Promotion – Guide to Literary Agents

Chuck Sambuchino, the head guy over at the Guide to Literary Agents, does not sleep. Either that, or he’s more than one person. I don’t know how he does it, I just know that he’s always on top of what’s going on in the writing world — that is when he’s not creating part of the writing world.

Right now he’s running another “Lucky Agent” contest. This time it’s for Young Adult work. If you have a finished YA piece, you can enter. Three winners will receive a critique of the first 10 pages of their manuscripts.

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The Bliss of Ignorance

I have a friend whose skin is so healthy and beautiful that I would hate her if it weren’t for the fact that she’s also nice and funny. I can forgive any form of perfection as long as the bearer is nice and funny. Anyway, she happens to work at a cosmetics counter in a large store at the mall (coincidentally, as she had healthy and beautiful skin before she took the job there).

This past Saturday she invited me to attend an event at her store where I’d be educated on skin care and the line she represents. I went and was educated.

After I showered Sunday morning, I found myself sitting before my vanity mirror somewhat frighted by what I saw: large pores, deep wrinkles, dark circles, and redness I’d never noticed before. Thankfully I’d purchased products to remove, repair or at least conceal it all. It had all the makings of an ego-destroying moment but I couldn’t help but laugh at how I got sucked back into the human obsession to make things better.

What some might call a pride in ingenuity, I’m beginning consider an unhealthy compulsion. We are all in a constant, almost frenzied, quest to turn everything into a problem and fix it, whether or not it really is a problem. And at what cost? I’ll tell you what cost: the joy, happiness, stress-free zen state a life of acceptance has to offer along with stronger, healthier egos. And if that’s not good enough for you, loads of cash and energy to boot.

Think about it — my son just informed me that “they” are re-making the Star Wars movies in 3D, which rather suggests someone somewhere found a problem with the original Star Wars films and decided they were no longer good enough and needed to be improved. But, the reason why Star Trek was so very faboo in the first place is because it was a NEW epic adventure tale of a NEW fallen hero created with NEW technology.  The 3D versions might be fun, but really, they will be yet more Sci-fi 3D flicks ~yawn~ that will make us all feel like saps for preferring the originals.

My daughter and I are ADD. When I was a kid, “they” said I was spirited and flighty, but there was no problem in that as long as I had a chance to run around like a lunatic periodically. My daughter, however,  is a problem, and you wouldn’t believe the time, money and stress (but alas, no running around like a lunatic for her) that is going into “fixing” her. There are results, improvements, if you will. But they are minimal, and I can’t help but wonder if we’d just let her go wild every now and then,that maybe she’d be able to concentrate better when she had to sit still.

And look at what we’re doing with Mother Nature. Here in suburbia, we are all obsessed with “improving” the natural state of our yards by insisting that grass actually grows into nice, green lawns. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I let my yard be taken over by crab grass (it would be so very easy, but to save myself from the local lynch mob, I’d probably have to rename it the “Emerald Spreader” or something). But the stuff looks like it would fill in all the bare spots rather nicely that turf grass fails to do. Seems to me I’d have a thick mat of green that would stand up to running feet, dragged lounge chairs and the occasional car tire on my side of the drive way. Do you know how much money I’d save if I just accepted crab grass as normal and not a problem? How much time and energy I’d get back by not fighting it so much?

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

And look at Barbie! Feminists rail against Barbie because next to her, little girls begin to think they are too fat, too ugly and too not-normal, and yet Barbie continues to preside over a top selling toy empire. Barbie might be the epitome of where the human desire to find problems, fix them, and become “something better” leads us — “they” did the statistics and found out that if Barbie was a real woman with dimensions to scale with the doll, she wouldn’t have enough body fat to menstruate. Yes, girls yearning to look better, to fix all their “problems” are aiming to look like something that couldn’t be a girl (so, does this mean that Barbie is a Drag Queen? Hmmm . . .).

My point is (and I do have one somewhere in this rambling), we would have more time, more energy and even more cash, while living with less stress and healthier egos if we were not so damned set on finding problems to fix. If we’d just allow ourselves to wallow in a state of ignorance, one where “they” are not telling us there’s something wrong with us, then maybe we’d all be a little happier.

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It’s Banned Book Week!

I took the summer off from watching, reading and listening to the news. I did my best anyway. It’s really hard to do that. I’m still hopelessly up to date with the major events of this round ball we’re all stuck living on.

But I gave it the ‘ole college try and mimicked the See-No-Evil and Hear-No-Evil Monkeys for three whole months. It wasn’t the first time I did that. Every now and then I have to take a break from all the nattering or I would go a little nuts. I always  know when it’s time to plug my ears and run from the room screaming “la la la la la.”  It’s whenever I start to feel anger or fear on a non-stop basis.

I’m not a big fan of fear and anger (though I loved Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). I believe, as Jimmy Buffett puts it, Anger can make you doubtful and Fear can cloud your mind. And I was blessed with a personality that encourages me to look at life from the TASFUIL perspective (that’s an acronym for Things Are So Fucked Up It’s Laughable).  I’m usually able to make a joke or find humor in most situations (except for when I have to tell my bleeping children more than five bleeping times to pick up their bleeping toys!).

Thankfully, regarding life in general, I’ve reached a stage of self-control where I can silently amuse myself while the folks around me are gathering kindle and gasoline to storm the castle. However, things still seem to build within me and on occassion I reach a point where I realize I’m taking it all a bit too seriously and need to cut myself off from the media. For example, back when I was watching the second John Kerry/George W. debate, I literally had a panic attack. I didn’t know that’s what was going on at the time (I wound up spending the night on WebMD trying to decide whether or not I was having a heart attack to be sure). But my fear that the public would love GW sent me over the edge and I realized I was taking it all a bit too seriously. I had to take a break until after the election back then. (I had to take many more during his presidency.)

As oil oozed into the Gulf last spring and the masses started taking the Tea Party seriously, I realized I was losing my sense of humor again and needed another break. So I named it the Summer of My Content and decided to ignore the news as best I could.

It’s fall now and I’m sucked back into CNN and the BBC. I’m reading all the RSS feeds from everyone who thinks there is only one answer or one correct spin. And I’m finding it hilariously absurd. The best part is, I came back into the world of streaming media this past Saturday, which happened to be the first day of Banned Books Week 2010.

To mark the occasion, I dressed in black and went to my local Barnes and Noble in an attempt to find a copy of Lauren Myracle’s ttyl. (Her book “won” the honor of being the most challenged book in American libraries last year.) They didn’t have any copies on the shelf. I joked with the woman at B&N and asked her how the lunatics will hold virtual burnings when all the books are digital. She either had no sense of humor or she didn’t understand. Regardless, I had to order it from Amazon.com.

But it occurred to me that perhaps more people should take time off from external stimuli. I mean if you think Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a bad influence, or that And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a danger to all children everywhere, you might want to look at your anger and fear levels. Seems to me you might be filled with doubt or have a cloudy mind.

Take the season off from the news. Relax. Find a little humor in life. Or better yet, find a lot of humor in life. After all, one of these days you’re gonna die. And on that day, are you going to be content to look back on the years you spent bitching and bellyaching because not everyone thinks the way you do? Or would you rather go with a grin on your face?

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Social Networking

Not that I want to hound a theme to its grave, but I’m just not done with yesterday’s rant.

As a good little writer this morning, I finished skimming through a bunch of blogs from popular people in the publishing industry. One of my favorites is literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. This past Tuesday he asked the question: Does Social Media Help Sell Books? and took a poll. 51% of the respondents claim they do not rely on social media to encourage their book buying habits, 37% said yes, it does, and the rest were a joke answer.

There was plenty of anecdotal evidence for both sides of the poll in the comments, some of which was a little shaky — e.g., a woman who answered “yes” because she gets 30 to 45 hits a day on her site, so she feels it must be working. Does she think those are all different people each day? That none of them, not even good ‘ole mom and dad, visit her site more than once a year? And that each and every one of them are buying her book?

What I found heartening is that I’m not alone. Many others are where I am: overwhelmed by the immense amount of time and energy that goes into successful social networking (keyword: successful). Kelly Ann Jones made a comment here yesterday about how hard it is to find time to write because she’s too busy with her social networking. And I know of a YA author who has an extremely successful Facebook page, complete with competitions, etc., where she gets thousands of visitors — but she hasn’t even finished her first book yet. Perhaps if she’d been able to put that energy into the book, it’d be done (and then she’d be where I am, trying to figure out the damned query letter).

But let’s go back to Bransford’s post — think about it. Who responded to his comments? Mostly authors (published or still trying), i.e., people who are more likely to spend time on social media to begin with (after all, they must if they are to sell themselves, right?). So you’ve a bunch of book-minded internet-junkies answering a question about whether or not social media sells books. Hmmm . . . One would think all the answers would be “Yes! Yes! and Hell yes!” but it’s only half. I find that amazing! I mean if only half of them are buying books that way, what about the rest of the reading public — you know those people who just like to read and have absolutely no interest in writing, editing, publishing, or otherwise wall-papering their bathrooms with rejection slips.

I would love to see real, verifiable, survey results about how effective social media is at selling books. Does Joe Public rely on blogs, Facebook and Twitter to tell him what makes a great read? I don’t know a single person in my non-internet, non-social media life who has bought a book because it was hawked on Twitter. Nor have I bought one because of that. However, I do know several “normal people” who buy books because Amazon suggested it (because they bought a similar one on-line or via their Kindle) — or they continue to find new books in Barnes and Noble when it rains and they’re looking for shelter.

Granted, it could be a sign of my age and the age of the people I know. Maybe twenty-somethings do buy books because of Tweets. But, since the market does show that the majority of book buyers are women my age, (and my book is aimed at that target audience) I think that means Twitter is a waste of time for me (though I feel guilty saying that, as if I’m knowingly doing something wrong). Hail Mary . . .

Who has insight into this? Who thinks it’s worthwhile to spend hours, hours they cannot put back into their life, on social media networking in the hopes of selling a book? Hours not spent working writing books, short stories, essays, poems, etc. Is it effective? Do you have stats to prove it?

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Curious Queries

I started this blog because I call myself a writer and it seems that’s what writers should do: have a blog.

If you’re a writer who wants to be published, you’re supposed to blog, as well as be active on Twitter, be social on Facebook, comment regularly on other blogs, read the professional publishing blogs religiously, post regularly on sites such as shewrites, participate frequently over at authorsden, and set yourself up at bookbuzzer, jacketflap (if you’re doing the YA and children’s lit thing), and others like them. You should also keep up to date through RSS feeds from galleycat, publisher’s weekly, and shelf awareness.

After breakfast, you need to read and memorize everything put out by Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market, as well as read plenty of short story magazines so that you know what they’re looking for, and read lots of books in your genre. And then, you need to research agents to know who is looking for what and who is selling to whom.

At some point, you should write a book.

I did it a little backward, I wrote a book first, and now I’m muddling through all the other “should do’s” on the list. I seldom sleep between 2:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., and yet I still can’t figure out how to fit it all in.

Of course it doesn’t really matter, because I can’t get my bleeping query letter perfected. Oh yes, there’s that, too. Can’t believe I neglected to put that up there in the first paragraph.

If you want representation, you need to write a query letter to agents to “pitch” your book. I think it’d be easier to grab my lips and pull them backward until I turn my myself inside out. Vaginal births of mammoth babies sans an epidural seem less painful. Juggling spit-balls of fire from Satan over a sleeping baby would probably be less stressful.

I finished a book of 86,628 words. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has fleshed out characters. All the themes that were introduced and sub-plots that were brought in come to closure. The story arc follows the traditional paradigm I was taught in writing courses: (part 1 raises central question; part 2 begins with turning point and has the protagonist pursuing a goal; part 3 is another turning point, climax and resolution). I know it intimately well. I can practically tell it to you orally word by word without the text in front of me.

And yet I can’t write a 250-word sales pitch for it. What gives?

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Love in the time of Hermit Crabs

Summer is flying by, as summers are supposed to. Mine has been filled with sunning, swimming, bar-be-queing and breaking up my kids’ fights. The typical summer. My kids did get along one day, though, and actually managed, not only to like each other for an afternoon, but to work together for a common goal: they came home from a Science Camp field trip as the proud, joint owners of a hermit crab.They pooled their funds at the gift shop of the Sea Shell Museum and had enough money to buy the crab, a sea sponge loaded with salt water, and an extra shell.

They were so happy. They finally had a pet! We’ve been pet deficient since our dog died, and I guess we went for too long without one. The situation as now remedied: we named him Marlowe (after the poet, but my kids just thought the name was cool).

We brought him home from camp in a tiny cardboard box, the bottom of which was so soggy that it was about to give way under him. Again, the kids were so happy. It was heart breaking. I said they could keep it, but they had to take care of it.

A couple hours later, with a head full of Google-derived knowledge, we were at the pet supply store. We bought Marlowe just about everything a happy crab needs: an aquarium, a heater, two water dishes (one for spring water, one for salt water), extra shells, the “good” sand (it’s loaded with calcium), wood (so he can climb when he needs exercise), something to hide under, a variety of foods, salt-water conditioner, a humidity gauge and the book Hermit Crabs for Dummies. But we were not done. Apparently “hermit crab” is a bit of a misnomer: they are social animals. In fact, they need fellow species members in their “crabitat” otherwise they get lonely and stressed. And guess what hermit crabs do when they’re stressed? They lose legs.

I’m not big on finding limbs lying around, so the next day we went to a different store and bought two more crabs. Marlowe is now accompanied by Daisy and Nick.

My kids are thrilled. They love their pets. They have been happily cleaning out their crabitat every night and giving them fresh foods. (By the way, hermies really enjoy room temperature, fresh pineapple.) The kids “play” with the crabs — they build little obstacle courses for them to climb over. They “cuddle” with them by letting the crabs crawl all over them. They’re trying hard to train them to come when their names are called (the book tells us this is possible).

The thing is, I don’t think the crabs are aware of all the warm fuzzies coming their way. If they are not trying to find a way to escape from the kids, they curl up in their shells. My son loves it when Marlowe crawls up his chest and curls into the crook of his neck. He thinks the crab is snuggling. But I know the thing is heading up there because it’s a shadowed area and that’s what they do when it’s daylight: they look for a shadowed area where they can hide.

They are nocturnal, so we set up the video camera once on “night shooting” mode and had a mini film of them walking around the crabitat. Hmm, very exciting.

My husband doesn’t understand the fascination with the critters at all. And I get why: they don’t respond, they aren’t awake when we are, they don’t seem to care that we’re the ones putting food and water in their dishes every day. But . . .

Marlowe the social Hermit Crab

When you’re able to look in their little eyes, you do kind of melt inside and just want to take care of them. It’s easy to fool yourself that it’s not an unrequited love, but that the tiny little brain inside the almost non-existent head is just as happy to see you as a puppy would be. And then he pulls everything back inside the shell, because really, you’re just some scary giant.

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I think the bad side of technology will do us good.

I love the New York Times. I really do. I don’t read it on a regular basis, in fact I don’t read it at all. My father-in-law does, from front page to the last, and he regularly emails me links to articles that he thinks I’d be interested in. And usually he’s right. Lately, many of the articles have been dealing with the effects of technology on our minds and hence our relationships.

It all started with an Op Ed piece by Steven Pinker. He posited that the burgeoning brew-ha-ha over how technology is short circuiting our brains is a bunch of fluff (only he says it with more mature words and scientific techno-babble). He set off a small maelstrom of letters to the editor by people upset over what they perceive as the downfall of intercommunications because we’re all de-evolving into a Twittering species. They fear humans will lose their ability to fully connect, to be social beings, and to develop fully-functioning interpersonal relationships.

It makes for interesting reading. I always find it fascinating when people find yet another reason why we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never found one of those reasons or theories to hold water at the level of drama and fear the discoverers hope to engender. The thing is, it seems to me that just about everything goes in cycles.

Remember when malls started popping up all over the place? There were people (anti-mallites?) who hated them and said that they were the beginning of the downfall of the current western civilization. They said we’d never spend time outside again. Our children would grow up without the benefit of sunshine. That it would only lead to the devaluation of natural and green spaces. I didn’t quite believe it. I figured we’d get tired of being inside all the time and eventually would start building old-fashioned shopping centers with open spaces, prizing our trees and grass. And, lo, we have. I’ve been to them in Florida, Texas and here in NJ. I’m sure they’re just about everywhere now.

And I’m sure one day, we’ll be tired of dealing with the rain and snow and want only in-door facilities. Let’s face it, we’re never happy for long.

Which is why I think the fears of how the current trends in social media are destroying our interpersonal communication skills are all for naught. I believe all the new avenues of communicating via a phone, computer, iPad, etc. is fascinating to most people for a while, but then they’ll want the old-fashioned face-to-face chumminess of their past soon enough.

But even if I’m wrong, I’m still not concerned. I know, if indeed it is a sign that we’re headed toward an intellectual decline, not everyone will be going down with the ship. Throughout history there are always survivors of technical revolutions, right? So the way I see it, the people who will be bred out of existence because they’ve lost the ability to communicate in ways that require more than 140 characters, might just leave us with people who have something of substance to say. People who can only talk in the bullet points of a PowerPoint presentation, are not exactly my kind of people, so I doubt I’ll miss them. And people who think they really need to take the time to update their FaceBook status with things like “I woke up this morning” or “I’m bored on the train right now” will probably not be missed by anyone. If those people are left unable to breed, is that really a bad thing? As long as we’re able to keep the vowels in our alphabet, I’m sure the rest of us will be just fine.

So technology, bring on the brain damaging effects. Perhaps the herd needs a little thinning.

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