An Observation Concerning… Your Consideration

“And hey maybe I’m a critic, a cynic, or am I crazy, do they all hate me?”
-Forever The Sickest Kids, “What Do You Want From Me”

Ah, the excitement of finding an agent or publisher is so exhilarating in the beginning. The author is fresh off their final edit and believes their story is going to be the next great novel. It’s then going to be adapted into an award-winning film, and they will become established in the lavish life of famous authors and entertainers.

Then reality sets in, and they’re rejected over and over as we discussed last week. I know this doesn’t sound appealing, but how do we get to the opportunity for rejection? We risk our whole story, no matter the genre and quality, on how well we can write marketing content, and structure each pitch specifically to the guidelines of agents and publishers. We’re going to structure your query letter in this post.

Um, that still doesn’t sound appealing. You’re right; it doesn’t. You know what else doesn’t? Research.

Unfortunately, research is a must when it comes to querying multiple agents and publishers. First, you need to find agents who are interested in your genre or publishers that focus on publishing your genre. If you’re starting out, one observation to be wary of is the length of an agent’s list of interests. If they enjoy almost every genre, it’s going to be more difficult to obtain representation.

After you’ve narrowed down your search, visit each agency’s or publisher’s website and learn more about everyone and everything. When it comes to literary agencies, simple online searches and blogs or articles directing you toward a certain agent won’t tell the whole story (was that kind of a pun?). There may be a better-suited agent to query for your book within the agency, and they usually have detailed bios and an informative company profile. Here are three important questions that will help while researching agents:

  • Who represented my favorite authors in my genre?
  • Who published my favorite books in my genre?
  • What is in the agency’s or publisher’s catalog like, and what are their most recent projects?

Hey! You slipped in a fourth question. Why do I have to do research AND take a test? Oh, don’t worry, you have to write a paper, too.

I recommend creating a spreadsheet (oh, come on!) with the agents/agency and publishers, each’s contact information, notes to make your query personal, how they prefer their submissions, when you submitted and, of course, a column to put all your “no’s” (don’t worry, only one of them has to be a “yes” and the spreadsheet is a success—or an utter reminder of failure that will never leave the cloud).

When you’re ready to submit, read the guidelines for each agent or publisher very carefully because they’re all just different enough to really make your life annoying. Everything from page or word count, to headers and page numbers, to contact information to query structure will force a change in your generic draft. And that’s the point: they don’t want a generic draft; they want you to show you’ve learned about their agency or press, can follow guidelines and aren’t wasting theirs or your time (spoiler alert: we’ll go back to time—no, not “back IN time,” “back TO time.” Stop wasting time!).

The one question you may come across is whether or not the agency or publisher accepts attachments. Most will state if they want all material in the body of the email or as an attachment, but if they don’t mention their preferences, give them a call or email before you submit. You will get either an answer and it will show them your diligence, or they won’t get back to you and you can cross them off your list. If agencies and publishers are going to hold a standard for authors, then they must show the same standard.  They can deal with their inefficient, impassive and probably a little pompous staff on their own time.

See, it comes back to time. Agents and publishers make it very clear how valuable their time is and how overloaded they are with submissions, and we respect that, but what about the authors? This is a problem not only in the entertainment industry, but everywhere. Take academia, for example: a student spends more time researching, formatting their references and making sure their citations are correct in a paper than writing the content. When a person applies for a job, their beautiful resume they spent hours, maybe days, creating doesn’t mean anything because they have to either fill all the information out again on online job sites or a company’s portal. What is the point of a resume if you just have to change it every time you apply? What is the point of a query letter if you have to cater it to a plethora of individual preferences? You’re doing everything for them to make sure their time isn’t wasted, but your time is—and you’re not even getting paid, and there’s a high chance you will never even make a living off writing! I will be honest; I think garnering all the different guidelines and obsessive particularities has taken more time than actually writing a novel.

The other side could argue that an author needs to work hard and pay their dues, but there comes a point when all authors have done so more than enough. It’s like an unpaid internship in the Twilight Zone that spans multiple decades. During employment searches, companies want candidates with experience, but how can someone gain experience if no one gives them an initial chance? The same goes with unestablished and established authors: how can an author become established if no one will give them a chance?

I once saw submission guidelines that explained how the house would only accept exclusive submissions and they would need three months to respond. Do people out there think others have nothing else to do with their life except wait around? It’s kind of like how every single article of clothing says on the tag to “wash separately.” Seriously, who has time to do that? This is why an author needs to submit to multiple agencies and publishers: they’ve dedicated so much time to their work with the intention to earn income off their intellectual and creative property, and then have to anxiously wait around for answers that sometimes don’t even come. As a courtesy, all agencies and publishers should at least send an email declining an author’s work. They’ve spent a majority of their free time, sometimes years of it, writing a novel for free, so why can’t someone send an email that takes a few minutes to draft? We value the time of agents and publishers, but sometimes the respect isn’t reciprocated.

Man, this is awful. First you imply I need to be a better marketer than writer, then you tell me I have to do homework, then I have to take a test, then I have to write a paper and you end by mentioning no one cares about my time! Querying sucks. It sure does, but let’s go ahead and structure your letter anyway.

  • Addressing: Make sure the agent’s name or publishing house is correct. Seriously.
  • Schmooze paragraph: Just a couple sentences explaining how you found the agent or publisher and why you chose to query them—make it personal between you and them.
  • Pitch paragraph: One or two sentences selling your story; it has to be short, informative and damn intriguing. Here is my most recent pitch:
    • The T206 baseball card set is one of the most famed collectibles in the world, and international criminal Jack Swift is after the full assortment for a hefty payday. As he finds the oddest cards scattered across the world, he unearths the ugly collusion between the mob, gambling, and a little voodoo.
  • Brief synopsis: “Brief” is important here; think of it as what you would read on the back of a published book. Here is my brief synopsis of the same book from above:
    • Swift baits his rival, Detective Jim Beckett, with his trademark hints during an international journey peppered with conspiracies, trophy heists, sports jinxes, and the occult. Witchdoctors, legends of legends, and fiery twin bosses of the Manzoni mob family stand in the way of each’s end game. Will Swift or Beckett end up victorious? Or will they even survive the wrath of the seductive and powerful Manzoni girls?
  • Additional information: Sometimes the guidelines will ask for a word count, genre or if the manuscript is part of a series. Here is my additional information paragraph (sentence):
    • “Curses!” is an 80,000-word crime novel and the second installment in the Jack Swift series.
  • Author bio: This should be pretty self-explanatory, but the important thing to know is only provide RELEVANT information. If you’re querying a crime novel, don’t talk about your children’s picture book you have in the works, or that you’re currently employed as a barista.
  • Gracious outro: Be appreciative of their consideration like any normal human should be about anything.
  • Signature: Spell your name right. Seriously. And provide your email address (I know that they should know it because you emailed them, but do it anyway) and your phone number.

Disclaimer: This query is currently being shopped and hasn’t been picked up (but has been rejected), so it may be a bad example… or just an uninteresting story.

And there you have it. That doesn’t seem so hard. Now, don’t forget your much-longer and more-specific synopsis.

Dammit!

An Observation Concerning… A “Subjective” Industry

“And everyone would know, they’d know it’s our world.”
-I Hate Kate, “Story I Can’t Write”

I watched Jane The Virgin.

First, I have a wife so that explains a little. Second, I didn’t watch the series finale, but I did hear what happened. Third, there’s a reason behind referencing the show: Jane was a romance writer vetting for discovery. By some miracle, she received a $500,000 deal on her debut novel, and obtained an agent after just three rejections.

Talk about fiction.

It’s hard to be envious of a character, but it’s easy to get annoyed. Jane’s whining after her third rejection from a top agent was extravagant, as was her claim to quit until that marvelous phone call happened at the most desperate of times. Okay, okay; the program was a modern telenovela, so it’s not that big of a deal and the writers had a story to tell.

Many authors know what rejection feels like; we hear the word “no” more than unattractive unpleasant men do from happy hour to last call. Here are some fun stats that will either be a brutal reminder for current authors or will ruin the day of aspiring writers:

  • Agents receive around 600 submissions a year.
  • Agents reject around 95 percent of submissions they receive.
  • Over a million books are self-published a year.

Here are some more unsettling stats:

  • Authors make a median average annual income of less that $7,000.
  • Around 20 percent of full-time published authors’ income was 100 percent book-related.
  • Around 25 percent of long-time authors can make $0 a year in book-related income.

This isn’t looking promising, except for Jane Villanueva. I’ve been rejected over 100 times. That sounds like a lot, and it is, trust me, I don’t know how my unstable mind has processed it—I think I’m just numb to the fact. However, brain-numbing is good for authors just like a short memory is for athletes.

Though, the latter doesn’t necessarily work for writers if you’re anything like me (I apologize if you are). I’ve saved every rejection I’ve ever received. It’s torture, but also motivation. You start to understand the process more as the denials filter in, but you also start seeing the same response agents will copy and paste into most of their replies. I’ll sum up a majority of the answers you will receive: “It’s not a good fit for me at this time, but the publishing agency is a very subjective business.”

They will keep your confidence high by saying the issue isn’t in your writing, but if you’re writing is so good then why no representation? Why have hundreds of people brushed you off like some amateur when you’re obviously up to professional standards? Subjectiveness? Not necessarily, because with that many negative responses, it seems everyone has the same tastes.

It may not be the agents who are subjective, but rather the market, which is unfortunate for everyone not writing in a trendy genre. When an agent takes on a project, they have to sell that project, and what’s trending is what sells to publishers because they then have to sell the book to bookstores and online outlets who then have to sell the book to the reader who’s obsessed with paranormal romance right now (maybe, who knows, I can’t keep up with all the hot sub-genres).

I once received a response that said, “I just wouldn’t know how to market this book, so I don’t think I can take it on.”

Reading books isn’t trendy, reading a genre is, and an agent’s livelihood depends on what’s popular at the moment, not necessarily what they love to read. Someone could be selling the next great young adult epic fantasy, and then going home and reading The Idiot in a red leather chair with a glass of brandy on their end table being warmed by a crackling fire; or cuddling up on an uncomfortable contemporary couch in their small apartment while reading The Help as their cat knocks over their glass of chardonnay. Personally, I would be reading My Struggle 6 with some whiskey and a game on in the background—no fire, no cat and probably no actual time to make that situation happen. Ah, life.

With that being said, of course agents love the books they’re pushing because they’re passionate about their preferences and the book industry as a whole, and that’s why a thorough search before you submit is vital. While you’re doing your research, also pay attention to what starts the agent’s list of interests and if there are genres that DON’T fit your book. They could want Sci-Fi, but also women’s fiction (which everyone wants right now), so if your main character is a womanizing hardboiled space bounty hunter gone rogue, maybe the agent isn’t going to find your book appealing based on their other interests. Also, just because they mention they like mystery and suspense, for example, it doesn’t mean that that’s what they’re looking for right away. Sometimes what they’re currently accepting is mentioned elsewhere in their profile, so make sure to read their whole bio and get to know them—or, at the very least, get to e-know them through a generic conversation in the form of an auto-response.

Here are some uncontrollable things to consider of why your story, the one you’ve been dedicating your time to with no pay, will be rejected:

  • It falls into the slush pile for an intern to read, and your whole life depends on the tastes of one arrogant 22-year-old.
  • The market is bad and all publishers are being cheap (unless you’re a celebrity or James Patterson).
  • It’s the summer (damn, that’s right now) and many agents have checked out, are working on their backlog, working for their current clients or attending more conferences than office meetings.
  • You’re a young straight white male because that’s so 20th century, and you just don’t get it.

Okay, that last one might not be true if taken literally. On the other hand, there are certain topics and certain writers that are more marketable for the industry to push. The key word there is “marketable.” I was speaking to a nice woman who I enjoy talking to when we cross paths, and she asked me about the next Jack Swift book. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “I’m currently shopping it at the moment.”
Her: “Why don’t you just hire an agent?”
Me: “I wish. It’s a little harder than that though.”
Her: “Well, [Daughter’s name] got an agent for her book. They edited it and published it and dealt with all the legal matters or whatever. She even has an assistant for all that stuff now because she just can’t deal with it, you know.”

Both offer light chuckles… and scene.

Her daughter is a very marketable person who writes in a hot genre with a trendy topic. With that being said, her book was featured in a friend’s book club and no member could finish the novel because it was too boring. She had a marketable trifecta, and though the book was “boring” to readers, it was still traditionally-published.

Don’t be upset if you’re not in the 5 percent who are accepted by an agent because 95 percent of authors are in the same sinking ship as you are. Don’t be upset at Jane Villanueva.

More importantly, don’t change your story to something you can’t write just because it’s hot in the market. Your time will come, you just have to keep submitting and learn from your rejections.

Next week we’ll get into writing that query that’s going to be rejected. Hooray.

An Observation Concerning… Equal Pay (Oh Girl, Here We Go)

“But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise that they’re, giving none away, away, away.”
-Pink Floyd, “Money”

Do players on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) deserve equal pay? Yes.

I wish it was that simple of an answer and that a pay bump solves all problems, but it’s not and it doesn’t (fair warning: get ready for a long post). There’s something that needs to be addressed beforehand: international pull. Unfortunately, the rest of the world may not care as much as we do, and that’s a major speed bump on the road to equal compensation. What a lame attempt to be clever.

Graham Hays, ESPNW.com- USSF says USWNT has made more than men

Let’s start with Graham Hays’ July 29 article stating, well, you can read the headline above. U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordiero provided an independently-performed financial report that reviewed the salary difference between U.S. men and women soccer players over the last decade. Hays said, “Among the conclusions, which U.S. Soccer said were verified by an independent accounting firm, are that women’s players were paid $34.1 million by the [USSF] from 2010 to 2018 in salaries and bonuses,” later adding, “members of the men’s national team were paid $26.4 million by the [USSF] over the same period, the analysis concluded.” I’m not too keen on math, but I believe there’s a difference that may become detrimental toward an “equal pay” argument here.

However, numbers and reports from unnamed firms are somewhat on the same level as the assumptions of lobbyists and members of congress. Hays quoted USWNT players’ spokesperson Molly Levinson, “This is a sad attempt by the USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received,” later adding, “the numbers the USSF uses are utterly false.”

We’ll get to those pesky congress members later.

Those are some rash claims by Levinson, and she does cite some things said, but “things said” don’t necessarily compare to things analyzed. Both teams are separate businesses, and everything is revenue driven. I was happy to see that the NSWL got an ESPN contract for 14 games, and the first game after the USWNT’s World Cup title was a sellout. How many sellouts were there before the World Cup? There have been ratings studies in the past that show there’s a general interest in women’s soccer leading up to, during and after the World Cup, but each time the numbers tend to decline during the three years between the buzz quieting and then returning.

People are too caught up on the U.S. side of things though, and it’s the wrong federation to be targeting. If the claim is for the USWNT to make the same as the USMNT then you can complain to USSF all you want, but they can only do so much. It’s FIFA that creates the problem.

But is there an actual international problem, and is FIFA just viewing this as business practicality? With the exception of a handful of countries, how many women’s national teams can say, “Hey, we deserve this because we perform equally or better than the men”? Wait, I answered the question before I asked it: a handful.

Now, the argument itself needs to be revised as well. If the main point for equal pay is international success then that’s a tough way to approach the debate. Let’s go over World Cup winners and runner-ups, but only start in 1990 to make it fair. Here’s how it would play out:

  • Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (5): United States, Japan, Norway, China and Sweden.
  • Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Germany.
  • Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (6): Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Croatia.

Now, that’s pretty close (damn U.S. hogging all the glory from the rest of the women). Here’s the main difference between the women’s and men’s world cups: prize money. France received $38 million for winning the 2018 title and the USWNT received a measly $4 million for their 2019 championship. That’s quite unbalanced, but is it actually fair mathematically?

Prize funds are generated from World Cup revenue, and the men have had 21 world cups in comparison to the women’s 8. That’s about two-thirds more exposure and two-thirds more time to generate revenue and growth. In World Cup terms alone, the men have been building a brand for 88 years while the women have been at it for 28.

  • Revised Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (4): United States, Japan, Norway and China.
  • Revised Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Sweden.
  • Revised Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (11): Germany, Uruguay, England, Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic and Slovakia, but it would unfair to count them both) and Hungary.

Things are starting to look a little different. Though, you could assume two-thirds more World Cups should only account for two-thirds more money. So if we’re being truly “even Steven” then the purse for winning the women’s World Cup should be around $13 million. It’s going to get there sooner rather than later. In 2014, Germany’s prize for winning the men’s World Cup was $35 million, and in 2015 the USWNT received $2 million. For the men’s side, 2018 was around an 8.6 percent increase, while on the women’s side, 2019 was a 100 percent increase. That is incredibly promising, and people need to look at positives like this.

Still not convinced? That’s fair; there’s still an argument. So let’s get to the real deciding factor: international star power.

In 2018, Croatian and Real Madrid star Luka Modrić won the Ballon d’Or, and Norwegian and Lyon star Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or. Here’s how the kids measure popularity these days: Instagram.

  • Luka Modrić followers: 17.2 million.
  • Ada Hegerberg followers: 310,000.

Though the 2019 finalists have been announced on both the women’s side, how many of these women below were household names in the U.S. before the 2019 World Cup?

  • Lindsey Horan
  • Megan Rapinoe
  • Amandine Henry
  • Amel Majri
  • Wendi Renard
  • Marta
  • Sam Kerr
  • Pernille Harder
  • Lieke Martens
  • Dzsenifer Marozsan
  • Saki Kumagai
  • Christine Sinclair
  • Lucy Bronze
  • Fran Kirby

Megan Rapinoe, Marta and Christine Sinclair should all be a “yes” if you have followed women’s soccer for at least the last decade. Lindsey Horan, Sam Kerr and Lieke Martens are a “maybe” in addition to Hegerberg, but the rest are probably only well-known to people who are citizens of the countries they represent or are truly devout followers of international women’s soccer—which I don’t believe to be the case in the U.S. I think we know our own players, there’s no denying that, but what about the rest of the world? And vice versa. Does the rest of the world care about our players?

Have you heard of these nobodies?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Antoine Griezmann
  • Kylian Mbappe
  • Lionel Messi

If you haven’t heard of at least two of them, you’re lying. Here’s something to think about: The combined Instagram followers of the 15 2018 Women’s Ballon d’Or finalists (7.6 million) doesn’t come close to the individual total of any of those four male stars above (177.9 million, 26.9 million, 32.8 million and 127.2 million respectively). And to try to make it fairer, I will add USWNT stars Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle (11.6 million). That brings us closer to Griezmann’s 26.9 million followers.

To clarify, I’m not trying to demean or discriminate against women at all; I’m just trying to prove a point that has been overlooked. The USWNT deserves equal pay and they want it, but the rest of the world is hindering the cause in a sense, and some of the media is framing it in a way that feeds the chants.

Nike released a statement that boasted the fact the USWNT’s jersey was the No. 1-selling kit, men’s or women’s, ever sold on their website in one season. That’s an amazing feat, but how many of those sales came within the U.S. compared to other countries purchasing the jersey? Also, it’s just one season. Can this consistency keep up when the momentum of the World Cup declines once again?

Headlines that have been filtering around the internet claim that the 2019 women’s World Cup final was watched by millions more viewers than the 2018 men’s final. That’s true—in the U.S. FIFA reported that 3.5 billion people globally tuned into the men’s final. For all you non-population buffs, that’s half the world. We will see what the final global numbers for the women’s final was in October. If you’re going to use international success as a talking point, you need to talk international numbers.

The world: we get back to our true problem with the progression of women’s soccer. Women’s soccer is huge in the U.S., and our women are damn good at what they do; the proof is in the titles and there’s no question they are the world’s best—not just now, but of all-time. FIFA doesn’t just look at the U.S. market, however, they look at the global impact of the game.

Let’s finally get to those pesky congress members. Oh man, do we have to? Tell me if you think this is dumb: Hays’ reported, “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virigina, introduced a bill earlier this month that would deny federal funds for the 2026 Men’s World Cup, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Canada and Mexico, until the American federation agrees to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally. Last week, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, introduced a similar bill in the house.”

That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and the government does a lot of dumb things. First of all, you can’t make that decision for Canada and Mexico who are just kind of piggybacking off the U.S. as joint hosts. Second, that’s a childish, selfish and rash reaction to a report that didn’t provide the answer you wanted.

“I didn’t get my way so I’m going to ruin everything for everyone!”

How many people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico agree with this bill? How many people in the world agree with this bill? Like it or not, it would affect all countries that make the 2026 tournament, not to mention tourism revenue for all hosting states. You would be taking away a quality World Cup from billions of people who consider this “The World’s Game” and don’t give two shits about your petty agenda that only helps a small percentage of this country.

We don’t consider the other variables; we just consider what’s on the surface and what we assume.

Here’s another interesting statement to dissect: Hays’ quoted Levinson again, “Here is what [USSF] cannot deny: For every game a man plays on the MNT, he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or time, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination.”

Meg Kelly, Washington Post- Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men?

Now, hold on there a second. Washington Post contributor Meg Kelly reported, “A contract player on the women’s team makes a base salary and can earn performance-based bonuses. (Players without a contract have a different pay schedule.) On the men’s team, players earn only bonuses.” Kelly added a quote from Sports Illustrated writer and University of New Hampshire Law professor Michael McCann, “The male players are paid when they play, but not when they sit. USMNT players must thus be on the roster to be pay eligible, USWNT players, in contrast, are guaranteed pay.”

This is because both teams have separate collective bargaining agreements. Levinson may need to reword her statement, or either her or McCann are wrong. So who do we believe?

Back to the question at hand from around 1900 words ago: Do players on the USWNT deserve equal pay? Yes—in the U.S.

Maybe Japan, Norway, China and Sweden have arguments as well, but there are too many variables that prevent an easy solution: revenue and sponsorship obtainment and distribution, collective bargaining agreements, international comparisons and star power and FIFA.

The fans need to show their support consistently, ESPN and other networks need to offer more than 14 games to viewers and FIFA needs to do a better job promoting women’s soccer globally because smaller countries need more help gaining exposure, and don’t have the national structure to do so alone.

Don’t just blame the USSF; a lawsuit isn’t going to solve anything, and, just like in life, everything is a trade-off. A lawsuit just means someone else is going to lose. However, organic progression, as we have clearly seen over the last 28 years at a fast pace, is something incredible.

I’m ecstatic that revenue is increasing, popularity is rising and publicity is becoming more prominent, and I think the USWNT has a valid argument. I still play soccer, now in a co-ed league, and I know how great women are and how well they compete against men.

Fans, if you really want to support the USWNT, here is their upcoming victory tour schedule:

  • USWNT vs. Republic of Ireland- Aug 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Aug 29, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Sep 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 6, 2019

Get a ticket or tune in, and keep the momentum for a team that has proven themselves.

What about U.S. Olympians and equal pay then? They always win, too!

No! I’m tired of writing. That’s a whole other thing.

AN OBSERVATION CONCERNING… A RESURRECTION OF A REVOLUTION (AGAIN)

“There’s something in the, something in the way you were.”
-The Union Underground, “Revolution Man”

I was in an airport restaurant waiting out a sizable layover, inhaling a giant burger which probably wasn’t the best meal choice before becoming scrunched in an uncomfortable middle seat for two-plus hours. A family of four dined at the table next to me, and I took notice to the preteen girl on her phone—not in that way, creep. With disinterest, she sported a Green Day “Dookie” shirt, a black bandanna with printed red roses, and some Chucks on full display resting on the seat and not the ground.

It’s no secret that the ’90s are back. Television and movie reboots, showy merchandising and horrible fashion have consumed the trendy public. The latter is something I’m having trouble grasping; ’90s fashion wasn’t necessarily a trend, but rather a statement of carelessness. Work boots were scuffed, but not from labor, jeans were baggy and ripped and not purchased as such, shirts were stretched and tattered, and flannel was considered all-season attire. Showering was optional, hair was mangy and long and being on time and tidy were mere suggestions. It was gross, yet people desperately attempt to recreate the look in the modern era.

Trends are trends so there will always be a validation of why a certain era repeats itself, but living in the ’90s, and being just old enough to process the aura of the time, I believe it’s not necessarily a decade that people should purposely emulate. Why do you want to look homeless and act depressed? Those are two real issues people deal with.

Queue the music scene. Grunge music had a certain influence on the minds of young adults, and though I still love the style today, it truly shaped a confused generation. The obsession with self-loathing created a flock of unmotivated troubled youths and it was fantastic in a bittersweet way, but also something that should have stayed in the decade. I was a preteen when Kurt Cobain died and I had a Nirvana poster; I wasn’t a preteen wearing a shirt of an album that was made years before I was even a thought or unplanned accident in my parents’ minds. It’s okay to expand your musical horizons, but don’t lay claim to a scene you weren’t even alive during, or too young to even process. I love the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but the ’90s and ’00s are what I relate to and support like one of my disappointing sports franchises. Maybe I’m just bitter because I’m beginning to experience what past generations have.

Old person phrase in three, two, one: “Kids these days just don’t get it!”

This is how all generations act though: we grasp onto things from the past because they’re still relevant and always will be—especially music. I personally believe that attitude derived from music repeats itself every three decades. Let’s assess (keep in mind that all decades and generations had a little of everything so don’t get all fussy; it’s just that some styles were a little more dominant depending on the listener):

  • ’60s & ’90s: Rock music that preached peace and love through revolution and disrespect for authority during troubled times.
  • ’70s & ’00s: The rise of disco and dance from bell bottoms to boy bands to groovy funk and soul and pop stars, and from punk and glam rock to bubblegum beats and scremo.
  • ’80s & ’10s: Synthesizers, extreme catchiness, experimental pop sounds and ridiculous hair and colorful garb—just a whole lot of crazy and weird going on essentially, but it worked and still does.

So in a way, we’re due for another musical revolution in rock music. Has our current love for the ’90s predicted such a trend? I hope so from a musical standpoint. Much of my writing has subtle—and obvious—musical undertones. Many tracks have had an impact on my life and that will be apparent in my upcoming novel, “Forgotten Kids,” set to release in the fourth quarter of this year.

There are over 200 musical references in the work, and 44 of said references were direct lyrics to set the scene and tone of the narrator. However, and writers please note the following if you haven’t dealt with song permissions, I was forced to reword the lyrics.

Here’s why: My publisher suggested that I go about getting permissions for each lyric used. After talks with Universal and Sony—most songs are controlled by those two industry titans—I was directed to Hal Leonard, the world’s largest music publisher. They asked for $300 a song which was non-negotiable (even though I tried). For all you math fans, that would come out to $13,200 for lyric usage.

There are three issues I have with this, though I do understand why the charge is in place: First, the novel will not make that much money unless this post is shared a billion times along with marketing techniques going exactly right (which they never do). Second, the combined lyrics make up just 1.25% of the entire book, so who’s to say that the songs sell the book rather than the book selling the songs; and though I love all these tracks, because of the era when most were produced, I could find another song that holds the same meaning without altering the tone of the narration, the character’s personality or the overall plot. Third, the excuse of intellectual property.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa; intellectual property is important, you jerk!”

I agree. Why wouldn’t I agree? I have intellectual property (well, property at the least) out there as well, but it’s one thing to say it greatly matters and another to act upon the reasoning behind the claim. I spoke with an artist’s representative who informed me that the use of their lyrics was not approved; Hal Leonard said they were for $300 a pop. I respected the artist’s (the intellectual proprietor) request.  Also, I spoke to the lead singer of a band who gave me permission to use their lyrics at no charge because they were the primary songwriter; Hal Leonard said I still had to pay $300. After I updated the band (the intellectual proprietor) on the music publisher’s decision, they simple asked, “Who the hell is Hal Leonard?” It doesn’t seem like intellectual property is taken that seriously—the system is broken.

Music is not, however. There will always be more fantastic lyrics, rhythms and solos, but we need to evolve instead of regress. If you remember, I was irritated by slow covers that seem to still be infesting commercials and airwaves, and I’m getting worried that new artists are struggling for exposure, and it may be due to over-saturation, a dwindling attention span and a lack of generational uniqueness. An author friend of mine talked about this with his 21-year-old son recently; his son couldn’t depict something wonderful from his own time, and that’s why there’s a trend to delve deep into other generations’ gifts.

With that being said, there’s plenty of talent and greatness out there. We’re on the verge of a new decade; let’s see what it has to offer. Keep listening, for troubled times have a way of bringing the best out of music.

An Observation Concerning… Good Mainstream Storytelling

“Do you think that we could play another game, maybe I can win this time?”
-Disturbed, “The Game”

I’m not one to offer spoilers; I don’t need to prove to a near-18 million other people that I was able to watch a program at its scheduled time like the rest of them, and then boast about the fact while ruining all the procrastinators’ days. Yes, I’m talking about “Game of Thrones.”

John Koblin, The New York Times- ‘Game of Thrones’ breaks its own ratings record

With two episodes remaining and a plethora of theories that will most likely be crushed in the opening five minutes of “Game of Thrones 72” this upcoming Sunday (May 12, 2019, 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on HBO, or illegally streamed at your convenience), I’m done guessing and I’m ready for closure. However, I will offer this for a Mother’s Day prediction: a woman, multiple women at that, will play a key role in everything. I think it has come to the point in the show where I wouldn’t be surprised if they killed off all men.

Okay, that sounded like I was being a bitter person complaining about agenda and trends. It’s not as bad as say “Captain Marvel” or “The Incredibles 2” where the writers added some dialogue that can correlate to today’s issues. Ah, Hollywood. Yet, I will say this about “Game of Thrones”: The storytelling has been suburb, even after George R.R. Martin agreed to let HBO steer the story in whichever racy violent way they desired.

Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes- How will George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books end?

We’ve fallen in love with the setting and life—perhaps that’s why so many men have beards today—and the characters have become memorable. Frankly, for the longest time I was hoping the White Walkers would just end all things because almost every character became insufferably annoying at least three times a season—good or evil. The dialogue is well scripted, there’s humor and drama and whole lot of conflict and tension. We can list all the elements we want, but the reason the storytelling has been so fantastic isn’t because “Game of Thrones” as a whole has become this trendy production and marketing giant, but because viewers love or hate it and obsessively share their thoughts and predictions. Simply put: it’s impactful in everyday life—even though it’s a fantasy! Think about when you’re meeting a new acquaintance; eventually they will ask, “Do you watch ‘Game of Thrones’?”

There’s also the people who take pride in not watching it. That’s about all I will say about that because no one cares.

Are there some holes in the story? Sure—especially the conception of commuting time and some coincidental aspects that are forced to be made sense by uber-fans. I can’t go into detail quite yet because I don’t want to give anything away to the procrastinators, but if someone has to look something up or have some detailed explanation that still doesn’t make sense presented to them, then perhaps something could have been done differently along the way. In other words: nothing is perfect. For example: I thought the end to “La La Land” was fantastic while someone else I know disliked the outcome. Eesh, that’s about as opposite as you can get from “Game of Thrones.”

Viewers have become obsessed with what will happen in the end, but the truth of the matter is that many people will be satisfied and many others will be disappointed. That, however, isn’t a bad thing because it embraces the full force of the plot, and portrays the talent of great storytelling, and, in this case, great acting.

I watched the “The Following” through its entirety, and for those who have seen the show, there was an antagonist, Emma Hill (Valorie Curry), that I grew to loathe tremendously. In fact (SPOLER ALERT!!!), when she died, I still didn’t think her death was good enough even though she was impaled through the heart with a sharp splintered wooden stake (and she wasn’t even a vampire). That’s a tribute to Curry’s acting skills; she made me dislike a character so much I wanted that person to die in such a horrible way that I still can’t decide on how.

Transition to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). If or when Cersei dies, will it be good enough? Kudos to Headey, and the rest of the cast.

So here we are, close to the end of “Game of Thrones” (queue the spinoffs). It has been a wild time-consuming ride in a magical world of sex and gore, and it will be missed. Thank you George R.R. Martin, HBO and the amazing writers, producers, cast and crew that have made this all possible.

Since more people watch the same movies/shows than read the same books, what is your favorite mainstream moving-picture story? What film or series was the closest to being perfect in your mind?

Answer if you must, and squeeze it into your “Game of Thrones” conversations this week so people have something planned to watch after May 19, 2019.

An Observation Concerning… My Annual Washington Capitals Post-Playoff Post

“Just when you think you’re in control, just when you think you’ve got a hold, just when you get on a roll, oh, here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again.”
-OK Go, “Here It Goes Again”

There was a nice break from disappointment in last year’s championship post, but old habits die hard for the Washington Capitals. As a fan, another early exit stings, however, I’m not about to claim it hurts less because they won the Stanley Cup last year. In fact, this one will linger a little longer due to wasted opportunities, a sense of urgency for the dwindling hopes of a dynasty, and the eerie fall into familiarity.

Okay, the Pittsburgh Penguins getting swept helps a little, but it was by a Barry Trotz-led New York Islanders squad that was supposed to be garbage this year.

And the stinging returns once more.

Does experience actually matter or have the Caps reverted back to underachieving heartbreak? The team was essentially the same group that won the coveted cup last year, so one would assume that they would be able to hold a 2-0 series advantage against arguably the 16th best team in the playoffs: a Carolina Hurricanes team they swept 4-0 in the regular season. Or they would at the very least be able to hold a two goal lead at home in a game seven that shouldn’t have been happening to begin with. Fans and analysts can claim that T.J. Oshie’s game four injury played a vital part in losing four out of their last five games, and Michel Kempny’s exit before the playoffs even started doomed the squad from making another deep run, but those are just excuses. The Hurricanes had injuries as well, and even more players have been added to the list in their second-round series against the Islanders—a series they lead 3-0 at the moment.

So are the Hurricanes that good? No. Sebastian Aho is pretty decent, but he can barely be considered a top-50 talent. So are they young? Sure, but that’s not an excuse either because their youngest star, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov, was knocked out early in game three against the Caps courtesy of a few powerful rights by Alexander Ovechkin, and just returned to the lineup last night.  The two players who really stabbed a dagger in the hearts of the Caps organization and fan base were Jordan Stall and Justin Williams, 30 and 37 respectively.

What’s the secret to the Hurricanes’ success then? It has to be momentum, and this is why the Stanley Cup playoffs are great, but also devastating at the same time. This has been a wild (no pun intended) year so far; all four wild card teams moved on to the second round, and only three higher seeds won their first-round series, and two of them had to clinch in game sevens, including a miraculous comeback by the San Jose Sharks over the Vegas Golden Knights. Out of the four wild card teams, the Hurricanes are the one team that can’t truly validate their magic.

Everyone is aware of how great the Tampa Bay Lightning played this season (and everyone is still aware of the President’s Trophy curse). Maybe it’s shocking the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round, but I didn’t find it surprising that they won the series. They have a superstar in Artemi Panarin, one of the league’s best young defensemen in Seth Jones, and all the acquisitions they made at the trade deadline were bound to pay off. In fact, they may be the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference at the moment, leading their series against the Boston Bruins, 2-1. The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars both have perennial superstars as well: Nathan MacKinnon, Jaime Benn, and Tyler Seguin to name a few. The Avalanche have a top-ten offense, tallying 260 regular season goals, and the Stars allowed the fewest goals in the league (202) due to a stout defense and Vezina Trophy-finalist Ben Bishop.

With this being said, the Caps failed to take advantage of said wild situation. With most of the top competition ousted, including the pesky Penguins, they had a grand opportunity at being able to chant “back to back” as Oshie preached during last’s year celebration.

Perhaps they were a tad too lax throughout the series, perhaps they’ve adopted this young societal mindset of full entitlement expected after little to no accomplishment, but there needs to be some urgency if the organization wants to take advantage of a window that has been closing for over half a decade now.

Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington Post- Capitals prepare for offseason focused on the roster’s fringes rather than its core

The core isn’t that young and it showed in both overtimes of game seven against the Hurricanes as stamina was an issue. Nine players are set to become restricted or unrestricted free agents, and 2020 is a pivotal year for stars Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby to receive new contracts, not to mention Ovechkin’s contract is up in 2021. If the Caps are to extend their title window, they need to start acting like 2018 wasn’t some fluke.

David Hookstead, The Daily Caller- TV ratings for the NBA playoffs down 19%, NHL playoffs up 1%

Every Stanley Cup playoff game is a battle; it’s not like the predictable NBA playoffs which can be guessed after the ball is tipped at the start of the season. The parity and intensity of the NHL playoffs are on full display this year, leaving Caps fans saying, “Here it goes again.” Winning a championship doesn’t automatically change everything.

Good luck to the Hurricanes because they’re going to need it; next year they will revert back to their normal as well. Unfortunately for the Caps, the Blue Jackets will be way better, the Islanders should improve as well, and the Penguins will still be around—and that’s just in their division. The Montreal Canadians are on the rise, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a force, The Boston Bruins somehow continue to not get worse, and you don’t think the Lightning are really really pissed off right now—again?

Shout out to the Buffalo Sabres as well. They’re about due. Like, seriously, Buffalo.

Let’s not even get into how good the Western Conference will be.

The window is closing again, don’t let it shut.

An Observation Concerning… Reviewing Reviews

I never have nothing good to say, I’d rather tear things down, than build them up.
-The Offspring, “Cool To Hate”

If you haven’t been following society in the last decade-plus then there’s something wrong with you, and you need to get out of your sweatpants and breathe some fresh air (with different pants on—I don’t want anyone getting arrested and put on a certain list). On the other hand, if you have taken a moment to grace social media or tune into the news then you will realize that people complain about their freedoms and rights all the time—the best being the complaint about freedom of speech. However, the sole fact that someone is openly complaining about their freedom of speech without authoritative consequence means, in fact, that they’re free to speak, so it really makes no sense sometimes.

The point is that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that’s how it should be, but as we progress from a “networking” standpoint, too many voices are being heard. Sounds like a mental problem. Oops, I mean, “disorder.” Remember, you need to be sensitive toward others’ issues. Actually… this is where society becomes a tad hypocritical.

In the process of telling people what they’re doing wrong, you’re also telling them how to act, think, and speak. Who’s taking away whose freedom of speech now? When we start arguing about rights and freedoms, we’re really only arguing with each other, not necessarily the “government.” And when we argue with each other, we—yep, you guessed it—censor each other. It’s kind of funny how double standards complete a full circle.

Everyone has had a platform for some time now; everyone has a pedestal to preach their regurgitated theories. Most opinions have spanned generations; it’s not like these philosophical rationalizations are fresh outlooks on life that will revolutionize society. With that being said, more and more people are offering their opinions from the way a country should be run to how well a refrigerator runs.

Let’s force an analogy here. Grade : Students :: Reviews : Authors

Grades help or destroy students, and place them amongst their peers and higher education; reviews help or destroy authors, and place them amongst their peers and the direction of their career. If you higher-education folk recognize that format of the analogy, it’s from the MAT, which is a brutal placement exam used by some graduate programs. Within this analogy explanation, there’s another comparison: both can be explained by objectiveness and subjectiveness.

The MAT is objectively brutal because many of the timed questions you just will not know and don’t have extra seconds to work out the answer. If you answer 79 of the 120 correct, it means your IQ is in the top 2%. A D+ makes you a genius on this test. Why would they make a test so hard that brilliant people would still miss 40 questions? Beats me, but others may know why.

When some questions may be difficult for one, they may be easy for another. For example, people who know how to play an instrument may understand music terminology while someone who just listens may miss the reference; or someone who has an extensive vocabulary may not be able to answer a math equation and vice versa. Subjectively brutal.

Reviews for authors will be objective or subjective, but what’s their true worth?

I personally prefer objective reviews. I feel that the reader looks more at the story and writing rather than the topic or opinions of characters. Here are four good examples:

  • “…[the author explains almost everything via narrative instead of leaving things up to interpretation].”
    • This is good constructive criticism that an author should take into account. Your readers aren’t dummies, they can figure things out.
  • “The plot was good: it progressed more quickly than it would have in reality, but that kept the read[er] engaged, there are some inaccuracies, but not commonplace enough to deter most readers.”
    • This suggests that the book could have benefited from a little less pace, and the author should either watch their fact checking or consistency, but it doesn’t bash the story for minor issues.
  • “This is a fast and easy read… the characters are well written and the author gives great attention to detail. There’s plenty of mystery and just enough good humor to keep you reading till the end.”
    • This directly focuses on readability, character development, and the author’s style, and also the dynamics of what makes the narrative engaging.
  • “…the story is complex, with interweaving parts and historical references that will force you to use knowledge you may have tucked away… and in the end, feel that the book enriched my overall learning experience beyond just the story itself.”
    • This gives other potential readers a little more detail in what they’re getting themselves into, but doesn’t summarize the plot, and also presents plenty of intrigue, almost mimicking what one could expect in the story.

Subjective reviews are simply based on a reader’s preference, but are still valid because everyone has different tastes. However, does preference tell others more about the book or the reviewer? A little of both, but a subjective review is more of a statement than a critique if that makes sense. Here are three good examples:

  • “Every single woman in the book (and there are many) is inexplicably smitten with CHARACTER. It seems as though the majority of them only exist in the book to show what a charming, seductive man he is. There isn’t a woman in the entire book that isn’t painted as either a dumb, lust-stricken bimbo or a mere tool to increase the book’s sex appeal.”
    • This shows others more about the reviewer’s stance on how women are portrayed, and there’s no significant input to the main plot. Every author is allowed to write characters how they choose, and occasionally stereotypes are written with intention to boost another character’s traits. This reviewer actually proves that, but puts a negative spin on a writer’s strategy.
  • “There were way too many characters to keep up with without getting confused or simply bored. At least three or four of them could be cut from the novel without affecting the story or the relationships of the other characters in any way.”
    • This speaks more of how confused and bored this specific reviewer became. Just because they couldn’t figure out why the characters were placed in the book, doesn’t mean they don’t belong. An author feels that each character in their work serves a purpose, even if minor.
  • “I barely related to any of [the characters].”
    • This one always makes me laugh. Read a different book then, not everyone is going to relate to you. A 50-something-year-old bitter man who suffered through tragedy doesn’t relate to a 20-something-year-old cheerful girl whose biggest issue in life so far was when she posted an unflattering picture on Instagram.

Other issues that stem from a subjective review are the thought of whether or not the writing was strong or poor, and reader misconceptions. Here are two good examples:

  • “BOOK by AUTHOR was a clever endearing read but riddle[d] by [the] misuse of words, incomplete sentences, and dropped suffixes. One has to hope that the ARC presented was unedited and not the final effort.”
    • This is a little questioning because I don’t think any published book would have incomplete sentences, but the main problem here is the insult. What if the reviewer was wrong (and probably was)? They’re teetering on the edge of defamation if an author was to overreact.
  • “There were a few factual inaccuracies that were a bit too ridiculous to excuse.”
    • This was a review posted for a FICTION book that WASN’T historical fiction. So… yeah.

People need to remember, especially when dealing with fiction, that a novel is not a term paper, and to be mindful of what genre you’re reading.  Some situations may not make total sense to heighten the intensity of the plot, and some sentences will not be grammatically correct for style and voice purposes. The best example I can give of this is from Jonathan Coe’s “The Rotters’ Club”.  The book ends with a 13,955-word sentence. Do you think those 30-some pages were grammatically and structurally correct? Probably not, but it captured the essence of exactly what Coe was trying to write.

So what really matters in a review? What should you really consider? You don’t have time to dissect what everyone is saying, but look for similarities in the positive and negative aspects of a novel. If just one person doesn’t like the writing style and is finding multiple mistakes, but nine do enjoy the style and don’t mention any errors, then that person probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about. On the contrary, if nine people say the book is poorly-written, and one person thought it was the best book they’ve ever read, then that may be the support of a family member or friend.

Unfortunately, that happens all the time, which is also fine. Another danger is that other “readers” will copy tidbits from posted reviews. You see this with paid promos. This recently happened to me. I ran a promotion for one of my novels and received a two-star review that simply stated the reader didn’t find the book interesting at all, the sentences didn’t make any sense, and the book was poorly written. I’m fine if I get a two-star review if that reader didn’t find the book interesting—again, people have different tastes—but attacking the writing without examples to back it up raised questions of the validity of the reviewer. The woman who ran the promo called that reviewer out, and they ended up recanting their post.

Authors know the gig; we know that there are going to be bad reviews for our books and that’s perfectly okay. Just make sure you have an explanation on hand, because, as we also know regarding society, people are on edge to make a spectacle of something that isn’t important because they have the freedom to do so.

In conclusion:

Reviewers, be honest and constructive, and don’t censor a person’s writing because of bias.

Authors, be willing to accept criticism and use it, and ignore the subjectiveness—don’t change your style to appease a handful of disgruntled readers.

Be you.