Category Archives: The Quest

Writing and Publishing, how (not) to

Rejection, yippee!

Anyone else out there breathing a sigh of relief when a standard submission response hits the inbox?

It’s so good to get a rejection.

  • No more need to steady yourself for the kind of comprehensively critical appraisal beta-readers tend to provide. You look better without that fake frozen grin, and you know it.
  • Bye bye style sales pitch, welcome back limitation awareness. You’d love your stuff to read as smoothly as the books you adore and admire, but oh well…
  • No opportunity to declare your plot the best idea since the invention of croissants or jollof rice (or sliced bread, if you insist).  “Holes? That’s nothing but plenty of opportunities to use your imagination!” Never a fine moment…
  • No need to get all defensive about your cast. This is 2018. Every civilised person is fine with non-white, non-straight characters frolicking around in non-OECD  locations. Of course they are. Yes. I insist. This can’t be the reason for the rejection. Or can it? No, impossible. Not in 2018. That would be a really bad sign. No!

Rejections are great. They spare you a lot of tension.

But there can be too much of a good thing, even of stress avoidance.

Look at this submission query for a 70 k words novel to a publisher requiring a minimum of 80k for this format, and the corresponding rejection:

Submission of „Guilty until proven“ (Science Fiction)

Dear all,

thanks for a submission policy providing a newbie with a chance to shine, or make a fool of myself.

Guilty until proven“ is an imminent future tale taking place in rural France, Lagos (Nigeria), Djibouti, Agadir (Morocco) and a virtual reality used for penitentiary purposes.

Depending on how you look at the cast, it’s either boringly familiar, as in plenty of well educated English speakers, or can be considered pretty diverse, as far as biographies, lifestyles, gender, race and sexual orientation are concerned.

There’s quite a lot happening, including some romance and occasional mentions of violent events, but this material would be hard to turn into an action or adult movie, too many thoughts and ambivalent emotions.

As you will have noticed by now, the style is on the peculiar side, thanks to my very fluent third language English polished over twenty years of scientific writing. No idea if this bug can be declared a feature, as in ‚refreshingly unorthodox‘, ‚outside the native speaker box‘ or even ‚as addictive as junk food‘, as one of my beta readers once kindly put it.

Last not least: Apologies for falling short of your 80,000 words threshold. „Guilty until proven“ was already nearing completion when I came across your call for submissions and I’m lousy at padding.

Thanks a lot for any feedback you might be willing to provide,

Kind regards,

Troim

Pretty badly written. Itch to splice some of those long sentences. Typical evening me deciding to give conventional submission a quick try, following a prompt in the fediverse, before going my usual Smashwords. I recall the rationale sounding roughly like this:

“They don’t require the agent I don’t have. Nothing to lose but a little time. Not even that, if I submit for copyright protection in parallel (which of course I did, tend to hedge my bets).”

Nothing to lose? Well, now look at this rejection:

Dear Troim Kryzl,

Thank you for considering <name of the publisher> for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel your work would be right for <name of the publisher> at this time.

However, remember we have rejected works that went on to be published by other companies, and other publishers originally rejected some of our best-known writers.

We wish you the best of luck in finding an enthusiastic publisher for your work and in your ongoing writing career, and please feel free to try us again.

Best wishes & regards,

<First Name> <Last Name>

Associate Editor
<Name of the publisher>

Very professionally courteous, reads real nice.

Most probably their standard answer, however hopeless or promising the material. My output is bound to be on the drop-it side. I’m ultra niche, in many ways. Let’s just forget the episode.

Or is this supposed to be an encouragement? It’s definitely longer than the others. But in the age of copy-and-paste, that doesn’t mean anything. Well aware of how I proceed in my day job. Save as new version, copy a bit here, rephrase a bit there. This associate editor is a fellow professional, bound to proceed in exactly the same way. Time to move on.

Rejections are great, mostly.

Anyone out there who recognises the wording and can please confirm it’s a certain publishers standard rejection? Please?

Chapters are for sissies

Having declared “Guilty until proven”, my dime novel number five, sufficiently rewritten and done, I retrospectively wonder about the structure.

One more LinkedIn forum discussion got me started. Lots of real, proper, professional writers are exchanging extremely well founded views on chapter lengths. One is supposed to consider an improbable number of variables  defining the optimum: Genre traditions, attention span of the target audience, stylistic requirements, hardcopy publishing constraints,…

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. An me never not even noticing the stuff I read comes in chapters. With hindsight, I’m one of the readers who tend to finish a chapter. As I often read at night, I do indeed lose focus if the author belongs to the long chapter crowd and often need to reread a couple of pages on the following night, but this never bothered me. If I like it, I cope. If I don’t, shorter chapters won’t help.

Seems this is a very amateur view. And not doing proper chapters in my dime novels is an embarrassment. But I like announcing a switch of locations by using an explicit title. The resulting structure displays some of the properties of proper chapters, but they vary in length: At the start of the novel, they can add up to dozens of pages, well beyond maximum professional length, because I need to introduce the cast and its stage. Whereas in the endgame, there’s a far faster switch, and my not-really chapters shrink to a few pages.

I’m hopeless, as a writer. Or can this lack of consistency be considered style? That feels nice. Chapters are for sissies.

Rewrite to make Technovelgy?

Familiar with Technovelgy? I only just discovered this wonderful place, where you meet innumerable SciFi books and authors through the devices they introduced. Would love to make that list.

Why not? One of the triggers that made me write Plugger stuff was my dissatisfaction with the lack of plausible space travel scenarios disgracing the bulk of interstellarly themed  SciFi.

Spoiler alert: I you haven’t read my dime trilogy yet, you’re about to discover what takes the heroes of Plugger Site One the whole first novel to find out.

Space is huge. You can’t move fragile and short-lived entities from Earth (Sol) to planet 12345 (Proxima Centauri) like taking a plane from Paris (France) to Lagos (Nigeria).

Why doesn’t anyone come up with something plausible?

My fiction writing “career” started with this question.

It took me a weekend to dream up a slightly more realistic mode of interstellar transportation, the dark matter devices into which the travellers download to be rebioprinted at their destination. The easy part. Actually writing a novel featuring my innovation turned out the be the challenge.

Fiction writing is totally unlike non-fiction. In non-fiction, if you’ve got something to report, the writing will do itself. In fiction, the plots, devices and cast members are ten a cent. How you bring them alive is the key. Obviously. In retrospect.

Plugger stuff would have deserved a better writer. It’s probably never going to make any list in its current, published form. Too long, too much dialogue, on top of my notoriously non-native English.

One option would be to rewrite it.

Not again! Besides, my writing hopefully has improved, over the last couple of years, but not that much.

Who needs to figure on lists? Aren’t we lefties proud not to subject everything to metrics and competition?

No way I spend one more year writing Plugger stuff.

Why is it fun to write?

Seriously asking here, because:

  • There’s no money in fiction writing. For most of us. And we’re perfectly aware of this fact.
  • There’s some kind of work involved, judging by how the head tends to run hot in a flow.
  • Writing is all over our schedule, crowding out activities considered relevant by less weird people.
  • Our default answers to non-writing action prompts stretches the patience of our next of kin: “Still busy here, darling. Nearly there, honey. As good as done, sweetie. Just a couple more minutes, love. Not just now, as in right now, OK?”

So why the hell do we keep doing this?

Not claiming an actual Eureka moment here. But I’ll ask the kind folks on LinkedIn and in the Fediverse  if I might be up to something, with a thought that crossed my mind today.

It all happened while working on a dialogue for the next episode of my 1KYears series. The scene involves obnoxious client C, as experienced by phone bank operator O.

Anyone familiar with The Guardian series “What I’m really thinking” will recognise the approach. 

  • Client C behaves a real challenge, stretching the limits of polite interaction. A threatening bully with a foul mouth. His part is relayed as it happens.
  • Operator O, pretty new in his role, anxious to build up credentials as a competent service provider, struggles to cope. Besides learning what he actually gets to say, which isn’t that much, the reader is provided with a glimpse into his mind.

Writing, reading and rewriting this dialogue is fun. Nearly making myself LOL when I do it. Why?

Here’s my best guess at an answer: Deep down, one part of me longs to be as rude as client C. That same part would also enjoy telling all those rude people I can’t avoid meeting, over a lifetime, how much of a nuisance they are. Preferably in their own, plain rude terms.

Most people will describe me as a polite person. Being subjected to yearly 360 degree feedback as part of my very international day job, I can even pretend not to brag when I state as much. But some part of me, deep down, might long to shout a couple of truths at a couple of people who are zero fun to interact with. This part of me envies the rude people, for getting it all off their chests, while also wanting to punish them, for not adhering to conventions.

Too much psychology? Up to something? Nonsense, because <please insert better explanation here>?

I’ll ask the kind folks on LinkedIn and in the Fediverse for their explanations. Or I might do a Twitter poll.

Or rather not? Are there any other hidden parts of my personality I might be revealing through my writing? Clearly some more thinking needed here…

Meet the nice guys: Exilian

Tradition demands to start the New Year withs some fancy vows. “Resume going to the gym”. Or  “replace the kitchen faucet” .  That kind of thing. Familiar with the exercise? Aware of the futility? Thought you would be. Probably a shared trait, among sapients, across solar systems.

Three weekly runs at the gym are fun. They do happen. With or without vows. Whereas that faucet… It does look bad. Duly noted. Ever since we moved in. A couple of years back. But it just looks bad. No leaking. It can be considered ecologically sustainable. Why replace it, now?

Instead of participating in the vow exercise I have decided to start the year by breaking with a tradition.

This site was created to keep my fiction writing well apart from my day job. I make a surprising amount of money generating non-fiction. Theres is also an abundance of calls and meetings involved. And some walking around an office building. To fetch drinks and cookies, to attend meetings, or to combine both activities. And the occasional bout of thinking. But my output basically consists of non-fiction.

The last thing I need, in my spare time, is duplicating my day job. Especially without getting paid for it. Non non-fiction writing.

So far, so rationale, so implemented. Since 2014. No non-fiction pieces for other platforms.

But some guys are so nice you can’t resist: Pleased to introduce you to Exilian, the project that made me break my vow. By providing a little Lagos digression. Even got myself an account…

Writer’s amnesia

Today, it happened again. This is scary. First time I was subjected to the phenomenon, my inner hypochondriac suspected early stage Alzheimer. He insisted on doing the usual tests. Results just fine.

So what the hell is this? The admin alerts me to a new comment on Inside the box. Vaguely remember the plot. Wonder how long ago I wrote this. Not recently enough for the post to feature on the front page. Select “Words to Go” tag to get all the shorts.

First reaction: Cool, this does add up. As the admin suggested at the onset of the project: “You worry too much, Troim. You won’t even notice one short per month. That’s totally unlike novels. No risk to get obsessed with those characters.”

True enough. Scrolling down the list, I don’t even recognise the names. I mean, I’m lousy at recollecting names in real life. Used to this handicap leading to countless episodes of embarrassment. I’m name deaf. Recall the person, or some shared occasion. Draw a blank for the names. First and last. Bad.

Not recognising the names of characters I invented earlier this year, and struggling to recollect the plot, that’s worse.

Feels like disrespect. The major characters of my novels, and of the 1KYears series, they’re closer to me than some day job colleagues. (More interesting, too. But that’s beside the point here. And not a nice thing to say, about colleagues). The poor heroes of the shorts, they get forgotten faster than the tram driver spotted through the front window.

Wonder if this means anything, regarding depth and quality? One more question I probably won’t dare raising on LinkedIn.

Obsession

One more question for the experts on LinkedIn: How bad a sign is it, if you get obsessed with your characters?

This is very much like real life falling in love, only worse.

In real life, past a certain age, you’re familiar with the phenomenon, and know the acute phase won’t last. Either the subject of your desires is within reach, and things will calm down. Or it isn’t, and you’ll face up to this fact, sooner or later.

No such resolution with your characters. As long as they remain active, for the duration of a particular project, they’re here to stay.

And not just the tip of the iceberg the readers will meet.

The writers privilege, or nuisance, is total acquaintance. You’ve got access to the character’s backstory and family history, for the simple reason that you’re the one who came up with it. You have peeked into every nook and cranny. You know them better than they do, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to imagine scenarios where they surprise themselves. In a plausible way.

You check your slides to prepare for a day job meeting, see an arrow and wonder which shade of red colour sensitive character x would have selected. You have a toilet break and stay just that little bit longer because you’re revisiting a pivotal scene involving character x. You ride home on public transport and miss your stop because a fellow passenger stands like character x would.

The longer the project lasts, the worse the obsession gets. And it’s not only character x piling in on you. The whole cast gets ever more prone to showing up outside writing slots.

Such symptoms may suggest a mental health issue.

Nope, wrong guess. With privileged access to professionals this explanation was easy to discard. Especially as the symptoms vanish once the last round of rewriting is completed.

No pathology involved. So far, so good. But what does it mean, for the writer? Is being prone to this kind of obsession, or total plot immersion, a bad sign, signalling lack of distance? Or the contrary?

First episode hurrah

This first episode of the 1kYears series was so much fun to write I’m at advanced risk of jumping right on to the next one, instead of starting work on Parole?, the next long format. Bad Troim.

It’s probably the Dilbert angle of the 1kYears project. A completely fictional global IT service provider, located in a non-existent megalopolis, with an improbable cast of impossibly diverse staff.

Feeling at home already? Looking forward to read about an even more messy workplace than your own, and a worse commute?

Well, there is even more. Immortality looms. Sort of. For nerds. Preferably non-religious ones. Who fancy LGBT pride. In a black majority environment. That would be overdoing it?

This is science fiction, folks, not the social science section of your favourite online news channel. So please do brace yourself and read:

The new client

It’s free, too. Doing a bit of socialism here. But please post who much you would be willing to pay, in case it wasn’t free. 99 cents would be the suggested price tag. Any takers at that rate?

 

Carpe Diem

What a difference two nights can make. Spending them in a hospital, after undergoing extremely minor and totally successful surgery, has a way of sharpening your mortality awareness. This in turn can lead to all kinds of unexpected non-medical side effects.

Less than a month ago, the plan was to submit Think-o-mat to three agents. A mere three agent profiles to assess. A mere three emails to edit. A mere submission guidelines to follow. Impossible not to find a time slot for such a tiny task.

Well, come again. And forget it. Life is short. Fun needs to be maximised. Submissions don’t qualify. Whereas publishing on Smashwords turned out to be easier than the implementation of pharmaceutical industry eCTD guidance that happens to be part of my day job.  Why should I pretend to aim for most probably unrealistic conventional publishing if such simple means do the job? Down goes the to-do list. Up shoots the life satisfaction index.

The new client“, pilot episode of the brand-new 1KYears series, was the proof of concept. The Plugger stuff will migrate to Smashwords once the required PayPal account becomes available and potential issues because of the pre-publishing on this site are resolved. Think-o-mat to follow as soon as copyright registration is confirmed.

 

Three submissions

Writing fiction is tremendous fun, but by the last chapters long format projects tend to turn into a bit of a tedium, as described and tentatively analysed in a previous post. No problem, though, won’t happen again for at least a year, now is hurrah time:

Think-o-mat has been defined completed.

And another dreaded task, writing the corresponding synopsis, has been diligently performed. So far, so milestones.

Now for one more first: The task of submitting aforementioned product, if product status it may reach, to agencies.

After some research and soul searching, three literary agents have been selected for pitching. Yes, three. Three as in 3. Only three.

According to LinkedIn wisdom, thirty plus submissions seem to be considered a must for any newbie author, especially one with as exquisite a selection of handicaps as poor hopeless me. Thirty?!

Come again, folks. Having approached this new task with the kind of open-mindedness essential to keep me performing in my day job, I hereby declare, authoritatively: Thirty is impossible.

Pitching is not a task you can hand over to an assistant, except perhaps in the case of a select few well known authors who won’t need to do that much if it anyway. In my by now lightly informed opinion. It’s mandatory to perform this duty personally, to make sure the first impression is confirmed in the actual work. Just imagine a native English speaker submitting my kind of output. Wasted time and frustration guaranteed, certainly no path to a win-win.

Thirty plus submissions can only mean one of two things:

  • Either you use some sort of bland all purpose template, making only minor adjustments that won’t succeed in conveying an impression of considered targeting.
  • Or you do it properly and end up spending more time browsing agency websites, trundling through submission guidelines and editing pitches than on your actual fiction writing.

The latter is of course justified if you’re convinced your work will become the next library and box office hit, or a Booker Nobel YouNameIt prize, if only an agent got you a publisher. OK. Point taken. I’m a reader and don’t want to miss that one. This situation calls for perseverance. Keep up the good pitching, by all means!

But this is not my type of situation. The same blatant lack of delusion that helps me make good bucks in my day job clearly tells me that my writing has every chance to be considered rubbish, certainly by an audience of native English speakers, most probably also in general. I’m a compulsive writer and enjoy both the writing and reading my own stuff, but a confirmed hooked audience of one doesn’t imply the existence of a wider public. If ever there happens to be a willing readership only waiting for this to hit the (e-)shelves, at least one of three experienced agents will notice and react. If there isn’t, I get myself one more copyright certificate, just in case, have the admin reset Think-o-mat to free access and move on.