As the Old Year Dies, My Publisher Goes with It

RIP, AEC Stellar Publishing

RIP, AEC Stellar Publishing

Well, I had a lot of plans for the New Year, including researching and writing a sequel to “The Obsidian Mirror.” That much hasn’t changed. What has changed is that my publisher, AEC Stellar Publishing, is no longer in existence. The publishing rights have reverted to me, and I am once again on the prowl for a publisher and/or a literary agent.

Wow. That was a real surprise. I hadn’t ever considered that AEC Stellar would not be the publisher of my next book. They took me on as a newbie author and gave me a lot of support. It was a small outfit, but they did as much as they could. And they had an unprecedented deal in the publishing industry: authors got 50% of the profits on their books. As a matter of fact, I just got my first royalty check, which was rather exciting, if small.

AEC didn’t go under because it was losing money, either. It was the brainchild of Ray Vogel, the owner, who wanted to create an authors’ community that would nurture and support new writers. And that’s just what they did. Unfortunately, Ray also has a fulltime job and two adorable little girls, and could no longer continue with the enormous demands on his time and energy. I was kind of amazed at everything he was doing, and I completely understand why he needed to get out from under.

So I and several other AEC authors are sadly contemplating our next steps. Amber Skye Forbes has three publishers in mind for her YA series, “When Stars Die.” Ryan Attard—author of the “Legacy” series and “The Pandora Chronicles—wants us to band together and start our own imprint. That’s an exciting—and terrifying—idea. It’s hard for me to imagine taking on more than I already have, and yet the idea is kind of thrilling. I don’t know what the others are thinking, but I suppose I’ll find out as things develop.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but they say that the Chinese ideogram for “crisis” is the same as for “opportunity.” Maybe I’ll find a publisher with more resources. Maybe I’ll get an agent who can negotiate better deals. Maybe I’ll do something enormously challenging and quite possibly stupid, like starting a publishing company. As the old year winds down and a new year begins, I am certain of only one thing: I don’t know what’s to come.

The Contract

ContractThe book contract arrived. It seemed pretty straightforward to me, but I’ve never laid eyes on a book contract before, so what do I know? I followed the advice of my book consultant and shelled out some bucks to have someone knowledgeable review it.

I recognized that the contract was unusual. The publisher is unusual. It required some shared expenses. Having talked with the publisher, I was aware of this, and given that the author gets 50% of the net (as compared to maybe 12% from standard publishers), that didn’t seem unfair to me, especially as this is a new, startup publisher.

The reviewer sent the contract back with many, many comments. I looked at them all carefully. There were a few that I didn’t agree with, but some of the others seemed more than reasonable. For example, the contract specified that all rights to the work in other media such as TV, movies, audiobook, etc. would belong to the publisher. Now, the likelihood of my little novel being made into a movie is remote, but I didn’t see why I should give up the rights to my own work, even so. So I marked up the contract accordingly and returned it to the publisher with a polite note indicating that everything was up for discussion.

That was yesterday. No response so far. Of course, I reasoned, he needs time to look it over. I took my time, after all. But still. Is he pissed off? Insulted? Did he even see it yet? Am I stressing unnecessarily? Or is this an indication of thunderclouds on the horizon? Should I stop thinking about it? Should I call?

Or maybe I’ll just go for a walk on the beach and forget about it.

Intergenerational Living: The Experiment Continues

Inca and Her Mom

Inca and Her Mom

It’s the dog days of summer, and apparently all the literary agents are on vacation. So nothing is happening on the book front. That’s my excuse for now. However, much is happening on the living front, in the house by the sea where my husband Tom and I (both 63) now live with our daughter, Kerry (32), son-in-law Mike (36) and granddaughter Lilah (4).

It’s now been about two months since we all moved in together. At first, with boxes everywhere and the furniture all in the wrong rooms, and double the tools and food needed to stock and run a kitchen, things were a bit uncomfortable. After the first week, Mike returned to work, and the rest of us kind of lost interest in having to unpack even one more box.

Tom had a brilliant idea. He suggested that we put all the boxes and furniture we didn’t know what to do with in one room—the living room—and concentrate on making the rest of the rooms workable. This helped enormously. We were no longer tripping over boxes. The rest of the house began to settle down to more-or-less normal living.

But of course, the boxes did not unpack themselves. Last weekend, we bravely faced the room of boxes and began to unpack. Empty boxes began to pile up on the porch once more. We didn’t get through the entire room, but did make progress. We can now see the fireplace in the living room—Kerry had actually forgotten that we have a fireplace.

The people have been getting along well. No fights and no hard feelings, as far as I can tell. Everyone seems pretty happy. Mike is the one with the hardest situation as he has a longer commute to his job, and works the late shift, so he often arrives home when everyone else has gone to bed. He bought a commuter car to save on gas, which also helped his driving experience as he was navigating a winding mountain highway with an enormous truck. The smaller car handles better on the curves in addition to guzzling less gas.

The pets are having a somewhat more difficult time dealing with the blended family situation. We have Gigi, a 65-pound lab-shepherd mix with a saintly disposition, and Inca, a small black (formerly feral) cat who thinks Gigi is her Mom. Kerry has Hendrix and Marley, 15-pound Japanese Chins. Chins, in case you don’t know, are fluffy little dogs with squashed-in faces and bulging eyes. Marley has an overbite that makes him look aggressive, but he isn’t. Hendrix has a mop of wild hair and skewed eyes. He often has the tip of his tongue protruding as well, so the total effect is one of psychopathy—not too far from the mark. Hendrix appears to think he can take Gigi down, which apart from being delusional, is annoying. He will bite Gigi’s heels or try to take her gigantic toys away from her. Gigi, peaceable but insisting on her rights, retaliates, often by squashing him flat. Much growling and tussling ensues because Hendrix, far from being deterred by being squashed, keeps on coming. Adults scream at them, and Lilah runs away crying.

Inca, being a cat, hated being moved. Worse, we moved her twice—once into our friend’s home, and a month or so later, into our new home. She has settled down well, and is now trying to escape from the house. She’s gotten out twice, and apparently the local wildlife is terrifying, because she doesn’t seem to be enjoying her outings. There are a couple of known tough cats in the neighborhood as well as skunks, raccoons, possums and other assorted beasties. Inca may have once been feral, but I don’t think she was very good at it, and she appears to be better suited to lounging around the house and kissing dogs.

She’s an indoor cat, partly because I promised to keep her indoors when I adopted her, partly because indoor cats stay cleaner and healthier, and partly because she is black and what some people do to black cats is horrible. (Black cats are also harder to find adoptive homes for, so the next time you think about adopting, remember that black is beautiful.)

Being fond of dogs, Inca has been making overtures to the Chins. She tried to kiss Marley yesterday and he snapped at her, which may set cat-Chin relations back for months. She got out of the house again, but was back within a couple of hours, wailing and fluffed-up with terror.

So the non-humans are having a harder time than the humans in making this enormous adjustment. Hurray for the humans!

Die, Vampire, Die!

No VampiresFor the record, I’m still trying to get my novel, “The Obsidian Mirror,” published through conventional channels. Yes, I know all about how respectable self-publishing has become in the digital age. That’s my Plan B. But I would like to get it published conventionally if I can swing it.

So far, no joy. And I have a theory about why this is so. (Other than that my book is no good. I’ve read it and it’s great! No, seriously, it’s a fun, fast read, which is what I usually want from a book myself. And it’s well written, too, she noted modestly.)

So bear with me here for a moment while I tell you a story.

Long, long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and poodles ran wild and free, I wrote a children’s novel called “The Singer and the Song.” It was about a city-dwelling girl who found she could pass from her world to another, magical world. As I recall, there was a talking cat involved. I wrote it for a graduate class in children’s literature in lieu of writing another essay on something like “Christian Influences in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’” or something else equally boring and trite. My professor loved it and so did my Mom. My mother had always supported my writing and she thought this one had a lot of potential, so she paid for me to take it to the William Morris Agency in New York City. William Morris charged $100 to review and evaluate the manuscript. (Mom and I didn’t know any better.)

I think I kept the letter from the agency, but I am between houses right now, and everything is in storage so I can’t give an exact quote. But the general gist of it was that children today (Remember the dinosaurs? That day.) aren’t interested in magic and talking animals. They want realistic, gritty urban tales that reflect their own lives.

So take that, J.K. Rowling! No one’s interested in your silly little stories about magic and talking animals, okay?

I may have been all of 21 years old, but even then I knew William Morris Agency was full of shit. The marketing fashion of the time happened to be gritty urban tales, but fashion and marketing have never influenced what children like to read about. Which in many, if not most cases, definitely includes magic—with talking animals if possible.

Nonetheless, I was embarking on a more or less adult life by that time, which meant earning a living, and I put my poor novel away. I thought I might read it to my kids some day, but I don’t believe I ever did.

Fast-forward to our dinosaur-free present. “The Obsidian Mirror” features magic and at least one talking animal, who isn’t really an animal, but an avatar of Coyotl, the Trickster of Native American legend. (My personal tastes have changed some, but not that much.) Various American myths, legends and traditions come into it in a manner that I haven’t seen elsewhere—which could be good or bad, depending on your personal viewpoint. Apparently, the editors and agents who have seen the synopsis so far aren’t intrigued.

Now for my theory. I think agents and publishers weren’t intrigued because what I wrote about isn’t currently fashionable in fantasy fiction. I don’t have to tell you what is currently fashionable, but I will anyway: vampires, zombies and werewolves.

I used to like a good vampire story as much as the next person. Bram Stoker: fabulous. Anne Rice: new twist on an old tale (at least at first). But then they came fast and furious: “Buffy,”  “Twilight,” the Sookie Stackhouse series, “Dark Vampire Knight” series, “The Vampire Coalition” series, and so on ad nauseum. I thought the genre had burned itself out (or been buried with a stake through its black heart) with the advent of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” but no! Hollywood made a movie out of it.

I suppose I’m not making any friends with this, but c’mon, people. Aren’t you just the teensiest, tiniest bit bored with vampires yet?

But this isn’t sour grapes, honest. I’m just dealing with a marketing trend. All marketing trends die—at least, theoretically they do. Vampire stories, like their deathless subjects, show every sign of living forever, sucking the lifeblood out of other fantasy genres.

I’ll wait a bit longer, then it’s on to Plan B, I guess. Where’s the garlic?

Whack Me Twice and I’ll Listen

Smack Me

Despite my conviction that I had finished rewriting my novel, “The Obsidian Mirror,” I once again found myself in the throes of a rewrite.

Rewriting sucks. You know that if you’re a writer. It’s like taking apart a complex piece of machinery and putting it all back together so that it works better than it did before. You don’t want to go through all that labor, sigh happily at your achievement—then spy a couple of leftover parts on the floor that are absolutely required for the thing to operate.

But I suddenly became convinced that yes, indeed, I needed to revise the prologue and first two chapters. It came about because of a comment I received from a publisher. He said that the first chapter was full of a lot of unimportant stuff that didn’t push the plot forward, and it took too long to get to the intriguing fantasy elements.

To be honest, I had heard this before. An agent said the first chapter was “boring, boring, boring.” With a crit like that, you’d have thought I’d have jumped on it. However, the agent in question turned out not to be interested in fantasy. I questioned the judgment of someone who didn’t even care about my genre. Also, the manuscript had been read carefully by a published fantasy writer who did a fantastic job of reviewing the book and giving me feedback—and she was cool with the first chapter, so I figured what does the non-fantasy-reading agent know? I was wary of succumbing to self-doubt as well, because self-doubt will suck all the vitality out of your writing if you let it.

But a second critique that basically said the same thing convinced me that self-doubt was very far from being the issue here. A rereading of the prologue and first two chapters confirmed it.

There was nothing wrong with the prologue; it just needed to be tucked into the first chapter in a logical way. But the first chapter—oh, dear. It was all about how my heroine, Sierra, got fired. It contained a lot of backstory, which would be needed at some point, but I focused on her firing, talking about it to her friend Kaylee, going home, feeling bad, etc. In my naiveté, I thought this would introduce conflict and engage the reader. But I guess getting fired isn’t as interesting as I had assumed. In fact, I was personally bored with the whole thing.

So I condensed the prologue and chapters one and two into a single chapter. It’s a long one—about 4,000 words. I slashed about 3,000 words from the overall length of the novel, bringing it to nearly 100,000. I was worried about losing critical backstory, but I found various places in the early chapters to slip it all in. (Fingers crossed. Knock on wood and all that.)

I’m very happy with the result. It pulls the reader in quickly, keeps the action moving, introduces the fantasy elements immediately, and (I hope) piques the reader’s curiosity from the start.

I’d be humbly delighted if you would take a little time to read the new chapter one of my novel. If you agree with me that it works well, would you be kind enough to leave a comment? And if you don’t agree with me, I’d like to hear that, too.

I do listen. Most of the time. Really.

Getting Published: The Waiting Game

Image by By David Sedlecký

Image by By David Sedlecký

Waiting is hard. I heard from my book consultant about two months ago that a literary agent had my book “under consideration.” Wow! Cause for celebration!

Weeks went by. Nothing. Then the consultant emailed me that the agent had actually started READING my manuscript! Yippee! More cause for celebration!

And now I am again waiting to hear: did the agent like it or hate it? As of this writing, I have no idea.

The process of submitting a manuscript to a publisher or an agent takes time—lots of time. First you have to write the darned thing. Then you have to dissociate yourself from your work sufficiently to write book synopses—short, medium, long. This is harder than you might think. You have to go from being completely absorbed in every detail of your story to being able to summarize it in one or two pages. What do you put in? What do you leave out? And you have to make the synopsis itself interesting and intriguing enough to entice someone to read the MS. And write the synopsis in such a way that the reader will gain some understanding of the tone you have used in your book.

You also have to write a pitch letter snappy enough to entice the same reader into reading the synopsis. All of this takes considerable time, blood, sweat and tears. I found it far more painful to write a synopsis than I did to write the whole book (but it didn’t take as long). Fortunately, the consultant helped me out, so in the end I had three synopses that I could actually use.

I know that if the agent turns me down, I will go through the same process with another agent, and so on until I find one that bites. Once I get an agent, I will have to wait for the agent to shop the book around to publishers. And I will have to wait until a publisher is found who is intrepid or foolish enough to take on an unknown author. And then I will have to wait for the book to be published, but I’m hoping that will be less painful.

I’ve been wondering if I should start another book. I’d like to write a sequel to “The Obsidian Mirror,” but the idea of writing a sequel to an unpublished book is a bit daunting. What do you think? Should I wait to see if my story is published—or have faith and start the sequel anyway? Or try my hand at something completely new? What would YOU do?