Thursday, November 7, 2013

Advice and Laughs from Slushpile Hell

I love the Slushpile Hell website.

Once a week, the anonymous book agent who's site it is posts part of an epically awful query he has received, along with the snarky comment he'd like to have sent back. There are plenty of sites that tell you how to write a query. (I recommend Query Shark, knowledgeable, sharp and funny.) Slushpile Hell is a weekly laugh and an example of what not to do. Ever.

It's amazing – just amazing – how clueless some would-be authors can be, overvaluing their ability or having such a tenuous grasp on reality. It's also surprising how many hopeful writers out there have been told to write their book by God or gods or other divine messengers. Others who seem to think it's the agent's job to give them assignments to write, which will then be sold for millions. ANd it's hard to read without thinking back about your own query and thinking, "I'm not like that, am I?" It can actually be reassuring. "Well, I may not have a publisher yet, but at least I'm not like thatguy!"

Here's a couple of examples from Slushpile Hell over the years.

Please. Please turn my novels into money. I possess a supreme talent. And I am no fool; I see how this has to be. With the right team behind me I could revolutionize literature and show consumers how there is still such a thing as soul in this soulless nation.
I, too, possess a supreme talent. I am able to read dozens of ill-conceived query letters each week without my head bursting into flames.

The significance of this book is that Angels dictated it to me. I am able to “hear” and write the words that are relayed to me by listening internally. This book is based on channeled Angelic insight and has significant relevance to the people of the world.

Please read my work. It will be the next great explosion.
I’ve read it. Explosion is precisely the word that comes to mind.

Every agent I’ve encountered thus far has been a complete idiot. Let’s see if you can prove you’re different by representing me and my book.
Stop. Your seductive charm is making me feel woozy.

And he occasionally has contests that are fun, and sometimes posts short lists of "advice." And anyone who actually needs the advice he offers needs a lot more than that. I'm thinking heavy medication is in order.

Publishing Tip of the Day!

5 things you may not want to say to an agent at a writers’ conference:
  1. "You look a lot thinner on your web site."
  2. "How are your kids doing? It was so cute how they surprised you with waffles for breakfast last Saturday. At least I think it was waffles, it was hard to tell from outside your window." 
  3. "Is it true that agents are just frustrated writers?" 
  4. "You know, you and I are the same blood type." 
  5. "I’d like to share an important message with you from the Book of Mormon."

Publishing Tip of the Day!
3 things to leave out of your query package:
  1. A picture of you on a Harley, shirtless (you know who you are)
  2. A broken-heart necklace, with your name engraved on one half and a photo of yourself wearing the other half (engraved, of course, with the agent’s name)
  3. One of these toad-skinned purses:

WIP UPDATE: 961 words on Wednesday, just missed my quota. But it's going in a good place. I was happy with the day's work. I was even happier with the idea that hit me last night during dinner that I think resolves a potential problem I saw coming down the line and makes the whole thing a lot more interesting. In a way, Tori pointed out, this almost makes Brainiac Kapow a superhero. I definitely thinks it makes him more interesting.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Writing Advice for the Kids

Buy lotto tickets. If you don't win, you still have a little piece of paper. You can use that little slip of paper as a bookmark, and/or to take notes on. Reading and writing is always good advice for any fledgling author.
        Pseudonymous Bosch

Pseudonymous Bosch is the pen name of the author of The Secret Series, a five-book young adult series that breaks most of the rules but succeeds wildly because it knows and understands the one secret (a key word in the series) of novel writing – know your audience and entertain them.

The title of the first book in the series is The Name of This Book is Secret. The author spends the first 15 to 20 pages telling the readers NOT to read the book. It's too dangerous. He's not going to tell reveal the name of the city the story happens in, or the name of the school, or even the name of the characters, because the readers might figure out where it happened and that information could prove fatal.

They're five amazing mystery adventures in which three middle school kids do battle with a worldwide conspiracy that will stop at nothing – Nothing! – in their quest for the secret to everlasting life. The stories are wild, completely implausible, unpredictable. Kids love them.

He interrupts the stories repeatedly with asides, footnotes, digressions and, at one point a five-page comic book showing him writing the novels by dictating them to a pet rabbit while his cat offers sarcastic commentary. He also has suggestions for how to disguise your copies of the book so people won't know you're reading them.

The author also has a website, which is not surprising, called The Name of This Website Is Secret, in which he maintains that he is not the person who has been identified as the author, that the real Pseudonymous Bosch is in hiding in a cave or the rain forest, he won't say which, and that the person going around doing book signings, appearing at middle schools and at writing conferences and workshops claiming to be Pseudonymous Bosch is actually an impostor.

He warns his fans in the UK that bookstores there are about to do a special promotion, selling the five volumes of the series at an amazing discount, which could be disastrous because more people would have them, and urges his readers to rush to their bookstores and buy up all the copies before they get into wider distribution.

The bit of advice to young writers at the top of this post came from the site, part of a longer discussion in which he advises readers that the three rules of fiction writing are "Lie, Cheat and Steal." And makes the case.

Pseudonymous Bosch knows kids. Knows the kind of story they like, knows what makes them laugh, what catches their attention, what keeps them turning pages. The whole thing is a joke – and he and his young readers are both in on it, them against the world.

It works.

WIP UPDATE – Tuesday's total, 1,037 words. Total to date, 12,778 words. I just keep following the story.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Productive Procrastination

It was an interesting couple of days on Brainiac Kapow, even though I didn't get much actual work done. Sometimes just thinking can be productive.

After a couple of days of knocking out at least a thousand words a day, I got sidetracked, but I think it was useful sidetrackery. I wrote precisely 74 words Sunday, then had work to do for the Source. We also went to the library, where I ended up checking out four middle grade and YA titles. Different styles, different voices, different ways of telling a story. A library card is a vital tool for someone trying to learn the craft of writing.

Monday I took a day off both from the Source and my WIP. I tried to, anyway. Tori and I saw a movie ("Ender's Game," it was OK, but in telescoping the story down, they left out an awful lot of what made the book so good. If you hadn't read it, you'd wonder what all the fuss was about.) I ended up writing one story for the Source late Monday, because somebody had to do it. But mostly it was a relaxing day. I kind of needed that.

But even though I wasn't pounding away on the keyboard, I spent a lot of timing thinking about Who Is Brainiac Kapow? I suspect there's nothing unusual about that. All authors obsess, don't they? (Please sayt yes, that's normal.) I was worried about the tone of the book, is it too serious? Am I telling the story I planned to tell?

This morning when I woke up, all the doubts were gone. Or, may be that's not the right way to put it. I still have questions, but I won't know the answers until I finish the draft. And that's a good feeling. The answer's there, I just have to find it. And there's only one way to do that – straight ahead, keep writing.

WIP UPDATE – 11,750 words after writing the 74 words Sunday. They weren't great words, but they were needed, they added something to the chapter I thought I'd finished. I realized it was the only place for the character Jett to explain how she feels about her real name. They work.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Keeping Things in Perspective

Some great advice this morning at The Kill Zone. A discussion of how to face the harsh realities of the author game without becoming despondent or cynical or throwing your pen across the room and giving up.

It comes down to remembering why you write – because you love it, because you wouldn't do anything else. Because you get caught up in the thrill of discovering a story and exploring the worlds you invent with the characters you create. Not because you're looking for an easy way to get rich. We all hope we will, or at least we hope it'll help us pay the bills. But remember, it ain't easy, and the odds are stacked against us. We all hope we'll be the one. Just don't borrow money from the mob based on your estimate of future writing wealth.

Dream big, but do the math.

He also talks about the luck factor. You can't control luck, but you can tilt those odds in your favor by working hard, learning your craft, being productive, being brutally honest with yourself. Then, when luck saunters by, minding it's own business, you'll be positioned to mug it and rifle its pockets for opportunities.

WIP UPDATE – Saturday was terrific. Wrote 2,551 words, boosting the total of the first draft to 11,667. It was material that I really like, although I have no idea if it will remain in the book. I think it was stuff I needed to know as the author. I'm not sure yet whether the readers will need to know it. But either way, I had fun writing it, so even if in a few months I end up cutting it, it won't have been a waste of time.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

No, We're Not There Yet

It's a cliche, but it's true. Put your kids in the car, hit the highway and sometime during the course of the trip, usually within the first 10 minutes if they're my kids – smart alecks all – they'll start chanting, "Are we there yet?"

(Tori and I adopted a defensive measure. Whenever they asked "Are we there yet," no matter where we were on the journey, we'd reply, "About half an hour." It even worked for a while. But that's not the point.)

I am not at the "Are we there yet?" stage in Brainiac Kapow. I'm guessing at close to 10,000 words along that I'm roughly 15 percent, lot of miles to go. I'm still at the "Where are we going?" stage. Kids never ask that in the car, because presumably you told them before you set out.

But right now I'm really surprised by where I am. I thought I knew exactly where the story was going when we got in the car. But that's not where we're headed, as near as I can tell.

Don't get me wrong. I'm liking what I've got. I've got some good characters, I'm handling the POV shifts well (I think I am, anyway.) It's an interesting story. But it's subtly different than what I thought I had when I started, and I suspect the difference will grow as we move farther along the road. I also suspect some of this is the kind of background that I need to know to write the story, but I'm not sure yet if the reader needs to know.

It's interesting, that's for sure. I'm really eager to find out where we're headed. And maybe that's the point. It's the first draft. If I don't like it, there's always the second draft. It's a capital mistake to stop and go back and try to change it now. Keep fiddling-tweaking-second guessing and you'll never do anything else, just keep polishing those first few chapters. You'll never finish that first draft. You'll never get anywhere.

Maybe it's going in the wrong direction, or maybe this is turning out to be a deeper, better story than I could have imagined. I have no idea yet, and that's the exciting part. I'm not going where I thought I was, but I'm going somewhere.

But I can't say I'm there yet, or even "about half an hour" away. Here's where I am.

WIP UPDATE – Really liked Friday's work, more interesting chapter than I'd thought I was writing. And it was productive: 2,336 words, bringing the total to 9,116.