Old Moon

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Cautionary Tale

I was feeling desperate, getting older by the minute, and so I resorted to the Web. My advice is to watch out if you do that too. I have some recommendations for where to put bookmarks. I wish I'd known then....

Please take notes:

P & E Literary Agents: there is more here than just the names of agents. Markets, publishers and more. Not always up-to-the minute, but THE No. 1 source to check for ripoffs!

Writer Beware: self explanatory.

AgentQuery.com. Next to the print publications like Writer's Digest Market Guides, or Jeff Hermans Guide or CD's listing agents and markets, the best place I've found to look. Just don't expect much in the way of replies unless you really have the exact thing they want at the moment you send your query.

So now to what I did wrong:

I went to a website that lists agents, publishers, et al. with brief descriptions (supplied by the clients who appear there.) I found an several seemingly hopeful agents, rejected 2 for various reasons after contacting them, and settled on another "agent." He snapped up my book. I asked him why, after I found out his expertise was in automotive matters and scholarly dissertations. He said he wanted to branch out and swore I had a "best seller." The next thing I knew, he had submitted the book to PublishAmerica. I didn't know anything about them then, and was thrilled.

It was all downhill from there. First, they don't require an agent to submit; second, they are just the next thing to self-publishing; third, when royalties arrived they sent them to the "agent!" and he never let me know until I e-mailed him to say I was trying to find out what I owed him in commission. He didn't reply. PA admitted sending the check to him (contrary to their contract.) It was a pittance, but that really wasn't the point. No, you don't have to pay, but you don't get much for nothing--duh. The "editor" promised in the conract proved to be a worse proofreader than I am, which is pretty bad. No editing, no promotion, and a horrible rep if you want a book store to stock your baby. DON'T go there!

After I got my rights back, I went for an e-book publisher. Sold. Eventually, she also put the book into print, as you see it now. Unfortunately, after that contract was signed, it turns out her printing contract is with Amazon's subsidiary, and I'm having a hard time getting the book stocked anywhere but Amazon. And, like most small independent publishers, the discount is smaller than book sellers like. The local one won't even take copies from me on consignment! Not only will you not get rich that way, you'll be mighty lucky to recoup your computer costs for ink and paper and ISP fees.

So if this makes you think you can go only with the major and well-known houses, that's pretty much what I think too. Unfortunately, the reality is that few will give you a look except from an agent. I've tried for over 20 years to land one without success. That's probably in part because I'm not good enough to attract one. Those people have to make a living. Which is why, if the second book comes out, it probably will be from Cambridge Books, which took Settling.

In the meantime, as if I had all the time in the world, I'm sending agent queries fairly regularly and with fading hopes. (As I type this, I've just received the rejection to the query sent only yesterday--for a third novel.)

You've heard it all before, maybe not as often as I have because I've been doing it for so long, but the only thing to do is to keep at it, I guess. Just don't waste time and energy on what's a lose-lose proposition. Try to do research, which I didn't in time.


And don't forget that if you happen on someone like my cyber-pal Glenda Beall, you may have a chance after all. At the very least, you'll be given suggestions and encouragement (it was she who said I needed a blog). Oh, how I wish that old-fashioned publishing standby, the "midlist" were still in existence! In the meantime, we all need to network!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

There are Friends...and there are Friends

The best friends understand what you need and do their best to help you achieve it. The best friends believe in you. The best friends put themselves into helping. This is for the friend who took the time to give me just the suggestion I was in search of.

She suggested that I say something about how I came to write a book and how I found a publisher. The latter part of that request will take too much space to tell now, but I will tell it later because it's a cautionary tale indeed!

I have harbored the ambition to be a writer since my preschool years. I was fortunate in my grandmother, who was a southern lady of great intellect and a lover of literature. From being read to until I could read, and later being repeatedly on the receiving end of her literary taste, I acquired a lot of mine by simple osmosis. It was a natural progression to the hope of writing to pass on the pleasure.

Later on, in high school, I had another mentor whose talents would be hard to equal. He taught us to write and not a little about criticism.

I wrote off and on all the time, through college, my children's growing years, but almost never finished anything. When I retired, I tried to complete a story. I nearly went mad from the drudgery of retyping everything I'd revised, and so I finished almost nothing except a few features for local newsapers. It was the first computer in our house in 1983 that set me on the road I'm still traveling.

I subscribed to Writer's Digest and Poets and Writers and decided to take the WD correspondence course in fiction writing, and then an advanced one. All to the good. My first published story was submitted by that first instructor.

Later on, I applied for a scholarship to a prestigious weekend workshop, and was accepted. It was a wildly simulating experience. After that, whatever workshops were offered within geographical and financial reach I attended, winning an actual prize at one for an essay on writing. I always thought the reason was that it was 100 words shorter than the allowable word count.

By then I was working on a novel. When I finished it, it seemed clear that it wasn't salable as it stood, and I had no idea what to do to it, so I set to work on another one. That second one was Settling. In the meantime, I was writing and submitting short stories, writing the occasional feature or profile for local papers (and not being paid for them). Also in the meantime, I kept a sporadic commonplace book. I can't really call it a journal because it wasn't regular enough. Now I continue with that, but have added a file box into which cards, slips of paper, and the like go when I have an idea I don't want to forget or a revision I hope to make.

For any wannabe writer, there are some wonderful books that helped me along the way like Anne Lamott's Birds by Bird, William Zinsser's On Writing Well, Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life, Carol Bly's The Passionate Accurate Story and a host of others.

I finished five novels in about ten years. Then a major move caused a hiatus of several years during which I wrote nothing. Now I'm hoping the second novel will be picked up, and I can try for two! There are two more in the wings, one of which needs major revision. I haven't quite given up hope of fixing the first one.

I've learned that somehow you can't quit, no matter how many rejections you receive, as long as you can honestly believe (the operative word is "honestly") that what you can say is as well said and and as interesting as the published work you read. It can't be easy to recognize something really bad, but the most valuable test is time. If you go back to a piece a month after you finished it and can't improve it, chances are it's as good as it's going to get. That's the worst problem for me with a novel: I can almost always go on tweaking it forever. A short story is apt to be truly done a whole lot sooner, and so can poems.

In another post, I'll get to how Settling got into print.

I'm no one to offer advice because my experience is so limited, and because one book does not an author make, but there you have it.

Till the next time...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Who and Why

When posting here, I always wonder about a few things:
Will anyone read this? Who will read this?
What makes someone check out this blog?

After more than half a year at it, I still feel at a loss as to what to put here so that a return reader or one who stumbles on the site will think the visit was worth the time.

In a recent post, I mentioned relatively meaningless prizes. Now I have another to report, and it made me feel a lot better than the last one. A short story I submitted to the North Carolina Senior Games Silver Arts division won me a gold medal. Without any notion of how numerous the entries were or who the judge(es) was or were, I still feel some satisfaction. The regional medal didn't do much for my ego, but the state one has.

Friday, October 17, 2008

For the Next Time

Now that we're on the last lap on the way to Election Day, I wish people who control such things would consider some reformation of the election laws and practices:

1. Strictly limit the amount of time during which candidates may present themselves and their platforms;

2. Set real guidelines for "debates" and town-hall meetings;

3. AGAIN - do something to curtail the obscene waste of money by parties and their candidates, regardless of the sources of the funds thrown away.

I suppose none of this is likely, but it makes one wonder what has happened not only to common sense, but also to any moral sense. If public outcry could alter our recent behavior, let's at least give it a try!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Different Muses?

Two Artists


Inspiration gusting from infinity ignites him into blue flame:

Dionysus and archangels cry in the echoing vaults of his mind,

And he speaks with tongues and sails before those thrilling winds

Fair to fame and the Furies.


He searches blazing beaches for the shards of crystal thoughts,

And drops four chips for each one saved.

Summer’s waning as the stiff mosaic

Forms in curveless patchwork,

and early cold congeals the image—

Angular and gap-toothed, as the mortar freezes.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I know enough not to expect anything close to what we were taught in school about debating when I tune in on the campaigns' moderated discussions. When the moderator asks a question, usually carefully loaded to provide a maximum of embarrassment to each participant, it's no surprise to hear so few direct answers. Nevertheless, after listening to a couple of hours of commentators holding forth on the recent meeting of Biden and Palin, I have to ask, "Was anyone listening to WHAT was said?" Virtually every remark after the fact was directed at the WAY the "debaters" couched their arguments. These people who want our votes are supposed to be leaders.

A true debate would not permit the evasions, non-answers, digressions, and arguments ad hominem that are standard for these affairs--that ought to be arranged for the benefit of informing voters, instead of to further the public images of the contestants.

It's discouraging to find so little statesmanship and so much showmanship (and even some of that is pretty pathetic) concerning vital matters. Let's hope the puplic is more perceptive and analytical than the candidates' handlers think we are!