It’s supposed to be bad for authors to pay too much attention to reviews, but hey, it’s my first.
I’m really too tired to write (okay, too tired to type), but I wanted to get this entry down while it was clear in my mind. Today my wife and I finished the annual two-day marathon known as volunteering at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
We work as author escorts (this year renamed “speaker escorts,” apparently to reflect the Festival’s increased involvement of art and music). Our job is to guide authors and their entourages across the USC campus (the site of the Festival) to their speaking engagements and autographing sites. For this we get a t-shirt, lunch, free parking, and front-row seats to some pretty interesting panel discussions. (One year we were backstage for an Aimee Mann concert. A few years ago, I was personal escort to Buzz Aldrin. I was closer to him than anyone but his interviewer. It makes a good conversation piece.) We also, we like to joke, sometimes protect authors from too-eager fans.
And that’s the most amazing thing. These authors have fans. I’m not talking about “Can I have your autograph?” fans, although there are plenty of those (sometimes literally hundreds), but “Can I have your autograph on my (fill in the body part)?” fans. We’re not talking J.K. Rowling here, but one YA author today signed books (and only books) for 90 minutes after her panel. And she’s only got three novels out. If you think kids aren’t into books, you weren’t there this afternoon.
And let us not forget this is in Los Angeles. Tinsel Town. Videoville. If an annual bookfest in LA draws 130,000 people (as this consistently does), then the printed word is far from dead. Every one of those fans in line had a physical book, mostly hardcovers, many more than one.
There weren’t any chairs left at the panel talk today, and then we stood for 90 minutes while the authors were signing, then we walked them back to the green room. For the second day in a row. In addition to walking the festival shopping on our own. So yes, I’m a bit worn out.
And next year we’ll go back to do it again. Unless, of course, I’m one of the authors on stage.
My newest novel, Once a Knight, is now live at Smashwords. It’s the story of two men, Bruce Legume, the legendary White Samurai, Whose Coming is Foretold in Terms Both Glowing and Long-winded, and Stephen Legume, horse thief, card sharp, and wife-stealer. When Bruce is exiled from Japan (was it a technicality, or something more mysterious?), he must set out half-way across the world to discover the secret of his long-lost family. Unfortunately, his long-lost family starts with Stephen.
Bruce has a quest. Stephen has nothing better to do. Together they will fight pirates, Vikings, assassins, and lipgloss-crazed Amazons on their way to unraveling the Family Secret, which holds the key not only to their own survival, but to the life and liberty of nations.
Can they solve the riddle of their birth? Can they win out over the hordes who want to kill them? Can they keep from killing each other?
Alone and alienated, Bruce must put all of his faith into Stephen as guide, mentor, and friend.
Hey, even the legendary White Samurai is entitled to one mistake.
If you’re like me, for years an aspiring writer, you probably get a special thrill every time the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” comes on the radio. I dream of the day I will, in fact, be a paperback writer. (Yes, hardcovers are better, but that’s not what the song’s about.)
And yet, I also can’t help but think, every time, of how much of a hash the writer in the song makes of his pitch. I mean, can you count the mistakes?
1) “Dear sir or madam, will you read my book?” Okay, right there, learn the editor’s name! And if you can’t find it, say, “Dear editor.” For heaven’s sake, stop flaunting your ignorance. Not that there isn’t plenty to go around.
2) “I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer…” Oh, brother, if you need money, you are in the wrong business. First, you’re submitting your novel over the transom (without an agent), so your markets are limited. (They were less limited back in the day, but still.) Second, even if you sell, it’ll be months before you see any real money–as in, maybe never. The advance on a first book is not going to pay your bills for long, and you’ll probably never see another cent from that book.
3) “His son is working for the Daily Mail. It’s a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer…” An aspiring writer writing about an aspiring writer. How original. But he did point out that “it’s a dirty story,” which should net him points.
4) “It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few… I make it longer if you like the style, I can change it round…” Oh man. Assuming we’re talking a thousand manuscript pages, that’s a 250,000 – 300,000 word novel. There are trilogies that only run 300,000 words. Make it longer? Make it stop! And if you can “change it round,” it’s not done. Or else you have no idea what you’re doing. Any editor that reads past this point in your letter has had too many martinis at lunch.
5) “If you really like it, you can have the rights.” I sincerely hope I do not have to explain what’s wrong with that sentence.
6) “It could make a million for you overnight.” Sell the story, not the sales. It won’t make a million overnight. The editor knows that, and the writer should know better than to say it.
7) “If you must return it, you can send it here / But I need a break…” Don’t be whiny.
The moral of the story is, don’t take novel submission advice from a songwriter, not even one of the greatest writing teams of all time. Because while Lennon and McCartney might have sold a novel with that pitch, you won’t.
I still love the song, though.
My new novelette, “Rights and Wrongs,” has gone live at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. Write and let me know what you think!
My latest sci-fi blockbuster is set to premiere when I’m at a convention. What luck, eh? On the other hand, it’s a mystery convention. But I’m okay with that. And so you’re wondering: “He’s going to talk up his latest SF story at a mystery con. Is he loopy, or what?” Well, yes, I am, but there’s also a method to my loopiness (in this case).
First, my story, “Rights and Wrongs,” set to appear in the next issue of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, is as much a crime drama as science fiction. Very quickly, it explores just how far civil rights extend in a criminal trial context. And there’s some xenophobia, and a murder, and there was a semi-apocalypse about fifteen years earlier. Something for everybody.
But second, mystery fandom is–how can I say this–less entrenched than SF fandom. SF fandom carries around the baggage of paranoia (with some justification). It has been oppressed for so long that it’s become self-protective, and thus insular. (I am speaking in very broad strokes here.) Although SF fandom prides itself on openness, it can ironically be difficult to become a part of. And at the risk of offending my peers, it’s not just limited to the fans.
Mystery cons are different. The first mystery con I ever attended (having virtually no background in mystery fiction) I met more writers than I had in 30 years of SF cons (and I was not yet a published writer myself). Mystery cons are friendlier to newbies. Maybe it’s the average age difference, maybe it’s because they’re smaller…this has been my experience. Your mileage may vary.
I still go to SF cons, and will continue to do so. If I write a space opera or a fantasy trilogy, I’ll bang those drums at Worldcon, not Bouchercon. But in this case, happenstance has put my story’s publication and me at a mystery convention at the right time. And if that’s where I have to start my publicity tour, then I’m okay with that. Maybe I’ll even persuade somebody to switch from Sam Spade to Sam Gamgee.