Monday, 28 May 2018

What Really Matters (in writing and beyond)



These past couple of days, I've been trying to come up with a snazzy writing-related post, but my brain has gone numb, for a reason which I'm sure y'all will understand when I tell you... a dear friend of mine unexpectedly passed away last week, and I can scarcely think of anything else.

This friend had a true gift for words and was a much more talented writer than I could ever become, but she set aside any systematic/professional approach to her skills in favor of being a full-time mother to a large family of children (and, in time, grandma to several grandchildren as well). She was passionately in love with her family and fiercely protective of her time, refusing to indulge in anything that would unnecessarily draw her away from her children. (You know that moment when you're mumbling, "uh-huh, honey," and your eyes are glued to the screen while you are hypnotized by your Facebook feed? Or is it just me? Well, at any rate, it wasn't her. She would drop any nonessential in a blink of an eye and focus on what really mattered. She had that gift).

I talk so much of writing, marketing, publishing, etc, on this blog, that it's sometimes easy for people to forget writing is but a tiny fraction of my life. So let's get real. At this season, I spend far more time in the kitchen than writing. Or sitting on the couch nursing the baby, while checking the older children's schoolwork or reading aloud from some current favorite (right now we're deep into Harry Potter, which my kids love as much as I do).

Is this all bliss? Do I sometimes roll my eyes when a 3-year-old hollers, "Mom, I peed my pants"? You betcha. But you know what? I'm on my fourth baby right now, and though there are days that seem to stretch like chewing gum on a hot summer afternoon, in truth you just blink and they are grown before you can tell how it happened. So I'm just enjoying those precious snuggles, giggles, read-alouds, shoes on the wrong feet, and the boundless creativity of childhood.

When my kids grow up, I want them to be able to say, "Our Mom is a writer, and so when we were growing up she would make up stories for us, and draw dragons and secret maps, and teach us to really love a good book"; not "Our Mom is a writer, and when we were little she could hardly unglue her eyes from her laptop screen."

I'm not really missing anything vital in not being able to keep up with it all, all the time. Being a mother makes me a better writer. Living life inevitably makes one a better writer.

Here's a quote from my friend, who was more like a spiritual mother to me, and whom I will miss every day of my life:

"Just do the next thing, and let the next thing be loving and caring for the people in your life. Everything else can wait, and will be all the sweeter for having done so."

RIP, dear soul. Thank you for teaching me so much about what really matters in this life, and in the one beyond. May the winds speed your ship as you sail west from Grey Havens.

Monday, 21 May 2018

How to hunt for a literary agent (without losing your mind)

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Here is a question I recently encountered on one of the writing forums I frequent:

"I just completed my first book. How do I go about finding a literary agent?"

Well, after a handful of queried manuscripts, and over a hundred rejection emails, I thought I might just chime in with a bit of advice:

1. Stock up on coffee, chocolate, ice cream and all your favorite movies, because it's going to be a long wait, and you'll need those things to sustain you and keep you from going mental.

2. Slavishly follow the agents you have queried on social media. Like their Facebook posts, retweet their tweets, wish them happy birthday, and furiously unfollow them six months later when they finally deign to make one click and send the pre-written "Dear Author, we regretfully inform you that your work is not quite what we are looking for."

3. Don't jump out of the shower when you get an email notification ding on your phone at 10 PM on Saturday night. Agents have better things to do than respond to slush pile submissions on Saturday night. Or in December. Or in July and August. Or, let's face it, almost always.

4. Write something else. Preferably something you can viably self-publish. This way, you won't feel like you're writing career (bwahaha) is stuck.

5. Try to refrain from begging, bribing, stalking, or flying "Please Represent Me" banners from a hot air balloon opposite the agent's apartment window. Getting arrested is one way to publicity, but use it as a last resort.

6. You might as well not bother at all. Go indie. Or tell your best friend to tie you up until you get over the writing bug and forsake it in favor of a more profitable career, such as sweeping the streets. But if you insist on trying the trad pub route, compartmentalize. Set aside a chunk of time each month for researching agents and querying, and refuse to think about it until next month.

7. If you receive a request for a partial or full manuscript, do a triumphant war dance, because you've beaten the odds. But it's still normal for an agent to forget about your existence, or reply a couple of years later saying they'll have to pass eventually. Then, given the length of time involved, you are left wondering what they mean by "have to pass" (lame black humor, ha ha... why aren't you laughing?)

8. Don't take all that crowd all too seriously. You can bet they aren't taking us authors all too seriously. Always laugh a little. Be professional and respectful, but lighten up. Many excellent and successful authors never do get an agent.

9. Don't assume your writing sucks because you can't get an agent. But don't assume, either, that you're a perfect shiny diamond and have no room for improvement, and should just publish your first draft and wait for the millions to start rolling in. Because that might, ahem, take a while.

10. Writing is part of life. Live life so you have stuff to write about. Go play with your kids, plant a garden, or get together with friends (remember friends? Those people whose phone calls you don't have time to answer because you've been so busy writing and querying?).

Don't let agent hunting take over your life, because if you do, you'll end up nuttier than extra crunchy peanut butter.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Last Outpost sequel coming up

Though I'm mostly busy breastfeeding and changing diapers these days, with many sleepless nights and bleary-eyed mornings, I've been slowly but steadily working on a sequel to The Last Outpost. It will be called The Ice Fortress, and both books will be part of the new Frozen World series. 

Like its prequel, The Ice Fortress is an environmental science fiction novel set in Antarctica, with dashes of the prehistorical, mysterious indigenous people, and government conspiracy. There's plenty of excitement to come!

In the meantime, take a look at this teaser trailer made by a friend who preferred to remain anonymous: 
And, if you would like a free intro to the series, download The Frozen Shore - a story of a primeval battle that tells how it all began.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Predator Publishers: what to beware of in publishing contracts

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Many authors, unfortunately, find themselves locked into unfair, unprofessional, or downright predatory publishing contracts. It happens for several reasons, the chief of which, in my opinion, is the following: we are so desperate for acknowledgement, so tired of getting rejected all the time, that once someone contacts us with praise for our work and a publishing deal offer, it's extremely hard to resist. 

The sad fact is that many publishing contracts, even with the Big 5, are extremely author-unfriendly, with low royalty rates and signing away of all book rights in all languages and formats, worldwide. Here are, however, some problematic clauses to look out for:

1. Unfair non-competition clauses: many authors are genre authors, writing exclusively romance or suspense or fantasy. If your publishing contract prohibits you to independently publish anything within the same genre during a certain period of time, this may harm your livelihood. This is not the same as a legitimate commitment not to publish anything in the same world/series/characters within the time frame of the contract. 

2. Upfront payments: any direct or disguised clause that means an author has to pay for editing/cover design/marketing or any other services is a sure sign to run for the hills. If you give up your book rights and the lion's share of royalties, you are entitled not to pay for anything. In legitimate contracts, cash always flows towards the author, not the other way around. 

3. Lack of clarity: what happens if the publisher goes out of business, or one of the sides wishes to terminate the contract? These things happen, and there are many stories out there of authors who found themselves in the legal bind of a contract they don't know how to extract themselves from. 

Some red flags that might put you on guard:

1. The publisher is very new, little known, or both. The publishing business is extremely unstable and, unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a publisher. Don't be anyone's guinea pig.

2. The publisher's website either doesn't supply any information about their books, or the books have shoddy covers, fake-looking reviews, or bottom rankings. 

3. A Google search reveals authors telling about horrible experience with the publisher. Yes, there is such a thing as slander, but if several people are telling the same story, there's probably a grain of truth in it. Do your research. 

Also read this hilarious (but very informative) post about shady publishers.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The virtue of humility, or another take on the Cocky Trademark Saga

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Today, I was going to do a post on publishing contracts, but was distracted by the hailstorm of threads on my Twitter and Facebook feed regarding a certain author who decided to trademark the word "cocky". After I managed to pop my eyes back in, I realized that, though many people have covered this already, I can't pass the issue on my own soapbox here.

For me, a romance read means Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy, so I'm usually detached from what goes on in the sub-community of indie contemporary romance authors, but this was so much talked of that I had to read up. At first I thought this must be a joke, a ploy to grab some attention. I mean, it's absurd, right? For a few minutes I had fun imagining what would happen if fantasy authors tried to trademark words like "dragon", "quest", or "sorcerer".

Then I realized this is for real. That authors are actually threatened with lawsuits, and that some have been bullied into changing their book titles. I find it symbolic that "cocky" was the trademarked word, as I can't think of anything cockier to do, and I don't mean that in a good way.

And I just wanted to tell you guys a little something.

For years, I have existed on a lonely little planet of my own, where I wrote stories and put them in a bottomless drawer, to be let out "someday". When the "someday" came, one of the first things I realized was my own insignificance.

I realized I'm a drop of water in an ocean of authors and books. Whatever idea, plot, premise, characters, or title I might be able to come up with, it is almost guaranteed someone had written something similar - to a certain degree, at least - before. I'm not saying this to discourage, but to clarify that we, as humans, all have a common denominator, and that all the great and touching tales in human history have the same elements repeated over and over again - love, honor, courage, betrayal, loyalty, death, tragedy, victory of good over evil. It can and is and will be retold countless times, and the uniqueness of it is not in the plot, or premise, or name, but in our individual touch as authors, which can't be copied or reproduced.

That touch and voice is our true trademark, though we don't need a license to obtain it.

My fantasy trilogy is titled Quest of the Messenger. I tried running a Google search with this title and came up with a handful of Quests and Messengers, all related to epic fantasy in some way. Am I supposed to go berserk and cry "plagiarism"? Or should I keep on building a personal relationship with my readers, so that nobody who cares would confuse my books with anything else?

To me, the answer is obvious. Bullying and absurd legalisms are not the way to gain fans or sales. It's cheap, childish, pathetic, and absolutely ineffective. Uniqueness can't be forced, and it hardly exists in this book-saturated little universe of ours. Just be the best writer you can, look for your voice, and use it.

Best of luck to you, me, and us all.