Archive for December, 2009



What Stace had to say on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
Guest Blogger Simon Wood: I Want it Now

Yes, I’m late. I hate the weeks before the holidays; there’s suddenly millions of things to do and no time to do them. Anyway, I have the second guest post from author Simon Wood, and this one is even better than the first, I think. So enjoy!

I Want It Now, If Not Sooner

I suppose it’s because of the times we live in—we can get anything we want and fast. Technology has placed the world in our hands. It’s just as easy for me to communicate with my friends and family back in England as with my friends in this country. We can get everything in an instant—coffee, movies, music, mac ‘n’ cheese. This godsend has a tendency to make us impatient.

I’m guilty of this. If I see more than two cars lined up in the drive-thru or people standing in front of the ATM, then screw it, I’m going elsewhere. Time and Simon wait for no man.

I’ve seen this trait for instant gratification amongst writers. They want to see their book in print the moment the manuscript spills off the printer. But traditional publishing isn’t like that. It’s a big machine that moves slowly. A lot of planning and a lot of people are involved in the book making process. I had a book release party for Working Stiffs at the weekend and one of my guests asked me how quickly it took from start to finish.

“Nine months,” I said, injecting a healthy dollop of incredulity.

“That slow?” my guest remarked.

They read me all wrong. Nine months is bloody fast! I worked my butt off for six months writing it and the publisher busted his hump for three getting the cover done, copy editing and working with the printer, etc. And this was for a small press book not bogged down by big publishing machinery.

None of this takes into account the process of finding an agent and a publisher. Take my first book, Accidents Waiting To Happen. I started it in January ’99, began sending out the manuscript that September, collected a bucket load of rejections, didn’t land a contract until October ’01, and it wasn’t published until July ’02. That’s three and a half years. If I hadn’t sold a bunch of my stories in the meantime, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it. Three and a half years is a long time to wait.

I won’t say I felt hard done by waiting this long, but I felt I’d paid my commitment and patience dues. My story pales in comparison to some successful writers out there. I know one mystery writer who waited eight years to sell that first book. Another wrote ten novels before he sold one to a major publisher. I can’t imagine writing ten books and getting nowhere. I would have given up a long time before I sat down to write the tenth book.

Vanity presses and print-on-demand (POD) services make it possible to take a freshly printed manuscript and turn it into a book in a matter of days. So I can see the appeal to the writer. Why punish yourself with the waiting game when you can have your dream today?

I won’t condescend and say that just because I waited nearly four years to see my book in print, you should too. It’s a lame and insulting argument.

But I will say you’re doing yourself no favors going for instant gratification. Writing may be an art but it’s also a craft, and crafts have to be honed. A writer, like any craftsman, needs time to develop his skills. Traditional publishing is a big machine and not everything it produces is solid gold, but it contains a lot of talented people whether it be writers, agents, editors, etc. Whether you or I like it, it takes time to be heard. The cold hard fact of the matter is just because a writer writes doesn’t mean he or she deserves to be published. Your work may not be ready yet, your subject too controversial or worst of all, you may not be good enough. Writing is a leap of faith. A writer’s belief in their work and dedication to the craft can all be for naught. Every time I commit to writing a story or book, I have no idea whether it will be published. I have a small yet significant body of work behind me, but I hope and pray it will be good enough for publication when I send it off to the publishers.

Vanity presses can bring you publication today, but they can’t give you the distribution, advances, marketing, and editing that the developing writer is going to need to become an accomplished writer. Like I mentioned in my early posts, small press publishers have published my first three books and getting those books seen has been tough. With POD printing services, those hardships are magnified. Reviewers tend not to review self-published books and stores tend not to stock them. For a self-published book to be a success, the writer has to spend the majority of their time selling the book instead of developing their writing skills.

The hardest book to sell will be the first. It may take years, but it’s worth the battle. The difference it will make to your sales and ability to build a career is immense. If you want to see your book published in every store and given every chance for success, then you have to be in it in for the long haul. There are many ways of getting there, but going for instant gratification isn’t the answer.

Every writer (new and experienced) wants their work published, but publish well, not fast. It’ll make a world of difference.

Simon Wood is originally from England but now resides in California. He’s an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He’s had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His next thriller, Terminated, will be out next June. Curious people can learn more at www.simonwood.net.

What Stace had to say on Friday, December 11th, 2009
Agent Appreciation Day

(A side note: I was supposed to post Simon Wood’s second guest post yesterday, but the day got away from me. Sorry. It’ll go up Monday. Also, sorry this is so late. I slept until almost one o’clock this afternoon; hubs has been out of town for ten days (he got back last night) and I don’t think I slept more than five hours a night the whole time he was gone, including weekends, so I was totally exhausted). Anyway,

Today is Agent Appreciation Day, in which we writers blog and tweet about how much we love our agents, in an effort to make up for not giving them Christmas presents. (Ha, actually that isn’t true. I sent my agent a present last week, and I’m sure most of us send gifts anyway. But still.)

I talk about my agent a lot here, I know. So I actually debated whether or not I even should post anything today. But then I decided, why not. It’s fun to talk about him, and it’s fun to be involved in something like this.

My agent is Chris Lotts from Ralph Vicinanza Ltd., and we’ve been together (in the working sense, of course) for almost two years, which is kind of weird to think about. I queried Chris with UNHOLY GHOSTS on a Monday, and signed with him two days later on Wednesday, which still amazes me. To be honest, I queried him thinking I didn’t have a chance in hell of even getting a partial request, considering how highly regarded he and the agency are; the idea that he would want to work with me and my creepy little “junkies and ghosts” book seemed like a total impossibility.

But I sent the query anyway, because as I said a while ago, “either you think the book is publishable or you don’t.” I did, and I sent the query, and I have never stopped being thankful that I did. In the almost-two-years we’ve been working together he’s sold UNHOLY GHOSTS to Del Rey (US), HarperVoyager (UK), Egmont Lyx (Germany), Amber Publishing (Poland), and Blackstone Audio (audio rights US). He also handled the contracts for DEMON INSIDE and sold the third Demons book, DEMON POSSESSED, to Juno/Pocket. I think it’s safe to say he’s an awesome and very effective agent.

So, to celebrate this most important of Important Literary Holidays, here are the top five things I love about my agent, Chris Lotts:

1. He’s always there. He always takes my phone calls, on the rare occasions I do call (I prefer email). Not only does he take the calls, he’s actually happy to hear from me! He tells me he’s glad I called. He calls me, too. He emails me, and replies to my emails. I once had a problem pop up on a day he’d taken off work. He still saw my email and got involved.

2. He knows how to talk to me. Okay, this one sounds a little weird, so I better explain. It’s not that I need some sort of special white-gloves treatment or anything; if I did he probably wouldn’t be so happy when I call him. But he knows how to calm me down when something upsets me and I decide my career is over. He knows that when I send him a proposal or an idea for a new project, and he hates it (okay, I can hear him in my head right now saying, “I don’t hate it!”, so read that as “he doesn’t think it’s as marketable as some” or whatever) he can come right out and tell me; he doesn’t have to beat around the bush. He knows I can take a joke and that I’m annoyed by hesitation and wishy-washiness. And when I ask questions, even questions that feel to me like they’re probably kind of stupid questions, he answers them and tells me they’re not stupid questions.

3. He’s willing to step in and handle stuff I don’t wanna handle. He stays on top of things like payments I’m supposed to get. He offers me advice, thoughts and opinions. It’s all very professional and makes me feel well taken care of. Which is nice.

4. The agenting stuff itself. Aside from all the personality things and the warm fuzzies and whatnot, he knows how to sell my work. He knows how to get me the best deal possible. He knows what editors are looking for, and when we talk and brainstorm on the phone (yep, see, there’s that talking thing again!) he has great ideas and advice. It’s very cool. It’s nice to feel that through him I’m connected to the industry, and to learn more about it.

5. In April hubs and I went to the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale (this huge, awesome Polynesian restaurant where we used to go all the time when we lived there). The Mai Kai has a gift shop, and in that gift shop I saw two little Hawaiian/Polynesian dolls; you know, the tacky plastic ones with the really big eyes, where the girl is in a grass skirt and the guy in short or something, and they’re both wearing leis? Anyway. I saw these and purely on impulse bought them for him and sent them up, hoping he would get the joke. He did. Not only did he get the joke, he told me he was putting them on his desk. Seriously, how awesome is that?

Of course there are a lot more reasons. But what it boils down to is I like the man, and I like working with him, and I think he likes working with me. I have compete trust in him, and that’s hugely important.

I know discussions pop up from time to time on the internet about the role of the agent. I know there are discussions about what the relationship should be. I know there are people who feel that the agent works for the writer, and so the process of getting a agent shouldn’t be so hard and agents “shouldn’t have so much power” and blah blah blah.

To me the writer/agent relationship is more of a partnership. When looking for a partner in anything, whether it’s business or a work project or your love life or whatever, you don’t just grab somebody and say, “You’ll do,” and get down to business. You get to know them. You talk. You see how it feels, if you click. You can’t just grab any agent and “hire” them, and if you could I don’t think that would be a good thing. Because the relationship is about so much more than “Here’s my book. Go sell it,” or “Go write this book, and by the way you’re not allowed to do X, Y, or Z.” Chris and I discuss things. We plan things. I tell him how I feel about things and he tells me what his feelings are on it, and I usually take his advice not because I feel like if I don’t he won’t like me anymore but because he’s the one with the experience.

To put it bluntly, I pay him (in commissions) to sell my work, and to give me the benefit of his expertise. Why in the world would I pay him for his advice and then refuse to take it? That’s like hiring, I don’t know, a very famous, very expensive interior decorator, then handing them the paint, wallpaper, and furniture you want him to use and telling him to get to work. You know what I mean? What’s the point in getting an expert if you’re going to ignore everything they say?

This is turning into a longish rant, and I only meant it to be short. Oops. So anyway. My agent. He’s awesome, and I appreciate him.

(For a long list of other writers participating in Agent Appreciation Day, go here.

  • What Stace had to say on Monday, December 7th, 2009
    Oopsie

    My Large cover images totally messed with the formatting of the site’s front page, so in hopes of fixing that, I’m just adding this little post here.

    What Stace had to say on Monday, December 7th, 2009
    New Downside covers in all their coveriness!

    Yes, I do indeed have covers for all three Downside books, so here they are!
    Read the rest of this entry »

    What Stace had to say on Friday, December 4th, 2009
    Guest Post: Simon Wood on The Road to Publication

    Today we have a special treat! I “met” Simon when we were both guests on that podcast show; he’s a cool guy and a really good writer, and he graciously agreed to let me have a couple of articles for the blog. This is the first. The second one will be up next Thursday.

    The Road To Publication – And How Not To Get Mugged Along The Way

    By Simon Wood

    The road to publication is long and without road signs. There’s no one to hand you a map or rules to the road. So when every would-be author hits the road with his or her finished manuscript, they are vulnerable to predators. The scent given off by a new author is very powerful. The wolves and bandits will smell you coming a mile off. I think first time authors must smell like cut bait.

    For most authors, finding a publisher is a Tolkienian adventure. My personal quest to find a publisher took two years and cost me hundreds of dollars. But in hindsight, a number of my run-ins with the wolves and bandits were of my own creation. To my credit, I dodged the perils that line the road to publication without serious injury, but they could have been avoided all together, if I’d been a little smarter.

    Gone are the days when fiction authors could sub their novel directly to the New York publishing houses and be given a chance. Every author needs an agent to be their guide to publication. But, how does the naive author know what a reputable agent looks like? This is where I wasted a lot of time and money. I scoured the various Writers’ Digests of Literary Agents because that’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, these digests are like yellow pages. They list the good, the bad and the ugly. I sent blanket queries and synopses to over a hundred agents without a clue of who I was introducing myself too. Not surprisingly, I introduced myself to some of the carpetbaggers along the way.

    I had agents who said they loved my work and praised the great book I’d written when I’d only sent them a one-page query letter. One agent threatened to trash my name in the industry when I quizzed her on her standard operating practices, then she sent my manuscript back in pieces. Luckily, I never broke the golden rule of dealing with agents—DON’T PAY AN AGENT ANY MONEY UPFRONT. Regardless of their reasons, reputable agents don’t ask for money before they market your book. I know it’s tempting to accept an agent’s offer, but the newbie author has to know when to say no. So when an agent asks for $700 for printing and postages expenses or $200 to read a manuscript before they’ve done a thing, don’t haggle or negotiate, say no thanks and move on.

    Although it seems to be a growing trend for reputable agents to charge expenses for postage, I’ve known authors to have paid less than a hundred dollars. But the agents bill after the fact, not before. If any agent says they are charging expenses, ask what they are for and get an estimate before you a sign contract.

    So, if I was setting out on the road to publication again and was hunting for an agent, what would I do differently? First off, I wouldn’t bother with the market guides. An unsuspecting author doesn’t know what they are letting themselves in for. If you want to find an agent, start with their trade association. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. (AAR) lists their members, a code of conduct that all their members must abide by and a great list of questions to any and all agents who offer representation. There are some great agents out there who aren’t AAR members, but finding them is hard, so the AAR is a good place to start. Another good resource is writers’ associations. If you are a mystery writer, consider joining the Mystery Writers of America. If you are a horror writer, consider joining the Horror Writers Association. They have a member’s directory where the authors list their agents. The first time author should write to these agents. The agents listed represent someone with a reputation in the same genre and someone who has made a legitimate book deal.

    After doing things like this—the right things—the first time author still may not find an agent. I didn’t. This means you probably aren’t going to get a book contract with Harper Collins, Penguin or Time Warner, but it doesn’t mean all publishers are off limits. There are a number of small and medium sized publishers who will deal with unknown writers. You need to do their homework. Scour bookstores and jot down the names of publishers. Seek out their websites and check out their guidelines. If a publisher says they will take unagented submissions, then submit. You have nothing to lose…

    …or do you?

    There are bad publishers out there, just like there are bad agents. The same law about agents applies to publishers—DON’T PAY A PUBLISHER ANY MONEY UPFRONT. Publishers pay authors, not the other way around. Again, if you are asked for money, walk away. If you see an author mention their publisher and you’ve never heard of them, check them out. See if the publisher’s claims live up. If a publisher says their books are available on Amazon, use the search facility on Amazon. Punch in the publisher’s name and see how many of their titles pop up. If you don’t find any or it says to allow six weeks for delivery, there may be problems with distribution. And if so, your book might make it to print, but not much further. Authors shouldn’t be afraid to ask for changes to a publisher’s contract. If certain rights are asked for and you aren’t happy, negotiate them out. Again, the likes of the HWA and MWA do have typical sample contracts that authors without agents can use for reference.

    The road to publication is fraught with danger. But it doesn’t mean the first time author has to be mugged and left for dead. First timers need to stop sticking pins in the pages of digests and hoping for the best. To put things into a plumbilogical terms, when hiring a plumber to fix a broken pipe most people don’t go for the first name they see. Usually, they ask for a referral and check that the plumber is licensed. The search for an agent and/or publisher should be the same. You need to know the industry and ask around, choosing from trusted sources.

    Following my tips won’t guarantee you publishing success, but they should help prevent you from walking into some of the horrors that lurk on the road to publication.

    Simon Wood is originally from England but now resides in California. He’s an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He’s had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He’s a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. He’s the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he’s the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. His next thriller, Terminated, will be out next June. Curious people can learn more at www.simonwood.net.