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Learning from Rejections

Posted by bebowreinhard on April 1, 2013 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

It could be that Arabus Drake is not publishable. He’s coming out as a short story in Horrific History by Hazardous Press, but will likely largely be overlooked in the midst of much more "capable" offerings.

And even though I’ve made a lot of changes to the novel over the years some things about Arabus Drake remain constant to my vision for him. Now you might say that’s why he’s unpublishable, but it’s not like I haven’t come close. I’ve turned down bad contracts, and put up with bad agents. I’ve won bad awards from script contests. I know there’s potential here and I love listening to comments and suggestions. I’ve gotten rid of the alien storyline, reworked the past life musings, minimized the reader chat, deleted the second voice storyline—all from listening to other publishers and readers. These are not insignificant changes.

But recently Divertir asked me to remove the backstory from the beginning and weave it into the rest of the story. Now they may have meant weave it into the rest of the first story—Vrykolakas Journal is actually comprised of five romance horror tales. The first tale is about his life, death and becoming undead. It is the story featured in the movie script that I’m still circulating. In fact, this last edit brought out some good changes for the script and it will be sent to Austin Film Fest. In my mind, the story has to be the way it is because it establishes him as human, first, so readers can understand how he becomes who he becomes.

Divertir Publishing has now the “privilege” of being the first publisher I chatted with by phone. The editor gave me five changes he wanted to see, and this was one of them. I feel he was dead on with his other requests. These were things I held on to because I wanted to know how they were hitting people. But he had good points about them and I feel each of these changes has made the book stronger. You will, now that they’ve done a final rejection on it, see the first three chapters at that page here on my website.

He told me he was disappointed that I didn’t make that one change. But after we had talked on the phone last January, I sent him an email about what I felt I could change, and couldn’t. And I told him why I couldn’t change the first story that much. He did not respond to tht email. He could have said, well, then, don’t send it. He didn’t. I sent it, as I said I would, and he waited six weeks to tell me he couldn’t get past the first five chapters.

To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of faith that he would take it. In my opinion, a publisher has to be right there in a writer’s vision. And no matter how many times I told him why it’s set that way, he wouldn’t respond with any kind of recognition of that vision. Did I sit these six weeks and wait for his response, while expecting this no? Of course not. I have a full page of other publishers it’s also been sent to, and believe me, doing that wasn’t easy because it was always in the back of my mind, maybe he’ll get it now.

But now he says, because of my unwillingness to listen to him and even my belief that he wasn’t going to take it without that change, he doesn’t plan to offer comments to authors anymore. At first I felt guilty about that, but you know what? If a publisher doesn’t want to listen to an author’s reasons why such a thing is as it is, then maybe they shouldn’t offer comments but just go with things that are perfect to them right off.

Most of this is my own undoing, of course.  He has rejected this two other times in the past, but always with nice comments.  So whenever I made what I thought was a substantial change, I tried him again.  I should have known better.  But that's been one of the rules in submitting--if they make a nice comment, then you're close to having it right for them.

To publishers out there, and I’ve met a lot of you, don’t grab a piece because you think it might pay off, whether or not you understand it.  And while it’s great that you can help make a book better, make sure you understand the book in the first place.

But working with Divertir was not a waste of time. I really appreciate the time he spent on this book, and I hope he changes his mind and works with others, too. But I also hope, if he does offer comments again, he also listens to the author’s voice.

I don’t ever plan to self-publish this novel. It can, and probably will, die with me. But I want every publisher to know that while making comments on a writer’s book is a wonderful thing to do, very appreciated, if you find an author who is so willing to change everything to meet your specific subjective taste, then have you really found a writer who’s worth anything at all?

Or maybe I'm just being stubborn.


The Self-Published

Posted by bebowreinhard on October 6, 2012 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

There’s been a lot of discussion in various writing boards and blogs about the demise of traditional publishing, and many writers use this to justify self-publishing their work.

Before I make the effort to re-define traditional publishing, I want to make it clear that I believe any writer who self-publishes without first going through a rigorous editing and submissions process to traditional publishers is making the writing profession look bad.

Traditional publishing is changing, there’s no doubt about that. But let’s be clear on what a traditional publisher is in today’s world—it’s someone who makes choices about what to publish. They have a selection process and they don’t take everyone who queries them.

This was the definition and still is. But now we have a plethora of small publishers, micro publishers, or people who self-publish and then decide to turn that into a publishing house – if they do not charge a writer to publish their work and they keep a percentage of every sale, they are traditional. They have a standard to uphold for their business, so they are selective. They send out rejections.

It doesn’t matter if it’s just ebook, or ebook/POD, or print only in hard cover that gets a major release and is featured in the few bookstores that are left in the country. If they do not accept everyone, do not ask you to pay anything, and support and market you, and edit your work, they are traditional.

And there are only two kinds of writers – those who seek acceptance by submitting their work, taking rejections and improving their projects, and those who are afraid to try so they immediately self-publish.

Now I have nothing against a writer who has gathered a ton of rejections, who has edited the piece until it’s pristine, and who has gotten readers to give their opinions, and then decides that maybe what they’ve written is a little too off the wall and decides to finally, after all that submitting and editing effort, to self-publish.

My problem with self-publishing, to put it clearly, is writers who don’t do all that, but just want to be able to call themselves authors and would rather keep all the sales money to themselves. So they write it, edit it maybe once, maybe even hire an editor because they’re lousy at grammar, and put it out there and wait for the money to come rolling in. Then they realize they have to do the marketing, too. Too much work, so they move on to something else.

Those are the writers I would never call author.

In my writing group, there are people who seem to be looking simply for advice, or reassurance, but who don’t seem willing to do the work. They’re looking for the easy path. It’s not the reason I formed the group, and lately I’ve had to make some adjustments.

For instance, we were trying to put together an anthology to sell so the group could offer writing scholarships. But lately it seems that the efforts to put together a good book to get published the right way aren’t there, and the book will simply be put at Amazon where it’s true you don’t pay to publish, but you don’t get any marketing support, and you lose a portion of the sales to Amazon. I tried that route and didn’t find it effective. No editing means self-published, and you don’t pay them up front but you’re still paying them to publish an ebook. Actually you’re paying for the right to be on Amazon.  It's still self-publishing.

So I want to make clear what my writing support group is – it is to encourage writers to become authors, not self-publishers. To take the chance and put their work up for rejection, and to continue to work on it until it’s good enough for someone else to take a chance on. Only if you get accepted can you feel you’ve finally written something that is worthy of others to read.

And that is worth working toward.

Don’t become an author just to say you’re an author. Become one by having something to say and finding the right way to say it. The world needs more authors, not more self-publishers.


The Best Reasons to Blog

Posted by bebowreinhard on August 2, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I’m not a fan of blogging. Sometimes I wish we could go back to typewriters and not bother with all this social-networking-media-internet-overwhelmingly-connected-to-the-world way of life. But since so many say that writers have never had it so good with all these new online opportunities, I figure it’s time to figure out how to make it work.

The first thing a writer thinks is, how does blogging help when you’re not published? If you’re working hard at your writing and still not getting published, you must be doing something wrong, right? I have a master’s in history but can’t sell a historical article—I’m told my writing is too unorganized. If you’re like me, you find yourself re-writing a certain piece over and over and over again. You know it’s a great idea, but the execution must be lousy because no one will publish it even in one of those history journals that don’t pay.

Every once in a while I’ve written a piece that didn’t need any editing. That’s what inspiration is. It flows out of you so well and so quickly, using such a perfectly formed thought that it came out with a life of its own. If only all writing could be that way! We’d like to write every day with that distinctive voice—like my own inspired piece, “Patience Is Hell,”—where people really “get us” right away. Most of the time that doesn’t happen, because as writers, fueled with the desire to write, we can’t sit around and wait for inspiration. We can only keep writing and hope the muse stops by on occasion.

So blogging, at the very least, can help unpublished writers hone writing skills, because it forces you to actually put something new you create in an hour’s time frame once a week (or more if you’re feeling frisky) out into the public eye.

At a minimum you need to create this new blog once a week. More is better (but most is not best). You have to commit to it once you start and that means not starting until you’re ready. Then use it as a way—even when you’re not inspired—to learn to write well quickly.

I plan to sit down every Wednesday, hopefully with a well-thought-out idea on writing, and write a page-long blog that I can put out here that other writers will actually “get.” It will be clear, concise, a single thought, and hopefully, either entertaining or informative. Or both, if I’m really inspired.

But there are other reasons to blog besides writing practice. What writer doesn’t want to get read? How can a writer get read without readers? Today’s publishers, too, want to know if you have people who enjoy your writing—well, how can readers enjoy you if you’re not published yet? They’ve become fans of your writing style through your blogs. Think of blogging, then, as self-publishing without expense or stigma.

Blogging is not a dry and drab piece of work meant just to promote you, however. It’s a creative hammer to pound your way out of a restrictive box. And it is that chance to think about readers as you craft a short piece. Not only are you improving your craft, you’re expanding your writing horizons and you’re finding ways to appeal to readers.

I’m going to try and make my weekly blog substantial and substantive so that someone will read and recommend to others because I’ve made them educational, informative—and entertaining. That blog then has that added benefit because people will say, “She must know how to write.”

And I’ll try to do all this in just a page length, double-spaced (this one is too long, sorry about that) because most people don’t spend a lot of time anywhere anymore anyway.

Maybe you can make blogging like a daily or weekly journal—although journaling as blog is frowned upon, your life might actually be interesting or informative enough to get away with this.

Any time we can write something and put it out there for readers to read, is it really wasting time? No, it’s honing your craft.

So that’s the way I’m going to look at it now. Blogging can help establish my credentials, my expertise on a topic and help me build that platform—which is really just making yourself known to a lot of people who come to like how you write, and maybe even learn to turn to you for advice or answers.

A platform is what publishers want us to have, so they know you have interested readers who will buy what they publish of yours.

And yes, blogging can also help if you’re published and you want to increase sales. People will find you more often; they will find what you’ve written, how you write, and your audience will increase.

That of course means your blogging will be related to what you’ve published. So along with blogging about the art of writing, I had the idea of selecting quotes from my two books and putting them up at Facebook once a week. I had the idea of talking about the research in my historical novels and how that translated into fiction. Blogging is a way for me to act on those ideas.

So Wednesday is blogging day for my website. I’ll note the new blogs at all my social media pages so that people will connect with it if it interests them. Even though Wednesday might be my least inspired day of the week, I’m going to find something to say. All week long, in the back of my head, I’ll have some thoughts stewing about something—something related to what I’m working on, observances of the world or the human condition in general, or look through my writing tips for some new insight. We all have those, right? You don’t want to blog about what you had for breakfast. Although there would be ways to make that interesting and entertaining, as well.

Blogging can get you out of a rut you might have found yourself in, or allow you to post a controversial thought (those make popular blogs) or maybe will even give a home to an inspirational tome that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in your writing world. Writing in its many forms is always good exercise.

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Quandry about Submitting?

Posted by bebowreinhard on March 9, 2012 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (0)

I recently felt the guilt that being criticized can lay on an already guilt-ridden writer. No patience? Check. Submit too quickly? Check. Don’t check markets closely enough before submitting? Check.

Wait a minute. The last criticism I read on that third topic noted that writers should spend as much time checking out their markets as they do writing the book. That’s a bit excessive, and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve done intense submitting. You can do everything right. Read their books. Talk to their authors. Know the ins and outs of what they’re looking for, and they can still turn you down.

Oh, yes. I don’t mean to criticize the criticizer but it’s true. You hit a publisher or editor on an off day and they will turn you down. They’ll turn everyone down. And yours, no matter how perfectly crafted, will be one of them. You’ve just spent two months on one publisher and all you got for your efforts was a form letter rejection.

Can’t happen? Oh, but it does. Bet on it.

I’m not saying close your eyes and point to an address in the Writers Market. Not at all. But you need to strive for balance in your writing career.

Let’s say you spent 127 hours writing your novel. Good, it’s done! First draft, champagne drank! Now put it away. That’s right. Don’t look at it again for a month. Spend some time on research to fill in those gaps that you know are there, but don’t look at the book for a month. Yes, 30 days. Hey, that 127 hours wasn’t all at once, right? It was spread out over 6 months or more.

Okay. You get it out again after 30 days and decide you still like it. You spend another 110 hours doing another edit. Good! It’s much better now!

Do you start querying? No!

Put it away for another 30 days. Or better yet, 60 days. Work on something else. Give yourself fresh eyes when you get it out again.

Then do you start querying? Did you read through it and not make a single change? No? You had to do another complete edit, right? Put it away again!

You see? Your submission process will not even start until you feel the manuscript needs no further changes when you take it out again and give it another edit. Yes, it’s hard—it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

Not the submitting. Writing and waiting are hard. Submitting shouldn’t have to be.

Submitting means taking chances. It means you’ll most often miss the target that looks like it’s right in front of you. That’s okay. Because you just never know until you try them.

I once sent a query to a publisher who had moved. Instead an agent who took over the office read the proposal. She called me and asked to sign me on. So you just never know who you’re going to hit at the right time.

But that doesn’t mean you can take short cuts. You still have to do the homework. You have to read each submission guidelines carefully. If they ask you to buy a book or a magazine, decide if they’re a close enough fit for you to do that. I’ve often read magazines. I’ve read novels but most of them take agented only (no, she was unable to sell my book—I didn’t at the time follow the above rules on waiting and she gave bad advice).

Know the genre you’re writing. Know what a literary novel is. Know what an anthology is. Know your terms, and act professional. Tell them why they are perfect for you or you wouldn’t be wasting their time. Give them exactly what they ask for—no more, no less. Thank them. Tickle them.

Okay, not literally. Put down on your calendar who you sent what to and when.

But yes, when you query, end with a little bit of oomph, leave them with a smile. Make sure your writing in the query tells them they might just enjoy your novel. Tickle them.

But spend as much time on your submissions as on your novel? Nonsense. You have another novel to write. A publisher will get enough from a well-crafted query letter whether you study their book list for 10 minutes or read 10 of their books. You can praise their current best seller and rub their ego but if you don’t wow then with your prose, it’s a no-go anyway. And if you wow them with your prose do you think they’ll care if you read one of their books? If it’s a near-hit, demonstrating why yours is the next Dan Brown might do the trick—but it also might turn them off. How are you going to know unless you take them out to lunch?

Submit carefully. Submit one at a time. Make each submission feel like your only one. And don’t give up. Because if your book is good, there is someone out there for you, waiting to say yes. And then you can take them out for that lunch.


Posted by bebowreinhard on February 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (3)


The 2nd Annual Guild Book Fest on February 11 at Harmony Café had its successes and failures, and begs an answer to the question—does Green Bay want its own book fest? Madison has one, as does Appleton. But the sponsoring group, Green Bay Reading Writers Guild, wants it known that Green Bay IS about more than Packers.

The workshops were well received. It is true that the venue was not conducive to huge crowds, and the workshops were cozy to the point of being crowded. The Harmony serves wonderful food, but no one could get up during the workshop to help themselves to the refreshments. The open forum sessions, however, had a lot of empty tables. Either people were afraid they wouldn’t find a seat and stayed away in droves, or they didn’t understand that during these open sessions they could come and go as they chose.

There were also 10 authors signing books, from as far away as Amberg and Marshfield. But when the ten were asked afterward if the signings were worth their time, a couple from Green Bay said no because they only sold a couple copies.

Unlike last year’s fest, this year I did not buy an ad, and that might have made a difference. But $300 is more than I can afford alone, and the Guild itself has no money, being non-profit.

But in order for these book fests to succeed, the media needs to pay attention to the Green Bay Reading Writers Guild (GBRWG) itself—not as a sidebar article but as a feature, and newspeople ready to invite us on their morning show. Who is this group that thinks it can pull off book fests when it isn’t even two years old itself?

I formed the GBRWG because local authors struggle to do their own publicity, and because writers too quickly turned to self-publishing because the rest of the writing business was too hard to learn. It was also formed to help writers who had finished projects find readers so they can get feedback from someone other than a family member.

At first, we got a lot of interested readers. But then something went wrong. We neglected to insist that these writers not get defensive about criticism. Little by little, we lost that valuable reader base.

The GBRWG now plans a workshop to train its readers and writers how to become teams in the process of creating successful projects. Readers who love to read will add value to those pages they read by becoming involved in the process of emerging works. And writers will learn that the objective of critique is to improve on what they’ve already spent so much time on.

As members of the Guild, writers learn that they cannot get validated without at least 50 rejections to their name before they self-publish—that would be 25 agents and 25 publishers. A random number, really, but many writers query agents and then give up, without querying publishers. They come to us believing instead that only an agent can make their career.

So the work of the GBRWG continues. We need writers willing to learn and readers excited to help. We need to make what we do important, so that radio talk shows will interview us and newspaper reporters will knock on our door. The 3rd Annual Book Fest is just a glimmer of potential now. Whether it will happen depends on each and every member we have, and can find in the future, and how valuable the Guild makes itself to the community.

Don’t just be a writer. Want to be a good writer. Readers are our bosses. Listen to them. That’s our motto. Our mission statement:

To encourage reading and writing in Northeast Wisconsin; to be a free resource for readers and writers; to work on the formation of scholarships for writers at all pre-college levels; to encourage and support local writers and authors in publishing and marketing; to develop sound critiquing practices for writers at all levels of their projects; to encourage readers to take their love of the written word to new levels of editing, critiquing, and even writing.

Support literacy in your community. It’s definitely worth the time. Find out what the Guild can do for you.

Writing Contracts Analyzed

Posted by bebowreinhard on January 30, 2012 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

You've got a book done, you've been submitting awhile and finally someone sends you a contract! Are you excited? Of course!

Before you sign on that web generated line, however, please read the contract. Make sure you can live with its requirements. They are not all created equally, even if the publisher insists otherwise. And many of the smaller presses aren’t that good at putting a contract together.

I recently rejected a contract for my vampire novel. There was a clause that said they could make substantial changes and the author would have no recourse if they decided to publish the novel with the changes. I couldn’t do that to my vampire Arabus Drake, a creation of mine that I spent many years of research on.

What that clause in the contract means is they want to take your rough gem and make changes to make the book publishable. When I turned the contract down, I did so with the belief that I am the only one with the proper vision of what that novel is to be. I can’t have some stranger meddling in my vision, and then saying if I don’t like it, they’re going to publish it anyway.

I want a publisher that likes what I have as it is—if I wanted to sell them an idea, I’d sell them an idea.

That’s what a contract does—it spells out exactly what to expect in the months ahead. A contract I recently signed with Sunbury Press noted that if they fail to produce a book in 6 months, without reasonable excuse, the contract will be canceled. In the one I didn’t sign, they ask for 18 months to publish the book, during which time, of course, those substantial changes could be made. There was also a clause that gave them the copyright of your book if they created so many changes that it basically became theirs.

Know what you’re signing. Swallow your excitement. Be sure you’re getting what you want. If you have that idea and don’t mind the total rewrite, then that kind of contract will appeal to you. It did not appeal to me.

The royalties as state in the contract should be reasonable for the market. Another contract I rejected wanted to give me 10% for ebooks, where most publishers offer between 30 and 70%.

What rights are they asking for in the contract? Don’t allow them to take all rights—unless there ‘s a clause that tells you that after a certain amount of time, if they’ve not been able to produce anything with your project, they return the rights back to you. And even then, there had better be a good amount of money attached. A clause like this is often used to option a book or screenplay to be made into a movie, for instance. When you’re optioned, you’re given anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 to give them exclusive and often complete rights, but make sure those rights are returned to you if they fail to produce the movie. Optioning is bread and better for most Hollywood writers.

Some further resources:

I noted that none of these talked about the experiences that I’ve recently had. These are all pretty generic. I will continue to include my experiences here and would love to hear yours. We can learn more by people who are actually dealing with contracts, and signing away their projects.

For instance, I had another contract offered me that stated that if for any reason I wanted out of the contract, after seeing the editing, for example, then I would have to pay them up to $1,000, or they would publish it anyway. This is similar to the other one, and when I asked the reasoning to this, they said that often authors will take the book that they edited, reject the publishing contract and go on to self-publish this nicely edited book.

What writer would do that?

They also did not allow you to reject the cover they created. If you did, you’d have to pay them to create a new one. I don’t know how other authors feel about this but the cover is of extreme importance to the sale of a book. I looked at the covers of the books at their site and was not impressed. I did not sign that contract.

There’s a good discussion here on transferring copyright, which is not something I noted in any contract. But this is vital to have an understanding of, so read this. With my next contract, I’ll be turning back to this link again: I’ll end this discussion with a quote from this link, which is very fitting to my experiences:

Small presses, unfortunately, may be less willing to negotiate their contracts than bigger, more professional publishers. However, if you receive a contract that's full of omissions and/or bad clauses, negotiation probably isn't the answer anyway. A publisher's contract says a lot about its attitude toward authors and the business of publishing. Even if you could get the publisher to remove the termination fee and the temporary copyright transfer, and option only your next work in the same genre, do you really want to go with a publisher for which such demands are the default position?

I know I wouldn’t. I found the door and walked away.