Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rebel Yell: Part Two--The Better News

Norman Mailer said it years before William Goldman.  Mailer was struck from his horse by a bolt of insight while riding the streets of rejection.  The simple phrase 'They don't know!' became his turning point:  the rejections all sounded so certain that his work was too this or too that and so, we regret to inform you, dear sir, that your stuff is a mountain of doody.  In that white light, Mailer saw that  hardworking, decent women and men made decisions based on what they thought their bosses wanted...and their bosses, in turn, made decisions based on what they thought the public wanted--based on what was selling now.  Mailer, never running a pint shy in confidence, saw that the entire trick was to get to the Great Source directly:  to get into print so the public could vote.

In Mailer's day that may have meant ending up with a garage filled with self-published novels no bookstore would stock.  Today, thanks to e-books, anyone can have their day in court without shelling out thousands of dollars.  The downside is obvious:  trash that should have stayed in drawers will hit the market smelling like loads of poop in Jockey shorts.  Sometimes the gatekeepers do know.

The Better News gets a lot better for pros who've made their way through Boot Camp and compete in the commercial arena--but who are either blessed or afflicted with the craziest damned urges to write a book that Cannot Sell.  Because it is too different.  Because it is too wild.  Such a book may become their obsession.  And they'll never know peace if they file it away while licking some marketing oracle's boots.

The Still Better News:  confidence arises from the clearing of our plates, as do pride and self-respect.  Readers benefit from reading books that come straight from the heart., not those hammered into pegs to fit existing holes.  The writers' lists of published works will grow in length and stature, for nothing tickles fickle minds more than indie spirits.  Agents will bless their lucky stars that their clients no longer cuss them out for turning down books that Can't Sell.  As an added bonus, writers may reissue past works that were compromised by deadline pressures or editorial conflicts.

The Good News, as you may have guessed, is that these works might sell.  But that entry is a week away.  Cheers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rebel Yell: Part One--The Bad News

There are only so many seats on the boat and no one is willingly giving up theirs.  Worse still, more and more are taking up more than one seat, turning out anywhere from two or three to eight novels a year.  You can't afford a staff of twelve.  You don't have the time or the money to hustle at thirteen conventions a year.  Though you hate to admit it, you may have a job and not be able to write twelve hours a day, then spend six more hours on Facebook.  You don't have the connections to get through to the agents you most want to reach.  You're not cute enough to sell your butt.

All you have is the wonderful talent and drive that have fueled you for so many years.  And the blazing conviction that if you can be heard, just once--or one more time--you can set the house on fire and be The Next Big Thing.

The crappy news is you may not get the chance if you're even just way better than average.  Not in the traditional publishing scene.  And if your talent is unique, the odds against you rise still more--and you'll hear lamentable words such as these:  There's just no market for this kind of thing...You've written one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written--but one that may neve be published (this remark was made to me by one of the country's top agents, who'd sat on that novel for over a year without sending it out even once)...

The bad news is you may not get the chance to gamble, on stage, on receiving the brass apple instead of the hook.  You may die broke and unknown, with a trunkful of fabulous novels the world was just dying to read.

The bad news is:  that's possible because there are only so many seats. 

The better news, however, is:  it doesn't have to be that way.  If you've put in your time and you do have the stuff, the lifechanging decision that you need to make is:  how to get past the bouncers and onto the stage where your fate can be rightly decided.

For this week, remember:  There are only so manys seats on the boat and no one is willingly yielding.  Don't be bitter.  Understand:  you won't give up your place when you're seated.  And you will be seated if you'll return in one more week to hear The Better News.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A New Year's Gift is Coming

The Bad News...The Better News...The Good News...and The Best News will be a four-part series partly inspired by Brian Hodge's terrific marathon on his warriorpoet blog.  But unlike his study of revision, mine will deal with the traditional publishing scene today, rejection, competition, despair, and online options for writers.

I'll put my horror background to good use in the first entry tomorrow.  The bad news is scary stuff.  But I'll sign off on a note of hope, because I think there is real hope, setting us up for the second.  The unifying theme will be:  There are only so many seats on the ship and nobody willingly yields his or hers.  BUT the wily lad or lass is never without some good options and way-cool counter strategies.

Tune in tomorrow for part one!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Which is worse: a stick in the eye or a grain of sand?

We're all on the lookout for sharps sticks in any agents' eyes:  typos/grammos/spellos...gross formatting errors...etc.  But when we're proofing one last time, we need to watch intently for those little grains of sand that may kill our chances as surely.  Just a few examples:

--Double periods after sentences, usually resulting after a quick edit.
--Runs of rambling paragraphs that look like seas of ink--and smack of too much work.
--Machine gun bursts of one and two-line paragraphs that look like a James Patterson novel on speed.
--Over-punctuation, especially with commas.  Noah Lukeman states in The First Five Pages that a single page bursting with commas tells an agent at a glance:  way too many adjectives.
--Comas vs. commas.  A single typo may not undo a decent manuscript.  But when an error's repeated it becomes more than a typo.  And alarms may start to sound:  the writer's a slob or a rube.

I need to keep all this in mind as I hit the final stretch.  Where, where, where, where have I missed a grain of sand?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Give the Fear Factor a Great Big Hug

The principle here I call Transfer of Funds:  moving resources from where we're rich to where we're running near empty.

In the final stretch of this novel, I'm already 'looking forward' to the holy terror of more naked pages when I begin the next.  Of course, I can draw on memory and experience, since I have published four novels and written close to a dozen.  I  know the rhythms that make up the writing of  a novel.  I know the pains will pass and confidence will come again.

But that's all Then...and this is Now.  Right now I should be busy building up a  new account that I'll entitle Fearlessness.  Each day, or maybe a few times each day, I'll meet head-on something that scares me.  The size of the scare doesn't matter, not all of the challenges have to be big.  What I want to do, though, is get in the groove of facing fear eyeball to eyeball:  try something entirely different in the next query letters...square off against an aggressor...learn to write a synopsis that rocks.

If this habit becomes the real heart of my day, it can also become the real heart of my art--and I can transfer funds from it to any naked page.