Category Archives: Publishing

Walk with Me

As I continue my search for an agent, I can’t help but feel a little worn down and wore out.

Each time I ask myself, “Am I wasting my time? This agent’s time?”

God has told me time and again to keep on keeping on. It will happen. Eventually. And since he knows, why won’t he tell me which agents to approach, and which agents to pass on by?

After all, if God means for people to read my words, why won’t he show me the right path at the outset instead of allowing me to take so many dark and winding detours?

In Luke 24, Jesus had just risen from the dead, but none of the remaining disciples believed it.

While two of them traveled to Emmaus (verses 13-35) Jesus joined them to discuss his death, resurrection, and how scripture predicted all of it.

They didn’t recognize him until later that night.

Jesus could have revealed himself and the truth of his resurrection the moment he joined them on the road, but he chose to journey with them, to talk with, and teach them.

For him — and the disciples — the journey was of equal importance to the destination. Perhaps even more. That, and as witnesses, they were afterward better armed with scripture to help other disbelievers believe.

The same is true for for all of us. We can’t be so anxious, eager, and rushed to reach our destination that we miss walking with God, and allowing him to teach us along the way.

Sure, I want to know right this instant which agent will be the best fit, but by jumping ahead, what will I miss along the way? Lessons learned, people met, and wisdom gained?

After all, this journey isn’t only about me, but others who are, and will go through the same thing. I can only be a witness if I make the journey right along with them.

A Single Spark

I set a goal of writing every day with the help of "The Writers Devotional" by Amy Peters. First week in, and I skipped Thursday and Friday. I'm not off to a good start.

However, after reading Friday's focus on biography and Saturday's focus on what books to read, they tie together well enough to combine them into a single entry.

Why do you write? Is it to entertain with a great story, to improve a person's life with a self-help book, or perhaps encourage people to improve their life through fiction?

Another question (and if you don't write for others), what's the one book that changed you the most?

Friday's biography focused on George Orwell who wrote Animal Farm and 1984.

Aside, and a bit of useless trivia: George Orwell came up with the title 1984 not necessarily because he was prescient, but merely switched the year of when he wrote it in 1948.

His books serve as cautionary tales when governments run amok that still today have a wide readership. They are nearly timeless, and show that power will always corrupt no matter how we try to guard against it — and always will at the expense of entire populations.

Friday's focus on what book to read was "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. It was about the dangers of the insecticide DDT. Because of her book, the chemical was banned.

Neither author expected to see how large of an impact their words would have. Unfortunately for Orwell, he never saw how much of an impact. To quote Carson, "It would be unrealistic to believe that one book could bring about a complete change."

Yet that's what so many writers want, and need. Writing is daring to pour our heart and soul on the page. It is an act of bravery to let others read our writing, because doing so we risk people stomping our soul into slippery red goo when it's rejected.

My first novel I wrote out of discontent. Not like Orwell with his overarching fear of where society is headed, or the more immediate dangers of scientific or technological advancements like Carson. My frustration stemmed from science fiction leaving out — or being outright hostile to — the existence of God, and Christian fiction focused almost solely on romance with little to no fantasy and science fiction.

I'm still having problems finding an agent/publisher for that novel, because the Christian publishing market is still slow to accept science fiction of my variety, and most of the mainstream science fiction market doesn't want anything to do with religion. Because of that, I'm more focused on finding an agent for my mainstream science fiction novel.

I'm not out of options, though. I can still self-publish my first novel, but I'm not as yet willing to put in the work (and money) required for it to succeed. I'm lazy that way. Does that mean I don't believe in my story as much as Orwell or Carson? That's a good question that will require some serious thought.

More questions that need answering: How much do I want my words to impact my readers, and how important is that to me? What — if anything — am I willing to sacrifice to see it through?

"In a time of universal deceit—telling the truth is a revolutionary act." — George Orwell.

"Great storms announce themselves with a single breeze, and a single random spark can ignite the fires of rebellion." – Bishop from the movie Ladyhawke

When The Little Voice Speaks . . .

Listen.

Ignore the one that yells.

One of my favorite scriptures is when Elijah ran to the wilderness to escape from Jezebel’s death threat after God had destroyed 500 of Baal’s prophets.

His own faith had taken a strong hit, and he wanted to die, for he felt as though he had failed the Israelites, and because people sought to kill him anyway.

And [the Lord] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

Almost a year ago now, an agent I spoke to at the ACFW conference wanted me to send the first three chapters of my novels (three of them). After a few months, I heard nothing back. Six months later, still nothing.

Many have suggested that if you don’t hear back within a certain amount of time (unless their submission guidelines say different), it’s appropriate to email said client to verify they received your submission.

After six months I thought, “Perhaps I should send the agent an email.”

But that little voice I learned to trust a long time ago told me not to. So I didn’t. Every few weeks or so, I once again asked myself if I should. Again, the voice said no.

I figured it was God’s way of telling me to forget about it.

I received this email a few hours ago:

Andra,

As we are coming up on conference season, I wanted to thank you so much for allowing me the time to read, research and consider your proposal. Unfortunately, at this time I’m going to pass on offering representation. The concept is strong and I like your writing, but I feel I am not the best agent to take this product forward into the marketplace.

I wish you all the luck on your journey to be published!

When I saw who the email came from, I admit my heart thudded a few times. For five seconds I gleefully entertained the idea that said agent agreed to represent my books.

As you can see, not this time. I still liked the email, though, especially the first half of the last sentence. I responded thusly:

Thank you so much for the response and comments. It’s always nice to hear positive (and negative for that matter) feedback on my writing, so I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

All the best to you and yours.

So was that “still small voice” God’s way of telling me to wait? I think so. Sure it resulted in news I didn’t necessarily want, but at the same time, it’s teaching me patience, and to trust that God’s timing isn’t the same as mine. The fact the agent liked both my concept and my writing gives me a boost of confidence I sorely need. Perhaps that was the point.

I’m Not Tellin’, and You Can’t Make Me

I’ve decided that I’m not going to share when I’ve submitted my short stories to a publication, or when I’ve submitted query letters to literary agents.

For the simple fact, every time I do, it ends up rejected. See, that’s the real problem. It’s not because I haven’t found the right editor or agent, or that my writing is total crap. Nope. It’s that I’m telling you. In short, by sharing with you everything about my so-called publication journey story (read ocassional nightmare), I’m actually jinxing myself. Seems logical, don’t you think? Scientific, even.

From now on, mum’s the word.

Just remember that in the last few days, I may or may not have submitted a query letter and sample pages to an agent or two, and I may or may not have sent a short story or two to a magazine. Or two.

That’s not to say I won’t share the aftermath of each rejection or acceptance. Of course I will. I’m just hoping with this new strategy, I’ll see more acceptances, and as such, prove my theory.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath, either.

*Sigh* Rejected Again

I just received this little email:

Andra,

Thank you for offering your story to Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

We’re sorry to tell you that we will not be using it; you are free to submit it elsewhere.

That makes Rejection Number Two for my story “Ashella’s Heart.”

At this point, I don’t know if I have the energy to find another magazine to submit it to. Sure, I have access to significant lists of magazines that accept stories like mine, but the problem comes with the necessity of reading a copy or two of each one to find out if it’s really a good fit, or not. That takes a lot of time. Sure, I could submit it to every science fiction/fantasy magazine out there without reading any of it, but that seems too . . . impersonal, I guess. Not quite the word I’m looking for, but I’m not motivated enough to find it.

So, yeah, I’m feeling a little maudlin about the whole thing.

Part of it is due to spending the last three days looking for agents for my sci-fi novel. I found over a dozen that look promising, and that’s a good thing. Better to have too many choices than not enough. All I need to do is structure and personalize my query letter and synopsis according to each one’s submission requirements – starting with the agents that I like best and work my way down from there.

The good news is, I at least I didn’t have to wait until my birthday to find out the magazine thought my story sucked (kidding a bit there. My story didn’t necessarily suck. Most likely they’re looking for something different).

I just wish I could better predict what magazine/publisher/agent will fit with what I write. It’s so damned unpredictable in that the only way to discover it is to send it out there to be rejected. I’d like to think I have a thick enough skin, but on days like today – apparently – it’s not thick enough.

The Self-Torture Continues . . .

Attempt number two in seeing my short story published.

This time I will have to wait three whole months before I hear anything back.

Interestingly, that’ll be around my birthday. Will I end up with a surprise birthday present, or perhaps a reason to quit celebrating my birthday should I receive bad news?

I wish I could say more about this, but, really, what else is there?

Should I apologize for writing such a short entry, or congratulate myself for succeeding in not wasting your precious time?

Either way, I hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Word of advice, though. Go outside! Play! Turn off the TV and all other electronic devices! Avoid politics at all costs!

Your brain will thank you for keeping it sane.

Yay! I’m Rejected!

One more rejection letter to add to the growing pile:

Dear Andra,

Thank you for submitting “Ashella’s Heart” to Apex Magazine. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we don’t feel it’s a good fit for us and we’re going to have to pass on it at this time.

Thanks again. Best of luck with this.

Sincerely,

Lesley Conner
Managing Editor
Apex Magazine.

I’m a bit disappointed, but it is what it is. All it means is I need to find another magazine to submit to. I have one in mind, but I want to read a few more issues to make sure it’s a good fit (according to moi). Although this particular magazine says it takes both fantasy and science fiction, most of the stories included in the few issues I’ve read so far have been science fiction. I don’t want to waste time submitting to a magazine that’ll reject it out of hand because I didn’t get the genre right.

EDIT: Have you ever responded to a publisher/editor/agent and thought the moment after you sent it, “Oh crap! Did I spell their name right?”

I had that moment of panic after I responded thanking the editor for their time and consideration. Thankfully, I did spell it right *wipes sweat off brow, and takes a deep breath to slow down heartrate*.

Twenty-Two Days

That’s the average response time to short stories submitted to a magazine that publishes fantasy, science fiction and horror. I’ve read three issues so far, and think my short story that won 2nd place in last year’s Writers Digest competition would make a good fit.

We’ll see.

In approximately 22 days.

The worst part about the whole process of submitting articles and short stories is hitting that awful “submit” button (or dropping that proposal or query letter into the mailbox). Once I do, there’s no turning back. No more chances to edit out any mistakes, make any other changes to the plot, grammar, setting, characters . . . nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. It’s like sending a child away to school, or discovering it’s time he left the house to create a life of his own. My story is now out of my hands, out of my control. It’s my heart and my mind on display, and I can’t help but think, “Now I get to find out if the editors of this magazine thinks the story is good, or if it’s crap.”

Not submitting it is always easy, because in my dreams, my stories always find a place. They receive nothing but accolades.

But it’s not real, and reality can suck sometimes. I’m like most writers in that I often prefer my fantasies. In my fantasy worlds, I am in control. Submitting stories and articles for others to judge is purposefully relinquishing that control, and my opinions and biases are shown to either be spot on, or completely spot off.

It’s a terrifying thing to step out of my made-up world and take a chance that in reality, everything I created is nothing like I believed and hoped it was.

That said, in case my story is rejected by this magazine, it doesn’t make my story crap. It simply means they didn’t find it a good fit for them. There are other magazines out there, and in fact, I have another in mind (I went back and forth for a few days trying to decide which to try first. It boiled down to response time. The one I submitted to is a bit quicker). Like many others, neither magazine takes simultaneous submissions, so I have to submit it one at a time.

Time will tell.

I’ll keep you apprised.

Kill Language – Kill Freedom

I love watching my son grow up. What parent doesn’t, right? The best part for me is how he develops, especially when it comes to language. When he was still a toddler, I was astounded at how quickly he picked up concepts, and how they all tied to language. For instance, I showed him an apple, and said “This is an apple.” He understood right away what I meant. He also didn’t get confused when I taught him colors. I pointed to a red apple to show him “red,” and he easily grasped the difference between “red” and “apple.” I understood then that language is built into our brains and develops naturally as we grow up.

Language keeps us connected to each other, and helps us learn about the world. Without language, we couldn’t build anything (consider the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9). Imagine trying to build a house with others without the ability to communicate what needs to be done.

Even math and music are considered languages, and while some believe they can do without math, most everyone needs music.

Mess with language, and we mess with the free exchange of ideas. People no longer understand their world or each other, and we no longer grow as a species.

George Orwell understood this better than most, I think. He expressed his concerns in an essay titled “Politics and the English Language.”

He dug deeper into and expressed it more in his book, “1984,” most specifically with the language he labeled as “Newspeak.”

According to a website dedicated to Orwell:

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.”

To expand the idea (on the same webpage):

“Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing. The leading articles in The Times were written in it, but could only be carried out by a specialist. It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English) by about the year 2050. Meanwhile it gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech.”

I ran into this article earlier today:

http://dailycaller.com/2017/02/20/college-writing-center-declares-american-grammar-a-racist-unjust-language-structure/

Which in turn led me to University of Washington / Tacoma’s University Writing Program and their Writing Center: [EDIT: a person must now sign up in order to see the statement.]

Under “Our Beliefs” of their “Statement on Antiracist and Social Justice Work in the Writing Center” it states:

“The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things. Racism is pervasive. It is in the systems, structures, rules, languages, expectations, and guidelines that make up our classes, school, and society. For example, linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent “standard” of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English.”

I’m sure you can see the correlation between Newspeak and what the writing center is espousing.

What led me on this journey (thanks to LK Hunsaker) is this article:

According to the article, some publishers are hiring so-called sensitivity readers “who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as ‘dealing with terminal illness,’ ‘racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families’ or ‘transgender issues.'”

These statements are of special concern:

“Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.”

And:

“It feels like I’m supplying the seeds and the gems and the jewels from our culture, and it creates cultural thievery,” Clayton [a sensitivity reader] said. “Why am I going to give you all of those little things that make my culture so interesting so you can go and use it and you don’t understand it?”

Also known as “cultural appropriation.”

As an aside, for me personally, I don’t care who writes about my culture, as long as they do so accurately. Not every person in a particular culture wants to write about their culture, so why limit themselves, and in the end possibly dooming their culture’s future to oblivion because no one dared, or was allowed to, write about it?

As another aside, the article included this:

“Despite the efforts of groups like We Need Diverse Books, ‘it’s more likely that a publishing house will publish a book about an African-American girl by a white woman versus one written by a black woman like me,’ Clayton says.”

I’m calling bullshit on that. During my own search of agents, I had to cross out quite a few because they are actively seeking so-called marginalized writers such as Ms. Clayton. For which I am not a member.

Agents care only about the story and the quality of writing (EDIT: At least I hope this is still true). They don’t give a rat’s ass about the writer’s race, gender, etc. (EDIT: I know more readers than not care more about the story than the author’s skin color, beliefs and/or political persuasion).

Even those seeking minorities still need a salable story, so although a person’s minority status may get them to the front of the line, he/she still has to deliver. Seems to me, Ms. Clayton is holding herself back, and using her race and gender as an excuse not to try, let alone succeed. Too harsh? Offensive even? Good.

Now back to the original subject.

All of this is political correctness not only run amok, but an attempt to control thought. When you control how language is used – eliminating certain words, or changing the definition of words in order to change peoples’ perception – you can control how a person thinks. When you control how someone thinks, that person loses their freedom to think otherwise. They can no longer think critically, because, in a sense, their words are chosen for them. The number of words – and ideas – they can use are curtailed if not outright eliminated.

If I offend you, or if you offend me, all the better. To quote (where it originated I don’t know): “The solution to offensive free speech is more free speech, not less.”

Writers especially need to protect all words and language – our tools of trade. We can’t allow any type of censorship, because once it grabs hold, we may lose everything.

Truth is most often found in offensive speech, because it forces us to think and respond. Human beings are experts at lying to ourselves, and lying to each other. By attempting to control words and speech, the truth gets lost and liars rule at the expense of everyone else.

Meeting Expectations

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time.

Not necessarily to avoid a certain pain, or to prevent a terrible mistake, however. Those I don’t want to go back for, because those pains and those mistakes molded me into the person I am today. And I like me.

I want to go back to the times when I wrote solely for myself. Then, the only person I risked disappointing was me. I didn’t feel the need to censor myself, and I didn’t have to worry about what others would think, or fear that they would hate me for being me.

Part of me hates the idea of publishing, because I feel I now have to write less for me, and more for others. And how am I supposed to know — while I’m writing — whether or not I meet their expectations? How will I know beforehand if those words I spilled out onto the page have angered, insulted or otherwise broke some rule of writing that will, in the end, push them away?

And yet, it was that “writing for me,” that attracted readers in the first place. I’ve always written better when I write without fear of consequence, when I wrote naked (figuratively speaking).

As a reader, I prefer honesty above all else. Even if I may disagree with what a writer says, if what they say is written with honesty and passion, I’ll never hate them for it. I may get angry, or frustrated, but that can also be a good thing. I like to be challenged, to see things from a different perspective.

I can’t be alone in that.

I don’t want to disregard my readers. Never that, but at the same time, I can’t allow my fear of what readers will think simply because I’m being honest. If I do, all that’s left is to lie.

I can’t do that either.

I’m reading “Writing 21st Century Fiction,” by Donald Maass, and the basic premise is for writers to quit holding back. What readers are looking for these days is no-holds-barred stories. Stories that make a person cringe, cry, infuriate, and want to sleep with the lights on, as well as laugh and go “Awwww.”

Because I want to write for a particular market, I’m trying to write stories that will meet their expectations. But what if my biases — and expectations — of that market are wrong, and they want to see the kind of writing I’m longing to write, but afraid to?

I go back to Jesus and his stories. He told stories that convicted and angered as well as inspired and comforted. He didn’t hold back, and if I am to live how he lived (which is what he asks of all of us), I can’t afford to. Not if I want my stories to make a real difference.