Novel Excerpts

I’ve posted the first two chapters of my unpublished novel, Rose’s Hostage, on the Read Me page.  You can get to it at this link https://aelizabethwest.wordpress.com/excerpts/ (scroll down) or go to the header at the top of the page and click on the drop-downs under Read Me.

Rose’s Hostage is crime fiction.  For those readers I have who are younger or particularly sensitive, this is not a G-rated book.  I have included a short jacket flap-style teaser on the Read me page you might want to check out.

Interview: Chuck Sambuchino’s How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack

There’s a new book coming out September 7 that I am dying to read.  The cover looks like this:

I think he's looking at me...

The author is a favorite blogger of mine, Chuck Sambuchino.  He’s been a wealth of information for all us UNPUBs out there.   I found him through Writer’s Digest and never looked back.

Chuck looks like this:

Gnome defense expert and publishing advice giver. Top that, Van Damme!

In his own words:

Chuck Sambuchino is the author of HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, a humor book coming out Sept. 7, 2010.  He is also the editor of GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (2011 edition in stores August 2010) and runs a large blog on publishing: www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.  Besides that, he is a magazine freelancer, playwright, husband, owner of a flabby dog, cover band guitarist, and all around chocolate chip cookie fiend.

Anyone who likes chocolate chip cookies can’t be all bad.  Chuck was gracious enough to grant an interview to this blog.

Tell us about the book.  The cover is hilarious.  It looks like a spoof of the 1976 book Gnomes, by Wil Hugyen and illustrated by Rien Poorvliet.  I loved that as a child.  Is this a gritty reboot?  Were you attacked by a gnome?  Should I rethink buying a gnome statue for my garden?

The cover is a spoof of the old book—good catch.  It’s not a reboot as much as something else entirely.  But yes, I would rethink that gnome purchase if you want to stay alive.

 

Humor writing is not easy for a lot of people.  Funny is very subjective.  Do you have any tips for writers who might like to do this type of work?

Obviously, the concept of the book is key—but there needs to be good content in the book, as well. My editor said it well when she said that people will pick up the book because of the title and cover, but they will only buy it if they flip through some pages and are impressed.  Besides that, I would try to build a platform and network of friends any way you can.  With the big publishing blog I handle (guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog), I have developed a decent platform to reach readers.  It isn’t necessarily a “humor platform,” per se, but it is a platform of some kind.

Your blog contains a great deal of information for new writers.  We thank you profusely for the help you’ve given us. Working in the business yourself, you’ve undoubtedly been well-prepared for publishing your own book, but is there anything that surprised you about the process?

Several small things. For example, a large portion of the original text ended up on the cutting room floor to make room for lots of photos—that part surprised me, but the end result is better for it. A surprising thing for me was how quickly the book came to life.  The publishing industry moves sooooo slow, but this book went from initial discussions with the editor to being published in 10 months, and that’s lightning.  I am very fortunate for that.

Marketing is getting pretty important for writers. Any hints for novelists in particular on their platforms and establishing a presence?

Bribe TV anchors to interview you and get involved in some kind of political scandal.  Besides that: Become involved in writers groups and organizations.  Join a local group, the MWA, the RWA, SCBWI—whatever you like.  And you can always develop a platform that has nothing to do with your writing.  For example, if you start a popular blog on yoga, when you have a novel to sell two years from now, you will have some kind of platform in place to read people who may buy the book.  You need friends who will help you spread the word in their small circles just as you will do for them.

Money is seriously lacking in every industry these days.  Advances are shrinking, editors are being laid off and it’s harder than ever to even get a manuscript past the round file.  Can a fiction writer really make a living anymore?

Well, it’s not likely if all you want to do is sell fiction.  A successful writer needs to wear many different hats—they need to write fiction, teach classes, write articles and freelance edit.  You need to remember that it’s OK to write some things for love and other things for money.  David Morrell, a popular thriller writer, once told me that only 250 people make their living solely from writing fiction.  You have to do other things to pay the bills.  But yes, you can make it work and make a full-time living writing.

What do you see for the future of publishing?

Not sure.  My specialty is helping people get their work published and finding an agent.  As far as the looming transition to e-books and such, I’m already kind of burnt out on people taking wild guesses on all that, and any guess I take would be beyond wild.  (Note to self: Write novel and title it Beyond the Wild.)

Just for fun, what’s the weirdest question / comment you’ve ever come across on your blog?

Following an agent interview, I do remember one comment that was something along the lines of “If this agent can’t sell books, she should model in Playboy because she’s that beautiful.” I think it was about 20 minutes later that the agent frantically e-mailed me to ask me to remove the comment.

Thank you, Chuck!  Everyone, get thee to a bookstore or Amazon and buy this book.  It looks like a hoot.  God knows we all could use a laugh these days!

Yellowback

I apologize for posting my Y post late.  Here it is, for your enjoyment.  I’ll get the Z post up soon.

I found an interesting word that I thought I’d share with you for my letter Y post.

Yellowback (aka sensation novel) – cheap pulp fiction from the nineteenth century; what some would qualify as airport novels today.  Called that because the color of the jacket was often a bright mustard yellow.

During the Industrial Revolution, mass production of goods began, and suddenly anyone with the money could fill his house with all manner of furniture, linens and accessories.  A look at the Montgomery Ward and Sears & Roebuck catalogs from the late 1800s reveals a plethora of items for sale, including books.

The yellowbacks followed the penny dreadful, the best known of which is Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood, a gory, overwrought vampire tale that could be purchased for a pittance and was widely devoured by the mass market.  The cheap pulp books of the day tended toward what we now call genre, or category fiction.

Category fiction falls into several areas:

Romance

Usually man and woman; mutual attraction and love; almost always has a happy ending.  The happy endings and Three’s Company-type misunderstandings which keep the characters apart are why I don’t read straight romance novels.  But then, I lean more toward the dark side.  It has cookies.

Crime

Criminals are usually protagonists.  Can involve cops/detectives, courtroom drama, and the like.  Generally, the perpetrators of the crimes are known.

Mystery/detective

A detective, forensics expert or amateur sleuth.  The majority of them are whodunit novels, where the perpetrator is unknown to the reader and to the detective, with a reveal at the end.

Action/adventure

Think Commando, with missions, jungles, weapons, and machismo.  I know that’s a movie, but it’s a great example of the genre.  Also David Morrell’s First Blood, the novel Rambo came from.

Speculative fiction

Includes fantasy and science fiction, is a broader term for those.  Fantasy involves invented worlds, magic, supernatural beings.  Science fiction is science, technology, and future-oriented and can be hard, where technology drives the plot, or soft and more character-oriented.  Alternate worlds fall into this category also.

Horror

A subgenre of fantasy, horror tales are the monster stories, ghouls, ghosts, and reanimated corpses seeking brains or revenge.  You can have straight monsters, like Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT or explore the terror within, as in Robert Bloch’s Psycho.

Westerns

Cowboys, cattle drives, and water rights, just like the John Wayne movies.  Notable Western authors include Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry.

Literary fiction

Ha, got you! Literary fiction is not strictly genre, but it’s fiction and it’s a category.  So I’m putting it in.  It’s characterized by serious themes and great attention to style, depth and character development.

Category fiction is broad and malleable, and writers often combine elements of more than one genre in their work.  For example, you can write a romantic story set in an alternate universe, with magical elements.  Or like my book, where a relationship begins amidst a criminal setting, which would make it a romantic crime thriller.  Predator, while not a novel, is actually a monster (horror) movie in an action/adventure setting.  Sometimes this results in the invention of a new subgenre–vampire romance, for example–which if successful will spawn a score of imitators.

It’s recommended that you at least know what category your story falls into before you query, so you can target agents and publishers who handle that type of work.  One of the biggest reasons for rejection is sending a query to someone who doesn’t represent your kind of story.

It also gives them a better idea of where they can sell it.  Obviously your agent won’t want to take your romance novel to a horror publisher, unless it’s about monsters in love who tear down the city.  Hey, that actually sounds like something I would read…

Don’t worry if you think you’ve written a yellowback.  People have been slurping them up for over a century.  Some snobby people think genre fiction is not real writing, but tell that to Stephen King.  When your horror novel hits the bestseller list, you can laugh all the way to the bank.

Write Me a Letter

Writers spend a lot of time surfing the intertubes for magazines and agencies.  Numerous websites exist that aggregate submission calls, including NewPages.com, Duetrope’s Digest and various freelance market listings.  The most important page you’ll see on any magazine or agency site is the guidelines.

The short story market has shrunk from what it was years ago.  Competition is fierce, and screeners look for reasons to reject submitted material.  Pieces that don’t fit the guidelines are the first to go.

You have to tailor your submissions to the magazine itself.  If you’re writing articles, it makes sense to know you won’t be able to sell something about finance to American Cowboy, unless the article is about economical ways to board horses.  It has to address what the publication is looking for.  Same with an agency; you wouldn’t query a weepy historical romance to someone who is looking for crime thrillers or young adult fiction.

Fortunately magazines, literary journals and agents let writers know what type of material they seek.  Most websites have a page titled “Submissions” or “Guidelines.”  Read that page and then do what it says.   They use this information to screen submissions.  If yours doesn’t fit the guidelines, they don’t’ have to waste time reading it.  Too many pages, too many submissions to read and coddle each one.

Lots of agencies these days won’t even respond if they’re going to reject your work, so you might see something like “If you don’t hear from us within four months, assume we aren’t interested.”  Pretty clear, if you ask me.

I’ve seen literary journals whose submission instructions are so vague it sounds as though they are open to anything, but usually they’re not.  In those cases, read the journal if you can.  If the material is online and subscription only, go to the bookstore and find a copy.  You can sit at Barnes and Noble and read it; just don’t spill any coffee on it or you’ll be buying!  University libraries might have copies of literary journals also.

Guidelines do more than filter material.  They tell screeners if you can follow directions.  Think of it like answering a job advertisement.   You wouldn’t want to work with someone who can’t follow basic instructions, and neither do they.

Don’t assume each agency or publication’s submittal process is the same either.   Check!  Look on the website.  Very few don’t have websites now.  A lot of agents and magazines are going green and have switched to accepting email submissions and queries.  Remember, AN EMAIL QUERY IS STILL A BUSINESS COMMUNICATION.   You must take the same care with your letter as you would if you were mailing it.

Here’s a great post from Rachelle Gardner’s agent blog about why guidelines are so important.