Calling My Bookies

WritersEyes small

Good souls: I’ve been working on the contents of the book pictured above for a while, and am finishing up the final edits. I’m going to self-publish it on Amazon in mid-to-late May. The book is about how to see the world as a writer and how to take that vision to the page. It has chapters on how to cultivate your writing voice, working in various writing genres, and looking at how writing works at the word, sentence (and even punctuation) level. (Oh, there’s funny stuff in there too—I couldn’t help it.)

There are also chapters on getting the writing blues (and how to paint them a different color), how to cope with writing distractions, and a resource section directing you to who and what I think are the brightest eyes in the writing world right now, from idea sparking to freelance contracting to self publishing. Writer’s Eyes will end up around 56,000 words. Many of them are juicy.

Get Your Hot Hands on the Pulsing Pages
If you’d like to get an advance digital copy of the book, write to me at bentguy@charter.net and specify whether you’d like a PDF, .ePub (Nook/iBooks) or .mobi (Kindle) version. What I ask is that you consider writing a review of the book and posting it on Amazon on the day I launch the book. Having a substantive number of reviews on launch day can be a big boost for a book’s early momentum, which can be a boost for its later momentum. (Right now there are multiple spots in the book that say “PHOTO?”—I’m still debating if I’m going to insert images.)

Of course you can say in your review you were given an advance copy of the book, and of course you can also say in your review something along the lines of what Dorothy Parker (who as a critic dubbed herself the Constant Reader) said on the use of “hummy” for “honey” in A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner:

“It is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”

I always caution my readers to have a hankie at hand, should they frow up.

Let me know if you’d like to see the book; I’ll remind you when the day draws nigh when I’m going to launch this puppy on Amazon.

With Your Help, We’ve Got It Covered

WritersEyes v3

WritersEyes v5

WritersEyes v7 cream

WritersEyes v8 turq

So, it’s pretty picture time! Well, I hope at least one is a pretty picture. Here are four comps for the cover of my book. As I’d mentioned before, the book is about how to recognize—nay, invoke your writing voice, and how to see stories everywhere. And how to net those elusive butterflies and imprint them on the page, whether that page carries fiction or non. I’d love for the book cover design to grab your writer’s eye.

Here are the chapter titles:

  • Chapter One: Don’t Muzzle or Muffle Your Writing Voice
  • Chapter Two: A Writer’s Eyes Are Always Open
  • Chapter Three: Slipping Through Various Writing Fences [writing across genres and disciplines]
  • Chapter Four: Writing Structures: Words, Sentences, Punctuation Marks, Oh My!
  • Chapter Five: Writing Distractions, and All Their Discontents
  • Chapter Six: Practical Matters [writing resources, links]

I’ll provide a closer look at the book’s content when I’m rounding the last corner on its publication. To push me to that corner faster, I need your help. Can you look over these four cover examples, and consider them for their design and title? You can see there are a few title variants that I’m mulling here, such as:

Opening Your Writer’s Eyes: A Guidebook to Go from Perception to Page
Opening Your Writer’s Eyes: A Guidebook from Perception to Page
Opening Your Writer’s Eyes: Go from Perception to Page
Opening Your Writer’s Eyes: How to Go from Perception to Page

 

The other questions are which type treatment is most appealing, which images and arrangement, and which background color. But it’s probably easiest for you to simply choose which of these works best for you. Let’s call top-left #1, top-right #2, bottom-left #3, and bottom-right #4

I’d appreciate hearing from you on your selection and/or any of the elements in question. I’ll normally don’t overlap my blog posts with my newsletter, but I sent this out to the newsletter audience as well, to get a broader sampling. I greatly appreciate your help.

Thoughts?
Let me know what strikes you most soundly in your writerly solar plexus. (Or your gut, if we can be that intimate.) Please email me at bentguy@charter.net if you’d like to cast your vote. Or if you just want my recipe for rhubarb whiskey.

Big thanks!

To Thine Own Self (Publishing) Be True

Leaded type

I finished a novel in late 2012. Titled Aftershock, it’s based in San Francisco, and the 1989 earthquake plays a central part in throwing—almost literally—some disparate lives together. Nobody’s particularly comfortable in the book, but that’s the prerogative of the author—we get to torture our characters, so that we can be better people ourselves. Or not.

But I don’t want to talk about my psychological problems. (Unless you swing by with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon—I have ice on ice waiting for you.) I do want to briefly talk about publishing. Briefly, because talking about the changes in publishing is an industry in itself these days, and my adding to the din won’t land me any Oprah-time.

Bleary Queries

To this point, I’ve sent queries about my novel to 22 agents. Despite the publishing heavens being torn by demons, agents remain the middle defenders for those writers hungering for the traditional publishing route, with its still-credible distribution structure, now-flagging marketing support, and tarnished-yet-dimly-shiny “Look mom, some NY bigwigs bought my book” cachet.

Depending on the agent guidelines, those queries have included a couple of full manuscripts, a lot of 10-50 page excerpts, or just a synopsis and a prayer. So far, I’ve received 12 rejections; some of the queries are a few months’ old without response, so I’ll probably follow up on the best of those.

But the winds of change have blown their clichéd gusts through publishing’s doors, and floors. Self-publishing no longer has the “I wrote seven poems about grandma’s feet, and had them printed with a velvet cover” taint. I self-published my first novel, had a book of short stories published by a small press after that, and should no agent show real interest in my newest work in the next few months, I’ll go the self-abuse route once more. (I did always love the punchline for the you’ll-go-blind masturbation joke, “Hey, can I just do it long enough so I only have to wear glasses?”)

Resources: Self-pub Grub

I’ve been reading a good deal about the publishing industry and its earthquakes in the last year or so. Here are a few good books that have solid info on the publishing world, self-publishing and how to market your work:

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

Create Your Writer Platform

Sites with Insights

And here are some sites I read regularly that provide great resources and insights into the roiling new world of publishing.

Jane Friedman
The Creative Penn
Digital Book World

And if I do self-publish, this time I’ll have my book edited by some professional other than myself. Woe befalls the writer, even if they are professional editors, who edit their own work. That self-abuse could take the sight from any writer’s eyes, and I already wear glasses, so I know better now.

Writing Conferences: Whoopee or Whoopee Cushion?

Roosevelt Hotel

Does everyone else always wonder if someone’s having more fun in their hotel?

Writing conferences can be a grab bag of goodies and ghastlies, and what sounds like such a soaring boon to your writing wits on the program page can become a glaze-eyed dust bowl when you’re plunked in your chair at a presentation. I was at last weekend’s Writer’s Digest West Conference in Hollywood, and it was the usual mix of fruit and nuts, though many of the offerings were tasty.

Being set in Hollywood, there was a lot of glitter on the grounds, seeing as how we were ensconced at the Loews Hollywood, in the Dolby Center right off the Boulevard, set in the midst of a panoply of glitzy shops and eateries accessed by a spidering array of cross-courtyard escalators and walkways. The only star of any consequence I saw was on a 50-foot poster of Daniel Craig pushing the latest Bonding, though there were a couple of Nikki Minaj-lookalikes that had apparently been baked in one of the wood-fired makeup ovens at a local salon.

Several of the conference presentations and workshops were held in big, airy rooms with comfy chairs and plenty of tables so that you could take notes on the next chapter of your zombie-vampire-federal budget epic, while presenters flagellated the crowd on the wobbly knees of publishing today and how in this time of vital authorial authenticity, it’s now necessary to send your fans small pieces of your flesh as well as your imagination.

Pitch Slam or Mosh Pit?

Actually, I loved Chuck Wendig’s “25 Ways to Earn Your Audience” talk, though I do willingly gravitate toward speakers who consistently use variants of the word “poop” imaginatively. Got some good stuff out of the Hardcore Author Marketing panel too. But one of the main reasons I attended the event was to pitch my just-finished novel at the literary agent pitch slam, and for some reason, the organizers held that event in one of the smaller conference rooms, that packed in 20+ agents, plus what seemed to be every conference attendee and most of the homeless people on Hollywood Boulevard (hard to distinguish between the two groups), so that it was literally quite hard to hear in the ensuing din.

Because of the maze of lines and the teeming (and steaming) attendance, I was only able to pitch 3 of my intended 7 agents, and felt lucky that one requested a full manuscript. The other two were happy that I didn’t ask them for a handout, though if I would have seen them in the lobby bar later, I would have, since I paid $18 there for a Manhattan. Probably just as well, because if I had a few more of those, I would have been offering those authorial pieces of flesh to reluctant takers, and the ensuing handcuffs would have bruised my delicate wrists. Instead, I got to go back to my 12-floor room and stare at the lovely old facade of the Roosevelt Hotel and its charming neon sign, and then pass out (in a writerly way).

Back that Poop Up

A little coda to the event: as I said, I was given a request for the full manuscript of my new novel from an agent. When I came home, I scrambled through some last-minute edits, which seemed to scramble the hard drive of my not-that-old Macbook Pro. Thus, I had a few electric moments of panic when I thought my manuscript (and all of my business writing besides, since it’s my business computer) was lost. Gack!

But being the tidy sort, I did have a fairly recent backup, and was able to stumble through using an external drive to boot the machine, edit and get the damn thing printed and off in the mail. Indeed the hard drive had given up the ghost; probably a consequence of me putting naughty bits in my new novel, which you’ll see me peddling soon on Hollywood Boulevard.

Authorial bits of flesh extra.

Don’t Throw a Slow Curve at the Pitch Session for Your Novel

No literary agent could have resisted Koufax’s fastball

 

I had a fun experience last night. If by “fun” you mean something before which I ground my teeth for a few hours. My great local bookstore held a Pitchpalooza, where the publishing-expert “Book Doctors” listened to the pitches of would-be authors about their works.

Because I’m going to a bigger version of this event in a couple of weeks, where I’ll present my just-completed novel, I thought this would be good practice. So I practiced worrying about it, and predictably, came up with a flat book-report style of pitch, rather than something with some kick. After hearing the critiques of the book doctors after just a few of the initial presentations, I realized that my meat-and-potatoes pitch had no spice. Here’s the first paragraph of what I worked with:

My novel is the story of three San Franciscans who are thrown together by the earthquake of 1989, and that incident dramatically changes their lives. One is a proofreader at a leasing company, another is his prim, workaholic female boss, and another a homeless man who begs outside their office. The proofreader is a sarcastic but good guy who is secretly working on a novel. His boss is a former editor at a boutique publishing house in Boston who has a hidden alcohol problem, and the homeless man is a Vietnam vet whose wife and children left him because of his alcoholism. He has since straightened up.

No.

This is what I wrote in three minutes this morning (after my evening of self-grousing); I’ll tinker with it yet, but it at least has movement the other lacked:

Wisecracking, horny Hayden is the disgruntled proofreading coordinator at a large San Francisco leasing company. His big secret is that he’s writing a novel that he hopes will change his fortunes. His prim, workaholic boss, a former editor at a publishing house, has a secret too: she’s a hidden alcoholic. The homeless guy who begs outside their office, once a hopeless drunk himself, wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care about these office intrigues. That is, until the 1989 earthquake throws all their fates together—in life-altering ways.

Warming Up Before Pitching (Pitching Resources)

Before I went to the Pitchpalooza, I read a lot of good information online about pitching. Here is some of the best:

This one from ScriptMag is on screenwriting, but the essentials apply to all kinds of writing.

The Guide to Literary Agents blog has lots of good info on pitching. Here’s literary agent Miriam Kriss on the perfect pitch.

Here is the site’s editor, Chuck Sambuchino, breaking down a successful pitch for a middle-grade/YA book, and again for a women’s fiction work.

And former literary agent Nathan Bransford (whose site is a rich repository of publishing industry info) has a good piece on pitching, with many commenters replying with pitches of their own.

Finally, on Meet the Author, you can go through a broad list of successful authors giving 60- or 90-second overviews of what their work is about. Some of these folks wander—often amusingly—about in the garden patch of their pitch, but they can do that—they already landed the contract.

Note: just to show you what a muttonhead I can be, I’d read all this great advice and still came up with a pitch that lolled in a chair sleeping. My revision still needs work, but I know now that you pitch with a fastball, and not a hanging curve.

How Being Short Can Take You a Long Way

Being short, you’ll never have to worry about seeing all of that guck that’s on the top of your refrigerator. Me being the long, lanky type, so shamed am I when I spot that accretion of grime that I have to stop the speechwriting I do for the American Graham Cracker Collection Society, and clean it immediately. But here I’m referring to length, not height, where bigger isn’t necessarily better—in writing.

There’s a situation that brings this to mind: I’m going to the Writer’s Digest West writing conference in LA in late October, and there I’m going to engage in a frolicsome thing called a pitch slam. A pitch slam isn’t where you test your curveball to see if you can strike out Albert Pujols; it’s where a hoard of peevish, underfed literary agents listen to your strangled proposal for your book, and then press a button that puts you in a trash compactor, while you hear the waning sounds of their maniacal laughter.

The slam part is this: you have 90 seconds to pitch your book. Ninety seconds: that’s easily enough time for me sit in front of the agent, swallow my tongue, fall to the floor and writhe spasmodically. I have scanned the agents who are available for this particularly torture, and I see that I will have at least five chances to pitch—a fit—in front of them. Thus my writing exercise for the next month will be to put the novel I’ve just finished into a readily digestible pill: sweet, vivid and utterly condensed.

Brevity Is the Soul of Lingerie

I’ve written before on how challenging (yet oddly freeing) it can be to be forced to write with brevity. It’s refreshing, like ice in your underwear. For ballast, I’ll be checking out some information on pitching and synopses from the Guide to Literary Agents blog, where I’ve gleaned good information before.

Writing short is a useful art. A couple of months ago, I won a great MediaBistro Literary Festival conference pass just by tweeting what I judged to be the best sentence I’d ever written. (Never mind, with counting the hashtag, that my first three choices were longer than Twitter’s character count allows). As Dorothy Parker said, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” Thus, to display my lingerie, I just entered the Gotham Writer’s Workshop 91-word memoir contest, where you are supposed to deliver your biography in 91 words. Here’s my first half:

A Cardboard Fort, Conquered by Language
At six, long backyard hours in cardboard refrigerator-box fort, alone with clock, dinosaur books and languid time. At twelve, graduating to Hesse, Twain, Steinbeck, and hearing the sweet siren call of language. At twenty-four, English-degreed, writing crabbed copy for catalogs, questing.

You’ll just have to wait for the rest; I don’t want to reveal the part about my secret marriage to Doris Duke while the contest is pending. Have to run—have to figure out how to squeeze my multi-points-of-view tragicomic opus into 90 seconds, without including all the sighs, cries and lies.

(And hey, if any of you agents happen to read this, I don’t really think you are peevish or underfed. I will remember all your children’s birthdays forever.)

Bonus Material! Missing Teeth, Dangerous Drugs and an Unsober Man

And for a little comic relief, of the not-so-short variety, take a look at my guest post on the charming aspects of hysteria experienced in the dentist’s office. That minor play of neuroses is courtesy of Dr. Richard Wilson’s Bite Point blog; Doc Wilson is the author of many a toothsome tale, including the forthcoming epic, The Man Who Wore Mismatched Socks.

2012 Guide to Literary Agents Giveaway

Guide to Literary Agents

Ooh, free stuff. Better yet, good free stuff! That good stuff is the 2012 edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, which has comprehensive contact listings of agents and agencies, tells you what they are looking for in regards novels and nonfiction books, and supplies submission tips and writerly suggestions. And one of you glittery souls who merely puts in a comment here will be shipped a free copy of the guide. (Gotta be a U.S. address—sorry!)

Besides all the agency listings, the book has lots of articles on what makes agents happy with your submissions, and what makes them cranky. There’s also a section on writing conferences and screenwriting. This is the book for you even if you can’t decide if your novel is YA or DOA. The guide also includes an updated online subscription to agent listings.

Shameless Plug
What will undoubtedly thrill you down to your very tippy-toesies is knowing that there’s an article of mine in the book. It’s somewhat of a how-to on setting up (and getting something out of) a personal writer’s retreat. That’s a freebie too.

Even if you don’t have a manuscript or book proposal ready for an agent, you might want to swim in the comment stream just to get stimulated. I’ll take all your names and select one at random. I’ll cut off the contest a week from today, and I’ll let the winner know by email.

And to my pals who drop by and comment on a regular basis, no, I’m not going to cheat and choose one of you just because you’re pretty. Grow up. This is legit. (But you still have a chance in the random drawing. And you’re still pretty.)

Anatomy of A Failed Book Proposal

The deed to my deep holdings in the fabled Hollow

I’ve been copyediting the forthcoming Guide to Literary Agents 2012 book, and seeing all of the do’s and don’ts on sending your queries and proposals to agents reminded me that one of my big ideas for a book flamed out a little while back.

Since I was familiar with the fundamentals of writing a book proposal, I think I put together a reasonable effort, one that addressed the usual requisites of Synopsis, Chapter Outline, Sample Chapters, Market Overview, Platform, and Blithering On About My Background. If you Google “How to Write a Book Proposal” you’ll get results out of the yin-yang (wipe them carefully), but Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal (updated to its 4th edition) is considered a classic.

If you can no longer bear the act of reading words on a page (the horror!), you can listen to Ted Weinstein’s Book Proposal Bootcamp audio recording, which is quite good. He has other proposal-writing tips on his site as well.

It All Starts with a Drink. No, I Mean an Idea!
Of course, you need an idea for the book. Mine started with a callow, whiskey-drinking youth who, upon seeing a prompt on a Jack Daniel’s bottle urging fans to write the distillery, wrote something like this: “Why, not only do I enjoy consuming Jack’s finest in a conventional way, but I also brush my teeth with it, and keep a glass on my bedside table, at the ready to ward off night sweats and other less congenial spirits.”

Little did I know that would prompt a tide of strange letters and documents, and even stranger objects (a rabbit’s foot, rubbing stone, chewing tobacco, sippin’ glasses and more) sent from the distillery to me. My first return letter from them came 35 years ago. I received another a month ago and I’ve faithfully returned the favor back to them, quirky letter for quirky letter. Even when months would go by without receiving a letter, that’s a lot of correspondence, marketing gimmick or not. (A lot of whiskey too.)

Thus, my thought that were I to package up the correspondence, and scans and photos of the mailed oddments between us (sent through their sister organization, the Tennessee Squires), and include a kind running chronology/commentary of what was happening personally and socially over the course of the correspondence, that would make for a weird, whiskey-soaked memoir. Egads, a book!

Putting the Kibosh on the Korrespondence
Anyway, if you scan the proposal, you can see that it’s a fair amount of work to put one together. It was composed a while ago, so some of the info is out of date. But one issue that Little Tommy forgot (and which was pointed out only toward the end of sending it out to a number of agents): I don’t own the copyright to letters sent to me. And when I politely inquired of the Tennessee Squires (of which I am a bonafide landed-gentry member) if I could assemble all our correspondence in a book, they politely turned me down. I asked twice, but no go. They just weren’t interested in publicity about the Tennessee Squire organization. Or they didn’t like the smell of my breath, who knows?

Anyway, I still might publish a shorter recounting of all this high-proof business, because it’s amusing. The next proposal I write, about Hugh Hefner’s pajama collection, will have all copyright issues solved in advance.