Saturday, 5 October 2019

Querying Stuff!

I've read quite a few querying guides written by both agents and authors - definitely worth a Google search if you're just getting started. I recommend looking up, as their resource section is probably one of the best and most complete I've seen.  They also run an excellent mentoring program. Pitch Wars logo

I've applied this year, so I'm excited to see whether or not my manuscript gets picked up, although even if it doesn't - just getting my submission ready was quite a good workout. I learned a lot from that process by itself.  Also, bear in mind that even though I'm querying science fiction at the moment, these observations are largely applicable across the board.

Anyway, here's some of what I've learned in the last few months of sending out queries. Also, this list assumes that your manuscript is complete and relatively polished (edited/beta-read/etc.).

1. Read up on query letters - how they should look, how long they are and what they should contain. Practice drafting a few. Then draft more. Then mix and match until you're happy with the result. You're still going to have to edit/amend/revise/redraft each one as you send it out, but the practice is really going to help tighten up what you're trying to say. Reading samples of other letters is also a great idea - just don't copy them verbatim. It's fine to use a guideline, but make sure it's your voice and your project that comes through. 

2. Pick your agents carefully. Only go for agents who are interested in your genres, who represent books similar to your own, who are open for submissions and who you think are a good fit for you. To that end, read submission guidelines carefully. Then, go to the Publisher's Marketplace to see if the agent you're querying has a page there. Often you can find additional information on their likes and dislikes there. If not, look for interviews, wish-lists, blog posts - whatever you can find. The internet can be a wonderful resource as long as you do your research. The more recent the information, the better it generally is, so don't rely too much on anything older than a year or so - likely the market and their needs have moved on.

3. Read and re-read your query letters every time. I guarantee you'll find a typo, misplaced comma - whatever. There's nothing worse than hitting send and then taking another look, only to find you edited a sentence and forgot to delete/add a word.  Also, personalize your queries. It doesn't have to be groundbreaking - just be honest about how you found the agent, or why you're interested in having them represent you. Most of your query letters will be fairly similar, but there will be changes based on a particular agent's agents and the specific things they're interested in. Rejection stings, but not as much as I expected.  The first few were really hard to take, my stomach twisted up and then the adrenaline arrived. Having that happen at 11:00 pm on a work-night was a little rough. So I turned off notifications and now I don't have to deal with that. It's important to note I don't begrudge getting the messages at that time - I'd rather get the answer than not, no matter what time of day.  However, while it can feel like a never-ending slog, or the story of Sisyphus if you want to get mythical about it, it really isn't. Believe in your work - I do. I know my book is strong and it'll sell - I just need to find the right person to help me bring it to market.  That doesn't mean it's perfect - it can absolutely be improved - but I've done my best so far, so now its time to test the field.

5. Agents are busy people and often inundated with submissions, so they often won't respond within their timelines or send you personalized feedback. This is a common theme in just about every industry where dozens or hundreds or thousands of people are trying to break in through the same door. Give them time to respond - don't bother them with followups asking for updates - likely that'll just give them a bad impression. No one wants a high-maintenance relationship - it's that simple.
  • Add-on: You should be querying multiple agents AT DIFFERENT AGENCIES at the same time. Don't query a second agent at the same agency until the first one responds to you or a significant amount of time passes after their response is due. Agencies don't want their own agents stepping on each others' toes. Likewise, if an agency says a no from one agent is a no from all, don't keep submitting - its time to move on.
6. Be professional - you are trying to sell a product. Yes, it's your dream. Yes, it's your baby. My manuscript (Lancet / Sci-fi / 120,000 words) is probably the most important physical 'thing' in my life, and I have a lot of emotional investment tied up in its success. However, that passion isn't going to do me any favors if I can't interact with people who disagree with me or handle feedback like an adult. So, if someone gives you personalized feedback, you need to remember that they didn't have to do that. No one owes us anything - so take it as a gift - a sign that they actually want to help you.

7. You are your brand. That means you have to make all decisions relative to your product(s). How you present yourself is just as important as who you choose to work with. Getting an agent isn't just about getting through a door. It's a two-way relationship. The goal should always be to find someone you can work with, who respects you and whose goal is to improve your market-share. Agents make their money off of you and should only be representing work they click with - that they believe in - that they think they can sell. Read this article about how to spot a bad agent. In fact, if you go back one page, has a whole section on helping writers avoid scams, bad agents, bad contests, publishers, etc. It's great stuff.

8. Stay organized! I can't stress this enough. You should create a list/spreadsheet of who you've submitted to, their agency, their timelines and their results.  Here's a small sample of mine (apologies if it's a bit small):

Keep it up to date and ADD TO IT as you go - keep sending queries. Even if you think you've queried enough, just keep going. There are a lot of agents out there, and you never know who'll be interested in your story.

9. Don't be a jerk. Seriously, I shouldn't have to say this, but don't - DO NOT - be a jerk to anyone. If an agent/publisher rejects you, that's fine - don't try to fight with them about it. If they send you a personal note it's probably okay to ask them a question or two (if you need clarification on something they've said), but don't take that as an opportunity to call them out or disagree. Nothing you say is going to change their mind and it's just going to hurt your reputation. People talk, and if you're a jackass, chances are word's going to get around. Or you'll end up on social media, going viral for the wrong reasons. Take it as constructive feedback. You still have the choice of taking it or not - it all depends on how it'll affect your work (ex. changing tense or the MC's perspective)

10. Get involved. Post on social media when you can - create a presence, even if you can't do so regularly. Be supportive of your fellow writers. Participate in discussions, AMAs on Reddit or Twitter, #Pitmad, Pitchwars, go to conventions and ask questions - you don't know what you don't know. And the only way to find out is to get out there!

Alright, I've probably gabbed on enough. If I've missed anything, feel free to leave a shout out in the comments or in an RT. Likewise, if you've got a blog or a resource you'd like to share, please feel free to do so.

All the best - stay awesome and, as always, thanks for reading! 

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Ad Astra Publishing 101 - Resources

Writers Market 2019 - Book - Chapters/Indigo
  • A little out of date by the time it prints, but generally a good starting point
 Publishers Marketplace - Website - Agent listings
  • Old website design makes it un-user friendly. However, you can find a lot of agents listed there. Make sure you check their sales/authors to make sure they're legitimate.
Google Alerts - To help monitor specific websites for submission page changes 

Pitch Wars - To get better at pitching manuscripts

Reddit - Writing communities for Fantasy and Science Fiction

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Progress report – where have I been?

So, blog’s been silent for a bit. This has always been a problem for me (and I think anyone who writes and also works full time in another field).  I have a finite amount of mental energy and have to pick and choose what I put my time into. 

And it’s been a bit of a whirlwind during the last few months. 

I went to Can-Con in October – that was really fun.  I pitched to three Canadian publishers and each one expressed interest in my sci-fi manuscript (Lancet).  Currently I’m waiting to hear back on whether or not anyone wants to buy it.  Also, my short story A Traded Secret is releasing in Julie Czerneda’s Tales from Plexis on December 4th, and will be available in major bookstores and online.  Julie was going to do a launch in Ottawa, but that’s been rescheduled to Ad-Astra next year.  Which I’m looking forward to and will also be a lot of fun.

A bunch of my friends from work have made a plan to take me out for lunch on launch day and have me sign a bunch of copies for them (or maybe just one – even that’s pretty awesome).  Extremely nice of everyone involved – makes me a bit emotional thinking about it.

Also, I’m starting to work on a sequel to Lancet now, and I think the ideas I’ve come up with have some pretty good depth.  And drama.  And action.  And growth.  All the ingredients to a rip-roaring story.  More on that will come in time.

I probably should be further along.  After finishing Lancet, I took a bit of a mental vacation.  Between editing and conventions/work/video games (so many video games) I haven’t had the gumption to do much.  That changed yesterday, when the light came back on and a bunch of disparate plots and thoughts and dreams all fit together.  Suddenly I have this coagulating blob of material that needs to be worked into shape.  This is the most exciting part for me – the creation phase when everything is new and fresh and I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Otherwise, I really want to give credit to my wife, who’s has been kind enough to read my book – something she was a little worried about because I was a lot touchier about editing when I was younger.  Liked to argue – now I’m just happy whenever anyone is willing to read it.  And her opinion is the most important to me, so having her sense of the story is really important. I think I’ve grown up a lot in the intervening years.

Other than that, it’s almost time for the holidays, so if I don’t see you or say so – Happy Holidays!  And that’s for everyone, everywhere, no matter what you celebrate or if you celebrate. 

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Short Story: Brained

Trigger warnings:  Allusions to racism and child abuse.
Some graphic violence. 


My name is Chuck and I have a problem.  Someone has stolen my brain. 
Now, before you start worrying about an empty skull and trails of drool and whatnot, the first thing I should tell you is that it’s dead.  It’s been dead for ages.  As have I, as far as the county coroner is concerned. 
The thought of running my thoughts through such…slow hardware would turn my stomach if I had one. 
I am what you might call a post-human: a digital representation of a mind not willing to die at the tender age of fifty-seven, when my rather extensive resources ran up against the hard limits of medical science.  As far as benefits go, I feel better now that I’m unfettered by failing organs and weak bones.  I no longer have biological needs or weaknesses.  My mind is blindingly fast, with unlimited access to the wellspring of human knowledge. 
I recommend it to everyone, if your idea of heaven is being able to go anywhere and do anything you could possibly imagine without consequence or harm.  As long as you’ve got the money, welcome aboard.  I should note that the barrier to entry is a plus, as far as I’m concerned.  
Keeps the riffraff out.
There are problems, of course. 
As you may have guessed, the definition of ‘legally dead’ is no end of trouble.  Corpses and/or parts thereof don’t exactly have rights once they’re turned over for medical use.  My brain is, as far as I know, the only part of my physical body that still exists.  The useful bits of me were carved up and sold years ago.
Still, that preserved grey matter is very much a necessary evil, since it represents hard-fought legal loophole that permits me to exist as I do. 
Let me explain. 
For the less informed, enlightened or as yet un-ascended, digital personalities are still a major no-no.  This on account of the first artificial ones doing their level best to wipe out humanity.  Turns out flesh and blood is extremely inefficient. 
So, digital sentience is a banned technology.  But, human-derived consciousness isn’t quite the same thing.  At least it’s not according to a comfortable majority of Supreme Court Justices, several of whom happen to be my neighbors. 
Which means we all live under their rules. 
And foremost among them: our brains are the necessary proof that we were once post-simian, physical existences.  Without it, I am just a bit of errant code, an unauthorized personality running on several interconnected servers.  And that means significant liability for whoever owns those servers.  It doesn’t matter that I pay them a fortune for the privilege.  It doesn’t matter that being cleaned up by their maintenance programs is about as final a death as I can experience. 
All that matters is that I have precisely ten hours to fix this.
So, who took my brain?
My metaphysical gut told me before I could confirm it.  Dayo.  My ex-wife.  Still mad that I left everything to the kids.  Kids I had with another woman.  Well, women.  Fine, her sister and her best friend.  And several others.
I admit it felt pretty sweet.  About as sweet as that first time I…no, best not go down that road – the decency police are ever watchful.
I protected my fortune, or rather my team of accountants and lawyers did, by funneling it away from that snake of a woman.   
What did she expect?  We were together for a paltry thirty years.  Yes, she helped me get started by working a few jobs while I went through college.  And yes, she came up with several of the designs of my first products.  But the patents are in my name – doesn’t she understand how hard it is to hire a lawyer to write a proposal and send it in?  When’s the last time she thought about my needs? 
No way was she going to take half of everything I own. 
Five seconds is a long time in a digital world, but that’s what I need to coax the security system to give up its treasures.  And confirm she was responsible.  How she managed to scam her way into this place, much less claim the jar my brain floats in is another issue.  Which reminds me, I’ll need to contact my lawyers.
But right now, I don’t have time for ‘legal’ remedies.
One of the benefits of being digital is my capacity to…move.  The software driving my consciousness is currently the standard in both data-streaming and world simulation.  There’s no counting the companies that have licensed it to produce their own special versions of reality.  And since it’s a hugely popular and profitable product, just about every networkable device in the world contains the chipsets required to run it. 
Which is good, because that means I am compatible with all of them.
And also how, metaphorically speaking, I have broken into my ex-wife’s home.  She’s still very much limited by the physical world, what with having to drive home.  I’ve made the journey simply by pasting the relevant part of myself into an email attachment.  Sadly I am not able to create copies – some are still convinced that capacity would be disastrous.  And they're right.  If I could self-replicate, I would not be concerned about such an unimportant matter.  I would be competing with other intelligences for space, bandwidth and resources in a wholly different kind of war. 
But, back to the present. 
It’s an interminable wait, but a necessary one.  Dayo still drives that old rust-bucket – an analog car with a manual transmission.  And zero networked devices.  She doesn’t even have her phone on her.  Something about that should concern me. 
But I’m more involved with her house warden.  Domestic AI – and by that I mean a database with a long list of if/and/or arguments – is easy enough to fool.  Particularly when said database still contains entries that identify me as friendly.
Traffic being what it is at this time of day, I’ve had the run of the house for a couple hours.  And that means I’ve read her mail, snooped through her finances, deleted several objectionable contacts from her address book and sent a series of nasty letters out to her family.  If she’s going to mess with me, the least I can do is the same to her. 
Sadly, her predilection towards small town comforts rather than urbane refinement hasn’t changed.  Drove me mad when we were together.  I don’t get her love of wooden furniture or wicker baskets.  Or why she still refuses to have skin lightening treatments – she’s not getting any younger. 
By the time she pulls into the driveway, I’m feeling aglow from invading her privacy. 
I can feel when her biometrics open the front door – sense her passing by her small living room. 
I hide in her toaster – a small box of circuits concerned with dry observations of bread and bagels.  I was always better at dealing with household appliances.  She used them sporadically, apologized for wearing them out and had a hard time throwing them away.
I intend to confront her.  I’ve got enough evidence for the police.  Even without it, they'd likely prefer my version of events to hers.  But I don't really care if she's convicted or not.  My goal at the moment is to get my brain back where it belongs.  I've enough resources to exact my revenge later. 
I splice into the security cameras so I can see her.  She’s looking old.  Old and quaint.  Almost frumpy.  There’s a package in the crook of her arm – which is when I realize I’ve never actually seen my brain-box before.  It’s an odd feeling, seeing your right to life summed up in a cubic foot of glass and formaldehyde. 
She practically drops it on the counter.   
Careful, you stupid cow!
“Magda, is he here?”  Her question shocks me down to my binary. 
“He is.”  Magda is what she calls her home if/and/or decision tree.   It speaks in familiar monotone.
I don’t like this, but even so, only a small part of me occupies her toaster.  The rest of me is safe on my home servers. 
“I have something to say to you.”  She finds the kitchen camera and stares hard at the lens.  At me.  “Everything you did to me, I could forgive.  The money, the cheating, the lying.  Everything.  I knew you were a piece of shit, so when you left me, when I found out about Ella and Tasha and the kids, I chalked it up to my own poor judgment.”  She shakes her head and I see a profound sadness there.  “But.  Two weeks ago I met a ten year old boy and his mother.  He looks like you.  His mother is twenty five.” 
Oh, so that’s what this is about.  See, I can explain-
Dayo unscrews the top of the jar, scoops out the dripping meat and holds it up.  “I hope you enjoy the show.”
My brain thuds into the sink.  She opens the cupboard underneath, pulls out a plunger, a toilet plunger of all things, and turns on the trash compactor.  I can see the ropy muscles of her arms as she puts her strength into the job; strands of her black hair come loose from the gathered ringlets at the crown of her head.   
There’s no way to describe the sight or sound of your brain being shredded.  But it's death so complete it leaves me cold.  Cold and empty.  Frozen.
“Did you see that Charles?”
I shriek, but make no sound.  I scream every profanity I can imagine.  I promise myself, I swear by every God known to man that before I go, I will destroy her life.  Everything she’s ever done, every friend she’s made, I’ll kill every ungrateful one of th-
A short log is all that marks the detection and removal of a malignant personality.  Profile C-2.81983 non-compliant.  Deleted.  Maintenance complete.