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Rated: 13+ · Book · Opinion · #1254599
Exploring the future through the present. One day at a time.

I hope I stay within budget

My website: http://www.almarquardt.com
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April 10, 2016 at 5:17pm
April 10, 2016 at 5:17pm
Magic Words Contest   (13+)
A fantasy short story contest. Fantastic Prizes. Open 1st- 31st December 2021
#1871010 by A E Willcox has won NaNoWriMo

The above contest is a reminder to not forget.

Although I doubt I will.

I said in a previous entry that all work and no play can help me accomplish something, but it can also make me boring. I don't want to get so caught up in my agent search that I forget to write. Plus I don't want to bore you with writing about the same subject day after day.

So I decided to enter a writing contest or two, especially as I wait for a response from said agents (I haven't submitted any new ones, yet, but I do have a list of 18 that look promising).

The first contest -- listed above -- is for a fantasy short story between 2000-5000 words. Part of the criteria is I must use all the words in one of the two lists provided.

I chose the first list (and yes, I did have to look up their definitions), and I must use all of the words in their proper context, and not just thrown in.

They are:
1. Beleaguer
2. Diaphanous
3. Insouciance
4. Machination
5. Spring

I've written just under 1,500 words so far, and have only included the first word. As for the rest, I don't think I'll have trouble including them.

I'll link the story here once I'm done. It'll be before the 30th, because that's the submission deadline.
April 6, 2016 at 11:13pm
April 6, 2016 at 11:13pm
With all my bluster and frustration with finding an agent, you may be wondering why I even bother.

One of my co-workers even asked why I don't simply self-publish. Going traditional seems so unfair, and as I stated in my previous entry, I'm running into agencies that seem to be more interested in affirmative action than good writers.

There are two main reasons I want to go traditional:

1. Money. I don't have the funds to self-publish. Sure, you can do it rather cheaply with e-books and the like, but I want to see my book on actual, physical book shelves. I could get my self-published book at my local Barnes and Noble; they have one shelf dedicated to local authors. But I want to see my book all over the nation, not just in one bookstore in Bismarck, North Dakota.

2. That leads me to promotion. Yes, publishers expect their authors to self-promote, but publishing houses have a lot more national and international resources that will reach by far more people than I can by myself. Plus, they can help me find better ways of promotion other than Twitter, my website (which had a whopping 34 visitors last month. Go me!) and author page on Facebook.

My co-worker also asked why bother with an agent if they're so picky about the writers they'll represent.

Can anyone successfully sell a product they don't believe in or enjoy? I know I can't. That's all it boils down to, really, because literary agents, at their basic, are salespeople.

Part of my search isn't just for any agent who takes books in my chosen genre; it's about personality. For instance, here's what one agent is looking for, in part:

Wish list for every genre and category: feminism, diversity (in all forms),

My main character in this particular novel I want published is male. Sure, there are plenty of strong female characters, but that's really not the point anyway.

I'm not a feminist. Therefore, I'm not interested in this particular agent. It's not that feminism is bad, per se, but any agent I choose has to have a similar outlook on certain things. It's a partnership after all, and we have to be compatible. If not, we're both wasting our time. I would be wasting my time with that agent, and believe me, if she knew me, she'd be glad I didn't waste hers.

Agents and publishers have to be extremely picky about the novels they publish, especially when it comes to unpublished authors.

The main reason is economic. The book has to sell, otherwise no one makes money; not the publisher, not the agent, and not the author. People will happily spend money on authors they've heard of or read before. It takes a lot for them to plop down $7-$30 on someone they've never heard of.

A typical investment for the first printing of a traditionally published novel (5000 copies, usually), is upwards of $30,000-40,000. That's more than a lot of people make in a year. Knowing that, I can understand their reluctance to invest in someone who has no track-record of publishing success.

But I'm an optimist by nature. Sure I'll moan and complain about all this torture of finding an agent and publisher, but I believe in my stories. I believe they can find an audience. I don't expect a best-seller, but I do think my books can be successful. The only way to discover the possibilities is to get them out there, and find an agent who'll believe in them as much as I do.

April 1, 2016 at 5:47pm
April 1, 2016 at 5:47pm
Sometimes I hate myself.

Not really, but there are times I wish I could turn off parts of my brain, specifically the parts that whisper those horrible little thoughts such as "I'm not good enough," and "I'm not smart enough," etc., etc., etc.

Or in this case, "my stories aren't good enough," "I can't compete, because every other writer in the world is better than me," and "I don't know what I'm doing," etc., etc., etc.

The never-ending litany of doubt.

I could give into it. After all, I'm not writing for the money. I already have a great job that pays well, and I want for nothing.

So why do I do it? Why do I allow those little voices to torture me?

Because in order to shut them up, I would have to give up on one of the best parts of what makes me me.

I learned a long time ago it's when those voices scream louder that I know I'm on the right path, and that I need to push ever harder to get where I want to be. It's the things we fight for that mean the most, and end up our greatest successes.

No matter how often we "fail" during that journey.

And I will fail, but they're not really failures if I don't give up. More like setbacks. But even setbacks can be good, because that's where the real, and long-standing lessons are learned.

That said, part of what brought this angst on was in looking at prospective agents. Some want minority main characters and non-western-type settings. Even for science fiction and fantasy. As for setting, I don't know if mine could be deemed "western" or not, because it's so completely made up. I don't see it as an issue, so do I need make it one?

While I have plenty of so-called "minority" characters (two of whom play crucial roles), my main protagonist is a white male. I could change his color easily, but race isn't a factor in my stories to begin with (I only mention skin tone when describing a character, and I never refer to a person's actual heritage. In futuristic science fiction, it's irrelevant anyway). So why make it an issue at all? Still, I can't help but wonder if I'm running into "literary affirmative action."

But I will stop there, because that's not the point of this entry.

After finding all that with a number of agents, I question if my novel is unique enough. Can it pass the cliché test? Truth is, I don't really know, and won't until I send off more queries -- and add to my pile of rejection letters.

Oh! I learned two interesting terms during my agent search today. Mako Mori and Bechdel Tests. One agent said anything submitted in the sci-fi/fantasy genre must pass these media tests (although they're usually used with regard to films).

Mako Mori Test:

a) at least one female character;

b) who gets her own narrative arc;

c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.

Bechdel or Bechdel-Wallace Test:

1. the movie [media] has at least two women characters;

2. who talk to each other;

3. about something other than a man.

You can find more information about both below:

http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Mako_Mori_test and http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Bechdel_test

Even though my main character is a male, there are four female characters who, I believe, meet and exceed both tests. So, there is that.

March 29, 2016 at 2:57pm
March 29, 2016 at 2:57pm
I described in a previous entry about how a writer's success or failure depends on the subjective opinions of others. When writers decide to go the route of traditional publishers, they are placing all their hopes -- to start -- with a single person, whether it be an agent or editor. When that particular agent/editor says, "Thanks but no thanks," the writer can't help but feel heartbroken.

Turns out I didn't have to wait eight weeks after all. The rejection letter is as follows:


Thank you for your submission.

Unfortunately, I did not connect with the submitted material enough to consider your project for representation.

I am grateful that you have afforded me this opportunity to find out about you and your project, and wish you the best of success with your current and future creative work. This business is highly subjective; many people whose work I haven't connected with have gone onto critical and commercial success. So, keep after it.

I wish I had the time to respond to everyone with constructive criticism, but it would be overwhelming, hence this form response. However, there are three pieces of writing advice that I preach to everyone (from which I receive no monetary gain or benefit):


It's hard not to focus on this part and ignore the rest: "I did not connect with the submitted material."

My story sucks. It's boring. It's poorly written. I wasted my time and his. I should give up, because if I don't, I'll keep running into disappointment, and embarrass myself.

My brain is telling my heart not to believe it, and to shove those tears back into those ducts. Instead of focusing on the first part, my brain is trying to twist my eyeballs toward the second part about how everything is subjective, and one agent's opinion is just that. Not everyone is going to like everything. I've read plenty of very successful books I didn't like. And I've read obscure books that made me wonder why they weren't more successful. Nor am I alone in this journey. Plenty of successful authors had to go through a lot of rejection letters before finally receiving an acceptance.

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Yeah, well, my heart isn't willing to be reasonable. It wants to wriggle on the floor in a pile of goo for a while.
March 29, 2016 at 9:52am
March 29, 2016 at 9:52am
Whenever I submit a story or proposal to a potential publisher, I don't look at it again.

The temptation is there, believe me, enough to make me break out into a sweat. It ain't pretty that sweat, nor is the resulting odor wafting from my over-reactive pores. My poor family.

Did I spell the agent/publisher's name correctly?

Did I remember to include all he/she asked for?

Are there glaring grammatical/spelling errors that I missed?

I refrain from verifying one way or another, because if I made all those mistakes above, it's too late now. And why make myself cry and gnash my teeth over something I can't fix anyway?

Yesterday I sent off my query letter. Last night at about 3am I woke up in a sweat and heart pounding, terrified I had misspelled the agent's name. I know I didn't, because I triple-checked it before sending it off. At least I think I didn't. I hope I didn't . . .

The only issue I have now (aside from night terrors) is when to expect a response. Nowhere on the agent's website did I see a time-frame. I'll give him about eight weeks, though. If I don't hear anything back then, I'll pursue another agent (is it me, or does that sound too much like stalking?).

March 28, 2016 at 2:27pm
March 28, 2016 at 2:27pm
More thoughts on the articles by Simon Morden:

"CBA authors and editors censor fiction not just because of its potential to offend, but because it offers vicarious experiences that may be seen as sinful. If we believe that sin occurs in the mind as well as in behaviour, any vicarious experience we read about might give rise to sinful feelings or thoughts. If I write a sex scene, which might be entirely necessary to the story, I have to find a way to write it that does not encourage lustful thoughts. A description of a murder must not encourage murderous thoughts, and so on." - Simon Morden

This isn't even the second entry where I criticize the Christian market. I wrote one back in 2013 entitled "Disallowing the Bible." (You can read it here: http://almarquardt.com/blog/?p=549 ).

The main point of that entry is this: If you look at the guidelines of most Christian or CBA publishers, most of them would reject the Bible.

As Mr. Morden pointed out in his second article, most CBA publishers use Philippians 4:8 as the cornerstone of their guidelines:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (NIV)

I will add this one to it, because I think it matches more closely to the mindset of some CBA publishers, and what Mr. Morden described in the quote above:

"If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Matthew 18:6

It seems that CBA publishers don't trust their readers (or the readers don't trust themselves). It's as if they see them as weak-minded little children with no conscience or moral fabric; that the moment they read about the tiniest wrong word or sinful deed, their readers will turn into drunken, sex-addicted murderers who suffer from Tourette Syndrome.

The Bible is full of examples of every sin imaginable, from the cringe-worthy to the horrific, and yet people who read it don't turn into monsters. Many instead find God, faith, forgiveness, change and hope. They become better people as a result.

I don't think any writer (or at least a minuscule percentage) -- regardless of genre -- is trying to force a person to violate his/her conscience. It's ridiculous on the face of it, because even if the writer did want to, it would be near impossible to accomplish -- unless that particular reader is already in mental distress that causes them to be easily influenced. But that's a huge exception, and extremely rare when it does happen.

To take an example, I read a book recently with some rather explicit sex scenes. Was I titillated by it? Sure. But I didn't go to find some strange guy to sleep with as a result, and any sinful fantasies I may have had, well that's between me and God. And even if I did, is that the author's fault, or mine? I am responsible for my thoughts and actions. To blame an author whom I've never met for it, now that's just silly.

I'm not writing for children. Most CBA authors aren't writing for children (unless they write children's books), so why does it seem as though the bulk of CBA publishers are treating their readers like children in need of protection? Do they fear God is going to judge them with a spiritual millstone around their neck for "causing young (and old) believers to stumble"?

Or a better question: Why do so many of their readers feel they need to be protected like children? What are they afraid of?
March 25, 2016 at 11:15am
March 25, 2016 at 11:15am
Means I'm getting something done.

I don't feel like a dull Jack, anyway.

My edits are complete, as is my synopsis (sort of. It'll need another going-through in a few days). Now it's time (gulp) to write a query letter to the agent first on my list.

Sort of. I'm putting it off to re-vamp my website. It hasn't been modified since 2012. I figure I need to make necessary modifications and updates before I query any agent, because (perhaps) if they're interested, they'll check out my website (doubtful, but hey, one needs to be prepared).

Since I'm now tackling the mainstream market -- as much as it pains me to do so -- I need to eliminate the blatant Christian elements. I still mention my faith and its importance to me, but it's more subtle now. Like it or not, a lot of readers of Science Fiction frown on in-your-face Christianity. I don't want to alienate them before they take a chance on me and my stories.

That's all I have for today. I hope you all have a wonderful Easter.
March 18, 2016 at 7:06pm
March 18, 2016 at 7:06pm
I gave my hands to God when I was sixteen for him to use as he sees fit. It's the talent he gave me, and I understood at that moment that everything I write is for him and his glory.

The main reason I wrote my first novel came from discontent with both Christian fiction and mainstream science fiction.

Christian fiction at the time was all geared toward the "middle-aged Christian housewife." Most of what was on the market could only be categorized as Christian romance.

Most science fiction I've read -- especially futuristic/space travel -- is written with the premise that there is no God, or it's some form of uncaring and ethereal "universe" or "force."

I lamented my frustrations to God one day, and he responded with, "Then you write it."

So I did.

Ten years later I find myself at a crossroads. Even though many Christian publishers are taking science fiction, few will touch mine. Why? Because my characters, even the protagonists, do things that the publishers simply won't accept. Many drink, some are drug addicts, two are gay, and almost all of them aren't virgins. They also swear. (Why that's "bad" is described in the linked articles below).

I also wrote two other novels that are geared more toward the mainstream market. God plays no central role (if he plays a role at all).

I want to see them published, but with that desire came confusion and a real spiritual struggle.

By writing secular fiction where God makes no appearance, how can my words, then, glorify God? Am I instead using the gifts he gave me for my own selfish purposes, thereby thrusting God into the back seat, if not outright kicking him to the curb? How is that right?

But then I read this article by Simon Morden, a British author: http://www.simonmorden.com/about/essays/sex-death-and-christian-fiction/

He wrote that in 2005, but revisited the subject in 2011: http://www.simonmorden.com/about/essays/where-are-we-now-sex-death-and-christian...

Both are long, but more than worth the time. By the end of the first article I wanted to cry. The author's words were exactly what I needed to hear. He also expressed my own frustrations with the Christian book market much, much better than I ever could.

In short, he said one can still be a Christian -- to write for God -- without writing specifically for the Christian market. They're not mutually exclusive.

That's not to say I'm giving up on my Christian novels, because I'm sure there is a publisher out there willing give them a chance. I believe those stories need to be told.

But neither is God asking me to pigeon-hole my writing, to restrain myself and my passions, to silence one story or character in favor of another deemed more appropriate by a certain publisher or specialized market. I can write for both Christian and mainstream markets -- even if it means using two nom de plumes. Based on those articles, and many other "signs" I've received in the last two weeks alone, I know I'm on the right path. Or should I say "paths."

As Yogi Berra said (as a play on words, originally), "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

I'm taking it. Them.
March 16, 2016 at 11:12pm
March 16, 2016 at 11:12pm
Part of a writer's responsibility is to read. A lot, both in and outside the chosen genre.

Many have suggested that a writer should include published books similar to their own when querying agents and publishers. This helps the agent/publisher determine where the prospective book belongs on the bookstore shelf (or online category).

Along with researching agents, I've also been researching books in my chosen genre, so I can pick a few likely candidates similar to mine.

I found one that looked promising. Before I purchase any book, I look at the reviews, usually the negative, or more critical ones, and see if it's worth my time and money.

The critical reviews of this particular book were few and far between, but what concerned me was one of the author's responses:

"Considering that the eight novel series has sold more than twenty million copies in 13 languages, and was praised as "Landmark Science Fiction" by Publishers Weekly and Locus Magazine, I suppose Chris and I were probably doing something a little bit right."

No one likes to be criticized, and this is especially true of writers. We are a sensitive lot. Because we pour so much of our heart and soul into our writing, it's difficult not to bristle at harsh criticism. Lashing out at it is a near insatiable temptation.

But writers must refrain, and approach criticism with a rational and humble attitude. There is but one reason we must do so:

We write not for ourselves alone, but for the reader. Readers are the ultimate decider in an author's success or failure. Without them, an author can't succeed. Their opinion matters. Sure, not all criticism should carry such weight that the author must change how or what he/she writes, because not all readers share the same opinions about what's good writing and/or storytelling.

It's a matter of respect. The author's response above was a figurative slap across the reader's face. It shows both a lack of respect, and an arrogance. The author basically said the reader's opinion wasn't worth a fly's poop, and worse, he accused the reader of not knowing what he was talking about; that he was stupid.

If it were me, I would have either not responded or said something like, "I'm sorry you didn't like it as much as you expected. I hope that you'll give my subsequent books a chance." I would then offer them a coupon or free sample of the next book with the request for another honest review.

As a reader, I would not only gain more respect for the author, but would also take him/her up on the offer. And if I do like the next book, the author will have gained a loyal reader. Even if I don't like the next book, I'd more likely try a third time if for no other reason than the author cared enough to appreciate my opinion, and responded positively to it (even if the author didn't necessarily agree with it).

Because of the author's response to the review, I didn't purchase the book. Nor will I consider buying any of his others; I don't care how good they are. No author who holds their readers in contempt deserves my money.
March 12, 2016 at 3:37pm
March 12, 2016 at 3:37pm
All my books are done!

Now I wait.

I can't wait.

I want to write more!

But I must wait.

They need to sit for a bit, so when I revisit them for editing, I can do so with a fresh mind and perspective.

Nor can I put off the research into agents.

For how am I to get my books published if I don't? No one is going to come knocking on my door with a million-dollar offer.

But I want to write!

I admit it. I'm addicted. That and there's the constant fear that if I do stop, I'll enter another dry spell, and I won't write anything except an ocassional blog entry. Then what will I be? Certainly not a writer, at least not the kind of writer I want to be.

Dear God, sometimes I wish you didn't give me the desire to write, and to want other people to read what I write. My life would be so much easier.

Then again, an easy life is a boring life which in the end will have little to show for it.

If my accomplishments will be worth anything, they must be earned with hard work, a lot of sweat, and at times, uncountable tears.

Off I go. I wrote a few words here to feed my addiction, and I do feel a little better.

Now it's time to read and research for someone who will (hopefully) like my stories as much as I do.

And write a query letter.

And a synopsis.

Not looking forward to that, but, hey, at least it's more writing.

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