.
There are other online resources available to writers. In this era of the information super-highway, it has never been easier to arm yourself against the scumbags and swindlers who make their living off the trusting and naive.
There is Preditors and Editors. Yes, I know predators is misspelled. I assume they did it intentionally.
There is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. I am not a member. I am not yet accomplished enough to meet their membership standards, but their website is still a valuable source of information.
There is www.duotrope.com.
There is www.ralan.com.
There is the account of Matthew Warner’s personal experiences with Edit Ink at Horror World.
There are also countless writers groups and communities on the web. If you’ve found your way to Storytellers Unplugged, chances are you already found one or more of these. Seek out the real pros in these groups, and by pros I mean writers who have worked with established houses, writers who write for a living, working with publishers who publish for a living. The guy who just sold his bukkake haiku to Billy-Bob’s Poetry Slam webzine may have good intensions, but any advice he offers is likely to be less than sound.
As long as you’re already here, look up and down the contributor’s list. Most of the folks on it are much more qualified to give advice than I am. Stick around and get to know them. If you have even a scrap of talent and dedication, you could benefit from their experiences and advice.
Don’t take my word for anything.
“The waiting is the hardest part.”
Tell me about it, brother. I’m a writer, not yet a professional one (by my standards anyway) but I keep trying. I devote about three hours a day to writing. The other twenty-one hours I spend waiting.
My current worry stones include three novellas sent to three different publishers, all out about three months, two novels to one publisher, one at around four years and the other at two, a comic script sitting with an editor for close to four years, and yet another novel I’ve been waiting to hear back on for close to a year. None of these response times are out of the norm or out of line. Publishing (or even failing to get published) is a slow process. There are also a half-dozen or so agents, some of whom I’ve met in person at one convention or another, and who have requested, face to face, to see my work. They always give a timeframe in which to contact them if I haven’t heard back. I never do hear back, and when I send them the requested reminder, it also goes unanswered.
I’ve nearly given up on agents.
I am confident I will get a thumbs up or down from most of the above-mentioned editors eventually, a few others I am confident I will never hear back from.
Brush-offs, like waiting, are a part of the game. You learn to deal with them.
Now before this descends into a rant (I can feel it wanting to veer that way already), I’m going to hand over the reigns to three true professionals in the field. These three men are a part of the reason the horror genre is thriving today. They are responsible for tapping some of the greatest talent in the horror, suspense, and thriller genres. They are, in part, the reason I’m loosing my hair at 34 and squeal like a little girl every time I hear my email go off.
Lets have a big hand for Shane Staley (Delirium Books), Larry Roberts (Bloodletting Press), and Don D’Auria (Leisure Books). I’ve asked the three of them a series of questions, and they’ve taken time from their very busy schedules to answer them for us. They have also offered words of general advice.
Aspiring writers, pay attention.
If you are not an aspiring writer, but simply follow Storytellers Unplugged as part of a general interest in the world of publishing, you should find this interesting. You’ve probably been reading the various rants and tirades of frustrated writers for years, so here’s a rare opportunity for you to get a view from the other side of the editor’s desk.
In the interest of clarity, because far too many aspiring authors don’t understand the difference between solicited and unsolicited submissions … a solicited manuscript is one that an editor has asked you to send, either in response to a query letter, or just because they dig your work. An unsolicited manuscript is one that they have no idea is coming to them.
Now without further pontification, I give you Shane, Larry, and Don!
Q: How many submissions do you receive in a month’s time, and how many hours a day, on average, are you able to devote to reading submitted manuscripts?
Shane: Delirium receives 50-100 unsolicited, non-book length submissions per month. Delirium isn’t open to unsolicited full-length manuscripts throughout the year, so in addition to that, we receive about 75-125 solicited full length manuscripts throughout the year.
I usually devote an entire weekend, once a month, to unsolicited submissions. I review solicited manuscripts weekly, when I have time, usually spending an average of 1-2 hours per day.
Larry: We receive about 25 unsolicited manuscripts a month of which I can personally get to only about five to seven. So as you can see the pile just gets bigger and bigger. However we’ve recently taken on some new readers that will help us make future decisions on manuscripts. So our hope it to get a better turnaround time for the writer while continuing to increase the quality.
Don: It varies wildly and I’ve never sat down to do an actual count, but I would guess the average number per month is somewhere between seventy-five and a hundred. Plus queries. I hardly ever have time in the office to do any reading. Most of the day in the office is spent doing other things, like answering emails and phone calls, having meetings, writing copy, etc. So I do most of my reading at home at nights or on weekends.
Shane: Unsolicited manuscript, 3-8 months. Solicited, generally less than 3 months. Longest I’ve held a manuscript was a year.
Larry: It sometimes it takes us 6 months to give an answer on a book. We recently accepted a manuscript that we had in our “to be read pile” for five months.
Writers need to know that if your story is a good one then it will find its way into print. Believe in yourself and your story.
Don: Given the number of submissions I get, you can understand how it could take me longer than I’d like to read them all. I wish I could get through them faster, but I appreciate the authors’ patience. I can’t really pin down estimated times for different submissions because there are so many factors involved. But in general, the “no’s” come back much quicker than the “yeses.”
Shane: Simultaneous submissions. When I devote time to someone’s work, that’s an investment by me. So it’s quite a loss of time and money when I go to accept a submission only to find out that the author has placed it elsewhere and is awaiting a response from another publisher. At which time, I generally withdraw my offer to publish the manuscript. Delirium’s submission policy states clearly that we do not accept simultaneous submissions.
Larry: Receiving manuscripts without solicitation has become troublesome only because I feel a responsibility to the author. I know the writers have often put many months into the creation of the work and I feel a responsibility to that creative process by giving it a chance at success. As our press grows this is getting harder and harder to do.
Don: One thing that annoys me is when authors choose not to send me what I’ve asked for. I’ll often ask for the first three chapters and a synopsis. But I’ve had authors tell me the first three chapters aren’t very good, so they’re sending me three chapters selected from various places throughout the novel. Or they’ll tell me they don’t have a synopsis and don’t want to write one. I’m also not crazy about authors who send me four or five manuscripts at the same time and tell me to pick one.
Q: What can an author do, aside from sending you a great story, to improve their chances placing work with you?
Shane: Get excited about the work you’ve submitted and be eager to help the publisher get it out to the readers if accepted. Marketing and self-promotion go a long way in decision-making.
Larry: It would be helpful to send a synopsis of the first three chapters of the story. The most valuable commodity for a publisher is time and anything you can do to help him will be greatly appreciated and likely rewarded. Also a little cover sheet about yourself and your writing. I always like knowing something about the author I’m reading. Also read some of the books that we pu
blish, if you send me a fantasy, complete with elves and dragons, you’re just wasting both our time and future manuscripts from the author will likely make it to the bottom of the pile.
Don: Be professional. Check out our guidelines. Make sure what you’re submitting fits what we publish. Submit your work in a professional format. That means double-spaced, neatly typed in a decent-sized font. Don’t go out of your way to make it harder for me to read your work.
Q: These days, thanks to the Internet, writers are able to interact with readers, potential readers, and possible business contacts in ways that were not possible only a few decades ago. Sometimes however, that can be more a curse than a blessing. Does a writer’s online antics, embarrassing behavior, or bad reputation have an effect on your decision to publish or reject them?
Shane: It does. The thing is that there are an over-abundance of great writers out there. Publishers, particular small press ones, really have the freedom to pick and choose who they want to publish and promote. Personally, I’d rather deal with someone I like, who is also a great author, than someone I personally don’t care for and who is a great author.
For me, it’s all about building a relationship with an author and building a business plan. Trying to promote an author and my company at the same time. And, of course, I want the right personnel to represent my company.
Larry: Authors are artist, and as artists they can be a bit eccentric. Let’s face it these folks spend a lot of time in imaginary worlds of their own making and that’s enough to make anyone a little different. I’m more concerned with the story than the authors online persona.
I prefer working with an author that is not going to forget that he or she has written the book as soon as we accept the manuscript. Those authors that promote their work and my press in any format will likely see me asking for more manuscripts in the future.
Don: That’s an interesting question. I suppose in a perfect world the only thing that would matter would be the quality of the writing, but I can imagine extreme cases where behavior or antics would color my decision. For example, if an author were notoriously erratic and unreliable, I might wonder about how he would meet deadlines. Or if he were found to have plagiarized in the past. If an author is abusive, belligerent and insulting to everyone, I’d wonder how difficult he’d be to work with or how good he would be at public appearances. Sure, if a manuscript is brilliant I’ll put up with a lot, but if I have to choose between two equal manuscripts, I’ll pick the one by the author I’ll be able to work with. But again, this would only be in very extreme cases. I browse a lot of the message boards and websites and I’ve seen a lot of posts by and about authors, but I can’t remember anything yet that made me think, “Hmm, I’d better stay away from that guy.” Writers are human just like anybody else, and everybody does something embarrassing now and then. It’s a stretched simile, but think of the internet as a bar and me as someone who’ll be interviewing you later for a job. Chances are, there isn’t much you could do in the bar that would make much difference to me, but if I saw you sucker punch an old lady and steal her purse, it could have an effect on how your interview goes.
Now, a bit of general advice from the editors:
Shane: Believe in yourself and your work. Take an active role beyond just being an author. In this day and age, promoting yourself and your work is important.
Larry: Don’t stop, keep writing every day and perfecting your craft. Believe in your voice and your work.
Don: The best advice I can give writers regarding submissions is to be patient. It may be tempting to try to force an answer from an editor, but the only answer an editor can give quickly is “no.”
Well, there you have it. Nothing much I can add, except to say thanks to Shane, Larry, and Don for their time.
Until next time,
(Quick note from the wings…Elizabeth Massie sends greetings from the land of overwhelming deadlines, down there by that Myth Pool. She’ll be back next month, entertaining as ever. In the meantime, here is a special extra bite out of Brian Knight’s Mind – DNW)
By Brian Knight
Be silent in that solitude
Which is not loneliness, for then
The Spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.
– Edgar Allan Poe, Spirits of the Dead
I’m going to admit to something right here and now, something I’ve never admitted (at least not while sober) in my life; not to my mother, my wife, my friends, or, in my very brief religious period, my pastor.
There are people living in my head. Men, women, and children. A whole fucking legion of them, and they speak to me almost constantly. Most of them are too uninteresting to hold my attention for long, or only speak to me a couple of times before moving along to whatever purgatory awaits uninteresting figments. Some, however, are very persistent. They camp out at the threshold of my consciousness and hold court with each other, telling their stories to each other within earshot of an unwitting eavesdropper.
They know I’m here, of course, but like the vampires or demons in old folk stories, they will not, or cannot, leave the shadows and enter the place in my mind where I live my daily life, my home, unless I invite them.
Sometimes, because of who I am and what I do, I will invite them in. Sometimes they ignore me, or flee my invite never to return. Sometimes they come to me with a smile and say, “It’s about damn time.”
One of them was a WW2 era German Pilot involved in strange and horrific Black Ops missions. One is a sick old man haunted by the ghost of his long dead first love, which has taken up residence in an old Ford Falcon. There is a whole gaggle of teenage girls, some of whom have already made themselves comfortable in my head and some who are still waiting in the wings for their time to join the party. They like to tell me stories about a dangers they’ve faced, monsters they’ve fought, and magic they’ve done.
The latter have already told me two of their stories, and they were good. Unlike most of the people living in my head, those girls have not move along once our business was finished. They wait still, and rather impatiently, for another turn to take over my brain.
Some, sadly, die before their stories are finished, and instead of moving from the questionable gray matter between my ears to the page of a novel, novella, or short story, they go to the bone yard.
Their unfinished tales go into a folder reserved for failed stories, and then I forget about them.
Sometimes, however, the dead, even if they were never really real to begin with, do not rest in peace. Sometimes they come back, and having already been invited once before, shove everyone else aside and begin talking again. Sometimes they continue their old, dead story where they left off, but most often they have something completely new to say.
For me, as a writer, this presents a very uncomfortable choice. Do I piss off my other invited guests by shushing them so I can hear my ghost, or do I ignore it until it goes away again?
It depends on the liveliness of the particular ghost, and how interesting its story is, but one thing I have noticed in retrospect is that some of my best stories were once ghosts, until that is, I put them on paper and gave them the energy they needed to live again.
As Stephen King once wrote, sometimes the dead speak, and boy howdy, can they tell a good story.
by Brian Knight
This happens to me all the time, so I should be well prepared for it by now, but it still catches me off guard every time. It’s the question everyone seems to pose to me after finding out I’m a writer (that is if they don’t head for the hills when they find out what I write).
This last time it came from an unexpected source, an extremely religious co-worker who couldn’t make it past page 1 of Hacks (I told him it wouldn’t be his cup of tea!), and though I don’t think he meant it that way, it was possibly the most obnoxious way anyone has ever asked The Question.
“So, Brian, when you publish those books of yours, do you have to take out a loan to pay for it?”
For a moment, I didn’t know how to respond. I searched his face for any sign of a smile. I hoped he was only pulling my leg.
He wasn’t. He was dead serious.
My other co-worker (it’s a small office, only three people) must have sensed the tension, because he dropped what he was doing immediately and turned to see what was up.
He was smiling. He knew he was about to get a good show.
When I regained the power of speech, I launched into a five-minute rant about how publishing works. I’m talking real publishing, as opposed to the do-it-yourself-publishers, most of whom don’t want to be bothered with such real world concerns as originality and quality (rant alert – most of the so-called envelope-pushers who self publish their work via Publish America and Lulu like to call their abuse of the rules of grammar Experimental, but leaving the “Speech Tags” out of the dialog in your novel isn’t innovative, it’s just dumb).
By the time I was finished, co-worker #1 looked thoroughly chastised and much more knowledgeable about the weird world of publishing than he ever wanted to be, and co-worker #2 was snickering over his paperwork.
I’ll admit he hit a nerve. Perhaps my reaction was a bit over the top, but it seems like everyone in my life, from family to casual acquaintances, assumes that because I’m not as famous as Dean Koontz, or because I still work a regular day job, I’m something less than professional in my aspirations. They hear Small Press and equate it with Self Publishing. I feel like I’m always having to explain myself to people.
It gets old after a while.
I’m beginning to realize how very few people are actually aware of the small press, and find myself brainstorming ways to fix that problem.
This is what I’ve come up with…
Jeff Strand appears on Oprah to promote his upcoming collection, Thunder from My Backside and Other Stinky Stories.
America’s Funniest Home Videos airs a fan submitted tape of Brian Keene reading rants from Hail Saten, crazy drunk and swigging from a bottle of Knob Creek.
Weston Ochse and Yvonne Navarro make a special appearance on Punk’d and beat the crap out of Ashton Kutcher.
Brian Knight appears on The Howard Stern Show and gets a Brazilian Bikini Wax while reading from his upcoming novella, 1200 AM Live.
Shane Staley appears on a special Delirium edition of The Apprentice, where he cuts random authors from the Delirium Stable.
Sean Wallace appears on a special Wildside Press edition of The Batchelor, where he finally gets some hot action.
These are all great angles, in my opinion, and would certainty turn a few eyes toward the small press. Execution might be a problem though.
Perhaps something a little lower key, and a little easier to execute.
How about a mass donation of small press titles from publishers to university libraries, maybe an effort to book appearances by small press authors to meet with students interested in breaking into publishing.
How about more aggressive marketing campaigns by the authors themselves, with an emphasis on local radio, local cable shows, local papers. The key word here is local. Every small press author should make a greater effort to educate those around them, and to expose their communities to the wider literary world the small press presents.
This is not meant to take anything away from the mass market, but to expose smaller authors to greater audiences, priming them for ascent to the mass market.
Just brainstorming here.
If you can come up with something better, please share. If we can educate potential readers en mass, maybe small press authors and publishers won’t have to explain themselves quite so often.