The subjective nature of our business

Joe’s Post #146

twilightOne of the hardest things to come to terms with as a writer is the subjective nature of our business. In simple terms, as much as we try to learn the craft, the techniques, or the tricks of the trade, it comes down to taste. Some people will like it and others won’t. Like the Twilight books. Or cucumber water.

I'll give the plot away.. it's about an ant man.

I’ll give the plot away.. it’s about an ant man.

I was reminded of this when our family went to see Ant-Man. As an editor or publisher (or agent), had this project landed on my desk, I would have rejected it. I mean, hey, it’s about a superhero who’s an ant?

What the hell?

But let’s say I bought the story. Let’s say I even made a movie with Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd and that hot chick from Lost. Let’s say I added some nifty special effects. Let’s say, by the end, I kinda thought it was good.

Well, was it?

The reviews were mixed. The youngest boy thought it was 10/10. He loved the idea of being an ant. He’s eight. The oldest boy thought (I kid you not) that he didn’t connect with the characters and all the emotional stuff seemed just, you know, thrown in. He’s 12 going on 30. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world gave it 9/10 and for her, that’s really 12/10 since it’s a movie about super heroes and didn’t star Tatum Channing (or Channing Tatum, I can never remember).

I gave it 7/10, mostly for reasons the oldest boy mentioned, but it did make me laugh and I loved the world they brought us into.

And that’s the thing about all creative endeavours. Some people will like it and others want more Tatum.

But why does this matter? Why write about it?

It’s because we’ll always receive a butt load of rejections. Despite our best efforts, these feed all the wrongs dogs that live inside of us. Fear. Doubt. A feeling we’re not good enough.

The truth could be completely different. It’s all subjective. Maybe an editor had read 4 proposals about unicorns mating with jelly fish and yours was the 5th and no matter how good it was, they really were sick of uni-jellies. Or maybe their boss wanted a book about cave dwelling monks who fed on human flesh and you just sent in a story about loving your neighbourhood dog.

Who knows?

rhIt’s why Heinlein’s advice about writing and sending it out, then writing and sending it out, is still the best advice to remember. Get enough stories on enough desks and your odds of getting published are increased exponentially.

Cuz, you see, subjectiveness works in our favour as well.

Let subjectiveness inspire you.


So, back to some stuff that I was doing, but forgot about since I’m getting old. Links! Please check them out.

Robert J Sawyer. Great writer, great advice on breaking in.

SFWA – a great organization with plenty of outstanding forums

Nathan Bransford – Again, great advice on a wide variety of writing subjects.

Words of wisdom

Joe’s Post #102

Not my words. But from people who know their sh*t.

6 Things ALL Writers Need To Know

By Lucy V Hay, On January 24, 2013

Bang2writers ask me quite frequently for my “top tips” on surviving the writing process and this industry. Before now I always felt that it depends on the person, what they’re doing, how they work and who with.

But actually, having worked on a variety of projects now with various people over the last ten years, I think there are 6 things all writers of ALL formats need to know and live by, whether they’re screenwriters, novelists, playwrights, journalists, transmedia writers, the works.

That’s right – just 6. But they mean SO much – literally everything.


You need the 3 C’s:

  1.  I can’t stress this enough. Whether it’s your concept or your draft, it needs to be clear. Without clarity, we slip into one C we DON’T want, which is “convoluted”. Yes, yes some plots *are* convoluted – I’m looking at you, Pixar – but the concepts rarely are. And it’s concept that sells. So in order to sell, you need clarity. It is not an add-on. It is a NECESSITY. 6 Tips for Writing A One Page Pitch.
  2.  Remember that notion, “Why this story?” We want to know what’s at STAKE. If we don’t know what’s at stake, we don’t care. It’s as simple as that. And don’t forget, we don’t want a simple rehashing of what’s gone before, either. We want conflict that GRABS us and makes us say, “Why didn’t *I* think of that??” Remember: the best ideas are *obvious* – that doesn’t mean it’s not plain sailing getting those great ideas; it shouldn’t be. Road test your concepts and your drafts will flow … Don’t road test them and you may end up a Zeitgeist story that’s a milestone around your neck.
  3.  Loads of people say it’s “all about character” but that’s nonsense, ‘cos it’s part of the process like the first two. But equally, it shouldn’t be “all about plot” either – cos, you guessed it, that’s just part of the process too. I read a great quote somewhere years ago that said essentially, “It’s not 50/50 Plot/Character … it’s like 100/100 Plot/Character.”  I love this, because audiences want a GREAT character *in* a GREAT story. So think carefully about your characters; don’t just plump for the first person who pops into your brain. Like you think, “Why this story?” you should be thinking,“Why this character?” AS WELL.


I borrowed these from Adult Fiction novelist Suzanne Palmieri aka The Lost Witch on Twitter. The 3 P’s:

  1.  Everything takes forever. That’s just the way of it. So don’t rush it. Enjoy the journey! And don’t throw away great opportunities just because you want to get something done “by a certain date” – review your strategies and goals accordingly. Don’t rush.
  2.  But equally, don’t wait around. MAKE your own opportunities too. Follow up on your submissions. Make more contacts. Make more contacts. more contacts. Network furiously & build relationships. And oh yeah: write.
  3.  And be professional at all times. Don’t blindly pitch “at” people; have conversations. Have a social media strategy and make sure you go to at least three or four real life tweet ups, meetings or events a year. Be generous. Be genuine, but don’t wear your heart on your sleeve so much people take advantage. Don’t get sucked into flame wars, allow yourself to be flattered by falsehoods and most of all: never, ever, burn your bridges. If you do, nothing may happen *right now* – but you’ll be surprised how small this pond is. It will come back to haunt you.

I really believe the 6 things I’ve outlined here can help writers stay on track, get stuff written, produced or published AND help sustain their career.


Good stuff. Simple and to the point.

Here’s another…

From someone I look at every week.


Nathan Bransford is the author of How to Write a Novel (October 2013).  He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and the social media manager at CNET and is now the Director of Community and Social Media at Freelancers Union. He lives in Brooklyn.

Are you optimistic about the future of books?

Something strange has been happening lately: not many of my friends are reading books.

It has happened gradually, almost imperceptibly, but the number of my friends who are reading is on the decline.

Some of this may be my age. Now that I’m approaching my mid thirties, a lot of my friends are in baby zone and are using their rare spare time to sleep.

But a lot of people I know have switched to reading more articles, they binge watch Netflix in their free time, and even smart thinking people don’t feel the need to be catching up with the latest hot novel.

I have been optimistic about books for a long time. And I don’t see reason to change my tune.

But sometimes… I wonder. With tablets and electronics everywhere, with the Internet evermore at our fingertips… will people still read books like they used to? Will our attention spans survive?

I hope they will. I love movies, I love video games, I love television, but nothing can compare to the emotional depth of reading a book.

No movie can give us the last page of The Great Gatsby. No actual video game is as fun as
reading Ready Player One. The TV version of Game of Thrones is a lot of fun, but the longer it goes on the larger the books loom.

You know this. I know this. But are people going to keep reading?

What say you?


What say you, indeed? I say he’s right, but I’ll still keep reading. I think they’ll always be a market for books. However, what those books look like might be a bit different than what we’re used to in the not to distant past (think 50 Shades or Twilight.)

siwc_2013Lastly, anyone going to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference? If so, it would be great to meet up with other writers going through this same journey. See this site from Karen Woodward.

And that’s it from me.

See you all next week.

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 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.