Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why do you write?

Writing has always been my passion, and for nearly twenty years, it's been a part of my profession as well. At different times, I've written for different reasons and purposes, but it's always been an important part of my life. As an editor, however, I've noted some interesting differences in people who write (or claim to).

  • People who write for themselves; they don't need to worry about what anyone else thinks of their writing, because they simply never show it to anyone. This is lovely and I highly encourage anyone who is considering starting a journal -- it's amazing when you go back several years and read old ones.

  • People who believe they write for themselves, but really want to receive accolades. As an editor, this type of writer is the most difficult to work with because they tend to be haughty and unreceptive to any suggestions that things could be improved.

  • People who want to be authors. These people write, but they do it because they think it will bring them fame and fortune. They resent successful authors quite a bit and they bring the targets of their resentment up frequently. When their books fail to sell, it's because the publisher treated them shabbily. When they fail to find a publisher at all, it's because the publisher is stupid.

  • People who love to write and just do it. I love working with this type of writer. They're always interested in improving their craft and they're open to suggestions. When I'm evaluating queries, I always look for clues that an author is this type of writer because that's what I'm looking for.

  • People who have something to say. I originally forgot this one, but they're very important; in fact, sometimes their work is the best, because it often has enough real meaning for them that it carries through to the reader.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Queries: How (Not) to Find a Publisher

Between email and snail-mail, I get a lot of queries. No, really; I get a LOT of queries. Sometimes, the queries themselves are fine, but I reject them because I'm simply not interested in the work described. In other cases, however, I reject queries because they have annoyed me in some way -- and those are the queries I want to discuss today.

Before going into details, I would like to point out something that I suspect a few inexperienced authors have not considered: an author/editor relationship is a business relationship, but it is still a relationship. Why would I want a relationship, business or otherwise, with somebody who pisses me off?

I have two secrets to share with those who think their work is of such staggering genius that this stuff doesn't matter:
  • You're probably not as talented as you think you are (no matter what your fifth grade teacher said).

  • I don't care how talented you are; if I don't like you, then I don't want to work with you.

Now that I have that out of the way, here's the rest of what you need to know to kill your chances quickly.
  • Attach a BIG file to your query, preferably your entire manuscript.

  • Don't bother to check the publisher's submission guidelines. Better yet, send that query (with the attached 700 page PDF of your Civil War saga) to every publisher on the planet. And you might as well save some work and send them to all those publishers at the same time; in a distribution list. It's so good, that'll start a bidding war, right?

  • Instead of sending a query, send an email with a link to Amazon for your self-published book. Editors will be happy to purchase a copy just for the sheer opportunity of reading it. And if they don't offer to publish it, then you'll still have made some money.

  • If an editor rejects your query, send it back. And back. And back. And if the editor continues to reject that query, then -- Quick! -- Think of another one and send that one too.

That pretty much covers what's been pissing me off this week, but I'm sure next week will bring a whole new batch of fun.

Inspirational Friends

Bumped up: Congratulations on the profile in the Chronicle, Steve!

Since this is a fresh blog start for me, the first thing I want to do is talk about some truly inspirational people I know. People who encourage me to look beyond my small world and personal failings and remind me that it's always possible to become a better person.

My friend Steve Bezner is one of these people. I worked with Steve years ago at a software company, and I'm working with him again now. Steve has always been admirably intelligent and hardworking, and while those qualities in themselves can be inspirational; that's not why I want to write about him now. What I want to write about now is this amazing thing Steve has done.

And what amazing thing has Steve done? He's lost something like 140 pounds in about a year. And if that weren't amazing enough, Steve is on track to complete the Houston Marathon in 3:40!

Most people I know (me included) would love to lose some weight, but marathons? I can't even imagine it. And at a really fast time to boot. Steve's progress has been just brilliant -- and the Houston Chronicle thinks so too. They're going be running a profile on him in the Monday edition, so be sure to check it out. And if you're like me and you find yourself needing some inspiration, then check out Steve's blog. He's accepting pledges on behalf of the Lance Armstrong foundation, so I'm sure he'd be pleased for some extra sponsors.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Sour Grapes

I belong to a number of mailing lists, many of which are populated by authors, both published and unpublished. As an editor, I can sympathise with the frustrations shared by many unpublished (and undermarketed) authors, but I always wonder if they're aware of how negatively others perceive them when they post bitter, angst-filled rants to public mailing lists.

These posts always seems to focus on how unfair it is that publishers direct so many resources towards marketing and publicity for popular authors such as Dan Brown, Stephen King, and John Grisham, and how crappy these authors are -- with the implication being that the ranting unknowns would be equally successful if only they had the same marketing budgets -- because they (these great unknowns) are writers of far superior talent.

Talent is subjective, and it's always arguable, but these authors would greatly improve their chances of getting the sort of treatment they want, if they would stop eating sour grapes. That's because sour grapes tends to colour your worldview -- and believe it or not, editors can spot it.

Nobody wants to deal with sour-grape-eating folks, and they sure as heck don't want to pour scarce financial resources down a sour-grape hole. Editors are much more likely to want to deal with authors who are not too self-important to learn from the Kings, Grishams, and Browns of the world.

Inspirational Friends II

The next inspirational person I want to write about is an author named Gillian Polack.

Gillian is one of the most talented authors I know, but that isn't why I want to write about her. Gillian also happens to be my best friend, but that isn't why I want to write about her either. The reason I want to write about Gillian is because she has done so many wonderful things to help so many people, and I don't think she's received anything like the credit she deserves for it.

And though she will probably want to murder me for doing it, there's no way to elaborate on Gillian's inspirational qualities without elaborating on her background. You see, Gillian is an historian; a medieval historian, with a graduate degree in Medieval Studies, and an Ph.D. in Medieval History. She also has a diploma in Adult Education, and she's an advocate for women's rights, among other things. Too many other things to discuss here, but suffice to say that her CV runs more than seven pages long, and all of it is impressive.

The thing that makes Gillian inspirational is that she doesn't use her impressive credentials to isolate herself from those of us lesser beings who lack them; instead she uses them to help people from every walk of life so that they too can reap the benefits of becoming better educated. The list of Gillian's accomplishments is even longer than her CV, so it isn't practical to even attempt to list them. But here are a few of the highlights - some past; some current, but taken together, an amazing number:

  • Founder, with Helen Leonard, Australia's Women's History Month
  • Editorial Advisor, Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus
  • Australian NGO Working Group, UN World Conference Against Racism
  • Co-Convenor and Advisor, Understanding Women’s Human Rights.
  • Convenor, Once and Future: Medieval & Modern Arthurian Literature Seminar, National Jewish Centre, Canberra, Australia.
  • Deputy Convenor, Steering Committee, CAPOW! (Network of over 60 women’s organisations)
  • Education & Training Working Group, Australian NGO Representation, UN Beijing + 5 Meeting
  • H-France Editorial Board
  • Australian Non Government Organisation Co-ordination Group for the UN CEDAW working groups.
  • Member, Ministerial Advisory Council on Women, ACT (2003-5).
  • National Committee, Women’s History Month, Australia 2000-2004.
  • National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, National Board portfolio: Cultural change & leadership.
  • Status of Women Chair, National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (1991-1999).
  • Steering Committee & Co-Convenor Education, Women’s Human Rights - Women Wise Up, Australian Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, 2001.
  • Vice-President & National Director, National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (1994-1997).

A Selection of Gillian's Fiction
  • Illuminations – a novel. Trivium Publishing, Dec 2002.
  • The Art of Effective Dreaming. Trivium Publishing (forthcoming).
  • Horrible Historians. Subterranean magazine, forthcoming, Fall 2006.
  • Happy Faces for Happy Families. Encounters, CSFG Publishing 2004; online in The Deepening, Dec 2005.
  • Impractical magic. Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Edition, no. 17 2005.
  • Plus other pieces of short fiction, one of which won a Government of Victoria Australia Day Award.

A Selection of Gillian's Nonfiction
  • A brief introduction to Medieval Jewish Arthurian literature. GrailQuest ’99 Conference Proceedings.
  • Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder. Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Issue 15, vol 3, no 3, Oct/Nov 2004.
  • An Exploration of Jewish Fairytales. Fables & Reflections Issue 7 2005.
  • Canberra's Fire. In Stories of Strength, ed. J. Glatzer, 2005.
  • Chanson de Geste. Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs. Ed. C Lindahl et. al. ABC-CLIO, 2000.
  • Ghosts and fairies in the Middle Ages. Trivium Publishing.
  • How Fiction Writers Use the Middle Ages. AntiTHESIS, May 2005.
  • How Not to Hate Research. Truly. SF and Fantasy Workshop, vol 25, no. 290, Dec 2005.
  • Immersed in a sea of perplexed thoughts: some ideas on a Medieval text. Once and Future: Medieval and Modern Arthurian Literature 2000.
  • International folk dance in Canberra, Australia. Newfolk. New Directions in Folklore. The Impromptu Journal Issue IV, March 2000.
  • King Arthur in Our Mind's Eye (and on our bookshelves). Trivium Publishing.
  • Languages in Medieval England. Trivium Publishing.
  • Living History Through Fiction. Jan 2004.
  • Medieval French food for the Jewish New Year. Trivium Publishing.
  • Modern Feminism and the Medieval Arthurian Romance - a reflection. Once and Future: Medieval and Modern Arthurian Literature 2000 pp.14-20.
  • Researching your Family History.. The Canberra Writer, May 2002.
  • Them's Fighting Words: Old French Insults. Trivium Publishing.
  • Thoughts on Women's History: 2004 - Online Women's History Month. Feb 2004.
  • William of Orange. Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs. Ed. C Lindahl et. al. ABC-CLIO, 2000.
  • Women’s History Month. ACT History Teacher’s Association Newsletter and Review. Sept 2002.
  • Women’s History. Op ed piece, Canberra Times, March 2002.
  • Once and Future: Medieval and Modern Arthurian Literature. The Arthurian Association of Australia, Occasional Papers. Vol 1, 2000 (editor & contributor).
  • Review of Barron W.R.J., & Glyn S Burgess Eds The Voyage of St Brendan: Representative Versions of the Legend in English Translation, Parergon, vol 22, no. 2, July 2005 pp. 190-2.
  • Review of Harbus, A. Helena of Britain in Medieval Legend, Parergon, Vol. 22, No. 2, July 2005, pp 221-3.
  • Review of Holden A.J. ed., History of William Marshall, vol 1, Text & Translation, Parergon, vol 22, no 2, July 2005, pp 223-5.
  • Ticonderoga Online 5, guest column, Oct 2005.
A Selection of Gillians Recent Workshops, Conferences, and Presentations
  • Panellist, Canberra Literary Festival, Sept 2005.
  • Invited guest, Oracle Think.com Writers' Festival (international, online) Aug 2005.
  • Panellist at Continuum, Melbourne Science Fiction Convention July 2005.
  • Writing Using the Five Senses, online workshop, Edit Zone, May-June 2005.
  • Panellist at Conflux, Canberra Science Fiction Convention April 2005.
  • Panellist at Continuum Science Fiction Convention Melbourne, July 2005.
  • Medieval History for Fiction Writers, seminar series, NSW Writers' Centre, Feb 2005.
  • Living in a multicultural Jewish society, National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, Oct 2004.
  • Presentation - Jewish Museum of Australia, Melbourne: Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Women, Sept 2004.
  • Canberra Jewish Community, presentation on Australian Jewish culinary history, July 2004.
  • Conflux, National Science Fiction Convention, Canberra 2004 – panellist.
  • ACT Literary Festival Sept 2004.
  • Panellist at Conflux, National Science Fiction Convention, 2004.
  • Canberra Jewish Community, presentation on Australian Jewish culinary history, July 2004.
  • Magic Casements, NSW Writers’ Centre, guest, Sept 2003.
  • Cross-Cultural workshop. Nat'l Council of Jewish Women of Victoria. Training Jewish community leaders, Sept 2003.
  • Guest of Honour: Sydney Science Fiction Weekend, May 2003.
  • Rashi's Middle Ages, Featured Speaker, July 2003, Canberra Jewish Community.
  • Special guest speaker, Interdepartmental Seminar, University of Connecticut, April 2003.
  • Guest presenter, The Williams School, Connecticut, April 2003.
  • Convenor and moderator, Women’s (Online) History Forum, March 2003.
  • Featured speaker, Theosophical Society, Nov 2002.
  • Understanding and making use of the Australian political system. Workshops. Nat'l Council of Jewish Women of Australia, Sydney. Aug 2002.
  • Trust The Women - Women's Constitutional Convention. Workshop: Principles of religious freedom in our Constitution. 2002.
  • Speaker, Canberra Science Fiction Convention, May 2002.
  • Convenor and moderator, Women’s (Online) History Forum, March 2002.
  • Judaism, featured Speaker, Rosicrucian Society, May 2001.
  • Invited seminar, Jewish Museum of Australia, Melbourne, April 2001: Jews in the Middle Ages.
  • The practice of Judaism in Australia, featured speaker, Theosophical Society, Nov 2000.
  • Convenor. Once and Future: Medieval and Modern Arthurian Literature. National Jewish Centre, Oct 2000. Arthurian Association of Australia.
  • Presentations on Jewish history and culture, Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, 2000.
  • Convenor & moderator, Women’s (Online) History Forum, March 2000.

This is just a small selection of Gillian's accomplishments (it's hard to believe there are more, but there are!), but I think they give a good picture of the wonderful ways in which Gillian uses her gifts to improve the world -- and heaven knows, the world can use all the inspiration it can get!

For more information (and some excellent receipes) take a look at Gillian's blog.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Things I Want to Say

Sometimes there are just things I want to say. Most of the time I don't say them. Some of these things are personal observations; others are about editing and publishing, or authors, or manuscript submissions and query letters.

My New Year's resolution is to stop not saying them.