Monday, January 30, 2012

Publishers, pay better attention. Authors, don't pay for contests.

Here's the story: I recently got an email heralding a book contest. Nothing to really shake up my Sunday, but I read on, because the contest is being put on by an organization which exists to support indie authors. The contest is exclusively for self-published books, and the judging panel consists of seasoned agents and publishers who are seeking "overlooked" talent to professionaly represent. Maybe. If they love it. As in: no guarantees, even for the first place winner. Okay, it all sounds a little insulting, but I'm still listening. Like any other writer, I'd love for someone else to handle the publishing side of things. Maybe Vessel has a shot here. I then scroll down to the submission details, and my focus lands on the entry fee. Suddenly, my tempted interest turns into disgust and outrage. The fee is big. Triple digits, people.

Let me get this straight, panel. You are looking to find and assist (and ultimately benefit from) talent that has been overlooked. Overlooked by YOU, the agents and publishers. You want to take a second look now, now that we've all done the legwork ourselves, by pitting us against one another in a contest. And if I win, I might get represented, if you love it? And you want me to pay $150 to get my work in front of you?

Yeeeaah . . . NO.

Seriously. It's like being spit in the face. I am quietly enjoying my Sunday morning here, drinking my earl grey, and you pop up and spit in my face.

Whose idea was this? Are you sure you're talking to authors? People who are not exempt from the recession, who have bills to pay, who go to work and come home and postpone rest, sex, social interaction, and proper nourishment just to get some writing or marketing done? I'm willing to pay a modest fee (I consider that $30 or less) for any contest in which I have a fair chance at winning, be it a costume contest (my Halloween costumes OWN) or a book contest. But these people, and frankly any people who charge struggling authors top dollar for something that offers no guaranteed benefit (publicists, self-publishing "gurus", conference speakers) are missing a grand point: indie authors don't have that kind of money. The money they have is better spent elsewhere, and they know it. Well, some of them do.

Word.

If you don't know that, and you write, listen: You DO NOT have to wait, pay, perform, or grovel to get someone in the industry to say your book is worth something. You get it in front of readers, period, and they decide. If readers love it, congratulations. Do what you can to make yourself more visible, and more readers will find you. And if a publisher comes along and thinks you're worth representing, that's great, too. But for Christ's sake, don't pay a guy $150 to take a second look at what he missed the first time around!

Take that $150, and improve your book's chances of being discovered and enjoyed by readers. Here are some things I'd put that $150 toward, off the top of my head:

- Professional editing, proofreading, cover design, or typesetting for my next book
- A new title setup on Lightning Source
- A run of advance reading copies
- A redesign of my website
- Prizes for contest winners
- Ads on GoodReads, or on popular categorized sites through Project Wonderful
- Groceries
- A massage
- Booth or table space at a promotional event
- A round of beers after the Vessel series lands a publishing contract or movie deal

And in case you were wondering just how serious I am about those Halloween costumes, here are my last three, plus a prize-winning Lady Gaga Dance-Off getup. Note: none of these cost over $30 to make. WIN.

Link (2010) and Edward Scissorhands (2011)

Secretary (2009) and my getup for "Show Me Your Teeth" (2010)

Maybe next year I'll go as Thelma Harper . . .


Monday, January 23, 2012

In rare form. (A word about POV)

One of the best parts about publishing independently is also one of its significant risks: I can write however the hell I want. That doesn't mean we indie authors don't take writing rules or reader comfort into consideration. We do. We have to if we want readers to enjoy our work (and if we don't want that, then why publish?). Thus, we weigh free expression and projected reader opinion carefully, and we each find balances based on our differing goals as authors. We enlist friends, beta readers, and paid editors to point out things that might make our 150,000-word babies sink in the public eye. But at the end of the day, there is no Random House editor saying "You have to change this [bizarre plot point / foul language / god-awful cheesy character name] or we cannot publish this." We as authors have the final say.

That being said, my word-child has stayed afloat for a year now with very little outcry about how I am ruining books as we know them. My mother wishes I'd wash my characters' mouths out with soap, and a few readers have suggested that Jordan is grumpy. Both are fair judgements. As a whole, those who've picked up Vessel have overwhelmingly liked it, but I have twice seen complaint over the fact that Jordan, the aforementioned curmudgeonly narrator, is not present in some parts of the book. What's up with that? it's been asked. Isn't that breaking the rules of first person point of view?

This really got me thinking about POV, and I am here now to address these concerns. Does Jordan's perspective break the rules? It does . . . and it doesn't.

For starters, I am a firm believer in this adage: if you first make the effort to learn the rules, then you can break them (using good judgement, modesty, and taste) and mostly get away with it. So imagine my dismay at discovering that Jordan's in-and-out POV is in fact an an accepted literary fictional narrative form. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the first person omniscient.

Our Lady of Wikipedia defines the first person omniscient as "a rare form of first person . . . in which the narrator is a character in the story, but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters. It can seem like third person omniscient at times."

Boo-yah.

Often, first person omniscients are either telling their tales with a looking-back attitude, or from the grave. Their scope of sight remains centered around characters or situations which the first person would have reasonable knowledge of. Fair enough. The most popular books that come to mind are Sebold's The Lovely Bones (ghosty murdered girl spying on her family) and Zusak's The Book Thief (Death as a character). I can think of two outstanding books that I read last year which employ the first person omniscient: Anita Daimant's The Red Tent, a sort of posthumous, First Testament family history by protagonist Dinah, who is reciting her parents' dialogue years before she is even conceived; and Wesley Stace's Misfortune in which gender-confused Rose describes in detail, among other things, the day her/his father scooped her/his infant self out of a trash pile.

But does Jordan pull it off? I like to believe so. I wasn't thinking about POV specifics when I wrote Advent. Jordan was precisely the voice I needed to carry Vessel forward, and boy was I happy when she showed up. When it came to logistics, I thought, "She is going to talk about things that she didn't witness first-hand, dammit, and somehow I'm going to make that flow naturally." For clarity, I even issued a slight disclaimer right in Chapter 1: "Telling it this way is easier. Writing it down, I mean. Everything I saw with my own eyes, and everything I was told about the rest--it takes a hell of a lot of time to get it all straight."

To be clear, Jordan is the storyteller with the benefit of hindsight; she is chronicling the Vessel's exploits, piecing together the parts she did not see based on what she's been told by her strange and wonderful man-friends. And where is she telling the story from? The next room? Is she old? Dead? Is she a god herself now, omnipotent and all-knowing? You'll just have to read on and see. These things, however, I can tell you up front: The cursing will continue (sorry, Mom!), and Jordan's morale will improve (somewhat). Gods love a curmudgeon.


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Page 99 Test


Ford Madox Ford--English novelist, poet, book critic, and recipient of a badass name--once said: "Open a book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." The POD People, an online group dedicated to supporting and reviewing independently-published books, seem to agree. Or at least to be interested in the theory. So much so that they invited authors to post the 99th page of their latest works on this GoodReads group discussion board. There was also an entire blog dedicated the page 99's, thepage99test.com, but it appears to be defunct. 

In the spirit of curiosity, I decided to see how Vessel stood up to the test. I opened Book I to page 99 and found it to be a rather pivotal plot point, complete with succinct but telling bits about the characters present. Cautious Corin. Bewildered Jordan. Messy Ghi. Behold:

---------

Page 99


tightly. I moved quickly forward by some miracle and stopped in front of them.
     "Hi," I said, as normally as I could, and thus sounded like a robot or a very old woman.
      They just stared back at me, unmoving. Corin looked overtly cautious. Ghi appeared to be utterly terrified. And Jackson just looked slightly impatient.
     "I think I'm supposed to give this to you," I choked, holding the letter out.
      And that could have been the end of it.
      Jackson and Corin both reached for the envelope, but a strong gale blew it right out of my hand. Swooping, it slapped Ghi between the eyes and then fluttered onward. Before we could so much as lunge for it, Jesse's letter blew right over the platform's edge and out across the park.
     "I got it!" Ghi volunteered abruptly and darted for the steps, hurtling down them in a jumble of far-flung limbs. The three of us who remained moved to the side railing. Unacquainted and awkward, we watched him sprint across the lawn, chasing the envelope halfway around the platform. It cornered itself against the high walls, and Ghi jogged in to snatch it up before it had a chance to blow away again. With a triumphant motion, he stuffed it between his sweaters and started coming back around the jutting corners of the platform walls, back to us.
      But then Ghi turned a very significant corner of that wall. He stepped around it and came face to face with Stella Rosin. He saw her face register shock, then ferocious outrage.
     And then he saw concrete.


---------

Interesting, right? At the moment, I have no other books handy but Jitterbug Perfume (I am travelling). Page 99 anticipates butt-sex in a barn, typically magical Tom Robbins fare. Ford Madox Ford is right again! Post or link your page 99s, be they spot-on or underwhelming, and have a memorable Martin Luther King Day.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ripping 2012 a new facehole. (Plus, a recipe!)


I say this at the beginning of every year, but this time, I really, really mean it: LAST YEAR WAS THE MOST EXCELLENT YEAR OF MY LIFE.

Really. It was.

2011 brought me to the fearless art of red lipstick. It took me camping. 2011 popped my Battlestar Galatcia cherry. 2011 employed me as innkeeper of a quaint Seattle bed & breakfast, the most bitchin' awesome job ever. It re-arranged my furniture. It took me on some great dates before finally setting me up with a man whom I do not wish to brutally dismember. 2011 and I totally baked this log-shaped cake:

Yes. Yes, those are gumdrop/marshmellow toadstools.

And yes, my pretties, 2011 brought me the publication of Vessel. I cannot tell you how it felt to see all that dreaming and work come to fruition--and what an unexpected excess of fruit! But I can tell you that seeing your book in print pales in comparison to reading the first review by some stranger who doesn't realize that they have the power to crush your trembling spirit indefinitely. You see that--gasp!--a review has appeared! You recoil in horror, you check to make sure that it's your book's GoodReads page, not some other book, and then you stop breathing and scroll down and zip up your alligator skin and tell yourself that Mom and Dad will always love you no matter what and . . . she loved it? She loved it. Holy crap. Oh, wow. Oh God, Moses, Mary, and Nicki Minaj. Laugh. Cry. Skip all the way home. Repeat.

That was January 18th, when I apparently deemed the feeling superior to "riding a white stallion bareback through the ocean surf with Cillian Murphy". It never stopped. That feeling has not gone away.

And so this is my advice for you in 2012. That thing you've always wanted to do? That thing you can't put down, or forget, or not yearn to do? Do it. For the love of all beings, do it. Maybe everyone will tell you it's a so-so idea. Maybe it wasn't your major in college. Maybe you never went to college and you want to build a kinetic sculpture, or a molecular telescope. Maybe you're in college and you secretly want to be a stripper. Do it, do it, do it, do it. Everything in your way is just imagined. You want it, you can do it, and once you've done it there's no way it can be taken from you. And you'll wake up every morning feeling like some almighty golden-scaled she-beast sex eagle ready to melt the world with your world-melting powers of rock. But instead of melting the world, you'll sit down, quietly, and work on what you love. Do it.

But wait until tonight to do it, because you're going to need about three hours to make this chocolate yule log cake. Here's the recipe:

Buche de Noel (which is apparently French for "christmas cake shaped like a log") from allrecipes.com. It's flourless!

Ingredients:
2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. powdered confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
6 egg yolks
1/2 c. white sugar
1/3 c. more cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. salt
6 egg whites
1/4 c. more white sugar
vanilla extract
Gumdrops, mini marshmellows, toothpicks, and a little tube of white icing if you want to make the toadstools.

(And unless you are the Flash, you will also need an electric beater.)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 10x15 inch jellyroll pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whip cream, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until thick and stiff. Refrigerate.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until thick and pale. Blend in 1/3 cup cocoa, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, and salt. In large glass bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, and beat until whites form stiff peaks. Immediately fold the yolk mixture into the whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Dust a clean dishtowel with confectioners' sugar. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn the warm cake out onto the towel. Remove and discard parchment paper. Starting at the short edge of the cake, roll the cake up with the towel. Cool for 30 minutes.

Unroll the cake, and spread the filling to within 1 inch of the edge. Roll the cake up with the filling inside. Place seam side down onto a serving plate, and refrigerate until serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Happy baking, happy doing, and happy new year!

Tom