Writing

The “I Know This Book Will Sell” Myth

Like most newer authors trying to navigate the publishing waters alone, I did something I probably shouldn’t have done. I wrote a book I thought would sell. I convinced myself the book was what agents and/or editors would want! It’s not that I regret writing the book, because having a finished book is never a bad thing. What gets me is the expectations I put on myself and the book.

When we write what we think others will want instead of what we’re passionate about, we set ourselves up for failure. What I mean is we get it into our heads that the book is a sure thing…when we all know there is no such thing as a sure thing.

So why do we do it? Why do we hype ourselves up and trick ourselves into that way of thinking?

While I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I did it out of frustration. I had parted ways with my literary agent and dissolved a three book contract. I had been hurt by the industry and wanted so badly to succeed. I lied to myself.

I’ve learned a lot over the past two years. More than I thought I would, and in different ways. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I sought validation through a project I just knew would sell. And even though I’m proud of the book I’ve written, I don’t think it was the right decision at the time. Plus, putting such lofty expectations on it only left room for failure…because anything other than selling that sure thing would be just that, failure.

Navigating the publishing waters is difficult enough. It’s even harder when we put such ridiculous expectations on our work. There is a difference between confidence and believing you have a sure fire hit on your hands.Every author should stand behind their work. If we didn’t, we’d be little more than frauds. What we shouldn’t do is think we have some kind of golden ticket.

I posted some time ago how I was writing a book based on a successful short story of mine. I thought if the short story sold and was received well, the book most certainly would too. The truth is I never got that far with the book. It never felt right. The timing still doesn’t feel right. After much thought, I decided to write the kind of story that makes my inner geek excited. It’s a sci-fi and horror mash up similar in tone to the Aliens franchise. Survival horror always makes my heart sing. (Believe me, I don’t like talking about doing something without having done the thing first. I think it makes me look like a braggart d-bag.)

Don’t get me wrong anything that helps an author finish a project is a good thing. It simply rings truer when the creator is behind the project body, mind, and soul.

Minor Note: The “I know this book will sell” way of thinking can work. You just need to be a successful author with a proven fan-base first. If you don’t have either of those things, the “I know this book will sell” mentality won’t work because you have no track record of success.

What about you? Have you ever written something simply because you thought it would sell? If you have, let us know how that turned out. We’d love to know. Until next time, thanks for reading…and be good to one another.

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What Happens After You Leave Your Literary Agent

Before we get started, some of you may have noticed I haven’t been very active here for a while. The simple truth is I didn’t feel like I had anything important enough to say. I got down on myself. It took a lot of thought and soul searching for me to find my voice. You see, this all goes back to my childhood of abuse (both mentally and physically)…that “quiet” mindset – keep your head down, be quiet, and bad things won’t happen.

I’ve struggled with self worth my whole life. Most days are better than others. There are always moments when self doubt creeps in. Scratch that. It’s always there, in the back corner of my mind. Most of the time I don’t pay any attention to it. Sometimes is won’t be ignored. BUT, I’m a practical guy. Even though it took me a little longer to shake the yuck from myself, I finally did.

Okay, now on to the post.

I’m not going to get into specific dates, times, or use names. Slinging mud publicly isn’t my thing. The purpose of this post is to share some of my experiences so other writers can get an idea of both the good, and the bad, of publishing.

Have you ever wondered why authors/writers rarely talk about parting ways with a literary agent?

While I can’t speak for anyone else, it made me feel like a failure, like I did something wrong. Quite often, as growing writers, we see agents in a mystical light. When we sign with one we can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops. That kind of enthusiasm is a good thing, but it’s often coupled with naivety.

I was lucky when I left my agent. I knew what I wanted and what I wasn’t getting from her. I also wasn’t afraid to let our relationship fail. Which is terrifying considering my career was on the line.

I also want to be clear about how I signed with my former agent. I came to her with a three book deal on the table. I queried the hell out of my book with every literary agent who repped anything remotely similar to my book. I was rejected by all of them. A few gave me constructive feedback. My former agent was one of those agents. I filed that away. After striking out with agents, I tried small presses. If anyone has submitted to small presses, you know this takes time. Months and months. If the editors are seriously considering your book it may take six months to a year before you get a final verdict. Eventually I got an acceptance from one of my top choices. Not only did they want my first book, but they wanted me to write two sequels. A trilogy! I was excited. But not excited enough to just sign on the dotted line.

It’s important to remember that through the entire query process I learned. Whether it was dealing with potential literary agents or editors or any other literary professional. As newer writers we must not get star struck. Before signing anything we must remember that our future is at stake. I think my upbringing and time in the military served me well in this regard. I got excited, sure. But I never let it cloud my judgment. I remained cautious, vigilant. I always made sure I was looking out for myself.

Now that I had a three book deal on the table, I felt like I had some leverage. So I used it. I remembered one of the agents who treated me like a human being. Because let’s face it, querying feels so cold, hollow. And not because writers don’t get what we want (representation), but because most of the time we don’t even get a response. We’re made to feel less, like we’re not worth an agent’s time. As a result I tended to notice the agents who treated me like an actual person when they had no reason to. I sent off an email stating who I was, past interaction with the agent, why I was reaching out now, and what I wanted. Looking back, I should have seen her rejecting the manuscript, but offer representation after I had a book deal, as a red flag. You live and you learn. I had to take a shot.

Another red flag came during “the call”. My agent requested that I call her. Each time we spoke, I called her. Looking back I suspect it was to save the long distance charges. Plus, during our calls, she always cut me off. There was always something more important than her newest client. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t clingy, or mental, calling and needing to talk constantly. All I wanted was a monthly chat, either by phone or email just so we could stay on the same page. From day one, communication was an issue. I filed that away.

As time passed it became clear may agent was only my agent for the guaranteed paycheck that three book deal represented. In all the time I had a literary agent, I never once received feedback on manuscript. I don’t believe she read it all the way through. Why bother when an editor already acquired it? At least that’s the feeling I got.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand publishing is a business. Literary agents need to eat too. Money is money. But we were supposed to be a team. Coming from the Air Force, I knew a thing or two about teamwork. Looking back, I never felt we were a team, let alone on the same page.

Fast forward eight months. The small press changed their business practices overnight. They gave authors who hadn’t been published yet an out. I couldn’t, in consciousness, stick with a deal I felt was unjust. Since my trilogy wasn’t scheduled to release for another couple of months, I requested a dissolution of my contract. I emailed my agent and told her what I wanted and why. She agreed, but I felt like she thought it was a mistake. She always suggested I never leave money on the table and that if a publisher wanted another book, you give them another book. Like I said, I couldn’t stick with a deal I no longer believed in. It would have been different if I knew everything before I signed. Things changed. I changed with them.

After the dissolution of my book deal, the plan was for my agent to go over my works in progress and together we would discuss our next step. Something that should have taken a couple of weeks stretched on for months. This is where I decided to step back and see if my agent really cared about me. After an email each month for two months, I waited. And waited. And waited to see if she would get back to me. After an additional couple of months, I definitively knew I had to part ways with my agent. There was no communication. There was nothing.

My next step was to voice my concerns and giver her a chance to explain things. Each time she had a reason why she didn’t have time for me. So we repeated the cycle a few more times until I said I couldn’t accept things the way they were any longer. I gave my former agent numerous chances to rectify things. I tried to behave in a professional manner and believe I did. When I requested my leave, she didn’t try to talk me out of it or anything. To me, it seemed like the guaranteed money was gone, so I didn’t matter anymore.

There I was with no three book deal and no literary agent. I went from thinking things were awesome (insert the LEGO movie song here) to absolute rock bottom.

What do you do after you part ways with your literary agent? You press on. Just because I didn’t have a book deal or an agent didn’t mean I stopped believing in myself or my work. I had two books finished and several short stories published. I had to have been doing something right.

The most important thing, at least for me, was to remain professional. I like to treat others the way I would like to be treated. As long as we can do that, it’s okay to have differences of opinion.

I’m grateful to my former literary agent. She negotiated my contract and got me the best deal. She even got it dissolved when I requested it. Her business skills were great. I learned a lot about contracts because I asked questions and stayed involved. I no longer feel lost when a publisher sends me a contract for a short story. I don’t want it to seem like my entire time with my agent was bad. It wasn’t. It just wasn’t what it should have been.

Most authors will advise up and coming writers to do their homework before signing with a literary agent. This can only take you so far. There are some things you can’t learn from an agent’s interviews or a half hour phone call. Unfortunately, you have to get in there and discover things for yourself. If you realize you’ve made a mistake by signing with an agent you’re not compatible with, be honest. Try to work things out in a way that will benefit everyone. There’s no reason to stay with an agent who you don’t feel has your back. Why would you want to?

The next time I’m ready to sign with a literary agent, I’ll know exactly what I’m looking for. I’d like her/him to communicate easily, have some common interests outside of books, and be honest. I want to know if I’m messing something up or if she/he thinks I can do better. Even though I’m creating the stories, she/he has the expert knowledge of the publishing industry. We should compliment one another and make one hell of a team.

As up and coming writers we mustn’t get caught up in the myth of instant credibility we believe having a literary agent brings. Signing with a literary agent, while exciting, is only a step on our career as published authors. Having a literary agent doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Nor does it guarantee success. We all have to put in the work. Agented writers too. As long as we can be kind to one another and keep improving, then I have to believe that we’ll all find our way eventually. And if you’re sitting there wondering if you’ll ever find a literary agent, just remember my story and know there are worse things than never signing with an agent. You could sign with the wrong one. Nobody wants that.

Keep writing. Keep improving. Stay as positive as you can. Have a little faith. You’ll get there. I know you will.

Update 1/31/2017

For those interested, here’s the latest on my projects.

The Mists of Calthar is with a small press. I should be getting word back any day now.

My short story, An Unfamiliar Sky, is being considered for an anthology.

Progress is being made on an untitled short story which is about the apocalypse. The plan is to finish, edit, and submit it to anthology.

Not much happening on the book front. There are several projects I could jump into, but I don’t think I’m in the right place mentally yet. I’ll sit down in a couple weeks and take a good look at what book I want to write next.

How about you? How’s your writing going?

New Project

Hey, how’s it going? I hope everyone is doing well.

As the title of this post suggests, I wanted to let you know I’ve started work on a new book. Fans of my short story, COVERT GENESIS (which appears in SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror), will be pleased to know the new book takes place in the same world. I’ve talked about wanting to take that short story and make a book out of it. I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

My previous literary agent suggested I finish a different book because it was more lucrative. I’m not writing this new book because I think it’ll be lucrative (even though I believe it will be anyway). I’m writing this one because I love the story, and world of Covert Genesis. This is a labor of love for me and I believe that love will find its way to the page. I have a loose outline and the first chapter is going well. My goal is to have the first draft done before the new year.

What can readers expect from the new book?

While I don’t have a title for the new book yet, it will explain where the parasites come from. It’ll be a mash-up of horror, sci-fi, and military action. You’ll find familiar characters as well as new ones. The goal is to set the parasite menace free and see how humanity stands up to it.

I’ll be sure to share more details as the project nears completion. Stay tuned. It’s going to be one hell of a ride!

Twitter Pitching

I promised a post about my Twitter pitching adventures. Today I make good on that promise.

Keep in mind I pitched a Sci-Fi book for adults. For anyone interested in the book, THE MISTS OF CALTHAR, click the “Fiction” tab above.

I recently participated in #PitMad and #Pit2Pub. #PitMad was for literary agents, and/or editors, to request samples of books based on a single tweet. #Pit2Pub was for editors at small presses. Simple, right? All I had to do was create interesting tweets about my 89,000 word book. You get 140 characters, or about a sentence, and you had to include the appropriate hashtags with your pitch.

My goal was to gauge interest in my new book and possibly get the attention of a literary agent. I’d say I was successful on both accounts.

I’m not going to name names about which editors and agents showed interest. All I want is to provide numbers and data to any writer/author thinking about trying to pitch their books on Twitter.

Here are the numbers…

#PitMad

I tweeted three different pitches (spaced out during the day) and only got likes on one of them. An editor for a small press liked one of my pitches as well as a literary agent. The literary agent wanted a query letter and the first five pages. I sent them. Some time later the same agent requested the full manuscript, which they now have. I’m calling that a win.

#Pit2Pub

I tweeted four different pitches and got likes on three of them. A grand total of four small presses showed interest, one editor even liked three of my pitches. Again, pretty good. I’m calling this one a win too even though I didn’t submit to any of them. Remember, my goal was only to gauge interest.

My most popular tweet got a total of five likes, or requests, from both twitter pitches. For anyone interested, here it is: “Missing astronauts found on another planet. One man will walk into a war to find his missing family, even if it kills him.”

My only other advice is to make sure you follow the rules. The organizers have them for a reason. Don’t be a douche and think you can do what you want. I also made a point to warn my twitter followers that I was participating in these pitch events. That way they could mute me for the day if they wanted. Be courteous. Be polite. Follow the rules.

For more tips, the fine folks at the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency have you covered. Check out their post The Art of #TwitterPitching.

 

For Grandma, Or Why I’ll Always Write Horror

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As I slog through submissions, rejections, and trying to create something halfway decent to peddle, the process can make even the most positive person wither. After the death of my father a few months back, writing has been difficult. I see so many fake people on social media who will do anything to get whatever they’ve written noticed. The asskissers. The fake-it-till-you-make-its. The phonies. It gets me thinking how much I want to do it any more. Before anyone jumps on me, I know there are some good folks out there. I know some of them. It just seems like there are more and more of the not-so-good folks all the time. And damnit, they know how to trample on anything good faster than a kaiju in the big city!

Some days I’m very quiet. I introspect about what I’ve accomplished and where I’ve come from. There’s hard work. There’s regret. There’s accomplishment. There’s failure. But at the heart of it all are the stories.

I try and be the author who writes the kinds of stories they would enjoy reading. I’m a monster guy. I’ve always loved monsters in some way, shape, or form. Anything from vampires to giant, city smashing lizards. If there are monsters, there are usually people fighting them too. That’s who I wanted to be as a kid. Not an astronaut, or a policeman, or a doctor. No, I wanted to be Van Helsing with his wooden stakes, or Charley Brewster from Fright Night.

I mention this because the other night as I pondered why my books featuring vampires haven’t done so well even though I love the hell out of them, I remembered why I wrote them in the first place. They were for the kid in me. And the kid in me used to devour horror movies with his Grandma every chance he got. We would watch Evil Dead, Aliens, Cujo, or whatever else my Grandma wanted. I was happy just to be around her. The whole monster thing just sort of sunk in while we watched.

Years later Cancer took her and even though I still miss her, a piece of me still belongs with her and those movies. I know that if she were still alive, she’d love my books. She would love them for the monsters and the people who battle them. She’d love them for the same reasons I do.

My Grandma wasn’t the only one in my family who got me on the horror train. I also owe my father a tip of the cap. Early on in my life he introduced me to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, Salem’s Lot, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Even though my father and I never had the best of relationships, we always had movies. Whenever I wanted to watch something, no matter what it was, he always said yes. Raiders of the Lost Ark for the 100th time? Put it on. Predator for the 150th time? You bet. John Carpenter’s The Thing for the 1000th time? Absolutely. One of the first grown up books I ever picked up was Jaws and I took it from my father’s shelf. It’s also thanks to my father that I started reading horror too.

Cancer recently took my father too. And I know where ever he is, he’s rooting for my books. He’s a horror guy, and there can never be enough horror.

Like I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I keep putting my books with vampires out there in a market that wants nothing to do with them. The answer is pretty simple. It’s because I love those books just like I love my Grandma and father. Those books are so much more than vampires. They’re grand-in-scope stories where good people fight monsters on behalf of the rest of humanity, because there’s something worth fighting for. So even though agents and other literary professionals see the word “vampire” and run for the hills, I know there’s a lot more to those books than that. There’s a piece of my father, my Grandma, and the love we all shared for horror. And someday, someone else will recognize what i see in those books too.

The mind can be a funny thing. When something is clogging it up, we have to figure out why and how to unclog it. If we don’t, we won’t be able to move forward. I know my love for monsters and the people who fight them comes from abuse too, but that’s a story for another day. It’s also something my Grandma, father, and I all share too. Horror, like my family, is a part of me. It always will be.

Back To Business

Death can be a difficult thing. The recent death of a parent certainly had me wondering about many things. It made me appreciate a short story I wrote a while back called, Death Blossoms. The story explores a group of people’s greatest fears while in purgatory. One character in particular is afraid he’ll end up like his father, who was an abusive alcoholic. The character wonders if those traits are apart of him no matter what he does.

I’ve wondered the same things. That’s why I included that story line into that particular short story. (Which is available now in Paying the Ferryman, an anthology published by Charon Coin Press, for only $2.99!) While the story isn’t biographical, I did share some of my experiences, hopes and fears, with certain characters. That’s something I try to do with everything I create. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a piece of me in each story. Sometimes it’s something small. Sometimes it’s something more major. Hopefully it makes for a more realistic read.

This past year and a half has been difficult. My family watched as a loved one wasted away. For those of you who don’t know, Cancer is no joke. I watched two Grandparents succumb to it, and now a parent too. What all three had in common was cigarettes. Take that how you will. ‘Nuff said.

Anyway, this week I made myself open my WIP and get back to work. At first I didn’t know if I’d be ready. After I read through the first ten pages, I found that I missed writing more than I knew. Even if I was only re-familiarizing myself with the story and characters, it felt good to make some kind of progress. Finishing the book won’t be easy, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. My recent experiences should help make my characters more three dimensional. Death affects everyone differently. Something I got to see firsthand with my brother, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

In my latest book, one of the main characters believes his mother died twenty-five years ago. He later learns she’s alive. Recent experiences really got me thinking how that revelation would affect a person. How far would we go to see our loved ones again? What would we say to them if we could see them again? Those are some of the things I want to explore in my latest piece of fiction.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone who took the time email, comment, and/or offer their support. It meant a lot to me. I want you all to know I’m okay and back behind the keyboard doing what I love. I’m taking it slow, but making progress. I will hopefully have the first draft done and edited by the end of March. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a book to finish!