A Character Entry

An aging man, long ponytail with a receding hair line, sits at a table with a craft beer and a younger couple. He isn’t old enough to be their father, but rather a desperate friend. He wears shorts in January, but his heavy jacket doesn’t match.

Perhaps he enjoys younger people; maybe younger lovers; maybe a little too close from ending up on a certain shunned list. Or maybe he can’t let go of the youth that let him down.

 

A Setting Entry

The sky was on fire; a rolling explosion set to consume. Yet, there was hope as a streak of blue sliced in half the smoky orange from the foggy underbelly. The doom was relentless as it spewed over the top of the mountain.

An anxious sight not worth missing, but hope prevailed. (No Picture Taken)

Incentivized Fraudulence (Eesh, That Sounds Serious)

“Don’t sell your soul for a pack of lies”
Eagle-Eye Cherry, “Rainbow Wings”

I realize that last post’s song, “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer, would have been a perfect fit for this article as well, but the lyric above still strikes the right chord (pun intended).

Solicitation. Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down now, we’re not talking about the bad kind—or good kind, whichever way you want to view paying for services. The solicitation I’m talking about takes place in the writing community and the publishing industry. I’ve done it, you’ve done and future authors will do it.

Just to be clear, because I know some readers may be “groggy” from the turn of the year, I’m not talking about prostitution involving sexual acts. Sometimes, you just have to state the obvious.

Moving on. Let’s start by reading Amazon’s Customer Review Policy. I will give you a minute.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t the extended one. If you did read it, you may have noticed that some of the exclusions may seem outlandish, others valid and most create a double standard. Authors are in a difficult predicament when it comes to reviews because, whether we like it or not, they’re very important and have a direct impact on sales. There has been an ongoing argument in the writing community about who reviews are intended for. Some reviewers tend to believe that their posts are generally for readers, while publishers and authors view critiques useful for their own business or brand. The truth is: reviews are meant for everyone. Readers use reviews to see if the work is something that matches their interests or sounds intriguing enough to purchase, publishers examine how their product is performing through direct market analysis, and authors review criticism—hopefully constructive, but we know that’s not true all the time—to understand their demographics and better their writing. Though it seems that a review is as simple as writing something down and clicking the mouse, it’s far more complex than that. Here’s something a little startling: authors, the creators of the intellectual property, may actually make the least amount of money off their work out of the three mentioned parties.

Last post we discussed the amount of money that authors must put forth to publish a book, and that includes the time spent drafting and completing a written work. The author is now responsible for more tasks that have been primarily done by others in the past. This isn’t just limited to authors, but most writers. For example, in the journalism industry many job openings post duties that require the writer to not only write and report, but also take their own pictures and touch them up, design the layout of the article and fully edit the piece. As a journalist, that isn’t a big deal, however, they’re still only being compensated for one job, not three. I once saw an open position for a paper in Santa Fe, N.M., and the writer was responsible for all of the duties above and the salary was $30,000. The average salary in Santa Fe is $56,000 and the cost of living is very high for the region.

You may be thinking, “What the hell does this loser know?” Well, I know this type of stuff. I’m a writer in many forms, and this is why I returned to school to earn my graduate degree in journalism and creative media, and this is what my research involves. I’m here to help the writer—unlike other parties and platforms.

It takes authors longer to write a book than publishers to publish that work, and it takes authors longer to write a book than it takes for reviewers to read and critique that work. The time authors spend doing the actual work doesn’t guarantee any income. On the other hand, publishers take over during a stage that should lead to sales which betters their chances at turning a profit, and many reviewers are incentivized for their contributions—despite what Amazon believes, and what they do themselves for that matter.

Peter Riva, Publishers Weekly- Why most Amazon reader reviews are worthless

With incentive comes fraudulence. Ex literary agent Peter Riva said in his 2016 Publishers Weekly article, “My observation is that most Amazon and Barnes & Noble reader reviews are either fraudulent, or, at best, useless in assessing the true merit of any given title.” He continued, “It is trampling on First Amendment rights and playing into the hands of what is, after all, a nonliterary, mathematical rating system.”

Money drives the industry, but it doesn’t drive the authors. Many authors do this because they love writing and creating, however, their success and status is directly impacted on how other parties are incentivized. This is most apparent in reviewer credibility and retailer/media gatekeeping. Regarding the former, just like the publishing industry, the reviewer world is also competitive and over-saturated. In order to keep earning revenue through advertising and subscriptions, reviewers strategically provide scattered ratings; it’s almost like a quota to appear as a true critic rather than a paid blogger. An author may be receiving an average review just because a reviewer needs to mix up their rating average and not based on the quality of the content. The consequence of losing revenue isn’t the only factor in fraudulent reviews, however. There is also the relationship factor between blogger and author, whether that is a positive or negative connection.

In regards to the latter, giant online retailers like Amazon and major publications like The New York Times have a stranglehold on which titles are presented to potential readers. They decide what is relevant and what is trending, and most of it is based on what already sells. Just like in the news: we’re only aware of what we’re exposed to, and sometimes the relevance is for ratings. Amazon essentially tells authors they’re prohibited from soliciting their material for reviews, however, this creates a double standard. Amazon will solicit an author’s work via their advertising campaigns—and incentivize reviewers themselves—and the more the writer is willing to spend, the more their book will be visible across the massive retailer’s site. They don’t care about quality; they only care about quantity—available titles and revenue, that is. Who suffers in the end? The author.

Jay Green, The Washington Post- Amazon sellers say online retail giant is trying to help itself, not consumers

In his 2019 Washington Post report, Jay Greene explained that in 2018, Amazon generated $42.7 billion in revenue from seller services, fees and commissions, and they have the power to charge for communication with account managers, push their own brands, alter pricing and control product exposure through advertising services.

That is a lot of money if you couldn’t figure that out, and authors are considered sellers as well. However, they also produce intellectual property, but as we have discussed before with the music industry, that doesn’t seem to actually matter no matter the legal jargon and threats. If intellectual property is work or invention that is the result of creativity, then shouldn’t the rights always be with the creator? Of course, people sell rights and this and that, but the origin remains and the creator of that specific work or invention will always be the same. That is an argument for another time, however, and law definitions are written a certain way on purpose.

Anyway, we’re spiraling here. The truth of the matter is reviews and publishers and self-publishing platforms are needed, but authors also need more flexibility when it comes to how they go about promoting their work because they deserve to make money off their intellectual property; especially considering most still maintain those rights. Authors should be aware that if their work only receives five-star ratings, then the reviews probably are not credible. I received a one-star review for Cursed: A Jack Swift Case recently, and that’s okay, not everyone is going to like your content, but what is said in these types of critiques needs to be considered as well. Due to cases of fraudulence, it has left authors and readers in a annoyingly difficult spot because sometimes both parties really need to take the time to dissect the review (time they don’t have) to see why a critic was unhappy or overzealous about the work, and if the rating was valid. With said one-star review, the reviewer was upset at a few word choices I used in dialogue (though the linguistics were consistent with a character’s personality). Did that warrant a one-star rating? Did the other 80,000 words not matter? Are we now teetering on the line on unwarranted censorship? Honest constructive reviews help everyone, but unfortunately, we all have to work for them.

Who are we really in competition with, and when did books become less about writing and more about the politics of the industry? Two of the most important things to do within the writing community is to support your fellow authors, and keep writing.

If you’re really bored, I will be more than happy to share past relevant research by scholars, and my theory paper as well if interested. Who has time for that? You should be writing because someone needs to make money off that.

Happy New Year!

 

A Character Entry

A punk girl, perhaps wishing she were Goth, strutted in a golden pullover, short velvet skirt, and high black boots with crossing laces crawling above her shin. Her legs were pale and soft, but marked with scattered colors of promiscuous rebellion. She teased with eye liner that curled upward, let her pitch black hair flow, and had an obsession with cats and chains.

She was a tired stranger.

Working for Free

“It’s a sacrifice working day to day, for little money, just tips for pay, but it’s worth it all, to hear them say that they care.”
-Donna Summer, “She Works Hard For The Money”

There is a major error in Cursed: A Jack Swift Case, and it’s embarrassing. It was pointed out by a reader, which I appreciate, and I quickly posted an apologetic statement regarding the issue here. I’m sure many others will bring up the mistake, and some may even base the entire novel on an innocent mishap.

There are two truths to think about: One, there are other proofreading errors than just the one, just like in every book, and two, some reviewers may deem the story to be completely unsuitable for publication.

Let’s cover the former first because I think authors need to be defended. Proofreading or editing your own work is nearly impossible; it will never be correct because the writer already knows what it’s supposed to say, so they tend to heavily rely on squiggly colored lines or will glance over some basic typos or grammatical errors. I know there are some authors who will say, “No way, my book is perfect and I do all the editing myself.” You may think that, but I would suggest reading it again. And then again. Sometimes I’ll go through close to ten drafts, and readers still point out errors. So why not just hire an editor? Ugh, this advice.

Proofreading and editing services cost money; it’s that simple, and they’re not cheap. Basic copy-editing can range from $25-$40 an hour, and an hour’s pace is five to ten pages. We’ll take the low-end of this calculation and use Cursed as an example. The book would have cost $1000 for the most simple of edits. So why not just have a friend or family member read through it for you? Ugh, this advice, too.

Fresh eyes are great, but you must be considerate of others’ time, and you also can’t push them to meet some unreasonable deadline—especially considering they’re doing this read-through for free. Many writers probably have someone who will help out, but money and time remain two major challenges for authors. Not only are proofreading costs high, there are other expenses that come with self-publishing—no matter how much Amazon says it’s free. If you want a professionally done cover, that will cost you a couple hundred dollars; then there are the printing costs if you decide to offer physical copies of your book (for authors just starting out, Amazon actually nets more money than you do on a print copy, so keep that in mind and push your eBooks); lastly, promotional costs can add up, and unfortunately, they don’t guarantee any positive impact on sales no matter how much the provider boasts about their service. In the end, authors can spend thousands of dollars to get their work to market, and never actually turn a profit, and some don’t even remotely come close. So why not just get an agent and get published by a traditional publisher—they have in-house editing, design and promotions, right? Ugh, this advice, too… again.

It’s not that easy. Agents only accept 5-10% of submissions, and due to the popularity of writing among amateurs, the over-saturated market and the volume of submissions, they don’t even look at every query they receive. We can leave that at that because it has been covered before.

I’m a perfect example of an author who has never turned a profit. I’ve now published work through self-publishing, boutique presses and the traditional process (not by a big house, however), and though I’ve sold copies and made money off my books, I’m in the red on each and every title because of the cost to get those stories into the market and exposed to readers.

My novel Forgotten Kids, which is set to be released early next year, almost had a huge bill attached to it because the use of song lyrics. I wrote about it here, but in the end (wait, can I say that because it’s a Linkin Park song?) I decided to re-word to avoid those costs because I, and the publisher, know that the book won’t ever come close to making that sort of money. In fact, in a 2017 Authors Guild survey, Calvin Reid and Jim Milliot reported that the median income received by published American authors for all writing-related activity in 2017 was $6,080, and 25% of the published authors surveyed earned no money at all—18% of them were full-time authors, which is no bueno for them.

People also tend to forget that writers spend hours, months and even years putting together their novels while receiving no wage to do so. They work for free and sacrifice a lot of their time just for the possibility of entertaining and moving readers, and then they use out-of-pocket expenses to issue free copies (that they had to pay for) to beta readers and reviewers, and sometimes all they receive back is nonconstructive criticism and judgment—and it comes from within their own networks as well.

One thing I will never forget is a situation that made me stop using Facebook for networking. I had completed my fourth draft of Forgotten Kids, but was thinking of changing the lead girl’s name from “Lizzy” to “Nikki.” I asked what people would prefer in a post, and one guy said, “Oh, so now we have to pick names for people? Give me a break. Do your own work, were not going to write the book for you.”

Really? That’s interesting. I was unaware that changing the first name of a character meant the same as writing and structuring a 115,000-word novel for me.

Over-exaggeration is a killer when it comes to properly reviewing an author’s work, and that brings us to the latter from earlier (geez, finally!). Reviewers need to be constructive and the criticism will be accepted. For example, in two recent reviews for Cursed, both readers mentioned there was a small amount of proofreading errors, but not enough to distract from the story. That is a great way of mentioning that the editor needs to do a better job when they are reviewing the work, letting the author know there are some mistakes they need to work on before the proofing process begins, and it also doesn’t intend to completely deter future readers from the story itself.

On the other hand, some reviews will blatantly defame the author and their writing ability. For Crooked Gold: A Jack Swift Case, one reviewer gave the book one-star and their summary simply said, “This didn’t interest me at all. None of the sentences even made sense.”

Really? NONE of the sentences in the entire book made sense? I’m surprised so many other people missed that. Amazon actually deleted that review because it appeared to be fraudulent. With that being said, I’m currently in graduate school, and my communications theory research targeted Amazon as a gatekeeper, and how incentivized reviewers directly impact the success of authors. The findings were actually fascinating, as were the studies that have been done beforehand, and from the feedback received by the faculty, my work may turn into my master’s project. We’ll have a nice recap of that if you have a little time next post to become bored.

Please don’t take this as a complaint of criticism because I value constructive reviews incredibly, and appreciate when people point out mistakes. However, when people blatantly and publicly offend an author based on a handful of typos and grammatical errors, then it’s a little uncalled for because they may not be fully aware of outside variables. Readers and reviewers need to keep in mind the financial restrictions authors have when crafting a story, and also that sometimes promotional expenses are more than book sales.

With that being said, authors just need to really buckle down during their line edits to avoid these poor reviews and nonconstructive criticism, as do indie publishers. Slow down and do more drafts, as many as it takes because the market isn’t going anywhere quite yet. Then, if necessary, do more editions after those inevitable typos are discovered by outside eyes (wait, ISBNs cost money, too, dammit!).

Here’s something to think about leading up to the next post: Amazon and incentivized reviewers can make more money off a book than an author.

Ah, the politics of the publishing industry.

A Setting Entry

An abandoned airport. Rust on the transports, stains on the concrete that once held the weight of too much activity–the heavy burden led to our self-inflicted doom. Only elemental consequence will be the future’s memory as they scan empty containers and bridges, but the dark sky remains a continual threat.

A dark and dirty gray Air Force carrier chugs by on the tarmac. Is it hope or rule?

 

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!

A Character Entry

He was a short Italian punk, but hopefully the latter label has been dropped. He had beautiful blue eyes, piercing and hypnotizing, and dark thick eyebrows and a goatee to match. Each feature looked to be manicured by the Devil.

As maturity is supposed to come with age, so are physical struggles, and if he wasn’t careful, his appearance could soon become softer. However, other men wouldn’t mind his downfall. He did have one vulnerable quirk, though, that could either be seen as confidence or disrespect: he had the strange habit of bringing his own meal to large gatherings.

A boy of specific tastes, and a college dropout. His family owns a landscaping business that could very well be a front that he and is petite blonde bombshell shall soon inherit. Some have all the luck; it makes one wonder if balance exists.

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.

A “Cursed: A Jack Swift Case” Excerpt (Travelogue)

TRAVELOGUE

The LAX terminal was cluttered with arriving tourists ecstatic at the chance to visit the sites and beaches where superstars, wannabes, and bohemians roamed. Departing locals attempting to escape the disappointing drudgery of a veiled oasis had to deal with one last flock of sightseers infesting their town—though they loved the attention despite their thinned eyes under designer sunglasses and pursed lips glossed over with inflated character. They were fake, and fooled the naïve into thinking they were relevant as photos were captured in passing, later to be shared as a wrongful celebrity sighting.

Jack Swift sat in a chair with a duffel bag at his feet, his eyes shaded by the brim of a baseball cap as he watched the madness stay strong on the common brink of unfolding. The pathways were disorderly, some moved at their leisure as the disorganized sprinted with stress guiding them to their gate, and most kept their eyes downward and locked on a black mirror. He was amazed that they could all navigate without a crash, but the conformity held a supple nuance, an unwritten agreement and balance through everyone’s peripheral.

“Zombies,” he stated.

A younger man across from him popped out one of his wireless earbuds and softened his grip on the tablet in his lap. “Excuse me?”

Swift explained, “Oh, I was just people-watching, you know, taking in all the madness. People sure are in a hurry all the time. Fastest damn zombies I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell me about it,” the man said, “I’m prepared for the apocalypse.” He flipped his tablet cover to the front and displayed his Zombie Outbreak Response Team decal.

Swift scanned his lanky acquaintance, taking notice of his tight denim, his bare ankles between his hemp loafers and the overstated curl of his cuffs, and his long mangy beard that reached for his bird chest and didn’t mesh with his slick parted mop above.

He disguised his sarcasm, “I don’t think we’re close to that happening, but if I’m wrong, I now feel safe. I have a friend who would think you’re something else.”

“Always nice to meet a fan,” he boasted with his palms out and phony chuckle meant to gain a similar response.

Swift instead directed his attention to a blonde woman spying him a few rows beyond the man. He noticed her appealing grin and tan shoulders protected by just the straps of a tank top. She flirted with him between the turns of her book pages, but he was soon interrupted once more by his bothersome new-found mate.

“That’s a sweet hat,” he said while adjusting his thick black frames that held very thin lenses, “I don’t recognize the logo though.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to. It’s a Hollywood Stars hat, the old Pirates’ PCL team from the fifties. Did you used to collect baseball cards or anything?” Swift reached into his duffel and began to pull out a sleek leather-cased binder.

“Retro. Sick. Nah,” he shook his hand with snobbish disgust, “I’m not into pedestrian things such as baseball, I do my own thing, one of kind you know, but you have to tell me where you got that hat.”

Swift snorted, noticing a handful of other people in the same waiting cluster of similar fashion and stature to the trendy man.

He slid the folder back into his bag. “Ah, I can’t tell you that, my friend, it was a gift.”

The man uncovered his tablet. “I bet I can find it.”

“I bet you can, but I don’t gamble.”

The beatnik offered a half-laugh, but his attention was fast detained by information leading to more distracting off-topic research.

Swift looked back toward the woman, but her empty seat was now being claimed by a worn businessman enjoying a quick meal, on course to grow into his loose suit.

Swift pinched his cheek with his mouth and listened to the overhead speaker that notified the waiting passengers, “Good evening, everyone, we’re going to begin boarding Qantas Flight 12 with services to Sydney at gate 154. First class passengers are allowed to board at this time.”

Swift gathered his belongings and rose. “That would be me I guess—time for this man to go work down under. I hope you have a nice flight.”

He tipped the brim of his cap as he walked toward the gate, bidding the young man a meaningless farewell.

“Yeah,” the hipster responded with new admiration and a touch of envy, “I’ll see you on the plane, man.”

Swift was being enchanted by his earlier crush who had already found her place in the moving line. “Maybe, my friend, if I’m not too busy.”

He walked up, scanned his passes, and disappeared through the door.