Friday, December 15, 2006

Living Wage as a Writer

Some people have been emailing me and trying to do the math about being a working writer. The fact is, it's impossible math to do. Yes, there are people who live entirely off their novel writing. These people are few and far between - and not only that, but they usually have totally different financial setups when they do their taxes. Let me give some examples:

(1) The great novelist - Has probably won a Pulitzer at some point, or the National Book Award. Everything he (it's usually a he) writes will be a bestseller no matter how bad it is, at least for the first two weeks. He'll always get a review in the New York Times Book Review, probably close to the front. To live fairly comfortably, he only has to produce a book about once a decade, which is probably around his output anyway. Examples would be Philip Roth, Thomas Pychon.

(2) The bestseller - This guy or girl just writes really, really marketable stuff, and not only that, but produces it on a regular basis of every 1-2 years. He/she usually gets hammered by critics but is at the top of the list anyway, and his/her old stuff is always in print. This person could have retired years ago, financially, but simply can't stop writing - because he's a real writer. And for real writers, writing is like breathing. His breath just happens to be very commercial. Examples would be Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham.

(3) The mid-list author: Had one break-out hit, regularly produces a book a year that goes for 30-40,000 advance, possible royalties depending on the reviews. Probably works in a genre like fantasy or horror or mystery, because mid-list authors don't survive in general fiction. Eventually, he/she will probably get an offer to write some material for some fantasy series (like the Dragonlance novels) and will do it, but under a different name.

(4) The one-book author - Very, very few one-book authors can live off the proceeds of that book. You know their names and have read their books - JD Salinger, Cervantes, Dan Brown. (I can't believe Cervantes went in the same sentence as Dan Brown) Chances are, these writers have other material - some of it published, some sitting on a shelf - that you or may not have heard of or read. The point is, they wrote a classic of literature (or just something that sold enough to have them swimming in one-dollar coins like Scrooge McDuck). These people come along maybe a couple times a century.

I'm leaving stuff out here, but it's time for Shabbos. Happy Chanukah. And no, there isn't an official spelling of the holiday.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Laughing At and With - How They're Different

I have been called many things. I have been called by my legal name, my Hebrew name, "Hey you!" Miss Rejecter, Rejector, and various other things usually related to roleplaying game characters. I have to say, being called someone's "maiden aunt on a dope free day" pretty much takes the cake. I am stupified. I understand that the words that are coming out of his mouth are meant to have some kind of meaning, and that taken apart, they can be found in a dictionary, but seriously. Does it mean I speak with exceptional clarity for a virgin with a nephew? That wasn't really the tone I was going for on this blog, but hey - whatever floats your boat.

Allow me to be clear about this - if you post a link to your crappy POD or eBook, and I respond by saying something that can be easily translated into, "Uh, you suck. No, as a writer. You might suck as a person, too, but I don't know that for sure yet," I am not offering constructive criticism. Do not thank me. Stop writing. Very few responders to the previous posts's thread posting of a .pdf novel actually meant to offer constructive criticism. They meant to insult you. I just don't know how to say it more simply. We are not laughing with you, we are laughing at you. You cannot have a positive attitude and start laughing with us in some fashion to negate the general feeling that you are a terrible writer. Also, that old adage that any publicity is good publicity is not true in the writing world. You just look like a dork who can't spell or write anything sensical to more people than you previously did. This is not a cause for celebration.

Normally I don't feel like crushing writer's dreams, but when I do, well, that's a real indicator that maybe your dreams to be crushed. Or at least, not posted on my blog.

Monday, December 11, 2006

E-Books and PODs


Perhaps I merely missed it, but what is your stance on a fully-realized PDF of a work as opposed to a manuscript.

Initially, I queried and sent out manuscripts as it has always been done. Now I am finding it hard to justify this antiquated process when I can format it as I wish and send a finished E-book PDF.

If the work is rejected, then I can go right to POD or something similar. Is this flawed logic? I have two novellas in the final stages and have to prepare myself.

I'm not sure the question that's being asked here, so I'll just ramble for a while and see where it takes us and how much trouble it gets me into.

From what I can gather, you submitted a normal manuscript and it was rejected, so now you are considering publishing it independently as an E-Book. (Whether it's in .pdf or .cbr or any other format is irrelevant, except when it comes to reading the book on iPods and whatnot)

I don't know a lot about publishers who work exclusively on E-Books, for two reasons. One, most major publishing houses now have their own ways of putting out E-Books if they think it's commercially viable for a product they already own and they normally include something about that in their contract, about rights and royalties and stuff. Two, I've never in my life purchased an E-Book. I've downloaded books in .txt format, but that's mainly been for research purposes (quote searches and the like). I've never actually sat down and read a novel on a computer screen, except when I had to at work, or when it's fanfic. I prefer things that I can hold in my hand and don't hurt my eyes after hours and hours. Stan Lee put it best when he said, "Computers will never replace the experience of holding a comic book in your hand and reading it." Of course, he was talking about comic books. And he was not anticipating Comic Book Reader, which really does make them readable on a screen.

There's not a lot of money or publicity in E-Books, though it is a growing market. Major publishers generally don't put out their regular books as E-Books unless there's a reason because the material can be so readily distributed illegally.

If you're looking at it like E-Book is a step below normal publishing and a step above POD publishing, I would say you are wrong. E-Books are really their own market, a market that's so rapidly changing that I don't really keep track of it and it usually doesn't show up on my radar. (By the way, it's a bad sign when a type of book doesn't show up on my radar)

Now getting into the larger question of whether you should go ahead with your manuscript in other publishing forms - the publishing industry answer is, "Uh, if you want to, but if we rejected it across the board, it probably sucked. Go write a better book instead." If you come and tell me that every single agent you queried didn't request a partial, I would say something was wrong with your query letter. If you say you got some hits but nobody took you on as a client, you've got something wrong with your manuscript.

There are reasons to publish POD. If you want to just have your book in print for friends and maybe some people who'll find it online and be interested, and you don't want to deal with the publishing industry or the hassle of receiving profits from your work, go ahead. If you've written poetry and it hasn't won a Pulitzer, go ahead, because we won't publish it anyway. But if you've written a novel that you actually want massive amounts of peope to read - say, more than 100 - then you should stick with traditional publishing.

Of course, this is coming from the assistant to an agent who wouldn't dream of sending her clients to a POD publisher. This is also coming from a grad student who sat in line during registration today and listened to people go on and on about how they were just going straight to POD and then build a huge following via the internet because the INTERNET can do ANYTHING and you should definitely not listen to the person behind you in line who actually works in publishing and is telling you that the chances of you actually having a successful POD book is almost nil. Yeah, yeah, is great. We all love it. You know what I don't like? Buying paperbacks of shitty quality with bad covers, no editing, poor formatting, and cost me $20.00. Thanks, iUniverse.

If you are being rejected across the board by traditional publishing when you've written a traditional manuscript - not the two novellas you discuss later in your letter - then yes, you can consider POD or E-Book. Or you could maybe question how good your manuscript was in the first place to be rejected by everyone across the board.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Oh Great Rejecter,
Can you please settle this argument for us bumbling masses. Do agents and publishers not take you seriously if you submit your manuscript in Times New Roman as opposed to Courier?

So, funny story. I always used to use Courier New for just about everything - my papers, things I submitted, stuff I published on the web. I loved to write in it. Then I started reading other people's full manuscripts in Courier New and discovered how irritating on the eyes it was in comparison to Times New Roman, Garamound, or even Arial. I won't judge your manuscript by your font (unless it's in Wingdings), but seriously, Times New Roman. 12 point.

Thank you, future authors.

Naming Assistants in Your Query

Dear Rejecter,

A friend recently gave me a name of a friend who works as an assistant at a large literary agency. I would like to query this assistant. I don't know which agent she works for or if she works for more than one. Also, I queried one of the agents there over a month ago but did not get a reply. My question is, how should I phrase my query? Is it "correct" to query an assistant at all? I enjoy reading your blog and would appreciate your insight.

I would say it's not a good idea. First of all, assistants move around a lot, and you have no idea if she still works there. Second, a good assistant is looking for work to pass to the agent, so throwing around the assistant's name might make her feel good when she opens the mail, but it won't make her look at your work any differently.