Meeting Your Heroes

I’ve been a fan of John Scalzi for a while now. Not just his writing, which is excellent on many levels, but in how he presents himself. His blog, Whatever, is exceedingly entertaining, informative, and I think well presented. He doesn’t squash dissenting opinions; quite the opposite in fact, but he does require that you make intelligent arguments that don’t involve personal attacks. My admiration of him extends so far that I borrowed his comment policy, with his permission. In case you haven’t read it, you can find it here. Beyond all that, I respect how his so eagerness to help other writers. Scalzi is a best-selling, award-winning (Hugo) author who has been writing for more than a decade and could rest on his laurels. He doesn’t do that, though. He’s a big supporter of other authors and even devotes a couple of spots a week on his blog to letting authors talk about their upcoming novels. I was lucky enough to get such a spot when The Stolen was released in paperback. You can read my guest post here. I was beyond delighted to get the slot, and he was a gracious host, calmly responding to my frantic emails when I wasn’t sure my materials had been received. I’ve enjoyed many of his books and was hoping to one day meet him, if for nothing else than to thank him for all he does for new authors.

When I learned he was going to be doing a reading for his novel Lock In, in my proverbial backyard, I was hopeful I’d be able to see him. However, I travel for my day job, and when I landed my reading one week after him, at the same venue, I knew my travel schedule wouldn’t allow me to make it. As luck would have it, I was going to be in the same area as him for a future appearance and I was determined to make it to that event. When I did my reading, I was surprised to hear he’d given me a plug during his event. Two words: class act. He even signed a book and left it for me to retrieve. I think it’s a sign of literary success to have John Scalzi as your opening act.

Scalzi_signed

When the day arrived for his talk near my job, I showed up with friends, all of whom were going to enjoy me being a little star struck as much as the event itself. I passed Scalzi on the way in, but he was on the phone and I certainly wouldn’t intrude, so I bided my time. I will say, I thought he’d be taller, but then I often forget how big I am, so most people are shorter than me. We found our seats and the event began. He is a master show man. The audience was mostly, if not entirely, devoted fans, but he still knew how to work the room. I was trying to take mental notes to apply to my future events. He constantly made eye contact with his audience and made his performance look easy. I knew he was funny, his humor is one of the best parts of his writing, but he was even funnier in person. He read a couple of humorous essays and from a chapter of Lock In that was edited out, so we were the only ones to get to hear it. He also spoke about the GamerGate movement, which if you’re not familiar with it, here are some places to catch up: Gawker, Time, and Newsweek. Scalzi has been unflinching in his confrontation of those in GamerGate, and one thing he said really stuck with me. People have been accusing him of “white knighting” for the women who have been threatened with death and rape, some of whom have literally fled their homes in fear. His reply was, and I’m paraphrasing, that white knighting is when you step in front and say I’ll protect you. It isn’t white knighting to stand with those being threatened and say I’m with you and this isn’t right and I won’t just stand aside while watching it happen.

He also did a Q&A, and then it was time for the signing. I’d brought a copy of The Stolen that I had signed for him and I was hoping to get a couple of minutes with him so I purposely went to the end of the line, even letting a couple people cut in front of me. When I reached the table, I was a little tongue-tied, but I gave him the book and he responded politely and, I thought, sincerely. He said it was nice to meet me and asked how my event went. Of course, I’d planned what I wanted to say and, of course, it was gone. I did manage to thank him on behalf of all the new authors he has helped. He smiled and said he was just paying it forward. One of my friends took a picture of him and me while we shared some quick conversation, but there was still one person in line behind me, so he shook my hand and I went on my way.

Scalzi_BFF

They say you’re not supposed to meet your heroes, that you can only be disappointed. I don’t know as I’d call him my hero as much as someone I respect and admire, both personally and professionally. Professionally, he’s achieved great success, but is eager to offer a portion of his spotlight to help others. I’ve heard him say, or rather read that he’s said, more than once, and worded in different ways, that he doesn’t believe anyone has to lose for someone else to win in the writing world. He’s made it up the ladder and rather than pulling it up after him, he drops more ladders down to help others up. He’s got only a couple years on me in terms of age, but I hope if I ever reach a level of success anywhere near his, I stay as down to earth and genuinely appreciative. Personally, he stands up for, and most importantly with, those who are bullied and harassed for daring to have an opinion that differs from others. He believes everyone should be treated fairly and with respect, no matter their opinions, up until they start treating others in an unfair, disrespectful manner. His philosophy seems to be (I wouldn’t presume to speak for him) similar to my own: your right to swing your arms ends just where the other person’s nose begins.

John Scalzi is a good writer, a genuinely good person, and truly a class act. If you ever get the chance to see him in person, run, don’t walk, to his event—you won’t regret it. In the meantime he has a number of books available, some of which I can vouch for as truly excellent reads: Lock In, The Android’s Dream, and Old Man’s War (along with the subsequent books in the series).

 

Just Because

I’ve become a big fan of The Doubleclicks. Their songs are fun and geeky, which I love, and you should really check them out. This song however is remarkably poignant. I know I can relate, and maybe you can too. Perhaps like me, you’ll find some comfort in knowing you aren’t/weren’t the only person to feel this way.

Thanks to Angela and Aubrey for putting it, and yourselves, out there.

Winners and Losers

Perhaps it says something about me (and if it does, I hope it’s good) that when the excitement from receiving the publishing offer from Harper Voyager wore off, I started to think about all those people who submitted their manuscripts but didn’t make the final cut. There were over 4500 submissions. It’s probably safe to say that close to half of those were cut after a short read. Perhaps the manuscript just wasn’t ready to be published; I certainly started submitting The Stolen before it was ready. But this post isn’t about that level of rejection. I covered that pretty thoroughly in here, and here. No, the people I thought about were the last hundred or so who made it to the final stage, waiting more than a year, only to get the dreaded “no thank you” email. I think as writers, after a while we start to expect rejections, but that really doesn’t help. It’s especially bad when you make it to that last step, only to have the door close in front of you. The Stolen was submitted to 118 different agents, and that’s after getting it edited. There were probably 40+ before that. Out of those 118, I received six requests to see the whole manuscript; on one occasion I even had two agents request it at the same time. I was sure that was a sign and that I’d get an offer of representation. Spoiler alert, they all passed. So I understand how that feels, to almost make it, but not. We all know the adages: there are no points for second place, second place is the first loser, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, etc. That’s when I saw a post on Absolute Write, on a thread tracking forum members’ progress in the submission process. I was lurking at the time, having been chided for a comment I posted announcing the publication offer before I was supposed to. The author of it put it in such perfect terms, I’m not even going to try to summarize. It deserves a direct quote (with permission granted from the author):

I was thinking about this last night. I always thought, back when the call started, that the saddest person was the one who would come in 13 out of 12. You know? The one who ran the whole race, who survived every cull, but still had no prize at the end. That’s probably going to be me and several other people here.

On the one hand, I’m sad that I basically did all the work and got none of the reward. On the other hand, it’s nice to remember that we clearly did something right with at least ONE editor in this process, or one assistant. At the very least, our work was probably considered publishable. In the end, it fell because of a matter of taste, not talent.

I sometimes think that the greatest moment of weakness that happens to an aspiring writer, when they’re most compelled to give it all up, is not when they get rejected, but when they almost succeed. It’s a long fall, and sometimes you don’t want to get up again. I’m sort of feeling that as I rush towards a probable rejection.

But if you do get up again, you can remember that at least one, probably several professional editors thought you had some real promise and ability. In my opinion, once you’re there, getting SOMEWHERE is only a matter of time and will.

So this is a long, drawn out way of saying that even though this is going to be kind of a crappy week, and we should all be allowed to go into our caves and sulk for a bit, that the bright side is really very…bright.

Anyway. Rant over.

You can find the original post here. I read that post knowing I’d made it, but seeing others languishing with no news. I felt for them, and I knew MerchantIV (the author of that post) was right: a number of people would make it right to the end only to fall all the way back down. It’s true that in life there are winners and losers, but it’s important to remember that losing doesn’t mean failing. Those Olympians who take home silver and bronze medals are understandably upset they didn’t win gold, but they still wear those silver and bronze medals with pride. Writing is about winning by inches, a slow progression. Sure, some people land publishing deals on their first tries, but they’re the exception not the rule. The rest of us make a long, hard slog to get to publication. It’s easy to feel like a failure and think about giving it up. The thing to remember is that you’re the only one who can decide if you’re a failure or not. So long as you get up and try again, you didn’t fail, you just lost one. It’s not fun or easy, but if it were, people wouldn’t react the way they do when you say you’re an author. Publishing a book happens with hard work, determination, talent, and more than a little luck. It’s brutal and not for everyone, but if it’s what you want, don’t ever let anyone tell you to give up. Besides, the victory is so much sweeter when you’ve had losses along the way. Just ask a Red Sox fan.

When You Wish Upon a Star, and Work Really Hard, and Don’t Ever Give Up, and Get More Than a Little Lucky… (How I Got a Publishing Offer)

Before I begin, please give me a moment.

I got a publishing offer! AAAAHHHHHHH!

hobbes

Thank you.

More than twenty months ago, Harper Voyager (the science fiction and fantasy branch of Harper Collins) had an open submission window. For two weeks, one of the major publishing houses was going to accept manuscripts from authors who didn’t have agents. The link is still active, harper-voyager-guidelines-for-digital-submission/, for those of you interested in reading the details. I submitted The Stolen (previously titled Stolen Child) with high hopes. The initial assessment was that over 4,500 manuscripts were submitted. Truth to tell, I expected they’d receive many more, but as it turns out, they were expecting many less. The original plan was to have a list of twelve new authors to release digitally, with the possibility of print publication, in three months. For the next fifteen months, updates were posted every two to three months. Eventually Harper Voyager decided to notify everyone if they were accepted or not, instead of just letting authors assuming after a certain period of time that they were not accepted.

So I waited.

Waiting 1

And I waited.

Waiting 3

And I waited some more.

Waiting 2

In fact, my wait is how this blog came to be. I’d been planning for awhile on setting one up and decided this was the perfect time. If I was selected, I’d have the basis of an online presence to help in marketing. If I wasn’t, I’d have the basis of an online presence for if/when I decided to self-publish.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how hard it was sometimes. With no word meaning The Stolen was still under consideration, I began to panic that perhaps the rejection had gone to my spam folder and I’d deleted it. In the updates submitters were told we could check on our status by emailing Harper Voyager. I did, and didn’t hear back. As you can imagine, that didn’t help. After two months, I sent another message and received a reply in less than twenty-four hours: I was indeed still under consideration! I was hopeful, but after so many rejections before, staying positive wasn’t always easy. When it was hard though, I reminded myself that every day I wasn’t rejected was one day closer to making it.

The final update came on December 19th. They were down to 295 submissions, and everyone would be notified one way or the other by the end of January.

Luckily the end of the year was busy for me. I started a new contract for my day job as a consultant in the utilities industry and tried, often unsuccessfully, not to think about The Stolen still being under consideration.

Then the email arrived. I saw the notification light on my phone blinking, and when I checked my email, I saw a message from Harper Collins. Now, all this happened in half of a tenth of a second, but I remember thinking that when the message arrived, how hard I might find it to open because it could be either a rejection or an offer. In fact, until I opened it, it was both. It was Schrödinger’s cat. Well, as it turned out, the email program on my phone shows the first two lines of the message along with the title and the sender. I read “Dear Mr. O’Connell, We are delighted to offer you—”  and my brain stopped. After a while of taking it all in and utterly losing my mind, I recovered enough to start thinking clearly. That meant, I started planning what to do next.

Of course I replied to the editor, thanking her for her offer, and I did NOT accept it. If I had, there would be no negotiation, just me accepting the first offer they made.

Next, I sent out emails to agents. I don’t have one and I want one to negotiate my offer for me. I’m not stupid, but I know very little about the publishing industry. I want, in fact I need, someone there who can ensure I’m not taken advantage of. That’s sound advice for anyone signing any kind of offer. Now, as I’d exhausted the list of possible agents in my genre by having submitted my manuscript to them over the last couple of years, I had to send messages to those who’d already passed on my book, sometimes more than once. I will admit, this gave me more than a bit of satisfaction. I am, however, mature and reasonable, so I restrained my inner child.

Neener-neener

As I’m writing this, I’m waiting to hear back from a few of the agents. I also contacted a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property, specifically the publishing world. From the responses I’ve received, this is what I learned.

An agent charges a percentage against all profits made from the title(s), and apparently, it doesn’t matter if they found the publishing offer or you did. Lawyers charge by the hour. So, a lawyer will cost more up front, but then the costs are done. An agent costs nothing now, but gets a piece of every dollar you make on those titles (15 percent is the normal rate I’m seeing).

I won’t post the details of the offer, but I will say it was for The Stolen , and its sequel, currently titled The Forgotten. I’ve also been told I need to change the title as there’s already a book with that title that achieved some level of success (that change has already happened). I’m disappointed, but I knew that was a possibility.

What happens next?

I have no idea. Well, I have very little idea. This is new to me, and I’m guessing it might be to you as well. I admit, I’ve never quite understood, or was at all interested in the more personal blogs, those akin to digital diaries for the world to read. It’s fine if that’s your thing, I’ll withhold any judgment, but I just can’t get myself to believe much of what happens in my daily life is worth reporting. Having said that, this journey unto which I’m venturing might in fact be of interest to others, so I’m going to make more of my blog entries hence forth, a sort of travelogue of my journey to publication. To be clear, I’m not an idiot. I know full well something could come up and scuttle this whole process. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but if it does, that’ll be part of the journey, and I’ll tell you about it. Then, I’ll choose my next path and go from there.

I don’t ask for your adulation, praise, or envy. Congratulations are welcome and appreciated, but not necessary. I worked hard to achieve this. I spent years crafting the book, working with editors, and improving my skills as a writer. I also know that I was more than a bit lucky. People say “I’d rather be lucky than good,” I rather like knowing (in this instance at least) I was a bit of both.

To those of you still querying agents, sending out samples, and searching for publishers who will read your work, I salute you. Keep the faith, stay on the path. As I said in my first post, Your Baby is Ugly

“I know one day my book(s) will sit on a shelf and I’ll make a living on my writing. I know this because I also know that you’ll never succeed if you give up. The people who succeeded say you can too, the people who gave up say you can’t. Who are you going to listen to?”

Some might be confused by this since I posted the release date not long ago. That’s understandable. You see, this post was written in January, when I got the offer. However, when I was, almost literally, about to post this, I got word I needed to keep the offer quiet until Harper made the official announcement. Since they have I can now post this. I did consider rewriting it, but decided not to since it really captured my joy, shock, and mind-blowing delight at getting the offer. Posting it brought me back to that moment, and that’s why I posted it, to share that joy with others.

Here are some links to the official announcement:

HarperCollins

Publisher’s Weekly

 

 

A Flagrant Tease

Success! I’m delighted beyond words to announce that my book The Stolen, previously titled The Stolen Child, is set to be published and will be released on July 22nd of this year! I can’t tell you who will be publishing it, but be sure to check back as the official announcement should be coming very soon. While I can’t share it, yet, I’ve seen the cover art and trust me when I tell you that it is excellent!

More to come.

That is all.

Come on, with a title like “A Flagrant Tease” what did you expect?

Letting Go of Your Work

If you pursue any kind of artistic endeavor, you invest a lot into it. Ernest Hemingway once said; “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I’m not a big Hemingway fan, but I think his mastery of the simply stated shines through here. Blood, sweat, and tears aren’t always a metaphor. Having invested so much of ourselves, and our time, into our writing (or any art form), we become quite attached to it, and understandably so. It’s not a coincidence my first entry was called “Your Baby is Ugly.” In a very real sense, our writing can be like our children. We birth it, we raise it, we marvel as it grows and develops, we protect it when we feel it’s being attacked. And sometimes, we even see it die, but please don’t email me about what a bad comparison that is. I’m not saying that the death of something you’ve written is even in the same solar system as losing a child. However, as I said, we do become attached to those things we work hard to create, and so it becomes a handy analogy. Through all the stages, there’s a final step we often forget, which is that our beloved creation takes on a life of its own. It becomes something separate from us and ventures into the world. That hard part is letting go.

Now, I don’t mean in the literal sense of submitting your writing. I’m talking about the next step after that, when it actually gets into someone else’s hands. Once you share your writing, it’s not yours anymore. This might sound like a romantic notion, but there’s more to it than that. What I mean is what your writing “means.” Sure, you’ll be able to tell people what it’s about: the story, plot, and characters, but your thoughts on what you’re trying to express are no longer the only correct ones.

Each of us is truly unique. We each take different paths through our lives, and even the things we share in common are seen through lenses shaped by previous experiences. Combine that with our individual genetic predispositions (to whatever impact they may have), our ever changing world, and you can see how astronomical are the odds of any two people having the same set of experiences. As such, we all experience the world in different ways. Take Starry Night by Van Gogh, one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night I don’t know if we have any kind of record what Vincent was thinking when he composed this, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. Odds are we’ve all seen this picture. Some of us love it, myself included. Others are more sanguine about it, while still others don’t care for it. Are any of us wrong? Okay, that’s an easy one. How about this; what’s it about? What’s it mean? When you look at it do you see a serene and peaceful night? Does it bring back memories of your childhood? Or do you see a dark and cold night, imagining yourself standing alone on a hillside looking down at the town, at the lit houses where you know you’ll find no comfort? Or do you feel no strong reaction at all? Again, are any of those interpretations wrong?

When you let your writing go, you’re offering it up to the world. Someone could read your work and have a reaction to it that is nowhere near what you’d expected, or perhaps hoped. And yet, the very act of putting it out there is an act of surrender. If someone wants to know, you can explain what you were going for, what inspired you, etc. But, your thoughts are now simply your opinion, one amongst many in fact. Think of a song you love. If the person who wrote it, or performed it, came up to you and told you that what you thought the song was about was completely off base, would it really change how it makes you feel? What it does in your mind?

I recently posted some poems here, and I didn’t say what they meant, or were about, for the reason I just explained. For me, poetry is especially personal. I can tell you what I was thinking and feeling when I wrote it, I could explain the imagery I was going for, but that’s not as relevant as what you think and feel when you read it. Those poems, like anything I put out to the world, are not mine anymore. They’re yours. They’re ours. As writers, as artists, I think we strive for connection in our expressions. I’m storyteller at heart, and of course I love knowing someone was entertained by a story I came up with, but I’m hoping people find something in it that’s familiar to them. Something that says despite each us being unique, there are countless experiences, thoughts, feelings, “things” we have in common to one degree or another. In a world that is increasing isolated, ironically because of all the social media and interconnectedness of the world, we writers, painters, sculptors, actors, what have you, use our art like a message in a bottle, cast into the vast ocean surrounding our individual islands in hopes it reaches someone else on theirs.

Of course that’s just me. I could very well be insane. I heard a quote attributed to Picaso, I have no idea if it was his or not, but I like it. “All artists are half-crazy, but so long as I’m submerged in my work, I’ll be okay.”