Who Said Being Dead Means Anything?

Death, apparently, doesn't mean you can't come out with new books. Check out this article in the New York Times about Robert Ludlum, who died in 2000.

Something to look forward to from heaven (or the other place), if your brand is wanted by the public.

I found it interesting; if people are willing to pay for the books, why not?

His heirs must be quite happy.


James Frey

The James Frey controversy never seems to end. Nan Talese, who published Frey's "memoir," defended the "truth" about the memoir, saying something along the lines that she'd handle it the same way.

She heaps a bunch of stuff on Oprah, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I guess bad publicity is better than no publicity at all (to quote Mae West).

Forging ahead...



Poison Study - A Review

Poison Study
Mira, 416 pages

This is the debut book from Ms. Snyder, which came out in 2005 (I don't do hardbacks ;-)).

Yelena is saved from the noose by Valek; according to the Code of Behavior (set up by the military, headed by the Commander, that took over from a magically-influenced king), she is in line instead to become the new food taster for the Commander.

If she wants it. Now, the problem is that she's been taken out of the dungeons. Yelena's been in the dungeons for months and months for killing the son of one of the district generals, Brazell. That a murderer (and Yelena doesn't shy away from saying, yes, she did it) is offered leniency doesn't sit well with some people in the head military district. (Brazell's son tortured the hell out of her, which is the obvious reason she attacked him; but this isn't a widely-known fact at the beginning.)

But what will keep Yelena in line, from escaping to the south, to Sitia, where all the magicians fled to when the military took over? Valek tells Yelena about Butterfly's Dust, a poison that stays in the system for a full day. And, of course, unless she hangs around for the antidote...

I bought this on impulse in Wal-Mart (of all places!), and I found it a very good read. It's in first person, which is exactly the right POV for this story. We get to see and hear how Yelena copes with being a food taster...and then eventually branching out to learn other things in her spare time. There's also a bit of romance; just the right amount, I thought, without being overly gooey.

This is a story about a strong woman who has to come to grips with her past, has to re-find her soul, and allows herself to be liked and loved. It might sound somewhat trite or overdone, but I was drawn in by Ms. Snyder's writing style: I could feel Yelena's nervousness and other emotions.

IMO, quite well done. Now I'll just have to pick up the sequel, to see what becomes of Yelena!

ETA/UPDATE, 2007 August: I just contacted the author, and she said the pback version is due out next month (that is, September 2007). And I picked it up. Now I just have to figure out when to read it, as my TBR pile grows ever bigger.

~Nancy Beck


Does Your Query Need Fresh Eyes?

You've sent out your query half-a-dozen different times, and still you get nothing but rejections.

You scratch your head, revise it, revise it, revise it, send it out again...and still no takers.

Now you're ready to pull out your hair or spit or something.

Why not send it over to Evil Editor's blog? Although the post in question was probably from a week or so ago, I'm sure he's probably still looking for queries to rip to...er, I mean, dissect.

If you think you can handle a tad of sarcasm and humor, not to mention letting all and sundry see your attempt at a query letter (and believe me, I understand how tough those things are; I've tried my hand at it just for the hell of it a few months ago, and came away with a friggin' headache), then give Evil Editor a try. He and posters crit opening chapters (the first 150 words or so, anyway), and I've actually done that.

That was fun, even though quite a few people ripped it wide open. What made it bearable was the funny contination after those 150 words; I laughed for several days after that. In fact, it still brings a smile to face, just thinking about it. (And, yes, I do have the original Novel Deviations book at home; no way was I going to pass up a "publishing credit" [hah hah] and some good-natured humor to boot.)

Okay, maybe you don't want your baby to be seen in that way? You might also want to try Absolute Writer's Water Cooler, specifically, the Share Your Work part of the forum. (When you try to access it, you'll see the password; I won't post it here).

Sometimes a few pairs of fresh eyes is what you need to get back on track, and hopefully get those agents interested in your ms.

Any other sites, besides the obvious online crit sites, that'll help with query letters?



Spam From Agents

You go to your email address and find something you don't remember soliciting. It's from a "world class" literary agency (check out this Writer Beware blog post) called May Writers' Group.

You investigate, wondering who the heck these people are. The things that make you go, "hmm":

  • Website is on a free host
  • AOHell, I mean, AOL email address

A free host plus AOL email address. They want to keep it on the cheap, so they go with a free host. Not very professional. AOL? I can see using this (despite my vehement opinions against AOL), if the agent(s) worked as an agent elsewhere and is setting up his/her own shop. But as soon they started getting sales, I'd find something else (and just use a Yahoo or Gmail address as a back up).

Unfortunately, this particular "agency" doesn't offer up anything in the way of agent qualifications. Where did she last work? Did she place any books? With what publisher did she place those books? Nothing is forthcoming, at least so far.

The lesson to be learned: An unsolicited, generic email from an agency isn't worth your time. The agent is either clueless or wanting to separate you from your hard-earned money. Hit the delete key!



For Those of Us Lucky to Have An Agent...

...but have decided to make said agent a former agent, here's a link to how to talk (or not talk) about your former agent (from Kristin Nelson's blog).

Verrrry interesting, as Arte Johnson used to say on the TV show Laugh-In. I thought one of the comments was quite good and worth repeating - Be professional. After you've invested so much time, sweat, toil, and tears (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) into your Magnum Opus, getting an agent (a good, legit one) to rep your book is a dream come true.

But we need to take a step back and look at this dream in a business-like way: No easy feat, especially if we've been sending out queries and partials for what seems like eons. Sometimes, though, what looks like a good fit turns out to be anything but that. Well, Ms. Nelson has provided a little something for us to consider in case we decide to move on to another agent.

And check out the comments to the post, too. One poster provides a list of what to do to say bye-bye to your agent. Good stuff, but here's hoping none of us wannabes have to use that list!


Five Rules For Effective Writing

I found this interesting post on another blog, Pick the Brain. In case you didn't bother to click on the link, it's called George Orwell's 5 Rules For Effective Writing. It talks about imprecise language, and for those of us who want to be pubbed writers, this is something we need to avoid.

Orwell wrote an essay back in 1946, Politics and the English Language, and the person who writes this blog has nicely summarized what Orwell wrote. One in particular was quite funny (Hemingway being criticized by Faulkner for Hemingway's limited word choice):

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.
Wow, two masters dishing it out! But I agree with Hemingway: Why use a bigger, longer word when a shorter one will do?

I think all five rules (plus the bonus 6th one, about breaking such rules) are something all of us should try to remember.



Click For a Good Cause

My sister-in-law sent me a link to a site where you can click on a button to help out animals in need. After several days of clicking the button (they get matching proceeds from sponsors for every click), my brain finally defogged and realized that the same site also has a literacy site.

The idea is that for every click on the red literacy button, a poor kid somewhere will discover the magic of books. There's nothing else to do except to click the red button, and with the matching proceeds, the sponsors get free books into the hands of kids.

You might also want to click on the animal rescue button and the breast cancer button (which helps fund free mammograms) located at the same site.

The literacy site is here.



Raven's Shadow - A Review

Raven's Shadow
Ace, 352 pages

I just finished reading this over the weekend, and I have to kick myself for not picking this up sooner.

The basic "blurb" really doesn't do this story justice: " The Raven mage Seraph must protect the world from a terror that threatens to reemerge after generations of imprisonment." Sounds like the usual fantasy trope, eh? It's a lot more than that, IMHO.

Ms. Briggs starts the book with Tier, a soldier, riding back to his home after the end of a war. He's tired, he's sick of killing people; rest and a regular, normal life are beckoning. So he stops at a village to rest for the night - except that there's a pyre in the village square. Tier sidesteps all this and enters the inn for a bit of grub and a bed for the night.

Except he interrupts something inside. A young girl, her chin held high, is being auctioned off to some lord...

That girl is Seraph, who is a mage of a certain order. It's probably not highly inventive that there's an order of mages, and that these mages travel around (call Travellers, naturally) who help stomp out the demons that were unleashed a long time ago.

Trouble is, the Travellers are being killed, or burned, left and right, and there aren't a hell of a lot of them left.

What I like about this book were the characters. They're instantly likable, but human, even the one that can shapeshift (but you'll have to read the book to find out who that is!). For instance, Seraph has a tongue on her, and can be a haughty at times. The story moves along at a brisk pace, but slows down in spots so you can catch your breath; sometimes these breaks go on a little too long, almost info-dumpy at times, but these breaks do come into play later in the story.

The problems in this book are wrapped up at the end (and the characters do grow, especially Seraph), but there is a tendril left loose that I'm sure leads into the second book of this duology.

Worth reading. Now I just need to pick up the second book! ETA: I have! Another one into the huge TBR pile.

~Nancy Beck

Paying For An Agent - Don't Do It!

Consider this the antithesis of the Nike sneakers slogan.

I just went to one of Dee Power's Squidoo lenses (I subscribe to her newsletter, BTW, which is quite good - and free). It's for her latest non-fiction book, How to Get a Book Published. One of the comments to this particular lens was that the commenter couldn't "afford" an agent.

Oh, my.

Fortunately, Ms. Power set this commenter right: Don't ever, ever pay to have someone represent you and your book(s). Look at it this way - if an agent charges you, say, US$100 up front, what incentive do they have to place your book(s) with a legitimate big or small publisher? Hmm?

What's that, you say? They have expenses to pay, like postage, copying, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Agents absorb such things; and if there's excessive copying, let's say, they'll take that out of their 15% commission. Don't ever pay anything up front. If they're asking, you know that means to cross that particular agent off your list.

Is it a perfect system? Of course not. But it's what's out there right now, so we all have to learn to deal with it as best we can.

So how to do that?

Research the agents out there. Check print resources and Internet resources; don't be satisfied with just one or the other. There's a lot of misinformation floating around, so make sure you double and triple check what you've come up with.

Make sure your book fits what the agent represents. Nothing is worse than just emailing queries to any ol' agent about your SF book when she represents women's fiction. Don't think that if you send out enough that something is bound to stick. Be professional about it and make sure your book is in line with what the agent is looking for.

Work from the top down. Okay, so it's not how to build a pyramid (unless you're magically inclined ;-)), but start with the top tier agents. Treat yourself and your ms. with respect. Don't go trawling through the bottom trawlers, figuring you're not worthy of a spectacular agent because it's your first book. Screw that. Just remember that today's bestselling authors were once first timers, too. Everyone has to start somewhere; why should you start anywhere but at the top of the heap.

Query first, and query often. All right, you've got your list of agents, and after doing some more research to see the ones that fit your book's genre, you've whittled down that list a bit more. You've decided that 10 are in the top tier, those that you'd love to be represented by, but you've got more waiting in the wings.

Good. First rule of thumb: Don't send out your complete ms. at first. Why? Agents are inundated with papers and emails and just don't have the time to go through big, gommy mss. They want to see a bit of your writing to see if they're interested. The query letter will be the first thing they see (although you can attach the first two or three pages to the query, if you'd like). This is your sales letter, where you sell your book.

If the agent likes what he sees, he'll probably ask for a partial. This is anywhere from the first 10 to 30 pages of your book. If he further likes what he sees, then he'll for the full. This is where snail mail comes into play.

That's the happy scenario. The unhappy (but one you're going to have to deal with, repeatedly) scenario is that the first agent you send your query to rejects it. She's not rejecting you personally: Remember that. It still hurts, but try to get over it as quickly as you can.

To that end, you need to sent out more than one query. Five or 10 in a batch seems to work for a lot of people. In that way, you're not waiting until you're 110 years old before someone gets back to you. Agents expect that you'll be doing this, so don't be afraid to send out two or three a week (at least!).

Running out of agents? If you've been rejected time after time after time without a request for a partial, it might be time to tweak your query letter. Or you may decide, after doing some digging around and asking questions, that your book is so quirky and offbeat that agents might not want to touch it. If so, you might want to go and seek out legitimate publishers (try the Absolute Write Water Cooler under the Bewares and Background Check forum) where you don't need an agent. Again, do your research ahead of time so you won't be taken in by charlatans like Publish America and the like.

Whatever you decide to do, don't give up hope, don't stop writing. Keep at it. There are many, many stories out there of people who didn't sell their first several novels. Work your craft, get your chapters critiqued by a good online crit board. Persistence will pay off.



Two Book Reviews

Thought I'd just update a couple of things.

DAW, 448 pages

About two weeks ago, I finished reading Karavans; I originally wrote about it in a previous post. I enjoyed it, although it got pretty dark (for me, anyway) at times. And disturbing. Ms. Roberson's style is easy to get used to and easy to follow. I found all the characters in this book to be interesting, especially the Shoias - one is pretty easy going, the other is ornery - and they're cousins ("that's what humans would call it," one of the Shoias says). Nice contrast.

What's also cool about the Shoias is that they can be killed 6 times before it becomes permanent. That ties in with The Teaching Company Cd course I'm taking at the moment on ancient Egypt; the ancient Egyptians were resurrectionists.

A good read, even though it ended in a cliffhanger (which I expected). I went to the local Borders and saw the next in the series on sale last Friday, but it's only in hardback. Sorry, I don't do hardbacks as a general rule, so I'll have to wait on the 2nd book.

* * *

Eleven on Top
St. Martin's, 368 pages

Didn't I say in a prior post I was addicted to this series? ;-) Anyway, I finished up Eleven On Top a couple of days ago. This one actually took a detour, as Stephanie decides bounty hunting isn't for her anymore; she tries jobs that she thinks are "normal" (whatever that means ;-)). She still manages to get things blown up and is shot at and...well, you get the picture.

Toughie Jersey chick. Yeah. :-)

I'm now reading Twelve Sharp. Since I haven't finished it, all I'll say is that Stephanie's back into bounty hunting as none of the other stuff worked. What's interesting this time is who she's looking for...not that there isn't the usual cast of whacked out, weird, and nasty FTAs (Failure To Appears) living in Trenton but not wanting to be rebonded.

And the usual cast of funny people backing up Stephanie, the best one being Lula, the former ho, former filing clerk (not that she was any good at that). Delicious!

So, to slightly twist a tired cliche...read any good (or bad) books lately?

~Nancy Beck

You Gotta Like This

I subscribe to the free lunch edition of Publishers Marketplace. I went back to an edition from late June and found this story from the Boston Globe.

The local author, Jon Papernick, has a book out by a small Canadian publisher, Exile Editions.; as of this writing, it's in pre-order status. The guy who owns the bookstore is friends with the author. The two struck a deal whereby the bookstore, Back Pages Books, will sell it exclusively until and unless Mr. Papernick's book gets an American publisher.

I know, I know. It's like David versus Goliath, to throw out a cliche. Will this be pulled off? I don't know, but I certainly hope so. As of the article date (June 24), 230 books have already been pre-ordered.

So why am I harping on this? This could be any one of us aspiring authors; we might find our first book fits in better with a small press rather than a large press. Yeah, so no Oprah, no Barnes & Noble, or whatever. What's encouraging to me is that a small, independent bookstore would go out on a limb this way for one guy (true, they're friends, but still). I mean, if the megastores are having problems, it's got to be that much harder for an independent.

So kudos to Back Pages Books for taking a chance, on Mr. Papernick for taking a chance, and on Mr. Papernick's publisher for letting him try this.

What do you think? Viable plan, or not worth the effort? And do you think they'll come anywhere near to getting those 1,000 copies sold? Here's hoping they do!

~Nancy Beck




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