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It's no secret that I disagree with Michael Gove on the majority of the things he's doing. But his changes being made to the GCSE English Literature course made me very very angry. Angry enough to write a 650 word post on it. With footnotes.
Gove, Gove, Gove. Once again, I must ask: what are you doing? You’ve already played with GCSEs and A Levels to the point no teenager really understands fully what they're doing in the next part of their school years. And now you're changing the literature syllabus to remove important non-British works from the classroom.
Such works include American classics like The Crucible, To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, which is studied by 90% of students, and works from other cultures like Purple Hibiscus and Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence.
These works are important. Not just because they’re works of literature that have stood the test of time. But because as well as being able to be studied and teach us about symbolism and metaphors and all other things you do when you study them for a literature course, they teach us about other cultures and themes.
Of Mice and Men’s themes include: power, privilege, friendship, racism, sexism, ageism, injustice, and prejudice. To Kill A Mockingbird’s themes include: racism, education, bravery, and justice. Both are set in cultures different to our own, but have themes and ideas that are timeless, and relevant to life today.
I understand that the main point of the English literature course is to develop analysis skills. But you can do that with many pieces of literature, regardless of where they originate from-look at my language notes for the start of Of Mice and Men.
You say that "If [exam boards] wish to include Steinbeck – whether it's Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath – no one would be more delighted than me, because I want children to read more widely and range more freely intellectually in every subject."  The new plans state that students should study “at least one play by Shakespeare, at least one 19th century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789, including representative Romantic poetry [and] fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards” . I can’t see Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men fitting into any of those categories. No, your four guidelines don’t say you can’t study other things too, but two years to study these four things in depth, alongside multiple other subjects, means that exam boards will probably want to steer clear of piling extra things on students, meaning they will likely be excluded.
Britain is a multicultural country. We have students of all races and backgrounds studying the course, and we don’t need solely British Victorian viewpoints and ideas about poverty and romance, which is what the majority of Dickens and Austen is made up of. Likewise, English is a multicultural language, spoken in most parts of the world either as a first or foreign language. It should not be surprising that quality literature written in English comes from all corners of the Earth. The study of world literature is important to broadening all our horizons.
Of course, British literature is important too. You know my love of Shakespeare, and works by Orwell and Huxley might go on the list to be studied, and some of these books are pretty good. But these aren't the easiest to understand and read and engage with. Difficulty levels really can put people off reading. One reason why 90% of students get taught Of Mice And Men is because it is short enough to be studied in depth, and the language is both accessible to lower level students and good for analysis for higher level ones.
No, you’re not banning teenagers from reading these books. I get that these books will still be available to teens in bookshops and the dwindling number libraries that are still going. But according to the Reading Agency, 46% teenagers don't read for pleasure  . For some, the books they read in school will be the only books they read at all. Shouldn't the few books these people read showcase experiences and ideas other than those of long-long dead people, and be able to teach us something about cultures and issues both historical and contemporary? You are the secretary of state for education, Mr. Gove. Educate.
Whatever happened to quality? Back in my day, companies used to stand behind what they made. Things just lasted longer. There were warranties and repair shops for TV’s and appliances instead of everything being disposable. Nowadays, we just buy things and no matter how much we pay, we expect to have to replace them in five to seven years. It’s downright sad.
Shoddy workmanship coupled with new appliance styles and colors released every few years means none of us will ever be able to keep up. In my adult life they started as white, went to black, and now one is considered below the poverty line unless they have stainless steel. They’ve got this scam perfected. When your microwave goes out, instead of getting it repaired you have to replace it. And since it will no longer match your other kitchen appliances, the broken microwave ends up costing you $4000 for upgrading the entire kitchen.
Forget that mess, I have a white microwave with a broken handle, a black oven, and stainless dishwasher and refrigerator. I figure my cheapness gives me a wider spectrum of color in my kitchen and possibly a disappointed wife, but I refuse to give in to their madness.
I really didn’t start this rant to vent about kitchen appliances, we took a detour there. I’m angry about specs and tolerances. If packaging says the wire I am purchasing has a tensile strength of 1200 MPa, I figure I should easily be able to get 1250-1300 MPa out of it before it breaks. Or if my pneumatic nail gun recommends a range of 90-120 PSI, I think 130 PSI will make sure the sucker holds.
So it speaks to shoddy quality that a towel bar designed to hold 4 pounds of wet towel wouldn’t be able to keep a flailing, 210-pound man upright. It stands to reason that this should have been well within the tolerance of a reasonably made product, don’t you think?
I discovered this defect after our bathroom was rearranged for our new cat’s needs. The bath mat was not returned to its proper place and my wet foot slid out from under me upon exiting the shower. I desperately grabbed the towel bar only to find what inspector number seven did not. It wouldn’t hold when tested and tumbled down onto the cold wet tile alongside of me.
What is this world coming to when manufacturers don’t care about quality anymore? I tell you what it’s coming to: bruised bums and holes in the wall, THAT’s what this world is coming to.
So. Faber & Faber (The Bell Jar) I think is a Macmillan company in the US, and this is the UK cover. I actually kind of like the cover art, at second glance. It's not so much sexualizing the book as evoking the thought of a woman applying a mask, pretending to be happy, but the mask is slipping--and she's almost out of makeup. I don't like it as much as the US trade paperback cover (shown later in this post).
The Breakfast at Tiffany's cover is from Viking which is a Penguin imprint. It's not so much pandering to a female buyer as it is, well, just not as classic as the first edition:
I feel you should only be allowed to tote that around in public if you look like this:
So that leaves Night & Day by Virginia Woolf, an Anne of Green Gables omnibus, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's feminist Herland. Here comes the rant! News flash: these covers were selected by not-real publishers. These are self-published, Print-on-Demand (or POD) titles from Createspace.com and Readaclassic.com.
You know why there seem to be so many different copies of books like The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, or Moby Dick by Herman Melville? Once the copyright for a work has lapsed and no one holds license or title to it, anyone can go and reproduce it and resell it--this is called Public Domain. So someone had the bright idea to take this farm girl photo and slap it on Anne of Green Gables, never mind that the model in the photo is blonde and kind of skanky looking, while Anne is supposed to be a sparky redhead. And while big publishers once in a while mess up covers on a huge scale, I don't think any of them have quite let their standards fall this low.
So people, calm down.
When you go to the bookstore, this is probably the cover you will see on The Bell Jar:
So relax, people. These self-pub shops don't have oversight, no one to go, "Wait--I think Anne's supposed to be a ginger..." Most of the time this lack of oversight is why I refuse to read books from Createspace/Smashwords or any self-pubbed outlet.
Also, while we're at it, stop complaining about Twilight-ized classics. As a designer and someone who works with book publicity, I actually thought that was a kind of clever marketing decision, and I'd covet them if I didn't already have like, 6 copies of Pride and Prejudice that have better binding than the cheap paperback one.
Ok, truth: I covet them anyway. They are so pretty! If only the binding were sturdier. (Yes, I think about these things a lot.)
Do you have any covers you love, or ones you love to hate? Leave a comment below.
The interwebs have been abuzz this morning with talk of the attack on agent Pam van Hylckama, allegedly by a writer whose work she'd rejected. (Pam is an agent-pal and I have no reason to doubt her story, btw, but I say "allegedly" because obviously we don't know all the facts in the case and presumably the investigation etc is ongoing and nobody has been found guilty, so. ANYWAY....)
Scary stuff, for sure. My initial reaction is, thank god Pam is ok, and seems to have no more severe injuries than a bruise (and some shattered nerves!) -- and her little dog deserves a huge reward. Hugs to Pam and family.
My second reaction is more selfish. How could this have been avoided? How, indeed, can I personally avoid a situation like this?
It's true that agents do get a lot of crap. I've had authors show up outside my house, authors drop off notes in my home mailbox or at the bookstore (with no postmark - in other words, delivered by hand) authors come talk to me while I am at an event or show up while I am working at the bookstore to ask for advice, authors follow me way too closely in conference hotels, and authors call me on my cell phone. All of which very much freaked me out, but always ended up just being genuinely nice but clueless people who I could explain "look, this is inappropriate" and they get it, or if they don't get it, they at least go away.
I've also certainly gotten my share of thoroughly weird queries and responses to rejections. The query for a thriller about a dude who kills literary agents comes to mind. (eep!) I do not respond to such queries, and I save them in a "In Case I'm Murdered" file. Yanno, to be on the safe side. I've had people snap back and accuse me of being racist or hating men, etc, when I reject them. But I myself have never gotten actual threats, thank god. And 99% of the many, many authors I interact with on a daily basis are delightful and non-freaky.
Let's be clear: The dude who attacked Pam is not a "disgruntled author." He's a CRIMINAL. I'm trying to avoid the obvious word, because I hate when people just say "he's crazy" - (is that a diagnoses, Doctor Internet?)... but the behavior is certainly crazy, whether or not the person is. If the allegations are true, he didn't attack Pam "because she rejected him" -- he attacked her BECAUSE HE HAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM. And, though I don't know him personally and I am not trying to diagnose what that "something wrong" is, it's safe to assume he has emotional and/or psychological disturbances of some kind. This isn't really a case of "authors behaving badly" as it is "unbalanced individuals behaving erratically."
So what to do? Like most people, I try to keep my personal address and phone number off the internet (though strangers still find them with disconcerting regularity). I don't have phone or address on my business cards or website. I don't use 4Square or Facebook "check-in" apps. But still, like many people, I live my life online. I tweet or facebook about places I visit and things I do. And as a semi-public figure, where I work is common knowledge. Because I work all the time, it is easy to figure out where I am, pretty much all the time. Even if I unplugged completely, I still live in a small village, and if you know the name of the village (which is no big secret), you can find me - because I am usually visibly standing somewhere near the center of it! (Of course it is also no big secret that I have a dog who craves the taste of human flesh and would love to bite a stranger on my behalf, and honestly I pity anyone who breaks into my house, so I have little fear on that front.)
I guess the point is -- writers, agents, anyone who lives part of their life in public (which is an ever increasing number of people) -- ALL OF US need to be vigilant. ALL OF US need to watch how much info goes online, and use a certain amount of discretion.
Also, ALL OF US need to be considerate about personal space bubbles -- just as you wouldn't ask a stranger to examine you in line at the supermarket if you found out he was a gynecologist, don't creep around a literary agents house and wait for her to go outside to water the plants so you can ask her questions about your work. There's a time and a place. Don't be a creep.
But you can't really predict or protect against a stranger snapping on you. And you can't live your life in fear. I guess the most we can do is just be as nice as we can to each other?
E.J. and Nate have censored this post for reasons that are probably obvious.
I swore to myself that I would never write about Amazon, pricing, price checking, and the suckery of NPR ever again, but then of course, NPR has to go and run this insipidly stupid piece about a “predatory” Amazon.
I’m half-tempted to go back to my normal argument that of course they’re predatory, in much the same way all corporations are predatory and take advantage of the system as it exists and tax loopholes and economies of scale and all of that shit. Bottomline: corporations only exist to make money, not to make the world a better place.
Does that disturb me? Hell yes it does. I’m a pretty anti-corporate person, but trying to change the nature of Amazon by complaining that what they’re doing is unfair seems similar to trying to convince people to read translations because it will “make the world a better place.” Not to go all 2002 on this subject, but this is a time when the phrase “don’t hate the playa, hate the game” is pretty fitting.
But I don’t want to talk about Amazon in this post . . . Instead I want to talk about how NPR sucks and is helping make this conversation about Amazon and other corporations really stupid and middlebrow and unproductive.
Let’s start with a little thing called timing. Aside from the bit about Nancy Pearl’s new book series (which no publisher would touch until Amazon decides to publish it at which point everything is EVIL), everything in this article is at least a month old. The Price Check App? We burned that bridge long ago.
And then there’s those pesky little things we call “facts.” This article, which is as typically lazy as all NPR journalism is, implies that the Price Check App applied to books, which is PATENTLYNOTTRUE. But why bother researching things when you can just throw shit at a wall and create a “controversy” by just riding whatever opinions get you the most hits.
But the thing I really want to get at is how this article actually impairs any sort of intellectual discussion about the corporation vs. culture situation. Check this quote from O’Reilly’s publisher, Joe Wikert:
“The word ‘predator’ is pretty strong, and I don’t use it loosely,” he says, “but . . . I could have sworn we had laws against predatory pricing. I just don’t understand why that’s not an issue — because that’s got to be hurting other device makers out there in trying to capture this market.”
Now what should follow this quote? If NPR had any journalistic balls, they would do a bit of research into anti-trust laws, and explain whether Amazon is violating something or not. If not, the discussion could be about whether anti-trust laws need to be updated, or why they’ve been corroded over the past half-century and what that’s resulted int. THAT would be an interesting article, and a fucking useful one.
Does NPR go in that direction?
But Wikert is also well aware that Amazon has made life very convenient for consumers.
GAAAAGGH! This is not journalism, this is explaining that we need air to breathe. Well done, Add a Comment
We also talked about my daughter and her “letter of hate” to the awful Dan Borislow, who, “ruined our summer of fun.”
(And in my defense for encouraging her to write this, there’s no amount of 8-year-old crazy that can approximate Borislow’s 50-year-old detached from all reality crazy. Just read the emails in the link above, and keep in mind that this jag ruined women’s soccer for tens of thousands of young girls in the most egotistical, asinine fashion ever. Chloë is 100% in the right on this.)
Writers Omi at Ledig House Translation Lab, Fall 2012
Writers Omi at Ledig House, a part of Omi International Arts Center, has been awarded a grant from Amazon.com to fund Translation Lab, a weeklong special, intensive residency for five collaborating writer‐translator teams in the fall of 2012. Writers Omi will host five English language translators to the Omi International Arts Center for one week. These translators will be invited along with the writers whose work is being translated. This focused residency will provide an integral stage of refinement, allowing translators to dialogue with the writers about text‐specific questions. It will also serve as an essential community‐builder for English‐language translators who are working to increase the amount of international literature available to American readers.
The dates for Translation Lab are November 9‐16, 2012. All residencies are fully funded, including international airfare and local transport from New York City to the Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, NY.
Writers Omi will be accepting proposals for participation until July 1, 2012. Translators, writers, editors, or agents can submit proposals. Each proposal should be no more than three pages in length and provide the following information:
Brief biographical sketches for the translator and writer associated with each project;
Publishing status for proposed projects (projects that do not yet have a publisher are still eligible);
A description of the proposed project;
Contact information (physical address, email, and phone).
Proposals should be submitted only once availability for residency participation of the translator and writer has been confirmed. All proposals and inquiries should be sent directly to DW Gibson, director or Writers Omi at Ledig House at: email@example.com.
I’m sure some people will object to translators, international writers, and literary readers benefitting from this, but I’ll save that snark for after the Salon.com article about this topic comes out. (How’s that for a tease?) . . .
. . . Although I can’t resist pointing out that this line is remarkably stupid: “Suddenly Amazon began giving money away, but only to specific organizations of its choosing.” Really?!? They chose who to give their money to? FORSHAME. I wonder if the NEA—or, I don’t know, every foundation in the history of fucking foundations—has ever considered doing something so radical as only giving away their money to organizations they want to support. SO IMMORAL. No, that article doesn’t sound like sour grapes. Not at all. Especially since it’s written by a “for-profit” press, which, I’ll take to assume means “completely ignorant of the inner workings of a non-profit press.”
Sorry. Just had to get that off my chest. Now go on and apply for this Translation Lab. It’s much >> all the bitching and moaning by people who don’t do dick for translators.
While trying to the avoid getting caught up in the Drama that has been the YA blogging community the past week, I do have some strong opinions that I want to express. If you are tired of the plagiarism scandal, please scroll down to the photo I have added to this post for your enjoyment.
Early last week, Kristi from The Story Siren was busted for plagiarism. Her lack of judgment was actually discovered by the fashion bloggers she stole content from way back in January, but at her request, they choose to keep quiet about the discovery after she deleted the posts with the filched content. Jane from Dear Author and Sarah from Smart B*tches caught wind of the cover up and exposed her dishonesty on their blogs. Why am I even mentioning this? Because as someone who loves books and loves words, I am not going to support her blog any longer by linking to her site, participating in her memes or entering her contests. I urge you to do the same, if you love authors and their words as much as I do.
I am writing this post on Wednesday evening because I will be out of town over the weekend. Because Kristi’s published apologies are vague and don’t actually take ownership of her indiscretions, I am including links so that you can read about the mess for yourself. Form your own opinion of how to handle the situation. I have a very difficult time supporting a blogger, a prominent leader in the YA blogging community, as well as an aspiring author, after she has been caught stealing another’s words and representing them to the community as her own.
After reading her two non apologies, I was appalled. She did not take ownership of her misdeeds, and in order to truly be forgiven for a crime, the perpetrator needs to actually be remorseful for their actions. She does not do that. She instead worries about her connection with publishers and authors, with little regard for her readers, the sole reason for the existence of her blog. Instead of fessing up for her plagiarism, she says that “It was a confusion of inspiration and plagiarism on my part.” That left me in a confusion as to the sincerely of her apology. She dances around the issue, instead of accepting her guilt.
If you are interested in reading more about this, check out these links -
YOU are somebody who is seeking out knowledge and absorbing it like a sponge. YOU are somebody that knows about research and takes the time to do a little before sending out query letters. YOU have a basic grasp of how the English language works, and how to be polite and sane in correspondence.
Sadly, YOU guys, the awesome folks reading this right now, represent less than half of those who send me queries. Less. Than. Half. The majority are sent by people who will never see this. And they pretty much all have one or more of the following problems:
* They do not understand who I am or what I do (generally they think I publish books... which I do not) -- or they DO know I'm an agent, but are sending me material not even close to something I represent, which the simplest google search or website glance would have revealed.
* They betray an inability to write in English. I'm not saying "they aren't brilliant" - I'm saying, they are barely coherent. I have several each day that have been seemingly run through Google Translate or Babelfish and are just nonsensical. Is it spam? I have no idea.
* Mega-typos. I really am not going to get judge-y about the occasional typo in a manuscript. Look, it happens, that stuff can get fixed, no biggie. But if you have multiple typos in a three paragraph letter... I'm going to raise an eyebrow. And if you've inconsistently spelled your own TITLE... OR YOUR OWN NAME... That's a problem.
* They are rude, psychotic, scary. ("I'm sure, as a woman, this will be hard for you to understand" -- "Jesus was a Dinosaur!" -- "My book is about MURDERING LITERARY AGENTS", etc) (note: actually I changed these somewhat... nobody sent me these EXACT queries... but the idea is similar. And in fact, I thought I made up Dino Jesus, but apparently it's a thing. And I kinda like it.)
* They don't follow directions. They are addressed to somebody else, or to no-one at all. There is no query letter (the pages start immediately). There are no pages (we ask for 10 pages in the body of the email). There are a query letter and pages, but they are all as an attachment (which I don't open). There is a query letter, but I have to sign on to some site to see it, or it comes in a block of graphics that I can't read, or similar.
I understand, honest mistakes happen, and I'll happily overlook it if you get my name wrong, or the formatting is weird, or you've use the wrong form of it's/its. If I like the query but you haven't put pages, I'll ask for them.
But let's be honest. If you've got multiple gaffes in one email, what that shows me is that you don't really care about this. If you can't be bothered to proofread a short letter that is theoretically extremely important to you... how shoddy is your book?
Our official agency policy is "no response means no" -- but time permitting, I do try to just at least send a form response to everyone who seems sane and like they are trying. I don't respond to people who blatantly don't follow query guidelines, or who query with stuff I don't rep, but other than that, I do my best.
But I'm just... I'm just really burnt out on this part. I spend my entire Sundays doing this most weeks, and it is making me bitter. I REALLY DON'T WANT TO BE BITTER Y'ALL.
At the same time, I really don't want to close to queries.
Understand this: MOST of my clients came from slush, especially in the beginning. I didn't know
I have ranted… I mean, related many anecdotes from my nearly thirty years as a professional artist. There’s one story that I have told numerous times, but have never put into print… until now.
I was employed for almost five years in the advertising department at the main headquarters of a major after-market auto parts retailer whose mascots are three big-headed Jewish guys, one of whom used to smoke cigars…. y’know the company of which I speak? Well, I worked with a group of other artists in a large, moldy, poorly-ventilated studio. We were a happy (and mostly) fraternal group. We were expected to be human machines, cranking out various versions of full-color weekly advertising circulars at unrealistic breakneck speed. The ads, which were essentially the same each week with the same three hundred products rearranged, were tedious, time-consuming projects. High importance was placed on accuracy and alacrity. Compensation was minimal in comparison to expected output. Our decisions were constantly undermined by the advertising executive committee who — as they say — didn’t know shit from shinola. But, we were artists and we were used to it.
One day, one of my co-workers had his lunch resting at the top of his desk, waiting for the noon hour to roll around. His choice for his afternoon repast was a selection from the Betty Crocker “Bowl Appetit” line of microwave meals. This was a relatively new product (at the time) and several of us artists were admiring the package design. The disposable plastic bowl was slipped into a cardboard sleeve. The front of the package — the side that would entice the customer when placed on a shelf — was split across the middle. The top half bore the familiar “Betty Crocker” logo and the words “Bowl Appetit” in big, friendly, italic letters. The bottom half featured a full-color photo of the freshly-prepared product; glistening noodles, velvety sauce, flecks of vegetables and just the slightest suggestion of steam. The two halves of the design were bisected by a rippled block of color with the specific flavor of the meal written out in the same, friendly type as the product name. The back side of the package depicted other available flavors (Fettuccine Alfredo, Three-Cheese Rotini, some chicken something-or-other) and a small sample of each one’s packaging, all immediately identifiable as part of the same product line.
Turning the package over again to the front, we saw something that caught our attention almost simultaneously. At the top, near the “B” in “Bowl” was a large, gaudy, blue banner trimmed in yellow. Within the banner, the proclamation “Great For Lunch” was emblazoned in searchlight yellow, in a typeface not used anywhere else on the package. It was blatantly out of place and downright ugly. After some discussion, we artists theorized as to how this blemish made its way on to an otherwise well-designed, cohesive package.
We surmised that the creative packaging team at Betty Crocker were given the task to come up with an innovative design for a new product line. The group — layout artists, designers, computer graphics experts — all worked diligently. After several weeks and hundreds of designs, they emerged with a series of layouts and several prototypes. Each package was brilliant in its stand alone qualities as well as working as part of a series. Proudly, they made their presentation to the executive board in charge of research, development and some such bullshit. Suddenly, some out-of-touch, pencil-pushing, number-crunching dickhead stood up and questioned,
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It was a failure of imagination on my part not to realize the can o' worms that would be opened by this post. For several days I battled tweets, emails, private messages, comments, smoke signals etc, basically saying "OK, you say you don't like ______ -- but what about ______ ????"
"OK, no paranormal romance - but what if it is mostly realistic but then there are GOBLINS?" "OK, you don't like books with dead girls... what about dead BOYS?" "OK, you like horse books... what if they are SEAHORSES?" "OK, you want a love story, and you like animals, but you didn't mention a combo... what if it is a KANGAROO love story?"
OMG. You guys. Killin' me.
The "wishlist" is not meant to be "A Comprehensive List of All the Types of Books That Are Good."
Th wishlist is also not a list of all the books I enjoy reading - this is not a list of all the books that are popular - this is also not a list of what any OTHER agent might be looking for. The wishlist is merely a SAMPLE of the kinds of books I don't already represent, that I might be especially interested in looking at if somebody out there has written one.
For example - I didn't talk much about Historical Fiction. I like it fine, but I already represent a lot of it... I am not begging for more, unless it is totally different from what I already have. (I already have Victorian England, Victorian America, Dark Ages Europe, Weimar Republic, 1960's USA...)
Likewise, I didn't mention fantasy, because I already have LOTS of magical stories on my list. It would have to be pretty special and different to get my attention. That isn't to say that a special, different story that I'll love isn't out there - I'm SURE it is. I just don't consider that a "hole in the list." Are there types of books that are not on the list that I would also love to see? I am sure there are - but I haven't even imagined them. That is where the fun of going through the submissions comes in -- I love to be surprised by what I fall in love with.
So I give up. For goodness sake, submit whatever you want. Just know that the things on the wishlist have a higher chance of getting close reads and more requested materials... and the things on the No list have an extremely good chance at swift rejection.
The things I never mentioned on either list? Go for it, why the heck not.
There's a lot of advice out there for writers. I've read lots of it, I've given some of it... and you might have, too. No advice is "one size fits all." (Not even the advice in this very blog.) But one thing I feel very strongly about is, it is damaging to compare yourself to other writers. (<--- don't do it! this is advice. sorry.)
Recently a writer I think is terrific said that when she writes faster, she writes better. She's quite successful, so it is tempting to take that to heart and say, "Hm, clearly, if I want to be successful, I HAVE TO WRITE FASTER! FASTER!!!" ...until the next successful writer declares that slow and steady wins the race. One writer says that she has to write things out of order, skip from action scene to action scene and fill in the rest later. Then somebody else says they have to write things IN order. One person is a plotter and does a detailed outline before she starts. The next is a "pantser" and the story comes to her in the moment.
If you were to hear all this advice from these expert-fantastic-genius writers, and you were new enough to think advice was all gospel and had to be followed to the letter, you'd likely feel real crappy about yourself pretty darn quick. Because it'd be IMPOSSIBLE to do all those things at once. They contradict each other. It is a recipe for failure and sadness. The only thing that works is to figure out what works for YOU.
It's like dieting. There is NO crazy fad diet that is awesomely good for you, works for 100% of people 100% of the time, and keeps working. If there was, we'd all be "bikini ready" right now. You generally get healthier by eating more good stuff and being as active as you are able to be. "But that is BORING and SLOW" you say! I say, if you try to circumvent it ("Hey! This magazine says I should ONLY EAT BACON from now on and I'll lose weight fast!") -- well it might work in the short term, but in the long run, you will probably be damaging your body.
And let's say you do get healthier: There is no "right" way to look at the end of it. Some people's "healthy" is the body of an Olympian. Personally, my "healthy" is the body of a Yugoslavian peasant woman. Genetics, babe. Neither is wrong. And if I bemoan the fact that even at my healthiest, I'm naturally more "Hammer Throw" than "Uneven Parallel Bars", that is not helping me be as healthy and happy and successful a Hammer-Thrower as I can be. In fact, if I sit at home crying about it instead of practicing, I'll be a TERRIBLE Hammer-Thrower.
Wow that was a long tangent, sorry.
The point I'm making: Just as there is no one way to look, there is NO ONE WAY to write a book. There is NO ONE WAY to get an agent. There is NO ONE WAY to be published. I have personally seen as many paths to publication as I have seen books. All of them different. None of them "right." There are no guarantees in life, and there sure aren't any in this crazy business, except that everything is subjective, and your path will be your own.
Great writing. Great hook. Kick-ass Query. All of these might help you, and definitely couldn't hurt. But what is "great"? Every single one of the manuscripts I've sold, also had rejections. I know for a fact I'd have turned down a book like DA VINCI CODE, TWILIGHT or 50 SHADES... does that make those books "bad"? No. Just bad for ME. While many would agree with me and pass on these books, many more millions of people do not share my taste at all... and that's a good thing. People liking different things - it's what makes this crazy world go round. If everyone liked the exact things I liked... well I'd be richer, sure... but I'd also be pretty bored.
Perseverance. Being in the right place at the right time. Sheer luck. These factors will likely play a part in your success, too. Author A was writing and actively looking for an agent for ten years. She wrote and queried several manuscripts over that decade. We became friends when I wasn't even an agent yet, just a bookseller. I thought she was terrific. I said, "If I were an agent, I'd rep you!" -- and then, later on, I became an agent, asked her to query me. Everything clicked into place beautifully and I sold two books for her in two weeks. I know for a fact that this has happened to me with editors as well - - for Author B, I sent a manuscript out for almost a year with nary a bite. I sold a picture book and a chapter book for B, but the novel didn't sell and didn't sell. On the third round, it got snapped up immediately... by somebody who hadn't been an acquiring editor yet when I sent it out the first time. Kismet! It was a perfect match, and the book went on to become an award winner.
And see? Two successes right there in that last paragraph - two VERY different paths! If Author B compared herself to the quick-selling Author A, she might have been miserable for a year... but she didn't. Instead, she kept writing, and I sold different projects for her, and she has had terrific success, in her own timeline, on her own terms. If Author A compared herself to Author B, she might have grimaced about the 10 years and many manuscripts before she even landed an agent... but she didn't. Because she couldn't have had that path. It TOOK the 10 years, and it came together when the manuscript and the timing were both right.
There's a quote that's attributed to Samuel Goldwyn that I like. "The harder I work, the luckier I get." I feel like this applies to writers. LOTS and LOTS of people want to be successful writers... but then they never finish a book. Or they finish, but they never learn to revise. Or they finish it, and revise, but are too scared of rejection to put it out there.
If you've finished a book? CONGRATULATIONS. You are ahead of MOST of the world. Sure, that doesn't mean it will automatically get published. Still, the harder you work, the luckier you are likely to get.
Pretty much everyone who shares advice is doing so from a good place in their heart. If the advice works for you... awesome. If it makes you feel upset or weirded-out or doesn't work for you -- you're allowed to ignore it! Take the best, discard the rest.
Ultimately, no matter how much research we do, no matter how many "buddies" we have to ask questions of, we each have our own machete, and we each have to hack out our own path through this jungle. Bring a headlamp!
A fellow writer asked me for advice today. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, I seem to have offered up a straight answer (for the most part). Straight answers really kill the entertainment potential, but do make for a nice break.
I've written most of my life, but only sought publication about three years ago. Up until that time, I'd written journals, poetry, and short stories. I'd always wanted to write and sell a novel, and fancied I could if I put my mind to it. I love crime thrillers, so I tapped out a Jim Thompson-type noir. It took me about six months to polish the novel into something that I believed was good enough to send out. I researched the book biz and realized publication would be a tough nut to crack, still...I was pretty confident. I'd written a great story after all.
I decided that the best way to get my story published was through an agent. I'm talking mainstream publishing. You can self-publish and create a quality book, but I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher. The best tool I found for locating an agent was agentquery.com and the best tool I found for writing a decent query was Evil Editor.
I sent out queries and no one was interested. And it was a great story! Thrills, chills, spills, and all that... But a great story is not enough. Luck and timing are involved. And sometimes the story needs more work. And sometimes it needs to go into a drawer for a few weeks or months or years. Everyone says it, and it's true: Keep writing, keep re-writing, keep polishing, and keep submitting. When you get feedback, listen to it. You don't have to agree, but listen to it.
So I sent out queries and collected rejections. Mostly form rejections and the occasional form rejection with a personalized scribble at the bottom. I decided that while I was submitting the crime thriller to agents that repped crime thrillers, I could write another novel to send to agents that repped other novels. Like what? I'd read somewhere that the thing to sell was a romance novel. So I tried my hand at romance...and didn't have much luck. It wasn't fun. I'm not a romance reader and I didn't enjoy writing it. And you have to write something you enjoy. I have three chapters of a romance titled TRAIL TO LOVE that I hope no one will ever see.
As a kid I was a big reader, so I took a stab at a story for young readers. I cooked up a middle grade adventure and loved it. I loved writing it. I sent it out and collected more rejections. I wrote a second middle grade work and began sending that one out. I collected rejections, refined my queries, filled the occasional request for sample chapters and manuscripts, and refined my queries even more.
Next I thought I'd give horror fiction a try. I was in the middle of writing a novel about underwater vampires when the notion of an eleven year old girl who only "thinks" she's a vampire entered my head. That idea eventually became the story that is currently sitting on shelves in libraries and bookstores around the country.
So my advice to newbies is simply a regurgitation of my own experience: Write things you LOVE to write, read all the time, listen to informed feedback when you're lucky enough to get it, set reasonable goals, and don't be discouraged.
It's hardly original, but there you have it. One nugget I'll offer that veers slightly from the run-of-the-mill is this: If you have a day job, quit. Even if you don't want to be a writer, quit your day job.
So there's been a bit in the media lately about women writers and some other related bits and pieces. And I know this is a soapbox that I've jumped up and down on before, but I'm going to have to keep jumping for now.
Given that women have won five out of the last six Whitbread/Costas, does the level of injustice remain enough to justify the Orange?
Women are predominant, in terms of numbers and power, in most of the major publishing houses and agencies. They sell most of the books, into a market that largely comprises women readers. They are favoured by what is overwhelmingly the most important publishing prize (the Richard and Judy list), and comprise most of the reading groups that drive sales. Girls in schools are more literate than boys, and pupils are taught reading mainly by female teachers promoting mainly female writers.
Well. A few points, if I may.
Six out of the last 20 Booker Prize Winners have been women.
Two out of the last 20 Booker Prize Winners have had a female protagonist. That's 10%.
Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2010 list are all by men.
Our own Miles Franklin longlist features 3 women and 9 men.
There are more women working in publishing than men, more women write books and more women read books. This is all true. Yet capital-L-literary awards are undeniably skewed towards men.
There are more female teachers because teaching continues to be a low pay, low status job.
Despite this, the vast majority of class texts are by men, and feature male protagonists.
In VCE this year, there are 9 texts available by women, and 27 by men.
I know of a local private girls' school where, from Years 7-10, not one text is studied featuring a female protagonist. NOT. ONE.
What this is telling us, and the message we are sending to young people (both male and female) is this: despite the fact that the majority of people involved in the publishing industry are women, our society as a whole deems women's stories as unimportant (at least as far as capital-L-literature is concerned). Female authors only get recognised when they write about men. And I am not in ANY way blaming men for this. It's something we're all doing together. As a whole literary culture. Here's Lizzie Skurnick:
"I just want to say," I said as the meeting closed, "that we have sat here and consistently called books by women small and books by men large, by no quantifiable metric, and we are giving awards to books I think are actually kind of amateur and sloppy compared to others, and I think it's disgusting." Our default is that women are small, men are universal.
Here's a (relatively mild) comment from that article about the Orange Prize:
I am a life long reader and have read thousands of books, however I have read probably less than 20 books written by women. Women write differently from men and I feel their efforts appeal mostly to other women.
Which brings me to our friend Nicholas Sparks. Nicholas is the author of The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe and Dear John, among others. First, I have to admit that I've never read any of his books, nor seen any of the film adaptations. But I've seen the previews, and that was enough to know that it isn't really my thing. On the whole, I prefer my rom to also include com.
PARSEC Ink has put together another magnificent collection of short, speculative fiction, and I'm beyond honored to have a story included in its august pages.
I received my contributor's copy of Triangulation: End of the Rainbow yesterday and skimmed a bit. Read a few stories. Read my story, "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable" again...and damn it, my own story made me get all choked up. Coupled with the afterword by editor Bill Moran, I was almost in tears.
"...fiction writing is dying..." (from the afterword)
By Zeus, I hope not. But Mr. Moran lays out a pretty powerful argument for why it is. (Let's just say Transformers 2 was not his favorite movie...) Me? I blame the internet. For all it's wonder and fantasy, it has made fiction cheap and easy. Cheaper than pulp stories. Hell, authors writing for pulp mags back in the Golden Age were paid near living wages for their words. Now, that kind of pay just isn't feasible (without massive debts) even for the best mags. I'd be shocked if any of them are turning profit. I'd be thrilled if they were.
Yes, YA novels are selling like crazy. And yes, some of them are wonderful. Okay, a few of them are wonderful. There's a ton of shite out there, though. Trust me. I work with teenagers. I see the kind of crap they grab at the library. I try to cultivate a love for good fiction, but it's a grueling, uphill battle. They have a million and one distractions: mindless movies, Youtube, text-messaging, Facebook...
Too many other choices for how to spend their copious leisure time to demand quality fiction. If the readers don't demand it, don't vote with their dollars, who is going to care?
This is the next generation, folks. This is the future.
If fiction dies, is the art of storytelling far behind? Is there anything more human than storytelling?
Man, I'll rage against the dying of that particular light. Rage hard, even if it kills me. I'm going to write, and write hard. Yeah, I'm back from the strange doorway in my basement.
"The colors through that door shamed anything the Krylon people could imagine. Shattered the rainbow, too."
But it was all a lie. A bigger lie than anything fictional. A bigger lie than "...fiction writing is dying..."
Hi guys! So... I haven't posted in a LONG time... but in the end of August I was on vacation... and then school started.... and along with that my extracurriculars. BUT I am going to write an actual post right now. I don't have time for a review, but am hoping to get some done this weekend, so I'm going to talk about literary lovers, because everyone has a book crush. Anyways, this will probably turn out a bit rant-ish, so feel free to skim.
I don't know about you, but usually my favorite part of a book is the main guy character, especially if he is extremely sexy. (Jace Wayland anybody?) And of course, it's hard not to lust after all the badasses in YA novels, especially when they have a slightly more than human part of them. (Jace Wayland, Luc from Personal Demons, Nick from The Demon's Lexicon.. need I say more?) But sadly... when it comes down to it, I realize that I gravitate towards the endearing characters in the books I read. However much I may lust for that badass demon or demon slayer I realize that I really like the good old fashioned, boys-next-door, slightly dorky, human guy. Does anyone else just get weak knees when they think of the puppy dog best friend in a book? I don't know what it is... but they're definitely my favorite. When Cole was introduced in Linger, I still had a girlish crush on Sam. And Simon in The Mortal Instruments series... he's sweet and funny! And of course... there's Peeta in The Hunger Games. Or even Tony in Infinite Days... talk about pulling on heartstrings! Anyways, I just want to know what kinds of characters you gravitate towards in books. I know Shelbie will probably be settled firmly in kickass demon slayer territory... but I just have a thing for the boy-next-door. Give me a guy who reads, writes music, plays video games, says dorky things, paints pictures of me, or BAKES. That is my true love.
Anyways, tell me what side you're on... badass or boy next door? And don't say.... "Bad ass with a sensitive side..." because that doesn't count. Just tell me what you think... and why? And feel free to share some of your favorite lit hunks :) I have included my list too. Seperated into bad ass and boy next door of course :) So yeah.... tell me your thoughts!
Favorite Badasses(and a few of just plain jerks, but sexy ones.) 1) Jace Wayland (Mortal Instruments Series) 2) Nick (The Demon's Lexicon) 3) Wesley (The Duff) ---- not exactly badass, but DEFINITELY not boy next door. 4) Luc (Personal Demons) 5) Patch (Hush, Hush) 6) Will (Clockwork Angel) 7) Mr.Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) 8) Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights)
Yes, the last two don't really fit, but I had no where to put them.
Favorite nice guys/boys next door: 1) Adam (Endless Summer) 2) Doug (Forget You) 3) Tony (Infinite Days) 4) Peeta (The Hunger Games) 5) Simon (Mortal Instruments Series) 6) Alec (Mortal Instruments Series) 7) Sam (Shiver) 8) Wes (The Truth About Forever) 9) Gilbert (Anne of Green Gables) 10) Jem (Clockwork Angel) 11) Han (The Demon King) 12) Amon (The Demon King)
Some are missing.... I know. But I can't remember all of them. Anyways... Enjoy!
In the U.K., they're celebrating "National Short Story Week". I wish we'd adopt the holiday across the pond.
One blogger posted: "It's a week to celebrate short attention spans!" (I've happily lost the link...sorry.)
Loving short stories has nothing to do with a short attention span. I'm sick of hearing it.
Here's what short stories can do (which you rarely find in "successful" longer fiction): they can push boundaries, take chances, and experiment. Each word becomes more important, every sentence a movement in the symphony, each paragraph a fist to the jaw. Yes, there are novels which do as much, but they seldom sell well. Novels are the commercial medium. That's their anchor, their curse.
It is my contention (based on several years of experience as a writer and reader) professional short fiction markets seek stories with grit, voice, and originality while the best selling novels are formulaic, trite, and easy on the brain.
Maybe it's the novels which cater to short attention spans...or, at least, simple minds?
An acceptance from Innsmouth Free Press. "Ngiri's Catch" will be in their forthcoming Historical Lovecraft anthology. The cover art is special. I hereby eat all my rejection-whine from earlier this week. Have patience, Aaron. Have patience.
The song, "Crazy Bitch", from Buckcherry. Who can take this filth seriously? Oh yeah, I forgot...horny fifteen-year-olds. Silly me. And people wonder why this country is in trouble. I'm not all that worried about offending Buckcherry fans because, well, they evidently like to wallow in offensive shit. At least try to make it interesting and original offensive shit next time, 'kay?
The state of the publishing industry. No, this isn't sour grapes. I'll never be a publishing industry darling. I don't travel on that vibe. But does anyone wonder why book sales suffer when Snooki's A Shore Thing (Oh...it's a pun. Ha.) sells so well? What about NewSouth revision of Huckleberry Finn? I might just have to take my paintbrush to the Mona Lisa and give that coy sister a real smile.
Sometimes I can't stop the rant. Sure, Snooki and crew are just other kids on the playground. But so am I. So are we all. But every playground has bullies. I'm tired of having all this water poured down the spout and them telling us it's wine when it's not. And I have Ray Bradbury to thank for that beautiful image. You da man, Mr. Bradbury.
Hell, it's not even water most of the time. Haters just gotta hate, I guess.
You couldn't be more wrong, Ms. High and Mighty, AKA protector of the weak, innocent reader. My God, what would readers do without big, tough literary agents guarding their reading time (and dollars)?
Here's the best part:
"My conclusion: This trend toward self-publishing serves primarily the writer.
(Not readers and not the publishing industry as a whole.)"
Oh--that's right, because it's my f*cking job to serve the publishing industry. I forgot. *smacks head* I'm supposed to work for free for years to try and squeak through the needle's eye until the great gate-keeping elite think they can properly profit from my free labor.
Yes, do you see that little word: profit. Because publishers are in this business to make money. Not "protect" readers.
I'm sick of the hypocrisy of a system which would publish Snooki's trash and then pretend to be a protector of readers. Sick of it. Stop lying to me. Stop lying to the public. Stop lying to readers.
You know who cares more about readers than you, giant publishing machine? Writers do--all of them, whether "traditionally" published or indie or whatever. I like how we've decided the indentured servant model of publishing is "traditional". Back in Ben Franklin's day, anyone who owned a printing press was published. Don't play word games until you know a little history.
But wait--I'm not the one who has to prove I care about readers. I'm not the one readers are questioning, am I?
Every story I write is a love-letter to storytelling.
Go climb back in your stupid castle and shut the gate. We heathens will sit around our campfires and tell stories well into the night--as it should be.
Do you want more blog readers? Here's one simple secret, one I've held close to my vest for a long time: rant.
The nastier you are, the more venomous opinion you espouse, the better your numbers will be. I hate to admit it, but after nearly five years of blogging about writing (and life), my most-read posts are those in which I threw a mini-hissy fit. Evidently, negative vibes attract blog readers.
And it's soooooo easy to be negative. The first thoughts in many tough circumstances are often negative. Ever heard the advice to wait a day before mailing a letter written in anger? Great advice.
Here's what I've learned about life from my home improvement project: destruction takes far less time than rebuilding. I demolished 2 1/2 bathrooms in 3 days. We are in week two of the rebuild, and just passing the midway point on 1 1/2 of those bathrooms. Sloooow going.
Here's the other thing I've learned: destruction is much harder on my body than rebuilding. I haven't sprained anything/shed large amounts of blood since the end of the demolition.
Is there a parallel to blogging? You bet. Negative vibes, attacks, and rants will garner attention quickly, but they come with a price. Sometimes, a writer just has to rant. I do from time to time and I try to be honest. But, if it's all I did, it wouldn't be right. Nobody wants to linger in negative land for too long--unless we're all drinking the same Kool-Aid.
I make it a general policy not to purposely offend readers. I even try to avoid implying that my opinion is correct and anyone who thinks otherwise is an out and out moron. But I have to confess that I am about to let loose with a full blown rant, and if you happen to disagree with me.......sorry, but I'm right.
Yesterday I read this article in Publisher's Weekly about a new series of board
This, in itself, is nothing new. The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom serves as the librarian community's watchdog for these and other issues. But why did this particular challenge attract my attention? Its target. Super Diaper Baby! That's right, your favorite diaper-wearing superhero has run afoul of a parent in Channelview, Texas, and that parent subsequently had the book banned from the school library.
Anyone familiar with Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants, Ricky Ricotta, Ook and Gluk and Super Diaper Baby series will know that, yes, they are full of bathroom humor, but they are wildly popular - with boys, in particular. Is "poo-poo head" really that bad? Dav Pilkey is an author that gets kids to read - and love it! If I want to attract kids to programs at the library, Captain Underpants and Jeff Kinney's, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, are sure-fire crowd pleasers. Kids will read them, talk about them, draw their characters, check them out of the library and beg for more! Can that be a bad thing? Super Diaper Baby ... really?
By Stefan Kühn (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you’re a book blogger, you might want to check out this recent article from the LA Times. At least one publisher thinks we’re not doing enough. Mr. Morrow forgets, perhaps, that book bloggers do not work for publishers. In most cases, book blogging is a labor of love - done in our spare time because we enjoy sharing books. If I don’t review a book that a publisher provided for me, it may be that I’ve been busy, or that I didn’t like it, and I’m being kind. Why waste my time (and yours) writing a review of a bad book? Many publishers are happy to send out advance copies of their books for review. If they’re not, I just wait for the book to arrive at the library. Either way works for me. I’ll keep blogging.
After the glory yesterday of the ALA Youth Media Awards, in which we were reminded of all the quality that children's literature has to offer the world, it didn't take long to find a reminder that children's publishing at least really can be ridiculous. Last year I had a full-blown rant about plans to publish a series of board books based on great literary classics. Clearly my gnashing of teeth