“It’s about 250 pages.”

As I look ahead to having an actual completed novel—which isn’t a case of counting my chickens before they’re hatched, I don’t think, but rather anticipating what’s to come—there are a few things I have to do that are deceptively difficult. For the most part, they all revolve around one basic question:

“What’s your book about?”

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That’s a fair enough question, and one any writer worth their salt should be able to answer (and answer well) in a sentence or two. Believe it or not, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Take my near-completed novel (which, by the way, has the tentative title Snakebit):

It’s about Jimmy Ray Day, a repo man/enforcer-type guy who works for a crooked car dealer, who’s given a hit to carry out, but he botches the hit in the worst possible way and finds himself on the run from his boss, headed to Mexico with a duffel bag full of cash and cocaine, where he meets a gorgeous (and possibly mentally unstable) young woman who he falls for hard and fast.

Technically that is just one sentence, but it’s a humdinger of a run-on, and that’s just the first half of the book, neglecting to mention anything that happens from that point forward. After spending months (on the conservative side) writing 60,000 + words, trying to summarize it in a few paragraphs or a couple of sentences is pretty hard to do.

But I have to figure it out, because like I said at the beginning, that’s what’s coming up. You have to be able to hook people, make them want to read the book, in a sentence or two—that’s called the “elevator pitch.”

You get it, right? Like, you step onto an elevator and someone else steps on with you (let’s say a forty-something woman in crisp business attire). You exchange pleasantries and you mention you’re a writer (since all writers are so naturally outgoing), and she says, “Is that right? I’m an editor at XXX books.” The elevator starts going up and you realize you have until she gets off the elevator to sell her on your book.

You need to have something ready, something you can say without going, “Okay well…so, there’s this guy, right? He’s like, a criminal, but not really a bad guy, you know? So anyway, this thing comes up, and he doesn’t want to do it but he knows he has to…but he messes it up, and…”

No. You need to spout out a couple sentences that explain who the main character is, what the conflict in the story is, and why it’s compelling.

Then, along with the elevator pitch is the dreaded query letter. A query letter is a one page letter that you send either to publishers, editors, or agents to convince them that your book is awesome and you are awesome and everything you do is awesome (in other words, a completely factual document).

Part of the query letter is listing any publishing credentials, which, luckily, I have a few (although I could stand a few more, ya hear me editors who currently have my submissions?). But the most critical part is the synopsis, where (you guessed it) you spend anywhere from one to three paragraphs explaining what your book’s about and making the person reading the query letter want to read (and therefore, publish or try to publish) your book.

Luckily, there are more articles about and examples of query letters than you can shake a stick at. Also, my second novel (tentatively titled Liberating Oz, BTW), whenever it’s finished (I’m trying to stay realistic and just stick with an end of the year goal), has a much simpler plot and a much clearer hook, so I don’t think that one will present the same challenges.

And so, while I try to rectify a short story that’s a great idea at its core but just isn’t working for some reason, prepare to start a second draft of Oz that’s basically a rewrite, and wait for feedback from Snakebit’s beta readers, I’ll also be looking at query letters, maybe hammering out a draft or two of them, and looking for publishers to send them to.

You writers out there—do you have any trouble summarizing your work into a quick hook? What’s been your experience with query letters?

Finally, a Routine

We’ve all heard that change is good; we should embrace change. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job at that the last couple of months, to be honest. New job, schedule all over the place. Not that I’m complaining—far from it, I love my new job—but finally I’m back into a routine and I’m so relieved, because now I might be able to get seriously back into writing again.

It hasn’t been absolutely zero productivity these last couple months, though. I managed to write a few stories, two of which I really like and the other I think will end up being cannibalized and put into a different idea I’m chewing on in the back of my mind. But the Big Work In Progress, the novel, has set idly by since around Memorial Day. I just haven’t had the time or energy to think about it. Well, that and I had some ideas that would require going back and either adding scenes in or rewriting altogether. At this point I don’t know which I’ll do; the fact that I finally have the time to do either is what matters.

All this means I’ll probably have more time for the blog again as well, so set you blocking preferences accordingly. 🙂

Oh! I can’t believe I got this far without mentioning it: I got another story published!

That's me, and the belt is my acceptance letter from the publisher.

That’s me, and the belt is my acceptance letter from the publisher.

 My short story Randy’s Bad Day is being published by Jitter Press, a division of Prolific Press specializing in horror and dark fiction. Details are still to come, of course, but you know I’ll be passing them along as I get them. It’s the story of an angry man in a cabin, his hangover, and a whole mess of mutant frogs. They say you should write the kind of stuff you’d like to read, and I definitely did that with this story, because it’s gross, scary, and, dare I say, funny. It makes me laugh, anyway. I hope you guys like it.

I also got a pair of very encouraging rejection letters a couple of weeks ago, which, as weird as it sounds, it really cool. One told me they liked my story but it wasn’t right for the issue they’re getting ready to put out, and asked me to send more work in the future. The other said my story was “a hell of a lot of fun” but needed just a bit of tweaking, in their opinion, and it could find a home easily. We’ll see about that, but it was a nice way of being told ‘no, we don’t want your story.’

I’m going to cut this short, because as happy as I am to have a routine again, I’m still getting used to it. I work much later in the day now and my days off are in the middle of the week, so there are some adjustments to be made before I’m totally used to it. So I’m gonna go and read for a while (if I still remember how—my reading time has been cut drastically short lately, too) and relax a little before heading to work. But there will be more to come, so stay tuned.

imbackbaby

When It Rains, It Pours

*F-bomb alert.

Great news: another one of my stories, Aiden’s Acting Up Again, has been accepted for publication by The Rusty Nail Literary Magazine. I’m not sure of their publication schedule, so I can’t tell you when to look for it, but of course I’ll pass along the info when I get it.

So, after months (maybe over a year?) of rejections—approximately 42—suddenly I’ve gotten two acceptances in seven days. It’s amazing, to say the least. I don’t really have as good a grasp as I should on the demographics of my followers, so I’m not sure if there are people out there in the same boat I am (aspiring writers) reading the blog. I purposely decided quite a while ago to not write about writing so much, because it bored me, and if it’s boring to write about how must it be to read?

Anyway, if there are any beginning or aspiring writers reading this (or any aspiring anythings for that matter), all I can say is the hard work is worth it. I’m still in the very early stages of my (hopefully long and successful) writing career, but getting these first two stories accepted has wiped away a lot of the frustration I felt writing day in and day out, thinking I was spinning my wheels and maybe wasting my time.

There were many mornings where I would get up at 6am like clockwork, grab some coffee, sit down at the computer and…stare at the screen for fifteen or twenty minutes without writing a word, before giving up altogether and browsing the internet (and on occasion, I still do). Sometimes I would get angry with how little progress I seemed to make. I would think, I’ve been getting up 90 minutes earlier than I have to to work on this crap, and it’s going nowhere—what the hell am I doing? Am I just wasting my time?

Deep down I knew I was getting better—I could see it in the new stories I was writing. But without any sort of validation from an outside source (and rejections swiftly piling up) I began to wonder if I was right. Finding online critique groups helped up to a point; there I get useful feedback, but there’s no shortage of unnecessarily harsh criticism in some of those groups; some people just seem to seethe with bitterness, eager to tear apart anything they deem unworthy. *On a side note: to the person who critiqued a story of mine by saying it was “lazy as fuck, and you know it,” that story was accepted for publication last week, so you can stick your critique where the sun don’t shine.

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One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get something published this year; I thought that was perfectly reasonable, but by mid-April I began to have my doubts. Then I read a column on Lit Reactor by Richard Thomas, who seems like a very cool guy; always looking to help writers, not to mention a killer writer himself. In his column, he pointed out that many publications accept simultaneous submissions—meaning you can send something to them as well as others at the same time. Why, he asked, would you send out submissions one at a time when you could send out three, five, eight, etc? He compared it to looking for a job: you don’t apply for one, wait to hear back, then apply for another. You apply for ALL OF THEM. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I never thought of it that way.

In late April, I went for it. I submitted four or five of my stories to three or four different places each, and what do you know? He was right. I’ve seen results.

I hope you all have a good weekend. I’m going to be doing research/planning a heist on a nearly impenetrable underground vault before heading to Oklahoma for a good old-fashioned fish fry.

I’ll end with a word of warning—you’ll probably get sick of me updating when the stories are available to read, so brace yourselves. 🙂

Oh My God, I’m 40

“I’m 40 now…I’m half dead, basically. 40’s a weird age. You get to this point where, like, you’re not old enough for anybody to give a shit that you’re old. Nobody’s like, ‘I helped a 40 year-old guy today, and it felt really good to do something for him.’ Nobody spends their holidays delivering hot meals to 40 year-olds. And you’re not young enough for anybody to ever be proud of you, or impressed. They’re just like, ‘Yeah, do your job, asshole. Nobody cares. That’s what you’re supposed to do.'”

-Louis CK

I knew it was coming, but somehow it still snuck up on me. It sounds so weird.

I’m 40.

I’m not freaking out completely – I’m still young, 40 is the new 30, all that jazz – but it still seems a much more significant milestone than 30. People in their 30’s are still practically kids. 40 year-olds are decidedly not kids anymore. You’re supposed to have things pretty much figured out by now, and the fact that I don’t is a little disconcerting. I began reflecting, thinking back to how old 40 used to sound, and what I imagined I’d be doing once I got to be this age. Here’s what I came up with.

When I was 10, I thought by the time I was 40…I’d already be retired from my Major League Baseball career, and would have transitioned to a new phase as either a play by play announcer or color commentator. Baseball was my life at that age, and for several years after. There really wasn’t much more to life at that point, aside from school and the original Star Wars trilogy.

When I was 20, I thought by the time I was 40…I would be making a living somehow in the music industry. I never had true “rock star” dreams, like selling out arenas or getting platinum records…the truth is I never really wanted any of that. I’ve always been drawn to art that’s a little off center, so to speak, so I never expected to get rich from music. But at that time music was basically everything to me: working in music stores (both selling CD’s and selling instruments), constantly playing in bands (a death metal band morphing into a punk band morphing into a hardcore band with some dabbling in rockabilly and swing),  briefly giving guitar lessons…everything revolved around music, and I was sure it would be how I made my living.

When I was 30, I thought by the time I was 40…My new “real” job would provide my new bride and I with everything we needed to get by and still allow me to go about pursuing my art. There was nothing stopping that from happening except for me getting in my own way. By this point I had gotten back in to writing again, having already written my first novella as well as still writing music. But something happened. Looking back, I guess it was complacence; it felt nice to relax and enjoy having a house and a wife and a dog, and just take a little break from creating for a while. That lasted longer than I would have guessed – until just a couple of years ago, when my artistic side began to bubble up again until it was eating away at me.

And now that I’m 40…I feel a slight need to make up for lost time. I spent enough time dicking around; it’s time to get some stuff done. Maybe that feeling is just the start of the fabled Mid-life crisis. Before long maybe I’ll be shopping for a sports car and going skydiving.

I don’t have many regrets for the way things have turned out this far, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy to just sit back and let any more time pass me by. For all the passion I’ve always had toward creating, I don’t have much to show for it aside from a couple decent-sounding demo tapes, some wild tales from some pretty cool gigs and some roughly written stories only a few people have read. So now I’m trying to make my mark – write my books and get them published, be it the traditional route or self-published. Like with my music, making money at it would be great, but that’s kind of beside the point. The point is putting something you created out into the world and knowing someone, somewhere enjoyed it.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I got up before work so I could practice what I just preached and write a little. But first, I might be on Google for just a few minutes…how much does skydiving cost, anyway?

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Well…Rejection Sucks

In an earlier post, I talked about the trouble I had declaring myself a writer. I actually got very interesting feedback on the topic, and I appreciate everyone’s comments. Today, however, I believe I may have finally crossed the threshold to counting myself among the masses (and masses) who call themselves “writers” – I’ve been rejected.

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I’m not sulking about it or pouting (although I do make a mean duck face), but I am disappointed. I’m not totally naive; I’ve read enough about writing and writers to know how many famous authors and classic books were rejected (in some cases many, many times) before finding success. Still, there was a tiny voice in my head that would whisper to me…Your novella is that good. It’s going to be accepted by the very first publisher you submit it to.

Alas, it wasn’t. I know it’s just one publisher, but I can’t completely block out the much louder voice in my head, the voice of self doubt :

Was the title catchy enough?

Did they even read the whole thing?

Maybe my first sentence/paragraph/chapter/quarter/third/half wasn’t catchy enough.

Maybe they didn’t like the ending.

Maybe they didn’t like the short synopsis I submitted.

Maybe they didn’t like my blog.

inconceivable

I don’t know; can’t know. All I can do is what all writers do – just keep writing. I have a second novella that’s is nearing the end of the never ending hell that is the revision process, and I’m 33k words into my work in progress. The world keeps turning, life goes on. Back to work.

jklivin