Friday, August 27, 2010

When to Submit

Tag words: submission to forces beyond your control is not wrong; use your smarts to know when to delay submitting your manuscript; editing in publishing houses; editing your own work before submitting it; why edit; the difference between copy-editing and editing; the mood in traditional publishing these days and why; be smart and keep writing instead of wasting all your time querying and submitting.

The title of today's blog, "When to Submit",  has more than one meaning. I meant it that way.

Submission (in one definition) is an act of surrender.  You give way to forces bigger than you are. 

Submission (in the other) is proposing or sending in some kind of proposal: in a writer's case, a manuscript.

There is a kind of bleakness that weighs down the first definition: as if submission means you're a loser, or too meek, or just plain cowardly.  However, I don't think anyone, giving way to forces bigger than s/he is, should feel like a loser. I think there are major overtones of smart, here.

Smartness, strategy, these are concepts you might want to consider associated with "giving way" with your manuscript submission.  Look at it this way:

(a)  "Live to fight again another day."  I think it's really clear, from my earlier post that there are manuscripts you can work your heart out on, and submit with or without an agent, that are good books but that forces bigger than you are prevent their publication.  I look back now on the book that Lester del Ray rejected for the reasons I quote in that blog, and I think now,  "What an idiot, Welwyn.  He's telling you to submit it again and you never even saw it.  Why didn't you?"  I didn't, because I was discouraged, I felt like a loser, and I didn't see the positive in the negative.  Possibly the most significant editor of what has become modern fantasy novels for adults wrote me personally with his good reason for not publishing my book at this time, and I never submitted that book to anyone again.  Duh!!!

(b) "Wait till the time is right."  This is a strategy that is both within your control and out of it.  I cannot emphasize enough, to writers who want to be traditionally published,  the absolute necessity of putting your first draft novel away until you've written at least a few good short stories, or started another novel.  That's when you can think about pulling out that first novel and re-reading it.   What you think when you write the last sentence of your first draft will (guaranteed) be very different from what you think when you have the perspective of time and a few more eggs in your basket to keep you calm. 

When I am not under a deadline, I always put away what I've written for at least three months before coming back to it, and when I do come back to it, I always have the attitude that I have at least another six months' work ahead of me, to edit the novel to my real satisfaction.  (You could even do it a third time, but I find this method usually works for me.) 

Sometimes it does take six months.  Sometimes it's a year.  Sometimes it's only a couple of months.  But:  it always needs revision before I submit it to an editor.  I do this even though I have strong publishing contacts.  I know that whoever I submit my manuscript to is going to want me to change it no matter how good I think I've made it.  Despite the concept that editing is not done by publishers any more, it is, it is, and it is.  Some shoddy publishing houses do not edit, but all the good ones do, and even the not so good ones (who really don't know how to edit) try to anyway.  Imagine an editor who will edit a Nobel-prize-winning writer, and how that editor would feel, reading the first draft of a novel by someone who is not traditionally published yet.  The truth is, that editor won't read your first draft at all.  They won't read past the first couple of sentences, if you haven't made sure that you have done the absolute-no-holds-barred-best work you can on your own book.

Don't assume that just because there are some typos, or a lot of typos, in a book you're reading, that means the publishing house did not edit.  The problem with typos and such bare bones kind of errors is not the fault of editing; it is the fault of copy-editing.  Copy-editing is an art all on its own.  I think, for example, C.J. Cherryh's books are not terribly-well copy-edited.  Take this test:  Which of the following do you think are due to an editor's failure (including your own), and which are due to a copy-editor's?

(1) There are typos.
(2) Several pages in a row with no action and no dialog
(3) A sentence uses the word "bulbous" and it is repeated in the same paragraph
(4) A sentence uses very similar phrasing as the previous sentence.
(5) The boat is yellow on page 24, and green on page 173.
(6) The books uses dull language.
(7) The punctuation is wrong in dialog.
(8)  Someone pluralizes a word with an apostrophe before the s.
(9) You are a fan of an author and you start to get the feeling that the style of writing is the same in all the latest books.
(10) Someone has chosen not to use a symbol for a space break and one happens at the bottom of a page.

Now, having thought about these errors, why don't you ask yourself if you make them too, through carelessness or lack of your own editing before you send out your manuscript?

Answers to above: 1. CE  2. E  3. E or CE  4. E or CE  5. CE  6. E  7. CE  8. CE.  9. E  10. E.

I think that there are some writers who may not be well edited because they are famous and prolific and nobody at the publishing house wants to slow down their writing which is very lucrative to the house.  But these are not us, ladies and gentlemen.  When we earn a million dollars for a publisher, we might not be edited as well as (truly) we would have wished to have been, later, when the book is out and it is too late. 

And anyway....

These are not the times of million dollar writers for each and every big publishing house.  There is an attitude of pessimism and even deep discouragement these days in the traditional publishing industry.  I wonder if even a Booker winner could send in his/her next book and be able to count on automatic acceptance.  This negativity will not last, I'm sure.  The onset of electronic publication, the invention of Kindle and other book "readers" that carry a library, these are really scaring publishers of traditional text.  Give publishers time for the dust to settle.  I believe there will always, always be a market for text.  But right now, I wouldn't submit a novel to any of my contacts in the industry. 

Suggestion: Don't submit a novel, or any book of fiction, to a traditional publisher until Publishers Weekly (online) and other "bibles" of publishing news start to sound a bit more optimistic.  Just keep on writing new books and editing older ones.  Have lots of titles waiting (but don't submit more than one at a time) for when the traditional publishing industry has the courage to say "Yes" to newcomers again.

I hope today's post has convinced you.  Submit to the art of patience and the wisdom of knowing that your beautiful manuscript should wait, be worked on, and wait again, until the time is right for you to submit it.

Hang in there.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Life in the Midst

Today and yesterday my mother has been very ill, and so, life being more important, I have not been able to write my blog.  Thanks for understanding.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scrooped! Or, The Use of Mind-Games in the Joining of Online Sites

Tags: Saving Your Work when Filling in Online Applications to Join a Site You Think Will Be Helpful; Page Three Sending You Back to Page One; Page Six Stating Outright Costs and Allowing Customer to Skip Them; Inducements to Carry On With Incredibly Frustrating Applications; How I got scrooped.

Hey there, writers!

Ahem.  "There are two ways for online sites to win new members.  One is to make it incredibly easy to join.  This is wonderful for serious joiners, but psychologically it may actually reduce the value of the site in the mind of the hopscotching joiner.  The second way to design the application to join a site is to make use of sound psychological principals based on the idea that the more work and time and thought you put into a task, the more likely you are to value it." -- Professor Professorial, Department of Psychology,  Professional University

Enough Psych 101 for now?  Then let's have a look at how today, without hardly even noticing, I got scrooped by an online site. 

If you blog, as obviously I do here, you may want to have your blog noticed, as I do here, since I spend an awful lot of time thinking of different ways I can be helpful to writers, and then actually writing those ways up on this blog.  I heard about a thing called blog lists, or if you like, catalogs of blogs.  A number of them exist on the internet, but maybe you are seduced into thinking that the biggest would be the best for your blog.  (Big Pond. Minnow Blog.  Good idea?  Hmmm.)  Or perhaps you are primarily drawn to the fact that there are busy discussions taking place on some blog-lists, especially a site that is arguably the largest lister of blogs, and that is called BlogCatalog(BC). 

It's hard to believe there are any sites more interesting to writers and readers than, say,, but suppose you remain convinced that BC is for you as a writer of  a blog.

Please keep in mind while reading this post that I am one who only stares with dumb admiration at the Techies on NCIS or Bones.  However, I have the usual experiences of joining online sites, and if ever there was a site difficult to join, I found BC to be the epitome. 

Nevertheless, I was an obedient little scroopee, filling in this, getting bumped on that, spending about an hour describing this blog  which I then, prudently, saved to a wordpad file which I wouldn't have done if I hadn't had experience filling out things online for the government. 

(Hint #1 for today.  Anything you spend an hour or even only twenty minutes doing while applying to join a site is worth saving to Wordpad, so that when you have to start over, you won't have reinvent the wheel.)

I was hugely relieved I had saved my blog description because of all the restarting (e.g. they don't tell you what size password is valid until two pages after you think everything's okay), and so I used my wordpad file rather frequently.  Finally I got to a place where they wanted me to pay them different amounts of money to do many kinds of things, including $8 to skip the line and have my blog approved by them more quickly than ordinary people, or (I think it was) twenty bucks to have my blog "advertised" on their main page for a certain time period which they didn't specify.  (60 seconds at 3 am on a Frosty Friday in February?) 
I have no desire to either earn money or spend it through this blog, and so I thought of stopping right there.  But that blog-lister BC allowed me to skip all that buying and so, since I'd spent an hour (Pay Attention, Class) writing my blog description (writers tend to take a long time writing, unless they don't), I just skipped all that buying and carried on without paying.   They didn't seem to mind, and simply told me I was number 1,245,547,903  (a slight exaggeration) in getting their approval of this blog that Google already approves of.

I should have stopped right there just on principle, but there is something rather seductive about seeing just how much you yourself are willing to do just because you've already done so much.  And so I went on..

I got to a place where I had to prove that this blog (that's right, the one you are reading here), was my own.  I tried to think of any reason at all why Jane Doe would try to promote my blog on BC without being able to change the blog itself (other than through DeepHack -- who must exist somewhere), and could imagine none.  That, given my fertile imagination, says something.  But, hey, I'd already spent quite a lot of time on this thing... 

And anyway, aren't we all used to the idea of having to prove that online things like email addresses and bank accounts are ours?  

So, caught in the chasm between wasting more time and having already wasted time, I carried on. 

There are many ways to prove something is yours.  But BC's way of doing it is draconian.  You had to add a widget or button or meta-link to your own already classy-looking blog site, and that widget, button, or meta-link had to advertise BC

I objected to this decidedly.  It wasn't real $ money, but it was a hidden cost, and it was a big one.  Basically, you had to advertise on your own blog all the other blogs in the world competing with your blog for peoples' attention. 

Oh, and BTW, you needed a PhD in tech to do this.

"I know all this," she admitted ashamedly, "because I tried."

It's true.  I even called my business manager and doer of most thing Tech.  He advised against putting a widget in a gadget because it would ruin the look of my blog, and there is no obvious live link anywhere to do it any other way, and he really didn't want me to use a meta-link because apparently that meant search engines would find BC synonymously with finding my blog.  

And that's what really stopped me, dear readers.  Tech Frustration.  Or so I told myself. 
The truth was, I was scrooped.  Totally unsuspiciously, I went to a site without looking it up on Google or other search engines to get a consensus of this site's virtues or otherwise, and began to sign on.

I can only pity the people who actually paid their money to have their blog jump the line (in being "approved") only to get to this Palace of High Tech and finally, frustrated out of their gourds, just let BC use a metalink (or used Help and found the place that said to use a gadget for the widget.)

A long time ago I was married to a psychologist and so I know about cognitive dissonance.  Here it means you want to do something because you've had to spend so much time and energy doing it already and it's enraging to admit you wasted the time and energy, but you don't want to do it, for exactly the same reason. 

However, my time was not all wasted.  I learned something vitally important in my role as Avenging Writer. Here it is: Vital Tip #2 for the day:

Before you do something that you think will help your writing, always check it out on a search engine such as Google to see (a) how much it's going to cost you in time, energy and dollars to do it and (b) if real  people who've succeeded in getting signed up would recommend it.

I did this afterward and found:

" I only participate with MBL [My Blog Log].  The only thing stopping me from trying out BC is that they require quite a bit of real estate on the site to participate."  Too true.

"It has an annual fee that's pretty high and it costs more for everything you add to make your blog stand out."

"I 'abused' them and they banned me."

"It's too big. The discussions are interesting, but  most blogs on BC will not have any more chance of being found by the search engines than any others, unless they're all dressed up like Christmas Trees, and that costs you bigtime".  

AND: I could find no site or comment anywhere about  BC after mid-2009.   Maybe there are some, but I used two search engines, and neither found any as far down their lists as I was willing to go.  Most references to BC were in 2005.  My tech helper says that a site that isn't talked about regularly online sinks lower on the search engines' lists.  And if the main site is low on a search engine's list, what happens to the busy chatter about the blogs on the main site?  I simply don't have enough cognitive dissonance invested in this question to find out.  

Keep doing your writing.  Make it real!


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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ego and edits and novels, oh my!

tags: getting published, why write a novel, sacrificing to the novel, Joseph Campbell, the inevitability of a novel's ending, why the beginning of a novel will lead to that ending, cause and effect in the middle of the novel, autobiography, twitter, encouragement in writing, tweet, universality in writing, editing your writing

I was just on twitter.  There, I read "support" tweets to writers from... friends? Followers? Family? Enemies? Then I read some of the writers' work. 

Writers, get serious.  Those who send support tweets to writers, get serious.  Do not encourage people whose work you've never read.  And for the sake of an already endangered species: the novel, please please please do not encourage anyone if you wouldn't pay $10.95 to buy their work. 

And, to-whoot! (An owl's deep tweet.)  Writer, read the first part of your own unpublished novel as if someone else wrote it, and ask if you'd pay $10.95 to read the rest.

Writers who are not serious about their writing just let words pour out all over the page.  Pretty words, sometimes.  But utterly useless, if the writers are serious only about themselves. Here are some of the things I used to write about when I was that kind of writer: "my mean parents, my talent, my earning power, my desire for fame, my speed of writing, my desire to win contests, my sex appeal, my underappreciated dress sense, my friends, my leaving town, my choices, my specialness, etc."

If you are a writer and you are serious only about yourself then that's what your novel-length book is going to be about.  You

Looking at this seriously:

How many pages is your life?  How many stories are in your life?  How many of them would be interesting to other people?  In how many of them can you see the story's ending, and know exactly where that particular story began, and how it got from there, inevitably, to its ending? What parts of your life do you cut out because they have nothing to do with the particular story you've chosen from your life?  What is the universality of the story you have chosen to write about from your life?

Do you see the problem?  It is not impossible to write autobiographical novels.  It is just very, very difficult. And even then, the autobiographical novel will consist of only part of your life.  And if it's factual, what makes it a novel?

Your novel is not "yours".  Once you begin to write it, the novel is more important than you are. Joseph Campbell said that about marriage, "You must sacrifice to the marriage."  Why?  Because it's more important than you, or your feelings, or your ideas, or your wishes for yourself, or what you like for dinner, or your pathos or bathos.  It's more important that your spouse's life, or feelings, or ideas, etc. etc.  A marriage is just bigger.

So is a novel.  Let's paraphrase Joseph Campbell's words. 

"You must sacrifice to the novel."

 You.  Must.  Sacrifice.  To.  The.  Novel.

No ego.  No self-serving.  No thoughts of using the novel to get even with people in real life.  No thoughts of money.  No thoughts of winning contests.  No thoughts of fame.  No  reason to write the novel at all except to be true to something that you, one human being, have given life to: an idea that is bigger than you are.

You.  Must.  Be.  Humble.

This requires you to edit as you go.  Read and re-read.  Change whole pages, whole chapters if necessary.  I dropped eleven chapters of a novel once, and then had to begin it again because what happened in Chapter 12 was really what I was writing about.  Drop what doesn't fit.  Add what must be there.  Ask yourself if you are sacrificing to the novel or being self-indulgent. Be ruthless with your own writing.  Make sure that you are serving the primary meaning of a novel:

 A novel has an ending that justifies its beginning, that is interesting for others to read, and that will strike some chord to strike a chord of recognition in the lives of others. 

Think about that, okay?  A novel's end justifies its beginning. 

Everyone knows that a novel has a beginning, middle and ending.  In fact, people will  groan at you for saying so obvious a thing. 

But if you phrase it like this: A novel has an ending.  The ending justifies the beginning. The middle is the set of consequences caused by the beginning that will absolutely link that ending to that beginning

or  like this:  the ending of the novel exists because the beginning set in motion a series of events that made that ending inevitable

then you will see that there is nothing obvious about beginnings, middles and endings at all.

When next you face a blank screen, don't write one word until you have an idea bigger than you are, one that you feel quite sure will be interesting to other people and will strike a chord of recognition in their own lives. An idea that will create a beginning whose ending you know, and therefore whose middle you know, since it will consist of action and reaction, action and reaction, consequences that are all caused by what happens in the beginning and what will happen at that end.  

Write like that, and your chances of your novel's being published will be vastly increased.

As always, good luck to you, fellow-writers!

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