Saturday, September 26, 2009
Being an unpublished author is hard work. I wonder if it isn’t harder work than being a published author.
I have three as-yet unpublished books that are complete. Each one is different. There is CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN. This is a loosely autobiographical novel about growing up with a violent mother and a kind but workaholic father who lacked the time and resources to understand that his home had the ambience of a concentration camp. This book is honest, compelling, funny, very hip and possibly healing. I hope so, I hope the book helps readers deal with their own problems and understand that they’re not alone. We share our common humanity.
The next book is a science fiction epic, GODS OF THE GIFT. This is a wild journey into another kind of universe. It has a moral center, a point of view about matters of power and the abuse of power. It’s very cinematic, i.e. people who’ve read it tell me it seems like they’re in a movie.
I have a non-fiction travel memoir called MIRACLE HIGHWAY. It tells the story of how my lady and I changed from living in a nice house up in the hills to becoming full time residents in a 38 foot motor coach.
In order to deal professionally with literary agents, each book must have several items pertaining to its ultimate sales potential. I need a short query letter for each book, no more than four paragraphs. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Right. The query letter is the most important sales tool in the entire process. Paragraph one has to grab the agent and convince him/her that this book MUST be read. Paragraph two outlines the important plot points. Maybe that can go to a third paragraph. Paragraph four is a short biography and resume, citing publishing credits (if there are any) and a bit about one’s self.
I must write one of these letters for each book. The number of attempts, false starts, revisions and corrections boggles the mind. The query letter must be PERFECT! I’ve written fifteen or twenty queries for each book; and I’m still going.
Every book needs a Table Of Contents, or a TOC. This gives chapter numbers and/or names and a brief description of each chapter. As I work on the revisions of each book the chapters change, page numbers change, everything changes. So the TOC changes.
Each book needs a synopsis. This is a three or four page outline of the plot architecture. It must be magnetic, hypnotic, somehow distilling all the book’s magic into a couple of pages. Try it, Sancho Panza. It ain’t easy.
For non fiction books, like MIRACLE HIGHWAY, a Book Proposal needs to be written. This is a formal document answering such questions as: What genre is the book? Who is the target audience? How is it different from its nearest competitors? What books does it resemble? There must be the obligatory TOC and often a sample chapter or two.
This, my amigos, is writing that is done OUTSIDE the creative writing of my current “work in progress”, my WIP, a book called THE SHADOW STORM. It’s an historical novel with the twist that it’s not Earth’s history, but a planet called Freeth. The time is much like Earth, circa 1914.
Let’s take a look at the last several responses from agents to whom I have
emailed this material.
Thank you for your recent e-mail. I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work. However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation
thank you for your query. Unfortunately, your manuscript doesn't sound like something that’s right for us. We wish you the best of success in placing your work elsewhere.
Thank you for submitting your query to The -------- Agency. While your proposal shows merit, I'm afraid it's not right for us. As I'm sure you know, this is a very subjective business, and no doubt another agent will feel differently. Best of luck in your writing career.
We decided to pass on requesting part of your work because we have a full client list and can only occasionally review and take on new projects. All the best, good luck, and thanks for thinking of our agency.
I have hundreds of these. Hundreds.
I have a job. I still need to make money to survive. I work at a very humble position, the kind of job that is synonymous with “failure”. I don’t feel like a failure. I’ve succeeded in learning how to write good prose. That is no small achievement. I estimate it takes a minimum of twenty years of obsessive application. Now all that remains is to convince the rest of the world that my writing is brilliant.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Ten years ago I bought a digital keyboard. I was embarking on a studio venture, making a CD of my songs. I grew up as a drummer but took to the piano as a means of composing material. The day I brought the keyboard home I had injured my hand. As I explored my new instrument I began to bleed on the keys. This is appropriate, I t hought, I'm anointing my instrument with my own blood. It makes a nice metaphor regarding my writing passion. I've been writing since I was fifteen, when I penned my firsst e.e. cummings-style poem to please a girlfriend. I was born to be a writer. Here I am, not a youngster any more, engaged in the ridiculously grim and absurd business of finding an agent for two novels and a travel/adventure non fiction book. "Not right for us", "not quite what we're looking for", "good luck in your writing career", etc. You've heard them all. Will I stop querying? No! Will I stop writing? Of course not. I've gotten more pleasure from the process of writing than almost anything I can think of besides my family relationships.
I love my books as if they are my children. I'm proud of them. I think they're great! I want them to do well. Does it break my heart that they are continually rejected? Of course it does. Music broke my heart, too. My last gig was a killer. After spending weeks in promotion, pinning up posters, getting promises from friends who would ABSOLUTELY be there, I dragged my heavy equipment into the place, set it up, went through the usual stage fright and waited for the audience to appear. I had learned to calculate my audience in negative numbers. I count the people who are there when I arrive. I add the people who show up during the performance. I tally all those who showed up and I subtract the people who walked out, those who were already there eating, drinking, whatever...I also subtract the number of friends who promised to be there but weren't. At this particular gig there were five people already at the bar when I arrived. Not one of my fourteen promised friends showed up. All five people at the bar left as soon as I began playing. BTW, in all modesty I'm a good performer, very entertaining. No one else came. My total audience was
minus nineteen. That was my last musical gig. I came near to tears but managed to
keep them back until I was in my car driving home. Okay, so what? Creating art is
a thankless task. It doesn't matter whether one is great or a mediocrity. The effort and dedication are the same. All of us writers work our tails off. I won't stop, I can't stop and I will never give up. The music ended because I was physically unable to continue without some kind of payoff. It cost money to produce, I was aging and developing a chronic pain in my feet. Carrying a seventy pound keyboard or two hundred pounds of drums had become unsustainable. Writing is a good solitary occupation that requires a different form of stamina. I will be writing until what's left of my mind disintegrates or they put me in my grave clutching the keyboard that they could not take out of my determined fingers.
Best to all writers!
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
On Not Pursuing Happiness
If happiness is your goal,
you have come to the wrong planet.
Go back to God and ask him
for a transfer. I’m sure
there are places where happiness
is a basic condition,
but it is not here.
It is good to fit the goals
to the environment.
When King Solomon asked for an understanding heart
he was thinking of the people he ruled,
the people he judged, day by day.
He did not ask for happiness.
This is not to say that there is no happiness
here on earth. There is. But it comes
unbidden, it cannot be striven for,
it is a byproduct of other quests.
Ask then for something that serves the spirit.
At the right time, happiness soothes the spirit.
At the wrong time, happiness deludes the spirit.
Wanting to be happy, expecting to be happy,
being disappointed when you are unhappy,
all these things are small change,
a leaf held against the sky during an eclipse,
a tiny sun-silhouette, nothing more.
I’m sounding like a sermon, I know.
I woke up this morning feeling terrible.
I am blessed. There is much happiness in my life.
Feeling terrible reminded me that feeling terrible
can open many doors.