Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Get thee hence

Of all the things that a writer might find cruel, such as a fellow writer stealing your precioussssss ideas, or a review absolutely hating your pride and joy, which might have had the longest gestation period in the history of anything brought into existence, the worst is perhaps when a book review blogger admits to only reading pirated books.

That's like breaking into the bookshop at midnight and helping yourself to the shelves.  Of course you don't actually steal a book - oh no, you sit there with your flashlight devouring stories and when dawn peeks over the horizon, you sneak out of the bookshop.  No harm done, right?


You wouldn't do it because a) the bookshop is alarmed and b) there's an established system of consequences for breaking and entering.

A book is locked until you use a legitimate means for opening it.  Either:
  1. pay for it
  2. go to the library and borrow it
  3. land yourself an ARC
  4. download it from www.projectgutenburg.org if it's old or out-of-print; or
  5. write to whoever owns the rights of the book and ask for a copy
Do it the way that protects and supports the creators of your enjoyment.  Anything else means you're just a common thief.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

When Your Requested Submission is Labelled Spam

You might think having an agent come back to you with a request for your work is the next best thing to your own version of absolute heaven (books, wine, chocolates, Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt or a Caribbean holiday or whatever else represents sublime sensory experience for you).

It's not.

The very first agent I queried came back to me in less than twenty four hours and I emailed back, in all my idiotic inexperience, with the same subject header and a file attachment.  Nothing wrong with that, is there?  After all, that's how you keep track of email conversations, isn't it?

No.  First of all there are a set of rules and the first one (after snagging an agent's attention) is to let them know you are no longer querying but have been elevated to the status of submitting requested material.  How do you do that?  NOT by simply hitting 'reply' and attaching a file.  You change your subject header to 'Requested Materials - BOOK TITLE', attach the file, and then hit 'send'.

Said agent always responds to submitters of requested material.  Said agent posted on said agent's blog almost two weeks ago that said agent has just about finished reading submitted material.  Said agent posted this week that queries are closed and said agent is proud of nine (NINE!!!) new clients.  Said agent is still pining for the elusive middle grade high concept fantasy (THAT'S ME THAT'S ME THAT'S ME).

Said agent's email address for queries is now on auto respond - said agent is closed til January of next year.

Moral to the story: Finish your manuscript.  Spend time on forums learning how to query an agent.  Query agent.  Spend more time on forums learning how to respond to requests for material before sending the requests.  And pray after you send your requested material that an internet goblin doesn't hex it out of existence before the avid agent's eyes alight on it, because woe betide you if you email avid agent asking if avid agent has received the material.  That's akin to labelling yourself rabid internet stalker.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

This query business is queer (but not that way)

If anyone ever tells you writing a query is as easy as baking a pie, they are either delusional or referring to when they were kids playing in the mud.  Remember mud pies - dollops of brown sloppy clay and dirt squashed into little round aluminium pie trays and left in the sun to bake?  Not much to that, is there?  It was just the cleaning up afterwards that was always problematic.

Writing a query is the cleaning up afterwards.  After you've breathed a sigh of relief that the last word is digital ink on a screen, that your characters will leave you in peace (for a while), and that you can finally say "I did it!", what's left to do is carve from the block of already hewn wood that is your manuscript a miniature replica.  Rather like condensing the feel of your entire week into one 'tweet'.

When I discovered yesterday that one of the agents to whom I had sent a partial wasn't grabbed by the query but thought there might have been something of interest behind it, which was why she requested a good-sized chunk of the manuscript, the mood-and-motivation barometer plummeted.  So I wrote to the one of the two agents who had rejected me with a personal touch and begged (nicely) for a glimmer, a smidgeon, DAMMIT any shred of insight into whether it was my writing style that was the problem, or the query.

I didn't expect to receive an answer.  But I did.  Ten lines of wisdom and a link to a query the agent had accepted.  So I've been hacking, tossing, re-wording (pulling out my hair and sighing) until I now have something that looks nothing like my query of the last two weeks (which while it drew a few positive responses, let's face it, was drawing an awful lot of negatives), but is a lot simpler.

Is it any better?  I have no idea.  At least when you clean up after baking mud pies you can see the results.  But sending out a query is like stuffing a message in a bottle and hoping whoever finds it understands what the 80 000 words you've now crammed into 140 actually means.

So.  It's now sailing its way through cybersea to dock in the mailbox of five new lucky agents (plus the one who gave me the feedback - hey, there's nothing like persistence, is there?).  The 'no, not interested' replies tend to arrive very fast (there's always an exception to the rule), so by about the end of November I'll know whether this time I've nailed it.

All of which makes the latest email I received a few minutes ago rather ironic - an Australian imprint has just asked for the full manuscript.  And here I've been editing a query all day instead of the book.

*runs screaming from the room*

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

You've lived, like, everywhere! PART ONE.

Someone asked me why I swap countries so often.

Since the age of eleven, I haven't lived in one place longer than five years (and for that lengthy period only once).  My parents decided to emigrate* from Sydney to a small country town.  I left high school as soon as it was legal to do so and moved alone straight back to Sydney.

After flopping backwards and forwards between Sydney and my parent's house, I moved to Japan.  I taught English until I could speak Japanese (do not learn to speak the language of the country where you are teaching English - you will end up with your students refusing to learn English!) and took up translating, interpreting (yes, there is a difference), copy editing and writing lifestyle articles for the major expat newspaper.  That was also when I had my first short stories and poetry published.

(Why Japan?  QANTAS was hiring Japanese speaking people as flight attendants.  What better way to see the world?  So after interviewing and being told to come back after I'd learned the language, I took off for Tokyo.  Logical, of course).

On a working holiday visa, an invite to contribute to the local economy expires after 18 months.  Via a bureaucratic sleight-of-hand I managed to extend that for 6 months, arriving at a grand total of living in Japan for two years.

I returned, not to Sydney, but Brisbane, to complete my university degrees (I had enrolled as an external studies student in the same year I left Australia).  Via another administrative mangle, I succeeded in remaining a student another 6 years.  The final two years were not spent in Brisbane, however.  I decided to write my doctoral thesis on the Ethiopian and Mozambican economies.  Nothing for it but to head off to Africa to undertake my research.

After a stint at the UN, I was offered what I thought was a fantastic opportunity to keep travelling AND make money.  It wasn't.  There I was, chewing on the bum end of a stick, wondering how to return to safe ol' academia, when  a friend suggested I take up being a tour guide in Europe.  Hmm.

My mother is italian (and I have an extremely well-known cousin who is a political leader)** but we didn't grow up speaking the language because my father is english.  My first tour was with a group of Canadian students whose teacher was later dubbed La Strega del'Inferno (the witch from hell).  She could not only speak Italian (I didn't) and French (yup, from that part of Canada), but insisted on using both languages with me at every opportunity.  My 'si Signora' and 'oui, Madame,' lasted about five minutes before she was on the phone to the office demanding to know why her group had to be saddled with an ignoramus like me.  The excuse they gave was that I was a last-minute sub.  That was my one and only tour for the Easter rush.

I moved to Rome and boarded for a while with a descendant of the Borghese family (yup - THE Borgheses) and was finally persuaded to put down some roots.  In the form of buying a tumbling down 800 year old pile of rocks that once passed for a goat stable built into the side of a mountain.  I spent the remainder of that year working on patching the leaky roof - and in the end it had to be entirely replaced - and dumping bucket loads of  crumbling, ancient plaster into the street for the donkey to collect (oh yes, this is a hillside village, and the only way in, or out, is either on foot or in a saddle).

Mid summer the agency rang desperately seeking a sub again.  By that time I had enough of the local lingo under my belt that I could manage to order more than a cappuccino.  I worked until winter set in and returned to Brisbane for a summer holiday.  When the season started the following year, I was expecting to return to Rome.  The first tour was in Paris.

I hated it.  It wasn't italian.  It wasn't romantic, it wasn't flirting, and it certainly wasn't being lost in ancient history roaming around tiny alleys and stumbling across relics from a by-gone era.  I couldn't wait to return to Italy. No such luck.  On top of which, when I tried speaking French with the locals, they kept responding in English - my accent was so strongly italian they couldn't resist the opportunity to show how much better and more cosmopolitan they were than a lowly southerner.  On the other hand, if I was stupid enough to speak English, they jammered at me in a volley of French.

The season had wound down in late autumn.  I was offered a position teaching English (had I really graduated to go back to a job which belonged to my student days?) and being utterly penniless, I took it (back then the pay for being a tour director was $2 an hour).  One of my students had a tiny studio in the 15 arrondissement and I stayed there, teaching and playing at being a starving writer in a garret, until reality hit home in the form of a friend.  He'd been hounding me grow up and find a proper job BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE - to marry, have a career, have kids, own a house (well, I'd done that - if you could call a cave a house), fit in, settle down.  Whatever.

So with no better excuse than an expiring love affair, I headed off to London.

...to be continued

*it was the same as crossing oceans and discovering the locals speak a different language.
** it's true.  And I'm not telling who.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Day Zero.

I've been dreading this.  It's one thing to jump into a social network site and start posting anywhere on anything, like a cat chasing a ball of light (think Puss in Boots - the movie), and build up a list of friends and followers.

It's quite another to emerge from anonymity - but not obscurity - and write about the background for the transition.

My manuscript is finally finished.  It's still a WIP - I'm completely OCD prone when it comes to 'just checking' if there isn't a better word, a better phrase, a better something - but the final scene and the epilogue are now words on a page as opposed to figments of my imagination.

Not only that, I'm now the proud recipient of enough rejection slips that I can wallpaper my blog without needing any other decoration.  However.  Amongst all those resounding email clunks in my inbox notifying me of 'Unfortunately, no. . .', there have been a few 'Please send' requests as well.

Now you might see where the OCD behaviour is paralysing.  It took me three days to send out the first request.  It took me longer for the second.  I've put off the others (these were requests for exclusives), which is just as well, because one agent asked for the full manuscript.

I dread opening my finished version of partial submissions in case I find yet another comma which has jumped spaces and landed exactly where I didn't want it to be.

Which is marginally better than looking at my query and wondering why one version of it works for one agent, a different version for someone else, and both versions send the majority running in the opposite direction.

I have at least another month of procrastination before I hear back from any of the agents that requested.  Needless to say I'll be torturing my manuscript.  Not to mention myself.

Easier to start on the second book, I think.