Monday, April 22, 2013

Readers Make A Millionty Calories

Today I thought I'd post about one of the unexpected pleasures of being an author. There are certain cool things about being an author that had always I hoped for — like good reviews, delighted readers, cool covers, sweet film deals. But then there are cool things that I just never even thought to look forward to. For instance, a bunch of teens sent me video of the Shiver musical they had done at their school. Fan art and photo manips and gifs are surprisingly satisfying. People name their hamsters after my characters. Hamsters! That is no shoddy thing.

Here is another satisfying thing: readers who bake. In The Scorpio Races, there is an imaginary food called November Cakes, no longer so imaginary because I invented a recipe for them. And since I posted that recipe, readers have been baking them. There is something very weird about seeing readers eating something you invented in a novel. I suppose cookbook writers have no problem with this concept, but for me, it seems rather magical, especially as November Cakes are a bit fiddly and require a several hour commitment.

Anyway, I thought I'd ask readers to share their November Cakes photos today, in honor of my readers and The Scorpio Races paperback release. I'm going to include the recipe again at the bottom of the post, but it's also in the paperback (along with four deleted scenes that didn't appear in the final draft of the book). A huge thanks to everyone for sharing photos. And I hope I get the credits in the right order.

Click to biggerfy the photo:

from left to right

1 Feli Huber, Ruth Link, Ainsley Louise, Caroline Foxwell
2 @anonymeet, Maggie Reynolds, ___* Sarah Whisted
3 @pixie319, Arlena Lockard, @xamandaolivieri, Rach Robins, @mandymia16
4 HouseonHarrison, Jackie Woodburn, @JessieBees, @seestephwrite, Barbara Moon
5 @morganmck18, @deadtossedwaves, @foundinamuseum, @beckiejean, @jocelynelaberge
6 @rhapsodyinbooks, Rowan Krajcik, @Bay64737572
7 @clarethewriter, Angie Thompson, Kim van Prooijen, Tara Lee
8 Katherine Phillips, Alexa Barry, Hei Ke, Julia Simpson
9 Stephanie Marie Souther Bittner, Leobarda Aquilar, Amanda Breck, Ruth Hofmann
10 @emumfy, Stephanie Dick & Jessica Koegler Yeager,
11 April Wanner, @HeathBear

*I cannot believe I can't find the name for this one. I think FB ate it.

And the recipe:


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Publishing Does Not Want to Eat Your Heart

I got a writing/ publishing question from a reader and it was something I wondered myself when I got started, so I figured I’d answer it on the blog. Here ‘tis:

I've been trying to query for one of my novels for the past few months now, and already I'm racking up on my 17th rejection. However, three of those rejections the agents took some time away from their cookie-cutter mold to say that my story was "very interesting" but "They would have to pass..."

I'm really confused by this statement because it means my work caught their attention, but it is baffling me as to why they rejected it. Do you have any helpful hints in this department? Or even any hints on how to compose a knock out first chapter that could make agents stop say 'interesting, but no...' to 'interesting and yes!'

I should start out this post by mentioning that I've already written about query letters here. So if you want to read that, I’ll wait here.

Okay, we’re all back? Grand-o. Here is the thing you need to know about traditional publishing: it does not want to eat your heart. It doesn’t even want to wither your soul to nothing.

It just doesn’t care that you exist.

I’ve always been fine with that. I don’t need Publishing to be my friend. I don’t even need Publishing to like me. As a writer, I’ve just wanted Publishing to give me a career. And as a reader, I’ve just wanted Publishing to give me books I want to read.

That last sentence is going to be my thesis statement for this entire blog post, so maybe I should put it in bold.

Publishing tries to give people books they want to read.

Oh, no, I have one other thesis statement. It’s two pronged. Let’s put that one in bold, too.

Publishing is run by readers.

If you remember both these things as an aspiring writer, I reckon you’ll be okay.

Let’s go back to the response from the agents. “Very interesting” and “have to pass” are not opposites, though it might feel that way when you’re staring at a rejection letter.

Here is a list of things an agent must do if she agrees to represent a book:

-love it -keep loving it after multiple reads while editing it for the new author -love it enough to pitch it enthusiastically to very busy editors -love it when it doesn’t sell right away and sits around for six months -love it enough to argue with editors over bad cover choices/ contracts/ publicity -love it enough to pitch it to foreign publishers months after signing the author -love it enough to passionately advocate for a marketing plan for it -love it enough that 5 years later they can still nod enthusiastically when people say “you agent that author?”

(an editor’s list looks a lot like this, only with even more passionate fist-pounding at editorial meetings)

An agent must love your book enough to be willing to spend hundreds of hours on it.

Imagine when you read a novel. I imagine you’re like me: you have novels you like, novels you love for a week and then forget, and novels that you hug to your chest for months afterward. For an agent to not despise her/ his job, she needs the last one: fiery passion that means she’ll still love your manuscript in a year. Moreover, she has be pretty sure that she'll love your next unwritten project as well. Because when an agent signs a client, she doesn’t sign just one book. She signs an author.

How many books do you read in a year that you love so much that you’ll absolutely pick up the author’s next work? For me, it’s less than five. How many books on your shelf would you advocate tirelessly for? For me, it's a handful.

I know what you’re thinking. “But if the projects sell, surely that is the point of all this! WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

I would never go with an agent who signed me only because she thought I would sell. I want an agent who loves what I write, so she can tell me if I’m hitting the mark with my new projects. An agent who is going to pitch my novels to editors like there’s no tomorrow. An agent who advocates my case because she believes in my work, not because she’s supposed to. Contractual obligation gets the job done, I guess, but love burns hotter and longer.*


Moreover, Publishing, against all reason, is run on passion. Because it’s run by readers. Although the bottom line is still putting out books that will sell to as many people as possible, generally those books end up on the list because somewhere, someone in the industry was willing to stand on a chair and shout for them. And that love needs to start at the ground level. Me. Then my agent. Then my editor. Then my readers.

Back to this thing: “Very interesting” and “have to pass.” What this agent is doing is giving you a compliment. Instead of just giving you a form rejection, she or he is merely letting you know that you’re writing something promising. If I were to parse it, I reckon it means that the concept is appealing, but maybe the writing isn't there just yet. I wouldn’t sweat it. I’d take it for the affirmation it is and move on. Oh — I'd probably add that agent's name to my list to query for my next manuscript. But really, otherwise, I'd be pleased with the little head nod and I'd move on.

So how to move to “interesting and yes!”? I don't think rejections will give you insight here. I guess sometimes a pile of rejections will give you a hint — if you get four rejections that say they couldn’t connect with your main character, fix your main character. But usually they’re just too vague. Which means it is back to the old fashioned way: critique partners.

And the answer to how to write a compelling first chapter is sitting on your own shelf already. Good writers are analytical readers. Get your favorite novels off the shelf and dissect those first chapters. What pulled you in as a reader? What do they all have in common? Can you apply the broad techniques to your own manuscript?

I promise you that Publishing is actually pretty fair. A little mercenary in that it prefers novels that appeal to a wide group of readers rather than novels that appeal to only a few. But in my experience, it’s very rare that a great, commercial novel goes unnoticed during querying. As soon as I wrote something worth reading, I got published. Not a moment before (a fact for which I’m grateful, as my name would be on that first effort forever), not for lack of trying.

Publishing really doesn’t want to eat your heart. Publishing is run by readers. All they want is a good read. It’s your job to give it to them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Things Fall Down

What do you know about goats?

For most of my life, this is what I knew about goats:

1. They have square pupils.
2. They are clever.
3 They are mentioned in the following song
Oh mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy A kid’ll eat ivy too wouldn’t you?
4. They have cute little hoofie-woofies.
5. They are one of the reasons I legally changed my name when I was 16.

And I wanted one. Well, I mean, I wanted one in a vague, distant way, the way that we all want a Lamborghini or backyard yew-hedge labyrinth or a leather bikini. These wants never become a concrete objects, because when you think hard about any of them, you can’t really imagine how, say, a life-size statue of William B. Yeats and John Singer Sargent holding hands would really fit into your current lifestyle.

So years passed. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was now a grown up, and if I wanted to eat cookie dough for breakfast, there was no one to stop me. And also that if I wanted to get goats, I could just get goats. There was only one person who had to agree.

ME: I want to get some goats.

Now, I don’t know how much you know about goats. But there are a lot of different sorts of goats. There are dairy goats and meat goats. There are goats with ears that stick up and goats with ears that hang down. Horned goats. Unhorned goats. Goats with long hair, goats with curly hair, goats with long and curly hair. Goats that only come in black and white. Goats that only come out of the ocean every November. There are a cornucopia of goat varieties to choose from. A cornucopia.

Last Friday, as soon as I got back from tour, I brought home two Miniature Silky Fainting goat kids.
That’s a lot of capitalized words, so allow me to break this down for you. They are Miniature. And Silky. And they Faint.

Well, they are not really Miniature. Currently, they’re the size of cats, but they’ll get knee-high. Which is small. But not miniature. When I think the word “miniature,” I think — I can put that animal in my pocket. I could store it on a shelf. I could fit 50-60 of them in the back of my car. These goats, on the other hand . . . I could probably only fit 10 of these goats in my backseat. And I’d need Lover to pack them. He’s one of those people who are good at packing cars.

And they are not yet Silky. They will be, mind you. Right now they are merely fluffy. But I saw their adult brethren at the Miniature Silky Fainting Goat farm and I have a bottle of conditioner at the ready.

Also, about the fainting. Some of you may already know about fainting goats, as they are a bit of an internet sensation. Basically, when you surprise a fainting goat, they fall over.

I did a bit of research on this to find out if it was harmful. I knew myself, you see. My dark nature would be torn between allowing my goats a long and healthy life and making my goats fall over every time company came over. Luckily for me, I found out that I didn’t have to choose. Fainting goats — myotonic goats, really — don’t actually faint. They never lose consciousness. Instead, it’s like when someone honks a horn right by your head and you seize up for a second. Myotonic goats react the same way. Only they seize up for about ten seconds. Which is enough time for them to go completely rigid and fall off a picnic table*.

*this is the voice of experience.

This is the point where this conversation always goes this way.

ME: So basically every time they get surprised or excited, they fall over.
EVERYONE: Why would evolution do such a thing?

Evolution, although she is a tempestuous mistress at best, cannot be blamed for this. Farmers intentionally bred for fainting, and not just because they knew that hundreds of years later authors would want to have them. Goats are crafty little buggers and masters of escape. Not fainting goats, however.

Let's play this out. This is what happens when a normal goat scales a fence:

GOAT: I’m escaping! I’m escaping!  
GOAT: *escapes*

This is what happens when a fainting goat scales a fence:

FAINTING GOAT: I’m escaping! I’m escaping!

Because, as I noted, excitement can also make them faint. There’s also some theories that fainting goats were kept among sheep so that when wolves appeared the goats would look up and say OMFG WOLVES where F stands for Faint, and then the sheep would get away while the goat remained behind as lunch. But I think that’s pretty unlikely, seeing them in action. Because it’s really not Peril that makes them faint. It’s Shock. So unless the wolf is rappelling suddenly from a helicopter, the goats will probably just be able to run away like any other normal snack-food-species.

Oh, I almost forgot. My favorite part of my research? I discovered that older fainting goats will learn that they faint in shocking circumstances. So when they feel they’re in a stressful situation: they will lean on something. They become Miniature Silky Fainting Self-Aware Goats.

I mean, it’s like they invented these animals for me or something.

I guess you want pictures? Here are pictures. This is General (the all white one) and Specific (the slightly more adorable one). They love to huggle and follow us around and they also have cute little hoofie-woofies.


Specific, Thing 2, Kristofferson

Lover and Miniature Silky Fainting Goat

Here is also a video of Specific chewing.

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