Friday, December 18, 2015

Writers Fruit Salad

The following questions popped up in a number of writer’s groups, particularly Absolute Write. They were interesting because they were more personal than the norm. Kind of a spill your guts in nature. I’m a truth-teller. I won’t shy or back off such questions because I’ve been in this too long to hide anything. Yet they are only my experiences. So, have at me, and I hope you learn something or take a trip down a writer’s memory lane.


I have to at least be over the 65,000 word mark, 200 plus pages for a YA title before I feel adequate or accomplished. I'm more comfortable with 80,000 or more for any adult title. But I convinced my last publisher to give me the large font in the book, so I got my thieving little way of keeping my page count up there, when my word count was a little slim for a novel (my novels) at about 62,000. (For anyone who has a lean YA title, just ask your publisher to jack up the font and that will do the trick—that’s where you get your extra pages—some fluff up. I think they call them “Easy Readers” or some such. They come out real nice looking that way too). I've written five big books in the past that were all about 110,000 to 120,000--I just don't have that kind of steam anymore unless I'm writing something truly epic with a grand scale and multiple viewpoint characters. I just finished a NA genre book that came in at 216 pages and 72,000 words, and I'm not really happy about the small size of that one—I do consider it an adult novel. I do like a book that has at least enough room on the spine to be noticed or read from a distance.
I had terrific success writing short stories many years ago. I don't know why I want nothing to do with them now. I wrote two prequel shorts for my SF publisher recently, only because he asked me to. I did kind of enjoy the experience and they fit right in with the main title! I just might be afraid of shorts because I'm 28 years out of practice with churning them out.  


Out of 22 books I've only written ONE first person narrative and it was a novella. I'm so damn jealous of those who can master and write in 1rst--it's been so popular in so many YA titles that really broke out and became bestsellers these last couple of years.
During the Dinosaur era when I first started out (exact year as James M. here--1987) there was kind of standard rule or popular belief that third person tight was the only thing that had the best chance of getting published. First person was just a little bit frowned upon--just not the real favorite style. I kid you not. Oh, and memoires and auto biographies? Uh, they were discouraged much more back then.

The dinosaur era, speaking of which--there was a time when we SFWA members laughed at Whitley Strieber because of his alien contact confession—now look at him! We choked with hilarity when the fantasy writers wanted to join and merge with the Science Fiction Writers of America. We were an elite snooty ass bunch of thespians (uh, they still are a wee bit to this day). The mid-old SF guard is still mostly there, and there was an earlier time when you could exchange dozens of letters with Asimov, Robert Bloch, Anderson, Heinlein and other notables. We all had time for each other then--no Internet--lots of regular mail, some which were banged out on typewriters. Tons of us used 4th Class Special Book Rate to mail our fulls and partials--which you marked as disposable if you couldn't afford their round trip. It was a time when I made fun of Clive Barker because he was such a punk at the BEAs. Oh, boy, did I eat that one in a Hellraiser sort of way. Yeah, back then, if you were serious you mailed 400 to 500 pages.

The dinos are almost extinct now, and we're reckoning with this new age of Internet and instant publication for Indie writers. I'm confronted with massive computer storage systems, programming needs, clicks, drop downs, links, navigating social media and a hard-copy list that has over 70 passwords and user names. Motherboard crashes? I've had four of those. It makes me long for my IBM Selectric. I've been so god-damned stupid trying to adapt to all this, I rarely if ever touch any friggin key on my board that doesn't spell a word and belong in a text file. I’m more than hopelessly lost in this computer tech world.


I wrote three longhand pencil novels on yellow rule paper in 1975. My next stint was from 1987 to 1991 when I published two successful non-fiction books and about 15 short stories, which landed me in the SFWA. My agent at that time was Richard Curtis, and he failed to sell three of my completed novels. I wrote an additional 3 novels that I never bothered subbing to the agent or anywhere. I stopped writing in 1991. Total books written = eight.
My current, third stint journey has lasted from Dec, 2004 (joined Absolute Write writers group at that time) until now. Wrote about 17 books during that time which includes a really neat non-fic dinosaur book. My first two novel publications came in 2007 and six others have followed, plus two prequel shorts. My agent now has an additional six completed, revised, edited and polished novels (a trilogy and picture book in there) and my current NA WIP which was just finished, waxed to bedazzlement and sent yesterday. She's going to "stagger" sub all of them in 2016 and see which poop pie sticks to the wall. I'm counting on the trilogy to bust out with a NYC biggie—so is agent. Got everything crossed including my eyes.  

I can't even tell you how many false starts I've had--books that went from the 20,000 to 40,000 words and got dumped midstream. Maybe eight to10 of them. I'd have to look them up.

I've never been without an agent my entire writing career. Which makes me think I'm jinxed somehow, since that huge contract has been illusive, with only advances that numbered in the low thousands during my earliest years. Back then we had the “medium sized” presses--which still got you into every library in the United States and all the large franchise book stores, like Waldens and B. Dalton. Today, there is a littler gray area between small/independent presses and the Big Five and all their imprints. Either you land a publisher that has real distribution to brick and mortar stores and pays a nice advance, or you settle for a small press that will typically sell between 75 and 150 books in their lifetime. We do have some really high-end small presses which fork over advances and have distribution. These “middle” type small press publishers might have a large staff, a marketing manager, foreign rights department and other such extras. Bookatour and Entangled would be these types of successful small press/independents.

In conclusion: keep a diary or journal of your writing life and history. You might have to recall your bio when your talented little ass hits the big time.