Spring Into Books!

If you live in Utah there is a great event going on today from 2-6 in West Jordan at the Viridian Center. It’s all about books! There will be authors there doing signings and selling books. Classes for up and coming writers. Food trucks. Carnival games! It’s a family friendly and fun way to spend the afternoon! It even looks like the weather is going to cooperate with us for a change. So bring the kids and come on by!

springintobooks

The Easiest Way to Stay IN the Slush Pile

red penIt’s a funny thing to think about wanting to stay in the slush pile, but really your goal is to stay in the slush pile long enough to be published. This means you don’t want to do anything which would get you kicked out of that pile before your desired agent or editor even looks at you!

So, here’s the secret. The easiest way to stay in the slush pile? Do your research and FOLLOW the submission guidelines. Every agent or editor or publishing house or anyone who wants to see your work (from flash fiction to epic series) will have submission guidelines. Most of them will be associated with the business webpage and will be very easy to find. If you can’t find the guidelines you can also look on Query Tracker or Absolute Write or Manuscript Wish List or one of the many publications which go out with agent and editor information in them (This isn’t even CLOSE to a full list, there are lots of ways to find the information). This really and truly isn’t hard and publishing professionals WANT you to be able to find them. They won’t hide their submissions or otherwise try to trick you.

Now, I’ve heard the argument from various writers that they shouldn’t have to follow the guidelines because they don’t agree with them. Another argument is that if you follow the guidelines you won’t stand out from the crowd. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you agree, it’s not your agency or publishing house, and you will stand out from the crowd, but not in a good way, in an auto reject way. Very very rarely do gimmicks and efforts to get around the rules to be special work, and for the once in a blue moon that an oddity does work there are thousands of similar attempts which didn’t.

Publishing folks have guidelines because they are busy and because they often hand over the first pass slush responsibilities to interns/juniors and to late nights. I know we all want to feel like a priority, but these folks have clients and businesses to run. Clients represent real money, a bird in hand. New authors represent only potential money, and may not even be a bird in a bush but an octopus. They must attend to the real money first, no matter how much they LOVE finding new talent. A lot of slush gets done on the weekends, vacations and late nights and they have to make the process as simple as possible for THEM, or they have to close to subs.

One of the other factors in submission guidelines is that publishing professionals aren’t only looking for an amazing story, but also amazing people to work with. The guidelines are also a test to see if you can follow instructions and are good to work with. If you can’t be bothered to create a double spaced format, or send in exactly what they ask for it’s a sign you may be a nightmare to work with and it’s better to boot you now.

Back in my college days I read slush as the Executive Secretary for The Leading Edge. One of my jobs was to open the mail, respond to non submission letters, log the submissions and break them into groups of thirty. Then myself and the Executive Editors would each take several piles and read every story looking for pieces which shouldn’t be passed on to the rest of the editorial team.

I had a stack of submission guidelines and form rejections at hand and in any stack¬† I would reject 10-15 submission out of hand because they were: the wrong genre (we only published SF/F), too long or too short for what we could print (when the whole magazine has to be under 100 pages we cannot print your 300 page novel), too badly formatted to be read (I got one written in what looked remarkably like eyebrow pencil. It smudged.), or broke our content rules on language and sexual content (seriously do not send your erotica to a magazine run by a religious school. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, not that shocking, and will not get published). Each of those subs got a form rejection letter and a copy of the guidelines, usually with a note or a highlight of the guideline which had been broken. We encouraged folks to resubmit within the guidelines. It rarely happened.

Is it possible that in those stacks of rejections there was golden material missed? Sure. It’s possible. However, we got hundreds of submissions every week and the material which was passing the guidelines was amazing. We really had no need to go digging after the hard stuff in order to fill our magazine with fantastic material, and we had a lot to do besides slush reading to put out two issues a year.

This same process still happens everywhere that submissions are accepted, though now most houses have moved to electronic subs and rejections. Increase your odds of staying in those submission piles by making life easy for publishing professionals. Make sure you know what their specific submission guidelines are and then follow them to the letter. No pictures, no phone calls, no food, no scents, no weird paper, just no… Play within the rules and you’ll have a better chance of winning the game.

You Can Go Your Own Way

When Fleetwood Mac wrote about going your own way they were referring to love, but I find there are a lot of places where this idea applies to writing. But here’s a link anyway, because…Fleetwood Mac on a Wednesday.

You Can Go Your Own Way

This subject came to mind this morning as I was scrolling through FB and watching the posts of many writers who stay up until all hours to get their word count in. There are funny comments about staggering around on too little sleep and missing their beds in exchange for word count. And for a moment, I felt bad. I felt like I might be doing it wrong, because I don’t stay up late save on deadlines and other occasions where the book really grabs me and demands a late night write.

Then it occurred to me that I have no reason to feel that way because there is no one path to success, or word count. For me a 10 pm bedtime means I’m capable of being a good mommy (Including being up from 4-5 singing the toddler back to sleep because she dreamed there were spiders in her bed.), and a better wife as the hubby and I get up at 6 so he can head to work. It means my body feels better and works better while fighting fibromyalgia.

So I get my count done in other ways. I’ve worked out a system with the husband for 2-3 nights a week when he watches the child and I write from dinner until bedtime. I ponder stories while we go to the park and weed the garden. I write dialog in my head while I do laundry. And yeah, I take the laptop up with me during bath time and write while the toddler pretends she’s a fish. 15 minutes here. 20 minutes there. Technical writing. Editing. Creative writing. It all gets done. It works and I get the sleep and exercise and family time I need to be a whole person.

Remember the idea of the starving, crazy artist isn’t something to aspire to (except where crazy is the fun kind of crazy, go with me here). So find your own way, but in a way where you take care of the writing and you take care of you and those who are most important to you. The writing will be better for it.

So crank up the Mac and boogie on down, Your Own Way.

Peanut butter in my chocolate

Last year I released a book, if you’ve been visiting this website for more than a post or two you’ve prolly heard me squee over it, and I was fortunate enough to get a mention of Desert Rains on Book View Cafe by Sherwood Smith. Being part of her round up was thrilling, but in the comments I found some interesting and disturbing ideas.

Desert Rains is unapologetically a genre mash up. It brings in elements of the classic Western and elements of Science Fiction and wraps both of those around a romance. This wasn’t something I really planned to do, but when I came up with the outline all of these pieces were already in place. I tend to compare it to the television show Firefly but with more kissing and a smaller cast. It was fun to write and went very quickly, but as it has made its way out into the world I’ve found it to be much more divisive than I ever thought it would be, and this is reflected in those Book View comments.

Some people really love the cross over of genres, and the way those things come together. Others get down right irritable at the thought of a Western with Science Fiction elements or Fantasy contaminated with Romance. And often these opinions are formed without even reading the book! So it always reminds me of the commercials about how a peanut butter cup was created and that some people are purists and want chocolate alone and others are willing to try mixing it up.

I don’t mind either position, but one thing I did mind was the assumption that, as the author, I didn’t know what I was doing or had chosen to mix genres only so that I could expand the keywords or categories the book shows up in. I found this a boggling position, particularly as the commenter had only read the first three pages of the book. I don’t mind that the commenter was a genre purist (even though it’s always ironic to be tagged as not being geek enough) but I do mind the ‘just to sell’ aspect of the comment.

Very rarely do authors sit down and go, what can I add to this story in order to make choosing keywords even harder and sales to a traditional publishing house nearly impossible? Because those are the kinds of things that crossing genre does. The JOY of self publishing is that there is finally a place for these stories on the margins, but they still don’t fit into the standard boxes and if all the author is interested in is sales, they should either conform to the boxes or go so far outside of them that they can capture a niche no one else does.

The other interesting challenge all of this brings up is the struggles any author goes through to get the ratio of genre elements right for their particular book. In my case I did all the SF research to figure out why the planets functioned the way they did, water cycles and planet travel times, etc, etc. It was all interesting and fun, but when I really got going on crafting the story it became obvious that it wasn’t a story ABOUT those SF elements. It was a story about the people who lived in those elements and to them much of the ‘gee wiz’ that I’d studied up on was just part of every day life and not something they were going to spend a lot of time on. So I decided to stick with the character story and let the SF elements be what they were.¬† For me it was the right choice for the book and the tone it sets for the series, but I’ve had complaints about not enough romance, not enough SF, and not enough Western… You just can’t make everyone happy all the time.

Fortunately, I still like a little peanut butter in my chocolate.

PSA: Con Crud

Sneeze_in_white_hankie

Last weekend I went to Life the Universe and Everything in Provo, Utah. This is a fantastic science fiction and fantasy symposium which has been going on for the last 34 years. I attended way back in the day when I was going to college and even participated in the planning and gophering for a few years. Then I went off and got caught up in post college life and didn’t make it back until recently. I’m glad to say that it’s an even better symposium these days, really maturing from its inception. We had fantastic guests of honor and some really good writing classes which definitely gave me food for thought. However…I’m going to talk about those in another post. This one is reserved for something else which I received from LTUE…Con Crud.

Con Crud is the combination of diseases which happens when you bring a lot of people together and there’s a lot of handshaking and elbow rubbing and lots of people go home sick. Watching Facebook I’ve seen that a good part of our convention guests got nailed too and it’s a nasty variety. Sooo…we’re talking Con Crud today. Con Crud is one of those things which is impossible to completely avoid, but there are a lot of things that you, as a convention attendee can do to help keep yourself and others healthy.

1: If you’re sick stay home. I know this one is hard, particularly when you’ve paid good money to pre register and this may be your once a lifetime to see people, but it’s not fair to all the other attendees or the guests when you come in and make them patient zero. Then not only do the guests get sick, but everyone else who encounters them through the day. If you’re at the tail end of a cold or such and choose to come anyway then take it on yourself to wear a germ mask (available at just about any store with a health and first aid section) and don’t shake hands. If you want to see a fantastic representation of how fast mucus can spread and how it can be prevented with just a few precautions head on over to Discovery and look up the Mythbusters episode about the common cold. They show a party twice, with a host infected with a mucus stand in. When the host puts effort into keeping his liquids to himself he does a good job, but when he’s casual about it…everyone goes home covered.

Along these lines it should go without saying to cough into your elbow and wash your hands frequently. If they can teach it to first graders we can remember it as adults!

2: Wear gloves. Especially when you can make them work with your con going attire this is an awesome way to keep yourself and others healthy. This idea came up via Gail Carriger. She was a guest on Writing Excuses and talked about Surviving a Con. Go listen. The whole podcast is really helpful if you’re planning on hitting the con circuit as either an attendee or a presenter. I love this idea and think I’ll be investing in more gloves for my con going adventures.

3: Carry wet ones or hand cleaning gel, preferably both. The gel is good for a quick rinse, but the actual wet naps or other clothes are even better as they also remove stuff from your skin and can be thrown away.

4: Hydrate properly. Many convention locations have a tendency to be really dry, and due to rushing between classes and not wanting to have to stand in line for the bathroom all the time, people tend not to drink enough water. Soda doesn’t count as much as we love our caffeine. When you’re dehydrated and then come into contact with germs it’s harder for the body to fight off infection. And along those lines…

5: Go to bed. It’s easy at conventions to want to do EVERYTHING. All the things all the time, and while that is fun it can also lead to getting very little rest and being very run down. This is another contributing factor to getting sick. Even a nap during the day between a couple of classes is going to help to keep you well rested and you’ll enjoy everything a lot more.

6: Instead of shaking hands, fist bump, bump elbows, salute, bow, kneel, air kisses or come up with another way to say hello which is amusing but presses less flesh.

If we all work together to cover these steps it won’t entirely stop Con Crud, we’re just bringing too many germs from too many places together to keep them from partying. However, these steps will help increase the odds of a healthy con and week after, and everyone else will thank you too.

Next time…things I learned at LTUE.

Off to LTUE

I suppose there’s really not much ‘off to’ given that LTUE (Life the Universe and Everything fantasy symposium) is only about a 45 minute drive away and I’m coming home every night, but it sounds more fun to be off to a conference.

This should be an interesting experience as the last time I went to LTUE was about 20 years ago. At that time the conference was help on the Brigham Young University campus and fairly grudgingly at that. It was made up of mostly students with a few “weird old people” and was a three day geek-a-thon with panels, author signings, role playing games and singing weird music into the wee hours when campus cops came around and kicked us out. These days it’s apparently become more academic and draws well over 1000 people to the Provo Marriott Convention Center. It’s a far cry from our tiny rooms in the Wilkinson Center where the sound never worked quite right, and finding a bottle of anything caffeinated was nearly impossible.

I’m looking forward to the whole thing, even if this time around I am one of the weird old people. Geek never dies…and this time I’m bringing my own Dr. Pepper.

Grump…

Dear Windows 10,

We’ve had this discussion a few times now. I’ve gently poked your settings and prodded you at your misbehaving. Let’s go over this one more time. Stop updating and rebooting yourself when I’m in the middle of things!!!!

Me

Dear Me,

Hit save more often.

Me.