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Why I Turned Down My First Book Deal

Loyal fanbase, you are, I’m sure, already aware of the fact that it took me seven years from the time I wrote my first word of The Redheaded Stepchild until I published it.  What was I doing in that time besides getting divorced and attending wine and cheese parties for one?  I was querying publishers and agents, building up an impressive collection of rejection letters, which I often used to line the litter box back when I could stand cats.  I had my copy of The Writer’s Market and I was going to go through every entry in the book until I found that rare Prince Charming gem all writers hope for: the right publisher for my book, and one who was willing to take a chance on me.

Five years from the time I wrote the first word, I finally got an email from an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, while playing pool and drinking beer in a dive bar on a visit to my hometown.  My book was in the batch they were going to accept during their next publication period.  I probably played my best lifetime game of pool that night, because I was over the moon, thinking I’d finally gotten the big break I deserved.  I won’t say who it was – because as you can tell from the title of this post, I turned them down anyway…

The happiness ended the minute I started digging deeper into the company and I got the contract.  For the most part, it was pretty standard for what I read in the reference book, except for the following teensy line items:

  • They weren’t going to let me have any input on the cover.  They were going to throw my book over a wall to their creative team and give the nod to whatever came back.  Still, the covers I saw looked pretty good, so I was willing to go with it.
  • They weren’t going to give me any marketing support.  Sorry, but my minor in advertising in promotion did not prepare me for how to successfully market my book.  When I asked about this, they gave me a stock response about how the author is the best person to do the marketing because they are closest to the project.  Okay, true, but don’t you guys do this like, professionally? I’m just a wordmonkey.
  • And here’s the kicker… they wanted me to pay them a “non-refundable deposit” as remuneration for taking a risk on my book.

Um, yeah… that was the red flag for this redhead.  When I told them I was uncomfortable with this, they sent me a list of their author references as a way of reassuring me that I would be happy, successful, and quickly earn back my “refundable deposit” if I took the deal.  I read all the references, but then I went and found the authors’ websites.  Most of them had long since given up on their books from this publisher or hadn’t published any more books, but there were a few still kicking around, so I contacted them.  They all told me the same thing… it was not the greatest decision they’d ever made in their lives.

But still, this was a book deal, a real one, the thing I had been waiting for for five years of my life.  Who was I to say it wasn’t good enough?  I’m a nobody, and they want to take a chance on me.  I did what any girl would do – I called someone smarter than me.  Specifically, my most-likely-to-succeed counterpart from high school (or would have been, if I’d been popular enough to even make that section of the yearbook’s radar), a lawyer pal with a lot of contracts experience.  No, he’d never seen a book deal contract, but a contract’s a contract, right?  And yeah, he said it sucked.  He wasn’t going to tell me what to do, but he didn’t mince words about the drawbacks of the contract.  He was even kind enough to draw up a list of suggested revisions, reminding me than any contract is just a starting off point for negotiations, and that if I really wanted a book deal, I should fight for one that worked for both me and the publisher.

Well, negotiation must’ve been Swahili to them.  I emailed my carefully crafted list of negotiable revisions to their people.  And waited a week.  And emailed them back, asking if they’d had a chance to view my revisions, to which they assured me their legal team was giving it “careful consideration.”  Then I waited another week.  And emailed again.  Finally, they came back and said they weren’t willing to make any concessions with their standard contract (gee thanks… you coulda just told me that 2 weeks ago).  I wanted a book deal.  I really did.  But this one smelled an awful lot like the rejection letters after the litter box got a hold of em, so I politely declined, determined that I had not yet found my Prince Charming of publishing. And had another wine and cheese party for one.

But… that’s not the end of the story… tune in next week, when I tell the story of “Why I Self-Published.”

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“The Pollen Bath” coming soon to a Line Zero near you…

Well, it would seem my second published short story is going to be in the same publication as my first published short story. No skin off my back; I’m just glad it’s being accepted anywhere. This will be the third issue of Line Zero, and the first publication of The Pollen Bath. Getting something published is always happy news, but it also comes with the unhappy task of contacting every single publication where I sent it for consideration and notifying them, some of which get all pissy about it. Funny enough, I had a pollen bath on my car yesterday and the air made my eyes catch on fire.

Still, it can’t compare to seeing your name in print…

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2010 in writer review

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a time of annual reflection for me, and as I was reflecting on the year that was 2010, I realized how much of a success it has been, and here’s why:

  • I had a total of seven manuscripts published in either print journals, online magazines, websites, or some other medium. Before this year, I had none.
  • I had nine works get accepted for publication. Two of them (ironically enough, the first two) have yet to go to print, so I can’t really count them in the “published” category. What can I say? The world of traditional print publishing is slow.
  • I got a book deal. I didn’t take the book deal, because it was really crappy, but if I can get a really crappy book deal, chances are I can get a less crappy book deal if I keep at it.
  • I started reaching out to other writers, booksellers, and other publishing industry people on Twitter. My relationships on Twitter are directly responsible for three of those seven publications.
  • I pimped my writing – mainly my novel – at South by Southwest and reached out to industry people at the trade shows. This led to two of my publications, both of which were accepted for the site’s best-of-the-year collection.
  • I got a Kindle. This is going to help me understand how writing for this medium is different and will also give me instant access to other independent writers like me and their work.
  • I read. It should be common sense that all writers are readers, but I think we take it for granted. Every time I read something from another author I learn something new.
  • I began participating in an organization to help me with better public speaking skills. I have this pesky slight stutter that comes and goes, and I am an introvert like most writers, and feel uncomfortable talking about my own work, like most writers.
  • I wrote more than 1o new manuscripts. I started far more, but part of a writer’s work is killing the crap.

So, I would say that on a semi-professional writer’s level, the year was a wild success. But I have to keep getting better. Since resolutions are just imaginary, unattainable pipe dreams, I set yearly goals instead of New Year’s Resolutions. Here are my writer’s goals for 2010:

  • Join a writer’s group. I didn’t do it this year because I am not sure if I will be in Kansas City for an entire year, and I didn’t want to pay the year’s dues if I wasn’t going to be.
  • Attend book tour and other events at local bookstores. I’ve already signed up for Pitchapalooza by Rainy Day Books next month, and I attended my first book tour event this year and couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it before. The more I see how other people talk about their work, the better I’ll know how to talk about my own.
  • Give out more business cards at South by Southwest than I did last year. It was my first attempt last year, and I have to get more shameless about it.
  • Write something new, even if it’s just a sentence, once a week, for a total of 25 new manuscripts.
  • Read more books, with 50% of them being independent authors. The Kindle will come in handy here 🙂
  • Publish 10 manuscripts. If I can get 9 accepted manuscripts in one year, I can get at least 10 more if I try harder.
  • Submit something every week. This is always the goal, but I don’t always reach it.
  • Start submitting my novel to both agents and independent book publishers, especially those who specialize in e-print.

I think this is a good set of attainable goals, and I look forward to all that 2011 will bring.

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Another poem selected for “Best of the Year” collection!

A few weeks ago, a poem I submitted way back when to an independent online magazine was selected for their “Best of the Year” collection. I found out about this site last year when I was at South by Southwest. It’s a collaborative content site that posts new submissions of art, literature, poetry, and other random stuff every hour. I submitted two poems to them in the last year, and they accepted both of them, and now both of them have been featured in their “Best of the First Year” collection!

You can check it out here:

http://w5ran.com/2010/12/best-of-the-first-year-to-a-moth/

http://w5ran.com/2010/11/best-of-the-first-year-things-in-my-stuff-drawer/

I must be New Years resolved to write more stuff in 2011!

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The winding Internet road

Do you ever start at one place on the internet and end up on a completely different place, with only vague recollection of how you got there?

Today, I was late at work waiting for some other people to provide some stuff for me, so while I was waiting, I decided to catch up on some Google reader. As much as I try to stay up on what’s going on in the industry, it’s really tough, and I often fail. Still, there are a few choice sites that I like to make sure I’m always up on. One of them is midlist thriller writer J.A. Konrath’s blog – A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. I rarely read an entire post end-to-end, because they are often long and I am lazy, but I was entranced by this one. If you’ve dealt with anyone offering you a book deal, which I have and to this day am SO glad I declined, even though I am a nobody, take 5 minutes and read this post. It’s a lot of fun.

After I read the entire post, I did something else I almost never do – I left a comment, and took some time to read some of the other comments. I typically avoid these because I get overly emotionally involved in comment arguments between strangers hiding behind the safety net of anonymity the internet affords and my temper starts flaring. These things never matter, so it’s usually just best I leave them alone. I once read 3 pages worth of comments on an article about Uggs. People have some seriously strong pro-Ugg and con-Ugg opinions. Despite my general avoidance of comment spaces, I decided to troll the comments on this post for A) other writers and industry professionals I can follow on Twitter and B) to see what the response was on this very flagrant post.

One of the comments left was this:

Hi — love the post! I’m an author and I run a small independent publishing company (Bucks County Publishing) and we are primarily involved in paperbacks but we do eBooks too… it is a side thing really because the overhead is so little to do it. We price all of our full length eBook novels at $2.99 and anything shorter is $1.99. Simple pricing. It is ridiculous that these publishing companies want to gauge the customer OR kill the medium…. or both.

I, too, am an author, and I love small independent publishing companies. So I decided to check out their site, and see if they were accepting submissions, because I am a predatory author. As it turns out, they are, and as far as I can tell, it would be a really really good fit for me and my work. Then again, I’ve thought that about lots of book publishers I’ve submitted to who have summarily rejected me. Still, what luck to just find this by link-jumping on the internets. Then, I got to thinking about other neat things I’ve stumbled upon by random internet jumping…

Line Zero: I heard about this new print journal on Twitter. They were looking for submissions for their first issue, I submitted, and I got accepted. Really, I just lucky at the right time with the right journal.

LinkedIn is notorious for sending me down these weird internet paths. Somehow I got from a friend’s LinkedIn page to Smashwords, and that’s how I found out about them. I am still evaluating whether I want to take the ebook self-pub route, but if and when I do, this will be how I do it.

Rose City Sisters: Another Twitter find. The site editor started following me on Twitter, put out the call for submissions, I threw a flash fiction thing together, and decided it would be a good venue for getting some flash fiction practice under my belt. They’ve posted 2 of my stories since.

The volunteer thing I didn’t get: Another stumbly motion on Twitter.

Oh, and I guess I should mention that I found J.A. Konrath’s blog when I was doing some research for a post on this site regarding my distaste for SASEs.

So, if we’re counting, three of my publications came from internet-winding, even if they’re on independent sites and journals. If the Bucks County Publishing people publish me, that’ll make four. Not too bad for just messing around on the internet and finding the right opportunities at opportune moments. Maybe I should just set aside an hour a week for internet “creative space.”

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The submission withdrawal process, round 3

I got my first short story accepted for publication, which is super fantastic, but always comes with the horrible chore of withdrawing the manuscript from everywhere else you sent it that hasn’t rejected it yet. The first time I found out a poem of mine was getting published, I was completely overwhelmed by how much work it was to complete this chore, and how rude some of the publications were. Last time around, I got some interesting responses, including the following:

  • “Umm… we don’t have your stuff.” Hmmm… that probably means I put it in an envelope and was too cheap to mail it off. My bad.
  • “How dare you! We don’t accept simultaneous submissions!”  Oops… I must not have read the fine print. But you really should if you want work from real writers.
  • “Mail daemon: undeliverable.” Update your mail server if you want submissions.

This time around, I was much more prepared. I made sure I read the fine print over again for everyone I sent to, to make sure I hadn’t been violating their rules in the first place. I also prepared an email template, so I wouldn’t have to think about what to write every time. So I was both mentally and resourcefully prepared. These are my findings from this round of submission withdrawal:

  1. It was far, far easier than last time. I had sent my poems to about 3 times as many people as I had this manuscript, which significantly lessened the chore.
  2. I had sent this manuscript to a total of 18 publications. Of those 18, 1 accepted it, 6 rejected it, and 11 still had it under consideration.
  3. The range of dates for submission were from March to September.
  4. Of the 11 who still had it under consideration, the longest period was 7 months.
  5. One of the publications who I had still recorded as pending had rejected me without notification.
  6. I was able to withdraw 4 submissions myself using an online manager.
  7. I had to email 6 of the publications I had submitted to.
  8. There was only one snail mail submission that I had forgotten to mail, and I knew it without having an embarrassing response email.

Lesson learned: keep good track of your submissions, and be prepared when you get lucky and one of them picks it up.

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A whole new level of rejection

Today was a roller coaster day in the world of my writing. I had a poem get picked up W5RAn, and got some good positive feedback. It’s always a good feeling when I write something, think it’s okay, then come back to it and think, “Man, that’s really good!” Dramatic distance really is a very difficult thing to achieve.

Then later in the day I heard back about a volunteer job I applied for. It was a slush reader position at a new online magazine for young adult science fiction/fantasy. I didn’t get the job.

I heard it about by chance, on Twitter, after I wrote a post about the latest piece I’ve been working on, which is kind of a magical realism, mock-sci-fi piece. I decided to follow the #sff tag I included and happened upon a tweet about the position. I followed the link and read up on what they were looking for.

  • Someone willing to volunteer
  • Someone willing to read 6-8 stories a week
  • Someone who could write concise reports about the stories

That was pretty much it. I was immediately interested, because it would be a great resume builder, and it’s always satisfying to support new literary ventures. I grabbed my Moleskine and thought of all the ways I would be perfect for the job. I love to read, I am very familiar with the submission process, I am willing to volunteer, I write concise reports for a living, I’ve judged lots and lots of writing contests, etc. I even threw in some zingers – said I’d be willing to represent the magazine at SXSW 11, talked about my bachelor’s degree in fiction writing, discussed my copy editing experience in college, blah blah blah.  Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I seriously thought I would be a shoe-in. The editor also followed me on Twitter the day after I applied, so I thought I had it in the bag. I was really looking forward to it –  a great resume builder and a good way to give back. Yeah, I’d probably have to read a lot of crap, but then I’d probably also get a taste for how people feel when they read my submissions and could improve accordingly.

So I was really disappointed when I got the all-too-familiar “not what we’re looking for at this time” email. Not even a “we were seriously interested in you” email. Just a standard old “dear author”.  I mean, I did see that they had a higher level of interest than they expected, but I didn’t anticipate that a world of skilled people just willing to give up some time would be applying.  It kind of makes me wonder what level of people were vying for this unpaid position. I’ve been pretty well desensitized to submission rejections, but this one hit me like a whack to the head. Okay, so sci-fi/fantasy isn’t my favorite genre ever, which I was up front about, but I enjoy writing of all kinds, even SFF. I figure they must have just had some really really impressive people apply, or this is a blatant case of Kellyism.

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Screw you, spell check! Oh wait, that IS how you spell Wednesday…

Tonight I was plugging away at some submissions/future rejections, and I noticed something both disturbing and embarrassing.  It has been over 3 months since I moved, and I got tired of manually typing my new address, and I figured it was probably time to give the query letter templates the once over anyway.

The query letter for The Redheaded Stepchild misspelled protagonist. The query letter for Two Steps Forward misspelled Forward. Twice. And it’s in the title. It also referenced The Other Dentenia Zickafoose when it should not have. It’s no wonder these magazines have dismissed without a second thought. That, and “I’m not what they’re looking for.”

There are few things I hate worse than writing query letters. I’m sure many of my fellow writers feel the same pain. We’re writers; we want our work to speak for itself. I have part of marketing degree, and I still hate marketing myself. So I spend some time trying to say what I want to say, and save it to a template so I don’t have to think about it every time. Apparently, I’ve been too lazy with this as of late, and as much as I hate, I know that a good query letter is important and a necessarily evil on the route to being a novelist. I encourage all you writers out there to spend 15 minutes to take a look at your query letters, just to make sure they are in tip-top shape. And that the title of your piece is not misspelled.

I am equally annoyed when I see outdated or incorrect information on a publisher’s website, or worse, a 404 or a bounced email.  Since most literary journals are run by colleges, I know they don’t accept submissions during the summer.  News flash – it’s back to school time, so you’re probably accepting submissions again. And if your submission banner reads “We are currently not accepting submissions. We will begin accepting submissions in July 2010” and it is now September 2010, there is something wrong with that.  If you say your next edition is coming April 2010, it should be posted by April 30, not still hanging around as a “coming soon” in November. You want me to not be lazy, do my due diligence, see what kind of work you typically publish and then craft my query letters accordingly? Do yours. Update your goddamn website.

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