Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Question Of Subject Matter

Every morning, Suzanne of St. Martin's Press sends me a brief excerpt of a book that's on the new releases schedule. It's a marketing ploy, to get the words under my eyes in the hope that I'll like what's about to be laid down and buy it up.

Anyone can join the Read-It-First club. Authors in the making will find a regular source of opening pages, free of charge, that serve as perfect examples of what caught an agent's eye and what snagged an editor's interest.

Five excerpts are delivered to the e-mail in-box over the course of a week, the first few pages that are often included in a query letter. Of course, since it's free, you don't have a choice in what you get and the subject matter might not be relevant to you.

That's how it is this week. I don't care to read a non-fiction travelogue-memoir from a guy who was dumped at the altar and went on his honeymoon with his brother. It's simply not a subject I'm interested in reading. Glad the family managed to re-connect, thrilled that the two brothers traveled together several times, and delighted that Franz Wisner found peace and happiness. But I don't care to read all about it.

Oftentimes, a literary agent isn't interested in the subject matter of the novel you're querying. They may not think they can sell a story that's set in Eighteenth Century Glasgow. No matter how good the writing, they may not know of a single editor that is looking for romantic comedy that features rodeo clowns.

Study what's out there, to learn about the craft of writing, but always keep in mind that your story might not be marketable.

Monday, March 30, 2009

There Isn't Always Feedback

Thanks for the query said Kevan Lyon. She'd just opened up her agency with Jill Marsal and I figured she'd be looking for some material.

Thanks for the query, and could you send the first two chapters?

She'd seen pretty much all of the first two chapters already, since her submission requirements asked for the first ten pages and a synopsis. Easy enough to attach the chapters as a Word document, give her ten more pages to read. After all, she must have liked the opening enough to want more, and she must have liked the way the story played out based on the synopsis.

Three weeks later, it's a rejection.

Thanks for the e-mail she says this time, but the project isn't right for her list.

You'd think she could have determined that earlier. What made the next ten pages not right for her list if the first ten did?

I'll never know. Ms. Lyon read the first two chapters, didn't like what she saw, and took a pass with a form rejection that's "one size fits all". No feedback, no mention of what it was that made her change her mind.

That's how it goes sometimes.

Who else haven't I queried yet?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lights Out, Heat Up

We're to turn off our electric lights this evening to show that we're keen to save the earth.

Cities can't turn off their lights or the criminals will have too much darkness for their operations. You can't turn off your computer or your television, since you're sitting in the dark and can't read. A person has to have some form of entertainment. Sure there's always the Kindle, to get around the lights-out business, but that's expensive and this is all about saving.

Hospitals have to be well illuminated at all times. Families traveling along the roads by car have need of those huge signs, shining with all their ferocity, so that they can find the nearest petrol station or rest area. Of course the lights on the cars have to be kept on for safety reasons.

Not many regular folks are expected to sit in the dark for an hour or two. They don't go in much for the show, when they're more for action.

Chances are, the cost of electricity has reached the limit of your means to pay and you run around the house like your da did all those years ago, turning off lights in rooms that aren't in use. You can't afford to waste things anymore, and you don't need some marketing guru to tell you to plunge your home into darkness in order to save anything.

Some regular folks, however, do go in for a bit of a display. They'll have every light lit, indoors and out.

I'm planning to throw a few logs on the hearth and generate a bit extra heat to stave off the cold wind that's blowing. March is going out like a lion in these parts.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What If The Reader Is Googling In The Library?

Having every book ever published available through Google has its benefits, but having copyrighted books on Google has made authorial heads to reel.

Irish writers are too busy writing to pay much attention to lawsuits brought by American writers' organizations. They've been warned, however, that a recent settlement in the U.S. will have implications all over the globe, because the Internet is world-wide.

Authors can opt out of Google's digitization program, but it will be up to them to stay on top of things and possibly sue Google if a copyrighted book appears in the search engine. Those who are unaware of the legal deal could find their book on-line and have to go through the whole process to get it taken down, but of course once a book is in the ether it's there forever for those with some technological skill.

Those who agree to have their books digitized can expect some payments from Google, based possibly on the number of hits, the amount of downloads, or something similar.

However, Ireland is finally catching up with the EU and jumping into a new program that gives authors a royalty payment every time someone borrows their book from a public library. Good news for those who write children's books, which are the most popular. Moderate good news for Maeve Binchy and Cecilia Ahern, who come in second.

The payments are scheduled to continue for seventy years after the writer's death, royalties owing to the estate. If an author is so unfortunate as to die before signing up for the program, however, their heirs are out of luck.

Would it constitute double-dipping if someone Googled a book on the library's computer and read it there? Does a physical book have to exit the library's doors, or would a printed download stashed in a tote bag not be counted as a checked-out book?

Someone will have to re-define some terms if the authors are to get what's due.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Artist's Version of Self-Publishing

You'll have to admit, Taoiseach Brian Cowen is not a handsome man. Portly, yes. He's no Colin Farrell, not even on his best day.

Even so, artist Conor Casby chose to paint two portraits of the politician. Nudes, of course. There's all that artistic license to play with, and making a statement about a head of government being pantsed and what have you.

Apparently, no one at the National Gallery or the Royal Hibernian Academy were interested in hanging the paintings. No different from the average would-be author, is it, who wants to get published but can't convince HarperCollins to buy the manuscript.

An author has the option of going with vanity publishing, getting their work into print by doing it themselves. Mr. Casby took a page from that particular book and hung his paintings himself.

Mr. Casby spent some time in Pearse Street Garda Station on Tuesday. It seems that the people who run the art galleries were less than pleased that an artist took it upon himself to drive a nail into the wall and mount his own exhibit, complete with caption. That's their job, the professionals who know good art when they see it. Mr. Cowen in all his glory does not, in their stuffy opinion, constitute good art.

The least that Mr. Casby could do is to patch the nail holes and touch up the paint on the wall, to make amends. With all the publicity that's come his way, it's a good bet that someone will buy his two nudes and he'll come into enough profit to cover the costs of the minor repairs.

Gardai would like to charge the artist with indecency, but isn't the Taoiseach sensitive enough about his weight already? As for a potential charge of incitement to hatred, that's stretching things entirely out of proportion. If Mrs. Cowen isn't complaining, and surely she's seen the actual flesh in its entirety, where's the hate?

Did no one working at the galleries notice that a new painting suddenly appeared on the walls? If the two pictures had been removed at once, RTE wouldn't have to be apologizing for showing the offending portraits on the news, thereby broadcasting the incident all over the country.

Let's hope the National Gallery's curators aren't complaining about pay cuts and increased pension levies. They don't seem to be doing such a brilliant job at their current salary.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thank You For Your Support

Millions of American corporate profits are shipped to Ireland and Ireland reaps the benefits of its 12.5% tax rate. All that money that is lost to the U.S. helps to fuel the Celtic economy. Is it too much to ask that you lend a hand?

The U.S. Government would appreciate it, considering how much money they're losing in the tax dodge, if Ireland could put Tom McGuinn, Sean McGuinn and Sean Byrne on an Aer Lingus flight to Washington DC.

It seems that the McGuinns and Mr. Byrne have been purchasing helicopter engines in the States and then shipping them to places like Malaysia and the Middle East, where it is perfectly legal to sell American products. No embargo there, not like the trade restrictions in place to keep Iran from getting their hands on military material.

Once the items are no longer in the U.S., the men of Mac Aviation turn around and fill the orders of their Iranian clients with the items that they said were meant for buyers in Malaysia and the Middle East.

Instead of money, Mac Aviation was laundering Rolls Royce helicopter engines, and that is illegal enough to put the three businessmen in jail for a very, very, very long time. The U.S. takes the Iran embargo quite seriously indeed.

At the moment, the U.S. Justice Department is leaning on the Irish to arrest and extradite the trio, who would then face trial in America.

After all the financial support provided by American multi-nationals paying taxes on their profits in Ireland, is it asking so much that a bit of support be sent the other way across the Atlantic?

Eventually, Michael Martin or Brian Cowen will be in Washington, pleading with Congress to not lower American corporate tax rates. When the horse-trading starts, they'll need something in their stable, won't they?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Consensus Of Opinion

The last of the manuscript samples has been rejected and the agents have weighed in.

Good writing, a story that's worth telling, but.....

When three different agents tell you the same thing about your manuscript, it's worth listening and it's very much worth making the necessary corrections.

My manuscript has a particularly thorny problem, however. Those who read the pages didn't relate to the main character. Alanna Ramirez of Trident Media, J.L. Stermer of Donald Maass's agency, and Courtney Miller-Callihan at Sanford J. Greenburger have reached a consensus.
The female protagonist needs to be more sympathetic, to offer a reason for the reader to find common ground or feel sorry for her. Characters should tug at the heart or generate some kind of positive reaction, and my opening pages don't do that.
It has to be in the opening pages. In this short attention span world, the book buyer won't wait for the eighth or tenth page to fall in love with the fictional person facing a conflict.
So I've re-written the opening again, moved more things to the front and chopped off a bit more that might be considered repetitive.
And I've started up another round of queries.
Maybe I'll have better luck with the other manuscript that's out there. It's easier to do a feisty female lead than one who's dealing with deep seated psychological issues that are more difficult to tease out from the showing. Characters need to grow over the course of the manuscript, but sometimes they need to mature a bit faster than we authors might think.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Half Empty Or Half Full

The workers at the Waterford Crystal factory in Kilbarry, County Waterford have ended their seven week sit-in. The protest is over and the workers have lost another one.

What was once a manufacturer of fine crystal is now to become nothing more than a tourist attraction, a stop on the Irish tour itinerary. Watch the skilled craftsmen blow goblets. Have a blow yourself and see what it used to be like, back when people had to have fine Waterford crystal on their dining table.

KPS Capital Partners bought up the assets of Waterford Wedgwood when the company went under, another victim of changing tastes and sliding fortunes. They weren't interested in glass making or porcelain production, and they didn't need all those glass-blowers or furnace tenders or the like.

The sit-in was launched to save the 480 jobs in the Kilbarry plant. Following the union's acceptance of KPS Capital's deal, only 176 people will have work, and they will be more like docents in a museum than artisans. The Kilbarry facility will remain open, to produce a few items so that the tourists can continue to see how crystal is manufactured by hand.

If, by some chance, you're still looking for a piece of genuine Waterford crystal that was made in Ireland by Irish glass blowers, you'll want to hunt down the Prestige line. Anything else with the Waterford name will be Waterford in name only.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Unpleasant Welcome Home

For a few days, I was left to obsess over the submissions without being able to do a thing about it. No computer, no e-mail to check....until the homecoming.

Courtney Miller-Callihan didn't fall in love with the main character. It's a full rejection.

Not what I much cared to see in the overflowing e-mail box after a lovely holiday. Making matters worse, there were no requests from other agents to see the manuscript.

So the party's over, and on Monday it's back to work and back to the old slog of query, query, query.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Happened To The Credit Crunch?

Would you like of line of credit, she asked. The bank has a very good interest rate, 3.99% for fifteen years.

If I needed the money, maybe I'd take her up on it. But I don't. And I wouldn't be doing a lot of borrowing against the equity of my home these days. Who knows what that equity might be in a year?

There was supposed to be a credit crunch, in spite of the government bail-out that was meant to unfreeze lending. Does this mean it's working?

Or does it mean that the bank is calling me because it knows that I have loads of equity built up? They want me in hock for more because I pay my mortgage precisely on time every month, and they'd really like to loan money to someone with a good track record.

There's just something utterly insane about considering a loan unless there were some dire emergency. To take advantage of credit just because it's there is what got us into this mess, and I'm not going to dip a toe into the world of reckless financing for the sake of giving it a try.

However, if you're in the market for a home loan, the banks have money that they'd like to get out there in the free market. They have so much of it that they've got a telemarketer calling clients, trying to push the product. If only the line of credit came with a Sham-wow...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Apparently We Don't Share A Sense of Humor

What Dan Lazar finds funny isn't what I think is witty.

If we shared the same sense of humor, he wouldn't have rejected my recent query.

He's looking for novels that make him laugh out loud, and my first pages are enough to garner a serious snicker, at a minimum. But maybe my words are too Midwestern, not clever enough. Or maybe my humor is too dry, not to everyone's taste.
"We’re afraid your project does not seem right for our list, but thank you for thinking of Dan, and best of luck in your search for representation."

So says Mr. Lazar's assistant, Stephen Barr, who also doesn't share my idea of what constitutes funny.

Back to the agent search, then, to find literary representation that I can share a laugh with. There must be someone out there, isn't there?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's A Great Day To Be Irish

Here's St. Patrick and his famous mountain, Croagh Patrick. It's said that if you climb the mountain in bare feet on Reek Sunday, your prayers will be answered.

You'll be praying for the pain in your feet to go away.

Safer by far to toast the patron saint of Ireland and say a prayer that your head won't be splitting in two tomorrow morning.

Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day. Celebrate this great blessing.

Here's a free Irish lesson, to add that necessary touch of authenticity:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Not Now, Not A Year From Now

There's a question that pops up every now and then in writers' forums. If an agent has turned you down, can you ask again?

The rule of thumb holds that you usually can, if you wait a good long time. You'll have a fresh and more effective query by then, something that might hook the agent's interest when you failed on the first try.

If you're sending a query to kt literary, though, you'd better remember to change your title and the names of your characters while you're at it.

The manuscript went through a total overhaul and it's not the same opening as I had last year when I sent Kate Schafer a query. The letter is radically different as well, but I forgot to change the title.

My fault for not making all the necessary adjustments. My new query and revised manuscript were rejected with a form rejection that referenced the first rejection from last year.

So the answer is still no. Next time I'll make sure I do it right before I hit the send key.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More Irish Than Boston

Take that, New York City. You think you're so Irish-American, with your St. Patrick's Day parade. You've lost out to the city that dyes its river green. That, Big Apple, is Irish.

U2 has released their new album, and of course there's a tour to promote the thing.

And where are they starting out? In Chicago.

The first concert of the No Line On The Horizon tour will take place on September 12 at Soldier Field, an open-air stadium that's home to the Chicago Bears football team.

After the Chicago performance, they'll hit the road and see the rest of the country. Tickets will range from $30 for seats in the upper reaches that are closer to outer space than earth, up to $250 for a spot near the stage. It's supposed to be a concert in the round, and if you're down on the field, you'd better pray it isn't raining.

Soldier Field has no dome, and it's right on the shores of Lake Michigan. Dress appropriately.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Forced Holiday

After eight years of scrimping and saving and counting every penny, we've managed to accumulate just enough for a sun holiday.

Ten days away from the gloom of March. Ten days of bright sun and warmth...assuming it doesn't rain every day.

No computer access there, because I can't hope to afford a laptop anytime soon and cheap motels don't have computers available for the use of the guests. That means no queries, no query rejections, no short fiction rejections, and no net surfing.

How will I survive without my regular injections of depression?

Ten days is a long time. I'll bring along one book, the book I've been pushing around the desk for months on end. The time has come to put nose to grindstone and do the research I meant to do so that I can re-write the historical fiction manuscript that came close to getting an agent except for.....

Ten days to think about what can go in the mix to fix those exceptions.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Road To Peace Runs Crooked

The Stormont Assembly met, the British shut down several military bases, and The Troubles faded into memory.

No British soldiers killed in years, no bombs or bullets or goings on. Just the Shinners and the DUP blowing hard, never striking a lethal blow.

People grew comfortable with the peace. They forgot that the St. Andrews Agreement was between the Provies and the Brits. The Real IRA, the INLA, they had nothing to do with peace and wanted nothing to do with a cease fire. For them, it was a united Ireland or nothing.

The world has been reminded that the road to peace is long and hard, a rock-strewn path that may yet hide a land mine.

Two young British soldiers were gunned down at Massereene barracks in Antrim. They were preparing to go to Afghanistan, to fight another type of terror, when the Real IRA made a grand gesture of opposition to a continued partition of Ireland. A couple of local lads, delivering pizzas, were seriously wounded and may yet die.

And for what?

Eight hundred years of struggle haven't united the country. Sure it was foolish of Michael Collins to accept the terms of the treaty in 1921, but what was done is done.

Young Protestants leave the north of Ireland for England in droves, to attend university and never come back. Belfast is the capital city of intolerance and they don't see any future in an insular little colony. The Catholics stay on, holding Irish passports. Over time, the Catholic population will climb and over time, there will be a majority of people who will want a binding referendum that will bring the six counties back into the Republic of Ireland.

Until then, there's diplomacy and civil disobedience.

There is never a place for cold-blooded murder.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A Son's Love

How much do you love your father? Enough to create a series of sock puppets to pop up on-line in his support? Enough to commit identity theft and harassment?

Norman Golb is a noted scholar who holds a minority opinion about the Dead Sea Scrolls. He thinks Qumran was a storage depot for documents written by many, while most scroll-watchers claim Qumran was a monastery where the scrolls were penned. Not exactly the stuff of which world wars are made, but for those in the trenches it's a big deal.

To defend his father, Raphael Golb went online and created a web of aliases that he used to discredit his father's detractors. He pretended to be Lawrence Schiffman, a scholar at New York University with a contrary view. Aware that computers leave tracks, he went to NYU and used their computers to send messages to Mr. Schiffman's colleagues, confessing to plagiarism.

As if Mr. Schiffman wouldn't notice.

There were sock puppets who were used in online discussion groups, all extolling the virtues of Mr. Kolb's hypothesis and discrediting those who were against him. All the sock puppets came from the vivid imagination of Raphael Kolb.

Now Raphael is facing some serious charges of identity theft. But he's surely proved how very much he loves his father.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Deserving Of The Name

Iowa City, Iowa, is known as the home of the Iowa Writers Workshop, a factory that produces novelists. It was not a surprise, then, that Unesco recognized the university town as a city of literature, a designation that recognizes the city's contribution to the written word.

Edinburgh and Melbourne are also labeled as cities of literature. Together, these three locations are part of the Creative Cities Network. Now Dublin would like to join the party.

Unesco requires a city of literature to have experience in staging literary events, and the Dublin Book Festival that opens today is clear evidence that Dublin deserves to be added to the network.

Besides the festival, there's Bloomsday, that annual trek through Dublin that is guided by James Joyce's novels. Nothing so unique as that in Iowa City, to be sure.

There's no money in this, but Dublin City Council is hoping that the Unesco honor could be turned into tourist dollars. As only the fourth City of Literature in the world, Dublin could promote itself as a perfect destination for those who love books and prose and poetry and drama.

Not to forget Dublin's large trove of pubs, and the ready availability of alcohol. What better atmosphere for the writer? How many great works of literary art have been created in a haze of booze?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's All In The Timing

The traffic light changed to yellow. My foot hovered over the brake, drifted to the accelerator. Stop or go, stop or go, I considered the options. Too late I made up my mind. I hit the brake, a wee bit hard, and two large white envelopes slid forward from under the passenger seat.

How long had they been there? Two submissions packets to agents who ask for the first three chapters with the query, gathering dust since when?

On the way home, I dropped them in the post and then corrected my submission record. I'd been driving around with them for over a week, the packets forgotten until they made their way from the back seat to the front, under my unobservant eye.

I cursed myself for forgetting the things in the first place. After a week, I was in the "wonder if I'll get an e-mail asking for more" phase. Agents seem to ask for more quite quickly, and here I was wasting energy for something that couldn't possibly happen because I'd not posted the queries in the first place.

But it's all about the timing. Maybe the agent who asked for the full manuscript yesterday wouldn't have been taken by the query if I'd sent it when I prepared it.

So now I can wonder if she actually read the first three chapters after all, or just skimmed the query and thought she'd give it a try. Maybe once she gets the full manuscript she won't like the way the story plays out. Maybe she'll reject it as fast as she asked for it.

Maybe....no. Don't push your luck, boy-o. But St. Paddy's Day is only eleven days away, and maybe.....

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

There's No Pleasing Some People

They were all excited when George Galloway, MP, announced his plan to bring a convoy of aid trucks to Gaza.

They were ready to greet him with hosannas and hurrahs at the border between Libya and Egypt, ready to cheer him across the width of Egypt and anticipating a grand shout as he drove through the Rafah border crossing.

Just to be polite, Mr. Galloway planned to meet with Hosni Mubarak. You don't drive across a man's country without saying hello. It simply isn't done.

The Egyptian activists who were lauding Mr. Galloway yesterday are cursing him today. They despise Hosni Mubarak, and they believe it's his fault that the Rafah crossing was shut while Israel retaliated against Hamas attacks. Mr. Galloway was denouncing Mr. Mubarak right and left, and the fact that he's going to pay a social call has infuriated those who thought they had a British MP on their side.

So now the activists won't be meeting the convoy and making a big fuss.

He's bringing aid to the very people that the activists claim they are supporting, but the cold shoulder treatment of the aid convoy puts paid to their declarations. The Palestinians in Gaza just happen to be useful to the anti-Mubarak crowd. That's about as far as the concern runs.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Build A Better Memoir

There are those who believe that their life story is the stuff of which best sellers are made. They can't understand why a literary agent doesn't find this to be true as well.

Anyone wishing to pen a memoir that will sell needs to build up the right sort of life experiences. Sure there's more than enough tales of abuse, drug use and what have you. Go look at what's selling and make the necessary adjustments.

You'd like a six-figure deal, of course. You're well worth it.

Forget your recovery from alcoholism. Write about your experiences in the political cesspool.

Disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich got himself a book deal that way.

Skip over the parts in your life story about the abusive partner. Instead, go marry the daughter of a high-powered Chicago alderman and follow your father-in-law's lead. Learn how to make the deals that make you money and bring you power. You're gaining fodder for your best-seller.

Run for governor and play the race card. Ask a black friend, someone like Roland Burris, to enter the race to attract all the voters of color who are supporting your opponent, thereby creating a majority for yourself. Then give your black friend, someone like Roland Burris, a plum political post by way of thanks.

As for the rest, you've probably read all about it in the news, and it's easy enough to copy what's already been done when you've got the blueprint.

Then query a literary agent, imply that you're going to tell all, and there you are. The six-figure advance is in your bank account.

A successful memoir tells a story, the right kind of story that people will pay good money to read about. It's all about the business, and not the art.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Fountain Of Rejection

How long will I wait, you ask, if I should send a query to Jennifer de la Fuente at Fountain Literary?

Newly opened agency, keen to find new clients, etc. etc.? Perhaps not enough enthusiasm as I could use, however. But you're asking about the response time, and it comes in at just over two weeks.

"I appreciate your query, and your interest in Fountain Literary. I'm going to pass on the opportunity to read your work, but wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere."

Standard boilerplate rejection, short and to-the-point.

Other agents have liked the query, but it isn't always about the query letter. It's the story that's being told, and the ability of the agent to sell that story to editors they know.

Write what you like, to please yourself, but keep in mind that literary agents may not believe that your particular topic has legs.

Sure you have the option to write what's selling, but the books that you see in the shops were written two to three years ago. Your task as a writer is to compose novels that will be selling long after you've written them. In other words, you have to predict the market, which is what an agent is doing.

They have an advantage, however. They're driving that market, and they know what's going to work. You, as a writer and avid reader, don't. There's another reason why you need a literary agent.