Fear of trying?


Silk’s Post #57 – Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

That’s for a magnificent performance by fellow 5writer Joe Cummings, our solo star this year at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Joe did two amazing things this past weekend.

First, he whipped off a monster number of highly entertaining blog posts documenting his experiences and learnings at the conference. Nine of them in four days. NINE! Go read ’em. This is a record that is unlikely to be broken. Ever.

Second, he overcame all the terrors every writer harbours, and put himself – his ego, his work, his ideas, his heart and a number of other unnamed body parts – out there to stand or fall at the whim of the marketplace. He pitched a ton of agents. He submitted his query letter for open critique. He tossed his manuscript in to be publicly lauded or savaged at the SIWC Idol. And then he told all in his blog posts. This is a considerable feat, even for an extrovert, which Joe certainly is not.


And now I’m convinced that Joe is truly serious about getting published. At all costs. Because sometimes that’s what it takes. In fact, maybe it’s the rule.

Forget all the Cinderella stories you’ve ever heard (or dreamed of) about some hermit of a writer getting discovered almost by chance and becoming an international bestseller. Oh, yeah, sure, the writer’s nephew stole a few pages of manuscript and sneaked it off to a publisher who fell under the spell of the story and sought out the shy author, advance cheque in hand. Now there’s a lovely piece of fiction.

Nope. The whole marketing ball-of-wax is hard, sometimes discouraging work. For introverted writers with tender hearts it can be excruciating. You think your job is done when you’ve actually completed your first draft? Done your rewrite? And your second, third and fourth rewrites? Written your query letter and your synopsis and your elevator pitch? Well, sorry to be harsh, but you’d be wrong.

The next step in the process is like stepping off a cliff into thin air. It’s putting it all out there. Your book, your self, your dreams. And that’s not even the hardest part.

The hardest part is what happens next … when NOTHING happens. Maybe you get a few echoes back along with the rejections. Some words of encouragement, if you’re lucky. After months, maybe years of work. It’s the possibility of that NOTHING that keeps writers, even great writers, from putting themselves out there.

The risk of losing your belief in yourself as a writer is terrifying. We’ve all felt it. And the more it matters to you, the scarier it is. Talk about a barrier to action! This is our Mount Everest. Our dragon-infested, unexplored ocean.

Those who overcome their doubts and plunge ahead with open eyes are not fearless. They’re brave in spite of their fears. They’re heroes.

Fear of failure can become fear of trying.

For those who can’t abide risk, who are too sensitive to bear disappointment, who aren’t compelled by some inexplicable obsession to express themselves creatively and publicly, discretion is the better part of valour. But for writers with a calling, nothing will do but to take that plunge.

It takes courage. Often it takes a kind of blind self confidence, even in the face of rejection. Some might even call that ‘faith’.

Here are just a few authors you would never have heard of if they hadn’t kept the faith:

John Grisham – whose first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers.

Robert M. Pirsig – who apparently holds a Guinness record for most rejections of an eventual bestseller, with Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance garnering 121 rejections before it was finally published.

ee cummings – who had to self-publish his first book, The Enormous Room, now considered a masterpiece, after rejection by 15 publishers.

Louis L’Amour — who’s reported to have received 200 rejections before getting his first book published.

L. Frank Baum – who collected all his many, many rejections in a journal he titled Record of Failure, before publishing his first book Mother Goose in Prose, followed by a collection of poetry and then The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (after yet more rejections).

Irving Stone – whose biography of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life, was rejected 16 times before going on to sell 25 million copies.

Frank Herbert – whose beloved sci fi blockbuster, Dune, suffered 20 rejections.

Margaret Mitchell – who received 38 rejections before getting Gone With the Wind published.

J. K. Rowling – who famously suffered a dozen rejections of her spectacularly successful Harry Potter series, resulting in 12 publishers who are now very, very sorry they were so dumb.

No wonder few topics have been addressed by writers more often or more eloquently than rejection. Some of my favourites …

“First remember George Seither’s rule: ‘We don’t reject writers; we reject pieces of paper with typing on them.’ Then scream a little …”  — Isaac Asimov

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” — Ray Bradbury

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” — Barbara Kingsolver

“There is nothing like rejection to make you do an inventory of yourself.” — James Lee Burke

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.'” — Saul Bellow

Surrey Writer’s Conference Act 1 – Scene 2

Joe’s Post #57

siwcYou’d think there wouldn’t be any problems yet. I mean, hey, the darned conference doesn’t start for me until tomorrow. But I am me and problems sometimes swarm around me like angry flies around decaying meat.

First challenge: I can only get one interview with an agent ahead of time. I can get 1 more by standing in line. And I want to see or talk to about eight. Six for sure. So that leaves four to six I’m going to have to hunt down.

surrey barSo I looked at where they’d be. In workshops? On panels? In the bar? (Sadly, and perhaps dishonestly, no one said they’d be in the bar, but I have to think, if I had to listen to a whole bunch of introvertie writers like me pitch books all day, I would probably buy the bar).

I found all of them were in workshops but one. That’s great. But when I wrote down the schedules in pretty colors, I found that most of them were speaking in different rooms at the same time. Or, worse, three were on a panel together. Hard for me to march up and stand in front of the table and spread my arms wide and say, “Yo, what’s up? Wanna hear a pitch?” So I will have to make some tough choices. I may not be able to speak to a couple of them. But which ones?

Which ones indeed? That’s the second challenge. Do I forego the editor from a respected publisher? Do I chance meeting a newly minted agent from a outstanding agency in the hallway? Can I clone myself in time to be at two places at the same time?

Oh how I wish my writing friends were going with me. We could break those workshops up and find a way for everyone to meet everyone.

So simple.

Yet this year it’ll just be me. Justjoe. So decisions will have to get made. I may have to fast-pitch someone then sprint (which is, in itself, a funny thing to watch) and then fast-pitch the next person before they can flee to the safety of a bathroom.

It’ll all take planning and a little luck.

But I hate the unknown. I would rather be able to line up everyone if they have free time and sit and chat with them. I can do the chat thing. It’s the pitching on the fly that’ll be a bit of a challenge and god help me if the agents and editors have learned to walk fast!

However, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I have charts. I have schedules. I have notes. I have my business cards. I have a great book I can’t wait for others to read.

Oh crap, I just realized I need to iron a shirt. Gotta go. Stay turned. First scheduled pitch is at two, but I hope to blog before that (or cry after that).

Surrey Writer’s Conference Act 1

Joe’s Post #56

jloLots of interesting stuff in the news today. Hooters is getting sued over not hiring someone for their HAIR COLOR! J Lo has body issues. And a blond, blued eyed little girl is found with the Roma (gypsies) … wait, hold on, that’s a great story idea right there.

But I don’t have time to look into those epic, world-changing events. I have to get ready for the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. Technically, it starts tomorrow and I’m madly getting organized so I know who’s looking for what, what classes they are teaching, and which ones I want to attend. As well, I’m reading all the agent’s and editor’s blogs in hopes of understanding this very strange species of humankind.

Lots of work. Being so 20th century, I’ve printed out everything and with a bright yellow highlighter in my hand, I’m busy marking up all things vital to my success. Who the key-note speakers are, where the bathrooms are located, who’s in charge of the coffee. I’ve also worked really hard on my elevator pitch, my query and whatever the hell they call the in-between thing.

It’s all coming together but there’s still a ton to do. I want to arrive there so prepared they will actually give me an award for being so well prepared. All they’ll do is look at me and go, hey, holy hell, look at that guy, he is some prepared (here’s a cookie).

Now I won’t be going tomorrow, as it’s master classes and I need to spend the time finishing up my novel. In the good news department, I’m basically done with the rewrite, at least until I take a last look at those first 10 pages. There’s still a really good chance I’ll tinker with it even if someone requests a manuscript to be sent to them (very unlikely, it’s usually 10-30 pages, but still …)

So, expect a few posts from me as I embark on this new adventure. Here’s my pitch. It’s a quest story. Timid Canadian who talks way too quickly attempts to sell his epic novel to agents who have seen pretty much everything before. Will he have another legendary meltdown while describing his story? Will he forget to zip up after going to the bathroom? Will his innate shyness force him into a fetal position underneath one of the lunch tables?

Stay tuned.

And wish me luck.


More to come.

Genre roulette

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Credit: iStock Photo licensed image.

Silk’s Post #33 — I’m confused about genres. Just a wild guess, but I’ll bet you are too.

It seems like genres have been hanging out with each other, no doubt under cover of darkness, and mating.

I can’t help but visualize Chick Lit and Horror making it on the floor of an abandoned, Gothic, beer-bottle-strewn party house under a cobwebby chandelier, and begetting this whole sex-obsessed Vampire offspring, for example. And that crazy Steampunk! It had to be conceived when the geeky sci-fi-addicted computer science major finally got that shy, Victorianaphile girl from the library tipsy on one glass of port, and then she doffed her spectacles and let down her hair and … well, you know what happened next.

Some of these genre couplings are yielding some pretty wild genetic traits. And that’s not even counting the scrambled DNA resulting from threesomes. Or the beasts issuing from inter-species liaisons. Talk about genre roulette!

No wonder there’s so much conflicting information out there about genres: what to call them … what they represent … who reads them … how hot they are. Writers hoping to be published are advised that they must be able to assign their work to a genre, for the convenience of agents and editors. And, of course, to aid the understandably confused book sales workers who must figure out which real or virtual bookshelf each title belongs on. By thy genre shall thy audience know thee, we’re told.

If it were only that simple.

First of all, what is a genre? A no less lofty publication than The Guardian provides an “A-Z List” of “Book Genres” numbering sixty-one. Sixty one! It includes such designations as Ballet, Paranormal Romance (children and teens), Fairies and True Crime, but no Steampunk. To me, the Guardian list looks like some poor editorial assistant finally gave up trying to classify books by genre, and just threw some genre names together with a mixed list of topics and audiences.

Remember: it’s all about eyeballs on bookshelves.

Popular reader website Goodreads looks promising when it comes to genre identification … at first. It does offer a genre short list for browsing purposes, which includes:

Art – Biography – Business – Chick Lit – Children’s – Christian – Classics – Comics – Contemporary – Cookbooks – Crime – Ebooks – Fantasy – Fiction – Gay and Lesbian – Graphic Novels – Historical Fiction – History – Horror – Humor and Comedy – Manga – Memoir – Music – Mystery – Non Fiction – Paranormal – Philosophy – Poetry – Psychology – Religion – Romance – Science – Science Fiction – Self Help – Suspense – Spirituality – Sports – Thriller – Travel – Young Adult

Okay, I can find my way around that. But then it also has a link to “More genres …”

Don’t go there!

It’s enough to send a writer looking for genre guidance into a catatonic state for a week. This “more genres” list turns out to be three very long pages with hundreds of listings (Goodreads calls them “shelves”), which includes such esoterica as Amish Fiction, Butch-Femme, Fat Acceptance, Geek, Lesbotronic, New Weird, Polyamorous, Post-Apocalyptic, Shapeshifters, Southern Gothic, Swashbuckling, Thelema, Urban Legends, Viking Romance, Whodunit, Yaoi, and the ever popular Zombies.

Well, at least I know what Whodunit means.

I like the approach to book genres found at the website of independent editors BubbleCow. They show separate lists of genres under “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” that seem to hit an appropriate and understandable level of categorization. They even have created a cool word bubble graphic of genres that appears to distinguish the mainstream of literature from its smaller creeks and tiny rivulets.

Oh, but wait. At the end of their list, they provide a link to that amorphous list from The Guardian with the advice that it “should help.” Aaaargh!

The ever-reliable Wikipedia provides sensible genre lists in “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction” flavours, which actually attempt to define each genre in a few words. However, it seems to be missing many of the common genres listed in other sources; for example it oddly lists Tall Tales, but not Thriller, as a fiction genre.

But just keep scrolling … whatever weird and wonderful genre you may be searching for can be found in the Wikipedia section titled “Genres and sub genres”. Steampunk, for instance is shown as a sub-sub-genre of Science Fiction (itself a sub-genre of Speculative Fiction). And Steampunk even has its own sub-sub-sub-genre offspring: Clockpunk, and her siblings Dieselpunk and Atompunk. 

This got me thinking about all the promising genres that haven’t yet been invented, but are sure to evolve as existing genres continue to mate and as our speed-of-light media culture continues to stoke the genre fire with the newest crazes.

Here are some speculative predictions for genres yet to be born. Remember, you read it here first …

Dystopian Cookbook Cormac McCarthy meets Martha Stewart in this genre featuring roadkill recipes for survivors of the Apocalypse.

Junkpunk – A Steampunk specialization inspired by “Hoarders” programs.

Vegan Porn – Rude photographs of vegetables.

Alternative Legal Universe – Constitutional law as a fan fiction work-in-progress, dramatizing the tragicomic results as the constantly changing legal canon plays out in courtrooms.

Religious Erotica – Oh, wait. We already have that.

Anti-Freedom Conspiracy – Exposés documenting insidious plots of the Liberal Media, Academics, Tree Huggers, Unions, Ethnic Groups, Queers, Judges, Feminists and other Factions to take away Freedom-Loving, Law-Abiding Citizens’ most basic, God-Given human rights, like packing in shopping malls. Or wherever said Citizens freaking well want.

Women’s Fit Lit – Narrative amalgamation of diet books with inspirational fiction designed to empower generously-endowed women. Like a whole Oprah genre.

Orange Pulp – Pulp fiction specifically set in Orange County, CA.

Financial Suspense – Reality-based how-to books for amateur investors that focus on the dramatic tension and excitement of wondering whether you’re making a fortune, or losing everything (may be classified as either fiction or non-fiction).

Wuxia Romance – Martial arts meet marital arts.

Query Thriller – Heart-pumping, rollercoaster tales of writers’ quests for publication, coupling the soaring highs and wrist-slashing lows with sound and helpful advice from actual literary agents and editors (additional fees may apply).

How to survive query rejections

Joe’s Post # 32 — Well, the rejections have started to come in (and those now out there for a while might very well be considered rejections since not every agent will get back to you).

So how do you survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

10 possibilities.

cuddling1) Cuddling. Cuddle your teddy. Cuddle your sweetie while watching Amazing Race. Cuddle your children. Cuddle your dog, cat, hamster or pet snake. The healing powers of cuddling cannot be underestimated. Not only is it snuggly but it helps remind you that there are other more important things in life than a letter that says, “you suck, you totally suck, you need to give up writing and become a professional cuddler.”

2) Alcohol. Not my first choice but the choice of many writers. Whiskey, neat. A Cougar Town glass of red wine. A belini with a pink umbrella. It helps dull the pain, it helps you forget, but it’s pretty temporary (and it could make thing worse, especially if you decide to send off an email to the rejecting agent threatening to send locks of hair to them or something.)

3) Ignore it, it’s part of being a writer. Oh how I wish I could get this mindset. It’s like the guy who can walk over to a pretty girl, get turned down (or in the case of my friend, Sean, get a glass of port thrown in his face) and march back without having lost a stitch of confidence. I’m honestly not sure how to not feel the rejection and that port will stain!

4) Go for a walk. Clear your head. Take the dog, cat, hamster or snake with you. Fresh air helps. I know it shouldn’t but it does. Look at the sea or the trees or the fit people jogging. Hate them if need be. Tell yourself that as soon as you get back, you’ll do #10.

5) Phone a friend. Rant at how unfair the world is. Rant that you wrote the all-time world’s best query letter. Rant that you used the best font, the most amazing paper, the greatest opening ever written by a pasty-faced writer sitting in front of his ‘puter and you even got the agent’s name right. Get it all out. Cleanse that bile.

zombies6) Go do something fun. No, not leave dog poop on the neighbour’s lawn. Go bowling. Blow zombie heads to bits in a video game (or in real life depending on which apocalypse is plaguing us). Watch a movie. Listen to your favourite music with eyes shut and head cradled by a comfy leather couch. Go have coffee with a friend and splurge on extra foam, or whipped cream. Read a book. Remember that fun can still be had.

7) Exercise. (No, this is NOT a sub-heading of the ‘go do something fun’ option!) Like walking, this about getting out of the house and working your body so hard that feelings no longer matter. For me, that’s 2 push-ups, 3 sit ups and a glass of water. Go play tennis until you can’t walk. Go shoot hoops until your arms burn and the little kids shout, ‘hey mister, get off the court, you haven’t made a basket in 130 shots.’ Run until you can barely breathe. Lift weights until your muscles bulge like Swartzenegger’s. It doesn’t matter. For some reason I don’t completely understand, exercise is good for the mind as well as the body. Maybe even good for the soul. Who knows.

8) Feel what you’re going to feel. It’s what my therapist would say. And my dog. The more you fight your feelings, the more they will build up and come back to bite you in the ass at some point. So you repress for a week, then suddenly someone parks in your spot and you go all Tarentino on them. Or someone asks how are you doing and you burst into tears. Feeling sad, it’s ok. Feeling angry, it’s ok. Let the feelings pass through you until only you remain (to quote the fremen of Dune.)

9) Meditate. You know, sit and cross your legs and clear your mind. Can anyone actually do this? Really? At best I’ll fall asleep. At worst, I just get stuck in my mind and pull a groin muscle. But it’s something to consider if you’ve evolved to a higher state of being, like those people who carry around yoga mats and (to quote a friend of mine) “are ready to lay that mat down anywhere and do the sleeping dog.”

10) Get another query letter written and sent out. A rejection is not a failure. Failure is only failure when you stop.

Yesterday, I did 6 of the 10 things.

Today, another rejection and I think I’ll do one of them until I throw up. Your guess as to which one.

A query for fun

Joe’s Post #31 — You know what, after a week of no responses from agents, I just needed a laugh. So I reworked something I wrote a while ago.

A query.

April 15th, 2013

Dear important agent-like-person,

Please, please, please take a look at my novel.  It comes in at 350,000 words, but it’s really not that bad.  All my friends say so, even my mom who thinks I should have been an accountant.  Plus, my friend, Arwen, who is not the Arwen of Tolkein fame (but that’s where her mother got the name), anyway, she says that she really liked it except of course for the spelling errors and the overuse of the word blood-splattered.

Anyhoodles, I’ve enclosed the manuscript and a picture of my cat who inspired me to write the story.  It’s basically about this angel who’s not really an angel who wants to save his people who don’t really like him, so he goes off to a very weird land that is full of monsters and he overcomes them all, falls in love, has lots of sex (that I hope my mother will never read about) then comes back and everyone loves him. Like Rudolf the reindeer except, well, there aren’t any reindeer.  Oh, there is a battle though.

So, this has to be something you’d be interested in, doesn’t it?

I mean, I talked to you at the Surrey Writer’s Conference, and, even though the security guards eventually had to haul me away, I thought we made a connection, a real connection, so you’re the first one to get this manuscript – after my cat of course.

I just know that you will love it and I expect a call within a week, but don’t worry, if I don’t get that call, I’ll just fly out and talk to you in person as I know exactly where you live, (though I think I may have to leave my cat at home.)

Yours truly,

Bob (remember me now?)

So, I hope everyone out there is writing or reading or thinking about reading or writing.

I’ll be back next with week with something different. Again.

How to get rejected in 5 easy pages


Silk’s Post #31 — Are you ready to face your greatest fear? The monster under the bed? The thing that makes you break out in a cold sweat?

Okay. Let’s talk about rejection. You’ll feel better, I promise.

When the 5 writers convene our retreat to do our whole-book critiques (which I’ve taken to calling “5 writers critter week”), we will be commenting on all aspects of each other’s books. Characters. Setting. Plot and structure. Style. Ending.

But one of the most important things we’ll be talking about – from the perspective of as-yet unpublished writers who need to (literally) break into the business – is the beginning of each book. Those first few pages that an agent or editor will evaluate to determine whether to immediately discard the manuscript … or read on.

To give the most useful feedback possible on the magic first five pages, we will have to put ourselves in the shoes of an agent or editor. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. We 5 writers care about each other, and about each other’s books. The agent or editor does not.

Imagine slogging through dozens, hundreds, thousands of manuscripts. One after another after another. Looking for that rarest of prizes: the potential bestseller written by somebody that no one’s ever heard of. This is what agents and editors do every day. It must be like sifting through a bale of hay … or a whole barn full of hay … searching for a diamond ring. One thing you’d quickly learn is that you can vastly increase your chances of finding that diamond if you can sift through more hay faster.

first-5-pagesIt’s that mindset we writers have to understand. Fortunately, there are a number of good references to help us do that – agents’ websites that give great query tips, hints from successful authors, and books by agents that are rich with advice. One of the most useful of these is The First Five Pages by New York literary agent Noah Lukeman. Here’s what he says about the gatekeepers’ mindset:

“Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript – and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.”

It’s that simple, and that brutal. Yikes.

To someone who’s struggled through the process of writing – and rewriting, and re-rewriting  – a 400-page novel, it may seem unfair that it will be judged worthy or unworthy on the basis of just the first one percent of those pages. It makes the process seem like a lottery. Yet Lukeman insists that it is “not a wild assumption” to conclude that:

“… if you find one line of extraneous dialogue on page 1, you will likely find one line of extraneous dialogue on each page to come.”

Isn’t this like getting flunked on a technicality? What about our incredibly engaging plot? Our vivid, complex characters? Our haunting, unforgettable setting? Surely these things can’t be assessed on the basis of the first five pages. No. They can’t. That’s exactly the point. These strengths we think our book possesses will never be discovered if we can’t convince the agent or editor to turn to page 6.

But before you give up and switch from writing to something easier, like brain surgery or rocket science, consider that these gatekeepers’ “snap” judgements may not be as arbitrary and petty as they sound. Lukeman says:

“… I’ve read thousands of manuscripts, all, unbelievably, with the exact same types of mistakes. From Texas to Oklahoma to California to England to Japan, writers are doing the exact same things wrong.”

So the key, according to him, is to avoid early and obvious errors that give the agent or editor an excuse to stop reading before they get to the good part.

But what exactly are these errors? After studying the advice of Lukeman and others, I have been inspired to follow in the tradition of literary advice-givers by preparing a list of rules. I offer the following helpful prescription for failure, which I urge you not to follow.

Silk’s “Sweet 16” Rules for Almost Guaranteed Rejection

  1. When submitting a query, don’t follow presentation and submission guidelines exactly. Do you really want your manuscript to seem like every other manuscript? Make it stand out and show your individuality and creativity by breaking a few rules.
  2. In your presentation, be sure to impress the agent or editor with your mastery of big words and clever use of foreign phrases. This makes you seem smart and worldly. Extra points if you can force the agent to consult a dictionary.
  3. Pay no mind to the old wives’ tales about clichés. Clichés are the spice of life. Make sure to work some into the first five pages.
  4. Don’t forget to make liberal use of adverbs and adjectives. These clearly and engagingly make your writing all the richer and more enticingly, deliciously entertaining. Remember, every plain verb or noun is just crying out for colourful, descriptive decoration.
  5. Be sure to include sufficient backstory early in the book. You might as well get the painfully boring part over with as quickly as possible, like pulling off a Band-Aid. A few paragraphs of straight narrative is one efficient way to get the reader up to speed. Or stick it in a Prologue.
  6. Nothing makes a first impression more dramatically than an opening scene with lots of blood and gore, blue language and explicit sex. If you can work all these into the first five pages, you’ve hit the Trifecta! Why save the exciting parts for later?
  7. If you want the reader to really pay attention to a sentence, be sure to end it with an exclamation point! Or two!! How are they supposed to know you’re telling them something important?!
  8. Want to introduce doubt, mystery and intrigue into your story right from the beginning? Writers often wonder about this? Here’s a simple and effective way to do it: insert lots of question marks. This really makes readers think.
  9. Don’t waste your time, fussing with punctuation nor spelling; and other archaic grammer rules; as their probably all just going to get changed by some editor after you get you’re book contract, anyway so let the editor’s do there jobs!
  10. An apt metaphor is a sparkling diamond lying supine in the belly button of your novel. A novel without enough metaphors and similes is like a cold, empty Walmart warehouse where the golden links of the supply chain have tragically broken and the shelves are bereft of toys and rubber flip flops.
  11. It’s your book and you should make the reader aware of your presence as a writer right from the get go. This is your place to show off your talent, so indulge yourself and don’t let the story get in the way of your creativity with words. You want your special “voice” to be noticed, so don’t be shy about drawing attention to yourself.
  12. Don’t take the risk of an important concept or plot point getting lost. Make sure the reader “gets” it by saying it several times in slightly different words.
  13. Creative use of dialogue is one of the easiest ways to impress an agent or editor. Several pages of uninterrupted, rapid-fire dialogue, using short sentences and fragments, for instance, is sure to be noticed, especially in the first five pages.
  14. When using attributors in dialogue, choose a variety of verbs and evocative adverbs – such as “she tearfully exclaimed” or “he angrily ejaculated” – in preference to the dull volley of “he said-she said.”
  15. Dialogue is an entertaining way to deliver large chunks of backstory, or tell other facts that are hard to “show.” By disguising the information as “natural” conversation, you can cleverly use your characters to speak for you by proxy.
  16. Use of dialect and slang in dialogue adds spice and authenticity. “Thass cane, innit? A and B the C of D!” is far more colourful, for example, than “That’s excessive, don’t you think? Above and beyond the call of duty!” This kind of dialogue keeps readers and agents right where you want them: guessing.

I wish you the best of luck in boosting your approval ratings by not doing any of this!

Hey, you! Wanna buy a book?


Joe’s Post #30 — The last thing I want to do is paint myself as some sort of expert on this subject. I’m not. I’m just Joe trying to figure this out like everyone else.  But I do have a process. It may not be for everyone and I welcome any and all advice to improve upon my chances of success.

So, sit back, grab a drink and let me lead you into that vast and cobwebbed labyrinth that is my mind.

For me, querying is by far the hardest part of being a writer. It terrifies me. I want to slink under the bed and hide from the scariest monster of all: Rejection. Oh, I have no problem pounding out a novel, no fear there. Nor do I fear rewrites or tossing out vast swaths of my manuscript to write a better story. I don’t fear critiques, spiders or people saying I write like a 2-year-old on dope.  But faced with a query letter to write then SEND, boy, I tell you, it’s a tough one for me.

To quote Nicholas Sparks “Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important  page an unpublished writer will ever write. It’s the first impression and will  either open the door or close it. It’s that important, so don’t mess it up. Mine took 17 drafts and two weeks to write.”


But there seems to be some sort of correlation between getting published and writing queries. Apparently my psychic powers are not enough to wake up an agent in the middle of the night and get him or her to call me and say, send me your manuscript.

So, I nut up and begin.

First up, for today, finding an agent. There are many great resources out there, but Nathan Bransford is certainly one to check out. He says it better than I ever could and he knows it from both sides, the writer and the agent.

SKFor me, I begin with research. The first ones I have queried have been agents I’ve met at conferences or workshops and didn’t throw up on. Then I progress to agents that I find from my favourite authors. I read the acknowledgments. Make notes. I mean why not send to an agent who represents an author and genre I like? Stephen King’s agent, however, has not replied. I think this is to be expected.

For research beyond that, there are many avenues including a simple google search, but I chose querytracker, the Association of Author Representatives,  Preditors and Editors, Agent Query.com and perhaps the greatest resource of all, Publisher’s Marketplace.  These sites, and there are others, but these sites combined give me a pretty good idea of who wants what and how they want submissions done.

But those resources, as good as they are, aren’t everything. The agent I queried yesterday, Barbara Poelle I found from reading Writer’s Digest. She answered 14 Questions You’re Too Afraid To Ask Literary Agents.  Funny as hell (she seems to share my same sense of humor) and (from Publisher’s Marketplace) “She loves unusual literary fiction with a commercial edge, thrillers, and anything with a great voice.” Perfect, I thought. I’m unusual, I wrote a thriller and I wrote it with a great voice. So I sent her a query.

Now, when I write my queries, I want them to be as personal as I can make them. I will never say, Dear Agent. I will use their name and pray to God I spell it right. I won’t spam out the same query to all agents, I will tailor it to the agent based on a few things. I’ll research them as noted above, I’ll read their blogs (and man, there are some great blogs out there), I’ll check out the authors they represent, I’ll read their twitter feeds and I’ll do a basic google check. This also helps me determine if indeed the agent is right for me. If someone is looking for Highlander erotica primarily, no sense in sending them a book about detectives in the desert who don’t wear kilts.

And then I send out the query. I hold my breath. Move the mouse over the ‘send’ button. Close my eyes. And click. (Or, in some cases, put it all in an envelope and toss it in the mail box.)

It’s still terrifying. I won’t deny it. Before I send off any queries, I am the greatest writer of all time, funny and handsome and charming and so sure that everyone will want to read my novel. But querying puts my book out there. I risk not being the greatest writer of all time (though I still may be funny and handsome and charming).  I risk a blow to my self-esteem.  I risk not being read, the worst thing that can happen to a writer.

But it’s the price I have to pay to get published.

And honestly, at this point, being a new writer, the best I can hope for is that someone is willing to take a chance on me – that I’m taking this very seriously, that I can write, and that I can tell a good story that people will want to pay money to read.

Wish me luck.

Next week, a query I wrote for fun. To relieve the stress a bit.

Why write?


Joe’s Post #24 — It’s a good question. It takes away time from watching Glee. It’s hard. Generally, pimply-faced kids make more at McDonald’s. And, at the Oscars, no one could give a hot damn who wrote what.

So why?

For me, 11 things (11 ’cause Letterman has a patent on the top 10 list, so, like Spinal Tap, I’m going to 11!)

1) Zombies can’t write and someone needs to tell their stories.

2) Every time I invent a new verb, I get a little tingle in my private parts. Verbing new words…So fun.

3) I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I can’t play the didgeridoo. It’s pretty much the creative outlet of last resort.

4) I learn so many new things that I would otherwise never think of looking up. Coke was originally green. Nagasaki was not the city the 2nd bomb was going to be dropped on. Decimation came from a Roman form of discipline. Banging your head against a wall burns 150 calories an hour. Who knew?

5) I get to be all sorts of people. Serial killers. Unicorns. Unicorn serial killers. Grief-stricken victims. Brave teenage girls. Tough-guy PIs. Wise-cracking rogues. I guess the cool thing really is I don’t get locked up for having so many personalities.

6) I can write-off my laptop.

7) I have all sorts of excuses to go to other places in the world.

8) When a scene comes together and sings, it’s a magical moment. Heroine addicts know what I’m taking about. Sex addicts, too, I should imagine.

9) I have an excuse to go to a coffee shop every day.coffee

10) Hot women will read my writing and want to meet me. (Actually, I never thought this was true until the other day.)

11) It’s what I’m meant to do. I may not be successful at it, I may never sell a bizillion books or appear on the Tonight Show, but I know it in my bones. This is my calling.

Now, I need to burn off some calories and bang my head against a wall.

Queries: 5

Rejections: 1

New Novel Ideas: 2 (I love the idea of serial killer unicorns.)

Holes in Wall: 1



Joe’s Post # 23 — I got nuthin’. No words of wisdom. No amusing anecdotes. No tales of a hero overcoming obstacles. So, time for another journey into the bizarre world of spam. Here are the latest additions, all unaltered.

Spam #2

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Queries Written: 2

Queries Sent: 0

Synopsisesesess Written: 1

Synopsisesesess that suck: 1

Bios written: 1

Not the best week of my life. Need to do better.