Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tickled Pink!

S. Andrew Swann (Off the Pink) checked his server logs and noticed that I had linked to his post on query spam, and he did a little more snooping on our "professional" author. It turns out she has a "certificate of competence" as a writer.

Dang! That changes everything.

Read this if you're in need of a good laugh -- or if you want a truly good example of what not to do when you're looking for an agent or a publisher.

I always feel stupid about harping on query letters because it seems so elementary to me that if you want to find a publisher or an agent, you'll research the process well enough to know who is a potential target for your manuscript and what their requirements are for evaluating it. Why is it so difficult to understand this?

Why it is so difficult to understand that no matter how much your paid "critique company" gushes about the fabulousness of your manuscript, if you have not written a book that fits the type of books with which a particular agent or editor works, you are not only not going to get any interest from that person, you are going to irritate the hell out of them, and you're going to look like a fool in the process.

Looking like a fool is rarely to your advantage.

I'm sympathetic to the difficulties authors face. Truly; I am. But, use the web, people! Look it up! Find out who you're talking to before you send a query! Our website is very clear that we're only interested in publishing historical fiction and alternate history, so WHY would you send me a query for a self-help book, or a terrorist thriller, or a medical thriller, or modern-day chick-lit?

Is it so you can grouse to your friends about how everyone is too focused on money to take on a Great Literary Work like yours? Spare me.

(And WHY would you send query-spam to another author --Off the Pink -- at all? Are you an idiot???)

If you really are an idiot... well ... OK then. But if you're just acting like an idiot, please, help us out: Get a clue.

That concludes today's public service announcement.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Query Spam

I may have seen it all now. I've received a particularly bizarre form of query-spam in which I'm promised not a blue pill or a "replica pen" (why would anyone want a "replica" of a pen; why not just get a real one that writes?); I've received an email offering me "a Best Seller awaiting publication."


And I'm offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contact the author and receive a synopsis, sample chapters, and a promotional website.

There is no author name or website on this gem; just a generic email.


I was curious about the thought process that went into sending out a query for a book without an author name or any other identifying information and lo and behold, I found that The Rejector received one of these last summer and so did Off The Pink.

With a slight variation in the generic author email address and the text of the letter, it's the very same one I received.

They've already critiqued it thoroughly, so I'll forgo that, but my Google search also seems to have turned up the author's website too. I won't be mean and give that part away (although I'm sure you can find it if you look), but I have to tell you that I'm stunned (stunned!) to note that there's a "publisher's and literary agent's enquiry form" on the website. Oh, and this author appears to offer "literary services" on her website. (She's giving advice???)


OK. I'll close my dropped jaw now. But really ... Wow!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

If this is Tuesday, it must be East Anglia

I was planning a trip to San Diego next weekend to stay at the Hotel Del Coronado and get some much-needed sun. California appears to be on track for a wave of winter storms, however, so, although I'd like to meet the Hotel Del ghost, there doesn't seem much point in making the trip now. Funnily enough, about 5 minutes after we decided to cancel, Auntie asked me if I was interested in going to East Anglia with her this summer.

I had to think about it for maybe 30 seconds, before I emailed her back with a wholehearted YES!

There is nothing like pawing around in some crumbling ruins to lift the spirits. And I have a particular interest in a medieval effigy in a village called Swaton that I think Pevsner mis-dated -- because as any idiot knows, tight sleeves were popular well before 1300. I have a burning desire to sort that one out. (Yes; thank you. I am aware that I'm a peculiar sort of person.)

And, of course, it will be loads of fun to look at Stately Homes and gardens with Auntie, who used to live in England and knows all the good spots. And if I'm there, I'm hoping I can meet up with some of my English friends. English friends -- if you're reading, I promise that if we can get together, I will not bore you with my thoughts on mis-dated effigies (although I don't promise not to bore you in other ways)!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Title Block

I have posted this on several email lists (apologies if you've already seen it!), but I am seriously blocked. What I'm trying to do is come up with a title for this book, one that doesn't sound like some kind of bodice ripping "Highland Warrior" thing. Elizabeth Chadwick had the best suggestion -- turn to the Bible -- which I plan to do next, but in the meantime, if anyone else has suggestions, I'll be eternally grateful! If you'd rather not post a comment, my email is

Here is a simplified description of the book:

It is the summer of 1488, and King James the Third of Scotland faces a rebellion led by men loyal to his son Prince James, Duke of Rothesay. Fighting for the King is John Sempill of Elliotstoun, a young man of nineteen. Knocked unconscious during the battle, John awakes to find his father dead and his comrades routed. He returns home in defeat; he has inherited his father’s lands and Sheriff’s title, but his dreams of gaining a knighthood are shattered when he learns that the King has been murdered and that his son has now seized the throne.

John's situation is difficult. Because he was his father’s only son and is, as yet, unmarried, he is especially vulnerable. Soon he finds himself at the mercy of the Stewarts of Darnley.

Lots goes on after this: thieving, burning, rieving. A bitter marriage with an unhappy woman (who eventually comes around). A revolt against the king and a chance to redeem himself, which he does. And finally, a dénouement that concludes with a reconciliation with his wife and a bright future before him at the court of King James the Fourth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now

I went to pick up my new glasses on Saturday.

I've needed new ones for a long time, but I couldn't bring myself to get them until the last week of the year, and only then, because we had $2,000 left in one of those "use it or lose" health spending accounts. DH thought I was going to end up with a wardrobe of frames; he's still a bit stunned that I spent the rest of the account on two pairs. I got a pair of driving glasses for distance, and going against the advice of every optometrist and ophthalmologist I've ever seen, I also got a pair of glasses with progressive lenses instead of my usual reading glasses. I was really excited about the progressives in spite of the optometrist's warning that they were hard for many people to get used to, and that they'd be particularly difficult for me because I have an eye disease that's caused some damage in my central vision. My brain compensates by making undamaged parts of my eyes dominant (the good bits override the bad), but progressives lenses require you to look through specific parts of the lens to see distance, up close, and in between. The driving glasses were $600, which meant I had $1400 to burn. I decided to ignore the doctor and try the progressives anyway.

DH has to help me choose frames because I'm too blind to see how they look. I got my normal thin wire frames for the driving glasses, but I let him talk me into darker tortoise shell frames for the progressives. He said they make me look like Lisa Loeb, which I'm not sure is a complement, but I decided to take it as one anyway!

I wore the Lisa Loeb glasses out of the shop and went to the Borders across the street. I don't much care for Borders, but if I am near a bookstore, it is a sure bet that I'm going in! I was immediately reminded of why I don't care for Borders – they nearly always have a HUGE store, and maybe three or four shelves, total, of decent books. The front of the store had what appeared to be an entire "bestsellers" wall devoted to the latest Dean Koontz, which sucked (I read it in December), and a bunch of self-help (thank you, but Joel Osteen is not my cup of tea). I wandered through the rest of the store, hunting the fiction section, which I found near the back; all four shelves of it.

The fiction section, or rather "literature" as it is called in Borders, was a huge disappointment. It appeared to contain volume after volume of Candace Bushnell and fake Jane Austen sequels. Hmmmm. I chose a hardcover I hadn't heard of called "The River Wife" and went back to the front of the store to see if I could spot the remainders. I was reluctant to spend any more on hardcovers that I wasn't keen on reading and I thought there might be something from the recent past that I'd missed.

I was still wearing the Lisa Loeb glasses, and as everyone had predicted, I was having trouble finding the right spots to look through to read the spines, but being mule-headed, I squinted rather than taking them off. DH joined me then and he started hunting for the remainders section too.

We were approached by a salesperson who asked if she could help us. That's when I discovered my new glasses have special powers. It's either that, or the salesperson was … um … a moron, but being kind, I'll attribute her behaviour to my glasses!

"Do you have a section for bargain books?" I asked.

She looked confused.


She frowned, clearly struck dumb (and I don't mean in the way of silence) by my Lisa Loeb glasses.

"You know," I said, "books that are a bit past their 'sell by date'?"

She sniffed. "We don't carry used books!"

I pushed up my glasses, trying, and failing, to find the right spot to look through so I could see her properly and I pointed at the wall of Dean Koontz. "See that thousand books over there? All those copies are never going to sell because that book is crap. What do you do with the books that don’t sell because the buyer ordered too many copies?"

"I don't know," she said. "I think we send them back."

Borders constantly cries about how tough conditions are and how they aren't doing well and might have to go out of business. If all their stores are depending on overbuying crappy books and sending them back to make a profit, then it's no surprise they're having problems. If they go out of business, in my opinion, it's no great loss.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Which the Reader Sheds a Tear...

It snowed every day we were at Whistler and it was fabulous. Since I couldn't ski, while everyone else was, I used my delicious hours of freedom to read. I didn't have much choice in my book selection this time because the books I had on order didn't arrive before we had to leave, so I had to make due with getting something from a Barnes & Noble we passed on the way.

DH didn't want to get stuck driving through Vancouver at rush hour, so he gave me a strict time limit of 10 minutes. I can spend literally hours in a bookstore, particularly now that I get to them so rarely, and 10 minutes (including standing in line) made it impossible to do the kind of poring over books I normally do when I'm trying to choose. There were long lines of people cashing in their Christmas gift cards, which meant I was pretty much limited to whatever I could grab off the New Releases table at the front of the store. That led me to a slight dilemma.

I had to get at least two thick books or three medium ones to be sure I wouldn't end up stranded in the hotel with nothing to do but shop (Shopping at an expensive resort like Whistler? Yikes!), yet nothing I've been meaning to read was on the table. I ended up with three books: something Tudor-ish, whose author and I title I can't recall, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, and ... gulp ... Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig.

That last one gave me pause; fiction set in Civil War America tends to give me the willies because I'm from the South and because I've read a lot of American history. I also tend to avoid sequels written by anyone other than the original author. I bought it out of desperation, but in my mind, RBP had two strikes against it from the beginning.

I read Garden Spells first, and though it was quite derivative of Alice Hoffman and not really in her league, it was a nice happy little book, made nicer by the comfy chair and fireplace in our room. The Tudor-ish book was fine too -- I think the reason I don't remember the title or author is simply because I've read so many of these things that they all segue into one big "Tudor" compartment in my brain. Neither of those books was very thick and I went through them fairly quickly, leaving me to eye RBP with more than a little suspicion. To be clear ... I loved Gone With the Wind -- loved it -- when I was a teenager, but so rarely does a book stand the test of time. Rarer still is a sequel that's as good as the first, and this one wasn't even written by the original author.

But I started reading and within 15 minutes I was hooked!

I cannot believe how engrossing it was. Really!

The author did an amazing job of weaving a completely different set of stories into the narrative of the original GWTW.

This book actually made me cry at one point -- and I can assure you; books do NOT do that for me very often.


The wonder-dog and I spent two days holed up in the Four Seasons while I read RBP. I only made it out to the shops when DH came back from the slopes and dragged me there.

We both had a great time!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007: Goodbye and Good Riddance

2007 is over and the end couldn't have come fast enough -- it will not go down as one of my favourite years. It's over now, though, and I'm drawing a line under it. We're going to Whistler, BC for a long weekend tomorrow and in a few weeks, we're taking a life-saving sun-break in southern California. I can deal.

I hope 2008 will be a good year for you; I'm sure it's going to be a good year for me. Bet on it.

Happy New Year!