Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Proposal

No, not the Sandra Bullock movie. Today we’re talking about manuscript submissions.

When you are submitting your work to an agent/editor, the packet will usually include: a cover letter, the manuscript (or a portion), and a synopsis. If you submitting cold (submitting to a professional who did not specifically ask for the submission), then you should check with their web site or a recent copy of Writer’s Market. Either source should give you the details on what that particular person/company wants.

Rule #1: Follow the guidelines to the letter. Sending something they don’t want, or omitting something they do want, is the best way to make sure your proposal is never read. Deviate at your own risk.

The Cover Letter

This is the first thing your target audience will see. It’s like a written handshake, and like a good handshake it should be firm, confident, and brief.

Here are the basics:

Greet the reader. Dear so-and-so (always triple check the spelling of the agent/editor’s name as a touch of respect). I usually start with a reminder about the meeting which sparked this submission, if there was one. If this is a cold submission (a submission sent to someone who hasn’t clearly asked for it), then obviously you skip that portion. So, something like, ‘We met Write-A-Pazuzza last month. You asked me to send you a sample of my novel.’

Define your book. Tell them the name of the novel, word length, and a couple sentences about it. If you’re having trouble pinning down your 600-page magnus opus in less than fifty words, go read the backs of a few of your favorite books. They typically introduce the main character and his/her main conflict, and possibly a mention of the impossible odds stacked against him/her. The trick is to make it sound interesting.

List your previous publications. This is where you list your best-received books, the bestsellers and award winners. What? You haven’t published any books before? Don’t worry. Being a newbie isn’t a sin. List some of the short stories you’ve had published and where they appeared. Don’t mention how much (or how little) you were paid. Just title, publication, and perhaps the date if it was recent. If you have none of the above, then skip this section.

Say goodbye, Ray. A polite ‘thanks for considering me’ followed by your signature is just fine here. Unless you and the agent/editor are actual friends in real life, resist the temptation to get too friendly here. This is a business letter, so keep it professional. Which brings us to . . .

Rule #2: Don’t get too familiar. Like I said before, unless you and the reader are friends already, don’t get cute. They don’t know you (yet), so don’t give them any reason to believe you are a potential stalker/psycho. No little hearts in the margin. No scented perfume. No pretty stationary with unicorns and moonbeams. Just white paper, black ink, and the facts, ma’am.

The Manuscript

I want to assume that everyone knows the basics like font, size, margins, numbering, and so forth. In case you don’t, there are about a zillion books on the subject. Here’s the basics: times new roman or courier font, size 12, one-inch margins all around, no right-hand justification (this means don’t have your word processor line up the right side of the text to mimic book printing), pages number in the upper right corner or at the bottom. If it’s not too much trouble, I suggest that you add a header to the top of every page that includes the title and your last name separated by a slash (Strangers on Mars/Sprunk).

Now, depending on what the agent/editor wants, you’ll either be sending them the complete full manuscript, or a partial. The full manuscript is self-explanatory. You print out the entire book, including prologues and epilogues, and shove it into a box or a big envelope. Wrap a big rubber band around the whole thing if you’re worried about the pages moving around and getting crinkled.

A partial is just what it sounds like, a portion of the manuscript. A lot of agents/editors ask for the first three chapters. Some ask for a certain number of pages, like the first fifty or one hundred. Either way, follow the directions. When asked for a number of pages, though, try to end the last page at a natural break of some sort, and not in the middle of a sentence. And if page 51 has the perfect break (end of a chapter or scene, big cliffhanger), then they probably won’t mind if you stop there.

I’ve been asked before if you should send the prologue along, too. That’s up to you. Is it exciting and full of delicious tension? Is it vitally important to the story? If so, put it in. If not, then I have to ask why is it even in the manuscript?

Before you print out the manuscript or partial, take a little time for go over one of the most important parts of the submission, perhaps THE most important: the first five pages. Obviously, check to eliminate typos and grammar mistakes, but also read for content. Some professionals claim they can tell within the first couple pages if they’ll like a book (some will admit in private that it takes a lot less than that). So go over the beginning again. Does it have the right tone? It is clear? Does it leave you wanting more? Not every novel will (or should) start off with a murder in a famous museum in the opening scene, but you can still aim for something memorable.

The Synopsis

Here’s a little secret. I hate writing synopses. It feels like I’m trying to take everything that I put into a book, all the emotion and tension, all the angst and heartbreak, and squeeze it into a space that would fit on the back of a soup can. But just about every agent and editor wants one with the submission package, so we just have to suck it up. Hey, maybe you’ll love the experience. If so, dig in.

A synopsis is, in a nutshell, a summary of your novel. Professionals used to ask for longer synopses of ten or more pages. These days, most ask for three to five pages, or even less. Everyone is busy today. Editors don’t have time to read a novella-sized summary of a novel. They want the bare bones. They want to know if the author can put together a story from start to finish.

Beside length, synopses have other specific traits:

They are written single-spaced and in the present tense, no matter what tense your novel is in. So, instead of “Captain Bill broke free of the black hole’s gravity, and steered a course for Epsilon Five,” the synopsis would say, “Captain Bill breaks free of the black hole’s gravity, and steers a course for Epsilon Five.”

The important contents of a synopsis are setting, character, motivation, action, and results. Tell them what the characters are doing, where they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, and what happens next.

If there are specific things about your book which you feel separate it from similar stories, you can slip it in. Does your book deliberately cross genre (a vampire love story set in outer space)? Is your protagonist different from the typical hero? (She should be!) How about the villain?

After the first draft, go back and add some polish. I don’t know if a stellar synopsis ever sold a mediocre novel, but that’s no reason to look sloppy. Add a little pizzazz. Although it’s a summary, you can inject your unique voice into the text. But don’t go overboard. Just a dash is all you need.

Well, that’s about it. I hope this was helpful. The key to publishing, in my humble opinion, is perseverance. It’s not enough to write prolifically or even beautifully; you have to get your work out to where the right people can see it. Good luck!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finding an Agent

At a friend’s suggestion, today’s blog is about writing conferences. Specifically, how to go about shopping your manuscript at them

I’m no expert, but I’ve been to a few conferences (and one convention, which looked a lot like a conference, but felt somewhat looser in format). I have a few thoughts about how to approach agents and/or editors at these places. I’ve seen it done well, and I’ve seen some crash-and-burns. Hopefully, I can steer you toward the former.

Some conferences have slots of time set aside where attendees can speak one-on-one with an agent/editor in private. These are worth their weight in gold. If you’ll forgive me, I will give a shout out to the Pennwriters group, which hosts just such a conference event each year. If you live in or near Pennsylvania, it would behoove you to check them out.

/promo off

But what if you don’t have the privilege of a pre-set time slot with an agent/editor? Not to worry. There are some easy steps that can guide you to a successful encounter.

First, study your target. Obtain a list of all the agents and editors who will be attending the conference, and find out what they represent. Some agents like SFF, others won’t go near it. A little homework before the event can save you time, and possibly avert an embarrassing mistake. You can find everything you need to know either online (most agents and editors have a company web page, if not their own site these days), or in a resource like Writer’s Market.

Okay. So you’ve narrowed down the list of agents/editors to those who handle your type of fiction. How do you approach them? Well, it helps to remind yourself they are just ordinary people–PEOPLE WHO HOLD THE KEY TO YOUR WRITING FUTURE! Just kidding. Hey, these folks love books. That’s why they got into the industry. And they want to find new authors. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother attending conferences and conventions at all. Plus, every agent and editor wants to be credited with finding the next Stephen King/JK Rowling/etc...

There is an etiquette of sorts to approaching an agent/editor you don’t know.

Tip #1: Don’t drink before walking up to them. Not even a bracing shot of Old Granddad for your courage. You want to be lucid and alert, not a whiskey-smelling lush.

Tip #2: Don’t bring your manuscript to the conference. It’s tempting, I know. You’ll keep it in your car, or the hotel room, just in case the agent of your dreams MUST see it right now. But pushing your manuscript into an agent/editor’s hands is the social equivalent of greeting a blind date with a wet kiss and a handful of condoms. If your pitch interests them, they will ask to see the manu, or more likely a sample. That’s a score. That’s what you want. And really, do you expect them to haul your 20-pound proposal all the way back to their office? It’s got a better chance of going in the trash.

Tip #3: Smile. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve watched who approach an agent/editor like they’re going to their own execution. This isn’t a time to be bashful or depressed. You have a small window of face time with which to impress this person. How excited will they be to work with an author who can’t summon up a simple smile? Not very. So plaster on your best (non-crazy) smile and say hello. Be confidant! Be charming!

Tip #4: Brevity is your ally. Have you ever been stuck someplace, like an elevator or a long plane ride, beside someone who doesn’t know when to shut up? I guarantee your target agent/editor has, and they probably don’t enjoy it anymore than you do. It helps to have your pitch already prepared and memorized so you can spit it out without stumbling over your tongue. (What’s a pitch? We’ll get to that.) My point here is that it’s a good idea to tell them what you have to offer, and then . . . be quiet. If the target asks questions, you’ve got the start of a conversation that may, perhaps, wind up with a submission. If they don’t—if they just stand there and blink, or maybe glance down at their watch—then it’s time to make a dignified exit. Be polite. Thank them for their time. And move on. Don’t pepper them with a barrage of details about your book, about how you’re going to single-handedly revolutionize the literary world (I’ve seen this tried. Believe me, it’s embarrassing to witness.) Make your pitch, and leave. Unless they ask questions.

Tip #5: The Pitch. A pitch is a brief statement that tells what your book is about. If that seems rather vague, it’s on purpose. I’ve listened to a lot of pitches, and made a few myself. They aren’t all the same, and there’s no magic pitch formula that can guarantee success. But there are some general parameters. First, mention the title of the book and its genre. Second, mention that’s a completed novel, and not just a work in progress (it is complete, right?). Then give a summary of your book in two-to-four sentences. Think interesting. Think creative. Think about what kind of book would you want to read?

Example: “Mists of Serenity is a completed urban fantasy about Serenity, a high school senior with magic powers she inherited from her dead grandmother. But she doesn’t know she has these powers until her life is threatened by a clan of time-traveling Mongols who happen to appear in her hometown of Roanoke, Virginia just in time to wreck her Senior Prom…”

Okay, you get the idea. Refine your pitch over and over until it sounds pitch-perfect (pun intended). Then read it aloud, as many times it takes until you can recite it at will. Yeah, you’ll probably mess up a couple words when you’re actually in front of an agent/editor, but you’ll get enough of it right to convince them that you know what you’re talking about. The pitch itself shouldn’t take more than 15-20 seconds to recite, in my opinion. Any longer than that and you run the risk of sounding like a motor-mouth, or a used car salesperson. Be like Muhammad Ali: float and sting. And smile.

Tip #6: Reel them in. So you’ve approached a suitable agent or editor, introduced yourself without vomiting, and even blurted out your pitch. If you’ve done your job, they may be showing signs of interest. They ask to hear more. They want to know more about the main character. Does she have a boyfriend who factors into the story? What kind of magic does she possess? Boom. It’s like the heavens have opened, and a choir of angels is singing your name. Awesome. But you’re not quite out of the woods yet. See, the agent/editor has taken the bait, but they’re still a long way from your net. So smile. Be interesting. Be charming. And stop with the I-want-to-wear-your-skin-as-a-bathrobe eyes!

If all goes well, you will asked to submit something, either the entire manuscript (YAY!) or a sample of a few chapters (yay!) with a synopsis, etc… At this point you deserve to feel good about yourself. On the strength of your pitch and your personality, you just gained a foothold into the industry. That’s how it starts.

Tip #7: Don’t take it personal. Even if you do everything right—the prep, the pitch, the smile—there’s still a chance your proposal will be rejected out of hand. Wait? What went wrong? Maybe nothing. It could be a simple case of barking up the wrong tree. Stories are highly personal, a ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ kind of thing. For whatever reason, your story didn’t pique their interest. It’s not the end of the world. Dust yourself off, check for tire prints on your rear end, and get back in the saddle. For a writer serious about going professional, rejection is part of the game. You’ll either develop a thick skin, or you’ll flunk out and go back to macramé. Actually, after the first thirty or forty rejections, it doesn’t sting so much. Buy me a beer sometime, and I’ll tell you about the box of rejection letters I keep in my attic. And let me tell you; every ‘no’ you rack up on the way to success makes the ‘yes’ all that much sweeter.

Good luck.

Next stop: the submission proposal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Giving Thanks

Since we're in the middle of the holiday trifecta (TG, Xmas, and NYE), I want to take a moment to give thanks for all that I have received this year.

I'm thankful for my family, my wife, Jenny, and our son, Logan. I never thought life could be so rewarding, but every day is better than the last.

I'm thankful for our extended family; our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. So many have volunteered their time and energy to help us as new parents. It's marvelous to witness how Logan has brought our entire family closer together.

I'm thankful for Lou Anders and Pyr Books for giving me an opportunity to share my writing with the world. One of my main New Years wishes is to make them very glad they chose me. I'm also grateful to all the other publishers who have taken on the book, and to all those who jump on the Shadow-Train in the coming year.

I'm thankful to my agent, Eddie Schneider, and his (professional) partner, Joshua Bilmes, at JABberwocky for taking in a poor wretch like me. Likewise, I aim to prove myself a wise investment of their time and talents.

I'm thankful for our friends, for their love and support. They make our lives richer.

I wish all of you a safe and merry holiday season, and a wonderful new year.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shadow's Son reviewed on Goodreads.com!

This took me completely by surprise.

My book, which isn't going to be released until next June, already has a review on Goodreads.com. Is that crazy or what? Even better, it's a nice review, so I didn't have to brood about the house for a few days after reading it.

So how did this person manage to read a book which is still more than six months away from publication? Checking her profile, I see she is from the Czech Republic... the same country where the Shadow Saga was recently bought by Fantom Press. I'm guessing the reviewer must work for Fantom or one of the other publishers which was shown the manuscript.

Anyway, thank you KatiKat for the kind words!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day!

Wishing a very happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Shadow in the Czech Republic

The Shadow Saga trilogy will be published in the Czech Republic by Fantom Press. No details about when to expect it yet.

So far, the book will be seen in the U.S. (duh), U.K., France, Germany, and the Czech Rep. I'm hoping this will give me an excuse to go see all these places...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Caught up!

Okay. Now we're all caught up. This will now be my main blog. The website will be used for updates about my writing, including the whens/wheres/whys/whos/and hows about my upcoming books.

The first one's already on Amazon! (shameless ad)

World Fantasy Con

World. Fantasy. Con.

Just the name of it was enough to get me all twisted up inside with equal parts of awe, anticipation, and anxiety. Since Jenny and I haven't had a vacation since Logan's birth last year, we made the trip together and I'm glad we did. Everything we experienced was heightened for someone with share it with.

This year WFC was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, CA. Wow. The Fairmont is lavish and beautiful--our room was more like a suite. We ate like a king and queen all weekend. On Friday, we met with Jonathan Schiefer of "Adventures in SciFi Publishing" for a podcast interview. I was a little nervous, but Jonathan made the process painless and I think I gave a good interview. Afterward, he took us out to lunch, which was my first free meal as an author. Thank you, Mr. Schiefer!

That evening Jenny and I met with Jo Fletcher, a publisher at Gollancz, the house that will be putting out the U.K. edition of my books. She brought a gaggle of Brits with her and we all went out for a wonderful dinner filled with laughter, alcohol, and witty conversation. The party continued back at the hotel bar for several hours.

Saturday I met with my agents, Eddie and Joshua, in person for the first time. We had a short "business" meeting (just typing that makes me feel so damned professional) in the afternoon, and then they took Jenny and I out to dinner along with a throng of other JABberwocky authors. Big names like Kat Richardson, Peter Brett, Tim Akers, and others were in attendance. And, like the previous night, many of us returned to the hotel bar for drinks and more talk afterward. It was great getting to know Eddie a little better, having talked to him on the phone and via email so many times. He's a very cool guy and smarter than the proverbial whip. He's going to be a huge name in this industry.

Sadly, we had to leave on Sunday (way too early), but it was an awesome trip with memories I'll never forget and new friendships I hope to sustain for a long time.

Fav Movies

I love movies. Jenny and I don't sit around in dark theaters wearing a black beret, but we see a good many films each year (more before the arrival of our son, but we still get out of the house now and again). Although watching DVDs at home can be nice, there is still something special about going to a theater. And stadium-style seats are now mandatory components of our life like broadband internet and HD tv.

Good movies, like good books, enrich our lives. They show us a slice of another perspective, another existence. They make you feel.
Great movies can change the way you think.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention bad movies. I don't know how a multi-billion-dollar industry can continue to crank out recycled crap each year, but they manage to do so with astounding regularly (pun intended). It seems to get worse every summer. CGI is a wonderful tool, but when the entire plot of your film centers around the special effects, then you need to consider a new profession. The same goes for any movie based on a theme park ride. Yes, I'm talking to those frauds who have perpetrated such crapola fests as Transformers (either one), Pirates of the Caribbean (take out Johnny Deep and all you've got left is Keira Knightly's corset-enhanced bosom), and too many others to name. I'd add G.I. Joe to the list, but I was smart enough not to see it.

Here (in no particular order) are some of my favorites:

Stars Wars (original three episodes): My inner Geek insisted that I name the holy trinity first. A New Hope, which I saw seventeen times in the theater at the tender age of seven, had a major impact on how I would later view movies, drama, and even art. Although Mr. Lucas has his share of horrible ideas (i.e., ewoks, Jar-Jar, senatorial proceedings as a dramatic device), the good far outweighs the bad in this trilogy. Of the three, Empire is my favorite. It starts with a wallop -- the awesome battle at Hoth -- and just keeps adding the tension, and the delights. If you don't own these movies on DVD (or well-preserved vhs), I have to wonder what you've been wasting your time on.

Lord of the Rings (all three parts): Peter Jackson took three very good, but very LONG books and condensed them into one of the greatest movie spectacles of my life. These films have eveything you want: grandeur, elegance, grittiness, excellent costumes and make-up, special effects that add to the movie and don't dominate to the exclusion of everything else (I'm looking at you, Mr. Bay), action, adventure, friendship, betrayal, love, heartbreak, sacrifice, honor.... For a real treat, take a day off and watch all three extended versions back-to-back-to-back. Not many things could hold my attention for fifteen straight hours, but I predict that LotR will stand the test of time.

Amadeus: I am by no means a big fan of classical music. Heavy metal is more my style (Up the Irons!). But this haunting tale about the life (and death) of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stays with you long after the final credits. The musical score is incredible -- it even got me to spend my hard-earned cash on (gasp) classical CDs. Trust me. This one's a keeper.

Braveheart: Mel Gibson may have broken our hearts with his racist diatribes and uber-religious streak, but he delivers in this awesome story of a Scotsman out to avenge the death of his bonny lass. Who knows if it's historically accurate, this movie has some of the BEST battle scenes ever. The characters are just terrific on both sides of the struggle.

Ghostbusters I: One of the funniest movies ever without resorting to penis-jokes (well, not many). Bill Murray's magnum opus -- zanny, irreverent, probably more than a little allegorical, and it also boasts one of the worst sequels in modern history.

The Curious Case of the Benjamin Button: I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried at the end of this movie. Of course, my wife and I were just weeks away from the birth of our son, so the ending was super-powerful to us. Still, a clever story attached to strong tugs on the old heartstrings. Excellent pacing (ignore the idiots who complained about it's slow pace. Not everything should be G.I. Joe.).

Conan the Barbarian: The movie that made Arnold a star and one of his best action roles along with Terminator and Predator. Arnold is the face of Conan to modern generations, for better and worse. It's a little campy in places, but that was par for the course as far as fantasy pictures until LotR came along. For once, the Governator's lacks of emoting is a GOOD thing.

The Godfather (I and II): So much has been said of these films that I won't bother adding my two cents. If you haven't seen them, run to the video store and rent them both. Hell, rent Number Three also; it isn't as good, but still better than most of the stuff coming out these days.

The Seven Samurai: I know it's in black and white, and it's sub-titled, but this is a great, great movie. Full of gravity and wit, similar to Braveheart in its temperment (without the modern effects). If you like fights that look and feel realistic, warriors that act like warriors and not Hollywood pretty-boys (or pretty-girls. Sorry, Angie J.), check out this movie.

That's it for now.

Fav Books

Today I wanted to share some of my favorite books.

My all-time favorite novel is Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I discovered it when I was in high school and since then I think I've read it about ten times. Every time, I am enthralled by Heinlein's rich futuristic world that somehow encapsulates the nuances of the 60's (at least, how I envision the 60's). For me, the book is also special because it marks the first time I was able to see, as someone who aspired to become a writer, how a book could contain a powerful universal message without sacrificing the story.

Next on my list a two-way tie for second place, between J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Black Company by Glen Cook. These two novels are the bookends in my fantasy pantheon.

Tolkien's epic opus is a piece of remarkable scope. I've heard it said by professionals in the industry that a book/trilogy like LotR couldn't be published today. It's too ambitious. Too different, or it was at the time of its publication. And yet, nearly every fantasy author I know claims it as an important influence. I try to read the triology every few years. It's almost like a pilgrimage. While I don't write anything like the late Mr. Tolkien, I can appreciate the richness of his language, and the dedication to devote such a large part of one's life to an imaginary world.

The Black Company, by contrast, is a series of such grit and nastiness that it can almost be considered the anti-Tolkien. I call it fantastic realism, and it's a school of thought I follow with vigor. On the surface, TBC is almost simplistic. The names of the characters (Goblin, Croaker, Silent, Lady) and setting (cities such as Opal and Charm) are so plain as to be descriptive, but deep currents stir beneath the surface. Intrigue plagues the Company from start to finish and you can never be quite sure where anyone's loyalties lie, which makes for a delicious read.

That's it for today. Stay posted for some of my favorite (and least) movies.

Edit: I forgot one of my favorite books from outside the genre.

In Anna Karenina (better than his more-famous War and Peace in my humble opinion), Tolstoy explores themes of marriage and fidelity. His command of language and pure human emotion is out of this world. It's really a book that a writer has to hate on some level, because you realize as you're reading it that you will never write anything half this good. But then, Tolstoy is a master.


Today's topic is fiction publication. Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the entire publishing industry, but I've been cruising around the block for a few years and I've made some observations.

1) Writing is a frustrating business.

And business is the operative word. If you enjoy writing as a hobby, something to fill the void in your days, or perhaps to delight your special someone, then it's fine and dandy. But the moment you decide to take a chance and send your little darling out into the world in search of publication, you quickly realize that you've crossed over from Candyland onto (Nightmare on) Elm Street. Perhaps it's because artists tend to see the world in abstracts. We think to ourselves, "Hey, my mom likes this story. It must be good!" Even the first rejection slip can be explained away. That editor wouldn't know a good story if it hit him in the (insert body part). It isn't until the rejections start piling up (and, yes, I keep every one. I used to fantasize about writing everyone who had ever turned down one of my pieces once I got published and giving them a verbal raspberry, but I honestly couldn't afford the postage.) that you begin to realize that good old mom isn't the most reliable source for objective criticism.

But back to my point. Publication is a business. It has to make money in order to survive. That means ruthless competition, because these days everyone with access to a computer, laptop, blackberry, or pencil is trying to sell something they wrote. Because writing is easy, right?

2) Writing well is difficult.

I fell into this trap early on. I mean, we write stuff everyday: grocery lists, phone numbers, lame excuses to the landlord, love letters to our pets... Writing a book is just like doing those things, only a few hundred times back-to-back. Right? And ideas for books are everywhere. I can't tell you how many people have, upon learning that I'm a writer, suggested "the BEST idea" for a book. Usually it's the book they would write if they "just had the time," but I can have the idea for free if I just promise to mention them on the dedication page. This, more than any other reason, is why I cringe every time my well-meaning wife tells someone I've just met that "this is my husband. He's a writer." Most of these people probably think I'm an a complete a$$hole because my first instinct is to mutter something self-depreciating and duck away like a vampire presented with a crucifix smelling of garlic. Well, I can be a right bastard, but that's a topic for another day.

And all this stems from the fact that writing seems rather easy. You string together a few words and -- presto! -- you've got a sentence. Sentences turned into paragraphs, and pages, and so forth. But writing WELL is the trick. It's damned hard. Harder than I imagined when I first started writing with a mind to publish. And the worst part is, the more you study and practice and sweat, the more you realize that you don't know shit. Writing is just like every other skill. You start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder. And maybe, after you've paid your dues and done your homework, after you've re-read and torn apart and reassembled your story until you can recite it in your sleep, if the stars align and Lady Luck smiles upon you, then perhaps you might get a break. Perhaps.

3) Don't quite your day job. (No, really.)

Anyone who wants to get rich, or even earn a decent wage, would be better off looking elsewhere. I used to think that I would make my living with writing. That belief ended on the day my parents told me to either start paying rent or move out of their basement. I was 22 and already had an impressive pile of rejection slips to my name. Now, it may seem to the casual observer that all any writer needs is one homerun idea for a book to hit the big time. We live in a viral world where popularity can spark in an instant and go worldwide overnight. And it's confusing to new writers because many of these mega-best-sellers are (and there's no nice way of saying this) rather poorly written, even to the casual reader. I won't mention any names for fear that one day I may be on a panel with one of these authors.

The honest truth is, if you are writing for anything other than the pure pleasure of it, for the feeling you get when you're hitting your stride and the words are flowing like honeyed mead from your soul, for the reader buried inside you, then don't do it at all. And if you're not happy with the person you see in the mirror, then getting published isn't going to change anything. Publication isn't the whole meal, it's just the icing on a cake that tastes pretty good all by itself.

Greetings, Part II

Howdy. I'm transferring all the blog entries from my website (www.jonsprunk.com) to this page. This is the very first:

Hello, folks!

First, I'd like to thank everyone for tuning in. For this first post, I don't have a long spiel, except to say that I feel very thankful to be finally breaking into the ranks of published authors. I have been reading fantasy/scifi since I was quite young. I started with novels like 'The Hobbit' and 'Kothar and the Wizard Slayer' (thank you, Gardner Fox). I suppose my writing is a natural extension of my love for those early books. I often dreamed of publishing my own stories, but it wasn't until a small press by the name of Fantasist Enterprises accepted my short story, 'The Artist,' that I got my first taste of professional credit. I published two more stories with FE, and a couple elsewhere, but the entire time I yearned for the real prize: a novel.

I'd written three books before 'Shadow's Son.' I pitched two of them at conventions to various agents and publishers, got some inklings of interest, but always the inevitable rejection. (The first book I ever wrote to completion is, as they say, the book of my heart. I don't know if it will ever see publication, but it's passages and themes are never far from my thoughts.)

Anyway, when Lou Anders (Pyr Books) offered me a tenative deal for 'Son," I was over the moon. I'd dreamed of that day for so long, I didn't really know how to react. Except to thank Lou profusely, and then call my wife at work to share the news. She cried.

After that, events proceeded at a whirlwind pace. Before I could blink, my agent (Eddie Schneider of JABberowkcy) had negotiated a three-book deal for the entire Shadow Saga. Lou was talking about some artists he was considering for the cover art. There was the dreaded Author Questionaire to fill out for the PR department.

Then came the rewrites. I won't lie. Upon submission, some part of me considered 'Son' to be complete as-is; perfect in every way. I suppose most authors must feel this way. Otherwise, how could we ever send our babies out into the cruel world? But once I read the publisher's notes (and my agent's notes -- he had some ideas as well), I understood what they were saying. So, I dug in. Fortunately, it wasn't as painful as I had feared. The changes didn't require me to rewrite the entire book from front to back. And, as I worked, I found a few other places that could use improvement. Finally, my work completed, I submitted the new and improved manuscript to Eddie, and he passed it along to Pyr.

That was a week ago. I've heard that Lou is reading it between his many other projects (the man is a machine). So what now? Well, I'm back to work, working on the next book. The pressure is on. Writing isn't just a hobby now, it's a profession, and one I intend to perform well.

Anyway, that's enough for now. I'll try to keep this blog going on the regular. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think.

-- Jon

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Events

I love book signings, even when I'm not the one sitting behind the table with pen in hand. I guess it's the air of excitement, the chance to see that rare creature -- a publisher author -- live and in the flesh. For most of us who have spent a significant part of our lives with our noses pressed into a book, authors are like exotic animals. They live far away and you usually only get to see one on TV or in a magazine. Book events are a chance to get up close and semi-personal. If you're lucky, the author is a proficient public speaker and you get a glimmer of what makes them tick.

Recently, I attended a reading/signing event for Brandon Sanderson. For those of you who don't follow fantasy, Brandon has just taken over the WHEEL OF TIME series after the untimely and unfortunate passing of its creator, Robert Jordan. WOT has a huge following across the world and it was clear from his first remarks that Brandon fully comprehends the colossal shoes he has stepped into. In person, Brandon is gracious, friendly, humble, and engaging -- all the things you wish to see and hear in an author the first time you meet them. Furthermore, he took the time to speak to every person who approached him to get a book signed. When it was my turn, I proudly informed Mr. Sanderson that he and I share the same literary agency, and that my debut novel will be coming out soon. He made the appropriate comments of congratulation, which led me to congratulating him for such a successful book launch. It was a short exchange, but I left the table feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

And that is exactly the feeling we want to impart to our readers, that we care about them and we want to produce works of high quality that they will enjoy for years to come. For me, it's a bit of a difficulty, not because I don't feel those things, but because I'm a bit of a recluse. Public engagements are a frightening prospect. I have watched seasoned professionals work a crowd with practiced ease, and known that I could never be that person. Hopefully, I will strike a balance between hermit and salesman. So, if you attend one of my events sometime in the future and you see me sitting/standing alone (pen in hand), come over and say hello. If you promise not to laugh at my tie, I'll promise not to pressure you into buying one of my books.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hello, world!

Howdy, folks. I don't have much to say atm, but I wanted to introduce myself. I am a SFFH writer living in central PA. My debut novel, Shadow's Son (Pyr Books), will be released in June 2010.