Thursday, June 24, 2010

Submitting a manuscript - You DO realize it’s hopeless, don’t you?

The frustration continues. One publisher that I really, really wanted for Book Five of my series set their word limit at 100,000. I stressed for weeks trying to cull and rewrite so it would still make sense at that length (how the heck does Reader’s Digest do it?). Then, checking back on their guidelines before submitting, I find they’ve lowered it to 90,000.

Another publisher that I really, really want for my sci-fi only takes submissions on certain dates. Given the deluge of manuscripts out there, that certainly seems reasonable. Only trouble is, when I go to that date outlined in heavy red Magic Marker on my calendar, I find they’ve moved it up a couple of months.

Then there’s the specter of the slush pile. Forever burned into my brain is a pic I saw once of people sitting around on piles of manuscripts having lunch. Behind them were stacks reaching to the ceiling. Of course, most submissions these days are electronic, but you get the picture.

To add to your depression, here’s excerpts from an article by former slush reader, Patricia Chui: (BTW, I strongly urge aspiring writers to follow this link…)

Every editor's inbox is piled high with mail from big agents, small agents, writers met at conferences, friends of his wife's dentist and people who plucked his name off a book's acknowledgments page. Some of these submissions, generally the ones sent by respected agents, will be read carefully; some will get little more than a glance. There's really no other way to do it.

The sad thing is that I have this attitude now toward authors who send in unsolicited manuscripts… Now, I consider every unagented author to be slightly psychotic and deranged, and every unsolicited manuscript to be bad.

Was it cruel of us to make fun of the slush? Sure, maybe. But we were overworked, underpaid assistants at the bottom of a lofty totem pole, and putting down bad writing was our way of lifting ourselves up… To our credit, we readers did give every single submission, no matter how ludicrous, a fair and honest appraisal. During my reign as slush handler, a few projects garnered further consideration from our editors; one was even published.

I moved on to other jobs. And these days, as a freelance writer, I am chagrined to find that the worm has turned. Suddenly, I'm the desperate one, the hopeful neurotic who waits impatiently only to be met with rejection or no response at all. Interestingly enough, my background in slush sometimes works against me: I am less persistent than I could be, worried that editors will find me annoying and pathetic. In my weaker moments, I wonder if my story pitches are being passed around, ridiculed and ignored. I wonder if the people I'm querying even exist. Maybe what goes around really does come around.

So what are the chances? Slim and none. Well, I got lucky once. And hope springs eternal, as they say.

Note to Patricia Chiu: if you happen to Google yourself one day and run into this blog, please be advised I did my level best to get permission for this quote. I used the contact form from and checked Facebook and LinkedIn.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Submitting a manuscript

Au-u-u-urgh! I can’t believe I’m going through all this again! Three books into a series of five, and my publisher goes dysfunctional. So far I’ve had five emails asking about AMMANON Book Four, The Journey. What can I say? It may not happen in our lifetime!

Deciding not to add a years-long ordeal of snagging representation to the years-long ordeal of getting a publisher, I am, at the moment, submitting on my own. Probably a mistake, but I’m getting old, you know.

Submissions are terribly tedious. One publisher asks for a cover letter to include bio and 3-paragraph synopsis, with the ms (manuscript) attached. Another wants cover letter with contact info only, with a 2-page synopsis and ms attached as separate documents. The next one wants background on the story’s conception and research, along with a one page synopsis as part of the cover letter. The ms, this time without page numbers, attached.

The only common standard (for the ms) is 12 pt. type, double-spacing, and the 1” margin all around. When it comes to headers and/or page numbers, they’re all different. So far they differ on only two basic fonts: Courier or Times New Roman.

Obviously, there’s no cutting and pasting on the cover letters and synopses. Very little, anyway. Dealing with such radical differences, there’s no choice but to write each from scratch.

Right now I’m doing a slash-and-burn to meet a desired word count for yet another. Gone is the glossary, map, and Epilogue of excerpts from Book Five. On the other hand, much of what I’m cutting from the narrative won’t hurt the story all that much. It’s just that the voice of my first editor still guides me: “Give me more description! Put me there! Let me see it, smell it, hear it!” And it is fun to do that. However, despite my classical literary writing style, I still prefer fast-paced action to lengthy scene-setting. So a lot of these cuts are making me bleed!

Still, this particular publisher is a favorite of several authors I admire. Getting past the Word-Count Czar may be worth it.

Where am I getting my list? I started with a site called Predators and Editors that both lists and rates publishers. Unfortunately, this list is pretty old. A tragic number of them went belly up in the downturn. I’m now shifting to the BEA’s roster of exhibitors. At least I can be sure they’re still in business!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Times Square Holiday Inn (Further adventures at the BEA)

So I told you the hotel experience was a whole nuther post. Well, here it is.

If you read the preceding, you know the main problem was air conditioning – as in too much of. See, down here in Texas, we can set the ol’ AC anywhere we want it. Given the cost of energy, that’s usually above 70°. But in NY, if you find 70° either too chilly or unconscionable: tough. If you try to set it above 70°, the heat comes on. I’m not kidding.

Now begs the question: how does Con Ed support the jillions of New Yorkers seeking relief from their steamy streets if the thermostat must read 70° or else? C’mon, people!

The maintenance guy found me wrapped in a blanket beating my head against the thermostat. I found the maintenance guy polite, professional, well-spoken, well-muscled, and altogether gorgeous. And he did get the AC to shut off.

At the time, I didn’t know that was the only option.

It took about 10 minutes for that hermetically sealed little room to become a stifling sweatbox. I turned it to a conservative 76° and tried to coax it to come on again. Nothing.

I called the front desk. Did I want maintenance to come back? Uh, let me think. First, I’d have to get dressed again. Second, how many trips could Adonis make without coming to the reasonable conclusion that grandma was just lookin’ for eye candy? And we were getting into the wee hours by now. So no. Just tell me what to do.

So the front desk suggested I reboot the unit. That is, unplug it from the wall, count to ten, and plug it back in. I did. It started back up. I collapsed back into bed.

It shut off.

I got up and rebooted the thing again. This time it stayed on nearly 15 minutes – long enough to discover it was belching forth heat with a vengeance.

I called the front desk. And THAT’S when I learned the 70° rule. So I hung up, rebooted yet again, and dutifully set it back to 70°. Thus, by 4:00 in the morning, I finally got to sleep.

Next morning, I stumbled down to the complimentary breakfast buffet. I was amazed to find a very Southern offering: biscuits and gravy. No one but me knew quite what to make of it. Then I spotted something I’d never seen before. Ever the adventurer, I picked up the tongs and dropped one on my paper plate. Analysis showed it to be an omelet: artificial egg folded around artificial cheese. Sort of like a taco. Very clever. And actually rather tasty, too. Thus fortified, I struck out for the BEA (Book Expo America) at the sprawling colossus known as the Javits Convention Center. See previous post.

But wait. I’m not through with the hotel yet. Killing time at 3:30 AM waiting for the airport bus, I noticed this diagram by the elevator:

What? The Holiday Inn Express is only 4 little rooms per floor? But it’s 36 floors high! How the heck does the building stay standing? I mean, try that with your grandkids’ blocks sometime!

No, it wasn’t all bad. About 6:00 that second evening, the news of SuperBowl 2012 ran through the lights on Times Square. It was fun to hear the excitement of the crowds. They even had fireworks.

Other than that, I gotta tell ya: suddenly Houston’s looking pretty good!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book Expo America

If you were there at the BEA, please comment! The experience, except for a few pleasant visits at the booths, was mega non-productive for me! I want to know what it is that authors can accomplish there. For the most part it just seemed like a hard-sell event – a pitiful and demeaning exercise for authors hawking books like used cars.

First is the intimidation of New York City in general, and the Javits Convention Center in particular. See what I mean? The building is overwhelming even against that awesome skyline:

And when you walk up to it, it’s even worse:
I walked for MILES around that place - finding very few of the booths listed on my BEA Planner. The map was impossible to follow since it would’ve had to be enlarged 500X to allow for legible text. And that would have made it…let’s see what my calculator says here…about 6’ x 3.54’. Moreover, only three of the thousands of exhibitors displayed their booth number. Without an annotated map, it was impossible to see if it was one of the 84 I wished to visit. Unfortunately, see, I’d arranged my list in order by booth number rather than alphabetically – assuming (silly me!) the spaces could readily identified.

There were no places to rest on the main exhibition level. The few places on the lower floors were always taken. The food and restroom lines snaked around endlessly.

It would have been miserable even if I hadn’t been up to 4 AM that morning wrestling with the hotel room thermostat.. But that’s another post.

I finally called it a day somewhere around 4 PM. It was the hottest part of the afternoon, and I’d dressed to match my book covers: Black, set off by a flowing red print scarf. That, plus the tote bag carrying 4 books and multiple packets and brochures, made a grueling 8-block walk to the hotel on already wretched feet.

But I made it all the way back to my frigidly air conditioned room – only to find it being cleaned. Sigh. Back down in the lobby, I snagged the one remaining muffin left from breakfast and washed it down with equally leftover coffee. While eating, I called the airport shuttle for a pick-up time. What? 3:30 AM?? For a flight leaving at 7:00? OMG. Suddenly my meager repast seemed providential indeed.

LaGuardia, as compared with other terminals, is as dirty and crowded as the rest of New York. At least, the rather limited part of it I saw. The only food concession open at 5 AM just had a tray of brownies out. That, plus a very expensive bottle of water, was breakfast. Don’t get me wrong. It was an exceptional brownie. Just not my usual fare. It was supplemented 2 ½ hours later by airline coffee and pretzels.

There were more pretzels and coffee on the second leg between Atlanta and Houston. Actually, since I didn’t know they’d changed the gate number of that flight, and therefore missed it, I might have hooked up with some real grub. But by the time I’d walked back across Atlanta’s interminable terminal to the gate of the next flight out, I was too angry and exhausted to care. When my husband picked me up, I forced him to head straight for one of our favorite restaurants where I pigged out big-time. Then I went home and slept for the next two days.

Like I said, if anyone had a positive experience at the BEA, please tell me about it!