Archive | April, 2011

On Rejection –

27 Apr

While I don’t yet have enough of the things to wall-paper my office (as some creative writers have creatively done!) I have collected more than a few rejection letters in my lifetime. They’re sort of scattered around in various boxes and file folders. That way, if I stumble over one, or two, it’s not a massive attack, and I can quickly get over it. I can always look at my bookshelf, where at least one copy of each of my books lives – and that’ll cheer me up. I’m very fortunate to be a ‘published author’ and I never forget that fact. Never.

But it took me a good many years, and numerous attempts to attain that exalted status, believe me.  And certainly I’m not the first person to have a  collection of rejections!

On occasion I stumble over a tid-bit of encouragement, and have made a habit of collecting them and trying to keep them handy. For many years, I had a page of them hanging over the kitchen sink, so that every time I did the dishes, I could read – and suffer, then get motivated by the ultimate success of those who’d gone before me.  Hmmm. I wonder if that’s why I’m not overly fond of doing the dishes!?

Well, anyway, these are a few of the items that were mentioned on that page. Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies all faced initial rejection. Jack London received at least 600 rejections before selling his first story.

J. K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter books have now been read by more than 350 million people, was turned down by a dozen publishers before she was picked up by Bloomsbury.

The record is held by the crime novelist John Creasey who suffered the indignity of receiving an unbroken succession of 743 rejection slips. He went on to enjoy some divine justice, selling tens of millions of books.

Proving the point of publishing absurdity, a writer named David Lassman established a few years ago, that even Jane Austen would have had difficulty in being published in today’s world. Changing only the titles and the names of the characters, he retyped the opening chapters of three of her classics — Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion — and submitted them under a false name. The result? Only ONE of 18 publishers and literary agents discovered the ruse! Eeegads! (I do not recommend that you try this, by the way. Plagiarism is serious business.)

Talking about rejections, it took the great basketball player Michael Jordan six years to win his first professional championship in basketball.

Lest you think you’re alone in this, read this paean to the rejection letter– No thanks, Mr. Nabokov . (Google found it for me-here-on another blog.)   http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/books/review/Oshinsky-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&ei=5087&em&en=4176e79078fd3145&ex=1189396800

Oh, well.

Here’s more — Getting Published: The Writer in the Combat Zone by Leonard S. Bernstein  (not the composer/conductor/pianist)  tells of a manuscript accepted by a distinguished literary journal – on its 43rd  submission. It had already been turned down by the same publisher on its 15th and 27th times out! James Joyce’s Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers; Irving Stone’s Lust for Life by 24, and e. e. Cummings by 12. Emily Dickinson saw only 7 of her poems published in her lifetime.

I must admit, however, that a great many of today’s rejection letters could be avoided by one simple act on the part of would-be authors. CAREFULLY READ THE SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS!!!  I mean that, sincerely, and cannot stress it too emphatically. DO NOT send mystery novels to publishers of romance novels, unless they say they have a romantic suspense line. And vice versa – no romance novels to publishers of only mysteries! Especially hard-boiled mysteries! Or science fiction! If you’re a writer, you must be able to read, at least enough to discern which publisher is most likely to publish the kind of book you’ve just written. Or want to write.

If you’re writing a book that combines two or three or even four genres, pick the most prominent one and emphasize that element in your synopsis.

Then, hurry up and wait. If the publisher or agent says you’ll hear something in three months, wait three months and a week before inquiring politely if they’ve had the opportunity to inspect your submission. One thing about the new electronic submission process, you do lose out on being able to send a SAS (self-addressed, stamped) card for the recipient to fill out and drop in the mail to inform you that your manuscript had at least arrived where it was supposed to!  But the important thing here is to not make a pest of yourself bothering the overworked editor. And believe me, they are all overworked!

But still, if the submission requirements indicate that they are accepting manuscripts, that does mean they’re looking. They want more manuscripts. Write the best book you can, and send it to the most likely/logical publisher. Eventually, you may well turn those rejection letters into acceptances!

Happy writing – and good luck!

Are you a writer nearing the end of the writing portion of a book, and wondering how to find an editor/proof-reader? If so, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my editing services.  Or, if you need a bit of assistance in just getting started, I can probably help with that as well. Again, I need to remind you that the SPAM filter for WordPress is VERY aggressive, and deletes almost every comment without even giving me a chance to see it first. It’s not adjustable, in any way. If you’ve written a comment that doesn’t appear anywhere, please write directly to my e-mail:  bookmechanic@gmail.com which is also the place for other questions. Thanks!

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Nothing to read? Eeeek!

13 Apr

One of the worst situations for a devoted book-lover is to find the TBR (to be read) shelf empty. As in bare. Good grief! It’s even worse when one is surrounded by books and cereal boxes and old newspapers, etc. But as a good friend remarked to me a few weeks ago “it’s not as if Tony the Tiger™ really gets into much in-depth stuff.” Alas, too true.

So, while waiting for books from the review sites, and also for requested books to arrive at my library, I found myself in that despicable place. First I stumbled over a 30 or so year old historical novel by a dear friend that I had somehow never read. That was great. But then—two days later, still no books.

Further rummaging disclosed the 1975 paperback publication titled “The Mysterious World of Agatha Christie” by Jeffrey Feinman. I’m pretty sure I’d read this some time ago, but it was there, and my hands were empty, so I picked it up again. The inside front page immediately captured my attention! It was a list of numbers headed: She holds ALL the records! Number 3 on the list (remember this was 1975!) was:

Her sales are near the 400 million mark, and she makes about $10,000.  a week in royalties!

And this was when a U.S. Dollar was perhaps half the British pound? (My quick research on the web states the pound was worth 2½-3½ times as much as the dollar in 1975, which was just before the devaluation of the pound from the election in 1976.) Still, certainly not what it is now! WOW!!!

Dame Agatha died in January, 1976. But whether you care for her books or not, she holds an unassailable place in the world of books. One reason why is on page 49. (I’m paraphrasing here, just a bit.) While working on her most famous story, Murder on the Orient Express in 1934, she and her husband, the noted archeologist and professor, Archie Mallowan took that train to Baghdad. “On the way back,” she says, “I was able to check on things I had thought about on the way out. I had to see where all the switches were. After he had read my book, one man actually made the journey to check up on this.”

Such attention to details put her in that number one spot. How can we do less?

Of course, depending on where your book is set, you may or may not be able to visit there. The future is a bit tricky, so here is where your imagination can be set loose. Who’s to prove you wrong?

The past is a bit trickier. To get some sort of idea of Colonial America, you can go to Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s perhaps 90% authentic. (I’ve never been there, so I’m going by heresay.) There are other such historically reconstituted places, as well, depending on the specific location you need. Chances are, there are history books with drawings or photos that can be a huge help.

But the one thing we should all take from any book by Dame Agatha – know yourself. She did one thing, and one thing only. She knew her limits, and seldom went beyond them. All her books (except the Egyptian ones) were set in the England of 1900-1940 or thereabouts, when large homes with servants were the norm. It was a more genteel way of life. Many of those houses didn’t even boast of a telephone! But it was a time and place she knew very well, and that country or rural atmosphere is redolent on every page of her books. And plays. They are, quite simply, period pieces, but the very best of their kind.

On the other hand, written during the same time frame (or very close) are the early books by Ellery Queen. In reality, Ellery was a pair of cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee.)   Set in the US, amidst a moneyed background, they embodied the new upstart jazzy America as lived in New York City. These are fast-paced, smart, and up-to-the-minute, considering when they were written – the first in 1929 and  continuing through the 70s or so.  They quickly expanded into radio, movies, TV and a mystery magazine.

I found my trip to the past to be most enjoyable. Should you ever find yourself in this predicament (and don’t want to re-read your own work) I can highly recommend a visit to your own bookshelf. Who knows what lurks there? You might be pleasantly surprised!

* —  *  —  *  —  *  —  *  —  *

Are you a writer–contemplating the beginning, or nearing the end of the writing portion–of a book, and wondering how to find an editor/proof-reader? If so, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my editing services.

Also, I need to remind you that the SPAM filter for WordPress is VERY aggressive, and deletes almost every comment without even giving me a chance to see it first. It’s not adjustable, in any way. If you’ve written a comment that doesn’t appear anywhere, please write directly to my e-mail:  bookmechanic@gmail.com which is also the place for other questions. Thanks!

Review? Or, a snark attack?

6 Apr

In the middle of writing these two last pieces for my blog, one of those extraordinary coincidences occurred. You know, the kind that proves the exception to the rule? Well, on the night I was about to submit the last piece, there was suddenly a wind in the willows, or some such, and it carried a note about the ‘train wreck’ of an author, who had destroyed her career. Of course, I had to go look, and I was dumbstruck by the amateurish behavior of this author. She has surely killed her career! There is a reference to this whole mess at the end of this piece, if you want to investigate it for yourself. That said, we’ll now go back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

One of the first things I tell aspiring writers (you can look it up!) is this: Your manuscript is your ambassador to editor, agent, or anyone else in a position to further your career. It MUST be clean, professional caliber, no typos or mis-spellings, incomplete sentences, goofy word choices or anything else that can send out an ‘I’m a careless writer’ signal to the reader. If you are of a mind to self-publish, it’s the same command. And believe, me, this is not just a suggestion.

If you are not able to accept criticism of your work, do not submit it for publication. You must also be able to accept criticism in reviews, even if you publish it yourself.  Read on to find out why.

I happen to be an excellent editor and proof-reader, just not necessarily of my own stuff. I have a crazy memory system (eidetic, not photographic, meaning it’s not total recall, but seems to work best with numbers and letters. Anything written, in other words.) I was born with this trait, so I’m not trying to take credit for something that just is, but I also know that it’s rare. It can be taught to a certain extent, but not completely. It’s visual, to a great extent – I can recall where on a certain page that I’ve seen a similar phrase, or question or mis-spelled word, or whatever. At times, it drives me nuts, because I remember things I don’t want or need to, and cannot expel them from my sub-conscious.

However,  as I’ve stated previously, many times, although most people want to be a writer, not everyone is capable of producing a professional-quality manuscript. Some people are excellent story-tellers, but their writing skills are not at the same level. For many others, the reverse holds true. They write fluently and beautifully, and say nothing! I’m not sure which is worse, to be honest. As a judge in a goodly number of writing contests, I have, on many occasions, felt that the author was not a native-English speaker, and I’ve been proven correct every single time. There’s just something that’s not quite right. Personally, I feel that the contest coordinator should have caught these entries and not accepted them. It’s hardly fair to accept their money, even if the entrant is a whiz-bang story teller, when the basis of the contest is the writing ability.

Currently, there’s a real wing-ding going on regarding reviews. No matter how many books one publishes, an unkind review still hurts. But even worse is an unkind, incorrect, illiterate contribution. Free speech is great, no question, but sometimes there needs to be a way to balance these attacks against reality.

As I’ve mentioned here several times, I have a number of ‘free reads’ available at Amazon.com and elsewhere. (If I ever figure out where they all are, I’ll certainly post a notice here, somewhere.) I am, in no way, the only author in this category, believe me—some authors have posted older books in their entirety in the free reads category. Anyway, free means NO COST. None. Well, other than the cost of the e-reader, but I truly doubt that anyone bought one of the things merely to read my free short stories. So why then, would someone post a ‘review’ to say ‘this is not worth your money’ or ‘this is a waste of money’? Darned if I know how you can get something for nothing, and have it be a waste of your money. Strange economic system, I think.

Another major complaint about these short stories is that they’re only the first and last chapters of a ‘real’ book as an enticement to get readers to buy the whole thing. Really! Or, these are just the middle section, so buy the whole book to get it all. But what if there is NO more to the story? A short story is just that. Short. A story of 5000 words can hardly have all the attributes of a 50,000 word novel. But of course, snark is the big thing these days, and a good many of these so-called reviewers want to show off their own capabilities by exhibiting just how snarky they can be.

I have posted some 400 reviews at Amazon—as a top 1000 reviewer. I’ve been posting there since 1998, as I recall. You can check me out, if you wish at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1G17R47N27OXE/ref=cr_cm_rdp_pdp Every single one of these reviews is more than 100 words in length. I think maybe two are close to that, because I just couldn’t get into the book for whatever reason, in spite of all the other glowing reviews, and felt I should explain why I couldn’t. I didn’t demonstrate snark, however, just simple English to say why I couldn’t like the book.

If you find a review at Amazon that you like—or don’t like—you may (and probably should) at least check other reviews from that particular reviewer. Some authors review themselves. Interesting, if not very objective.  But as an old saying advises “consider the source”. Would you place more trust in someone who’s been reviewing a variety of books and CDs, for a number of years, –or the person who has posted –oh, maybe– 20 very brief (one or two sentences worth) reviews in the past three months – all (or most) of them for ‘free reads’? It’s all very interesting, isn’t it?

What started this particular blog entry was a now-viral, very famous public meltdown by a self-published author who demanded that an independent reviewer remove his review of her book, because it wasn’t a 5-star glittering paean to her general excellence. Actually, the review was not a bad review at all; it was honest in the reviewer’s opinion. (Based on this blog entry, I’d say he was generous, but that’s just me.)  If you want to know how NOT to respond to a reviewer – here it is:

http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html

Are you sitting there, trying to figure out if you have a book or not? There is always the possibility that I can help. You have but to ask. Write to me at: bookmechanic@gmail.com

Cheers!