Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts

02 November 2021

Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time, the Sequel


Michael Bracken, Dream Killer
In my April 6, 2021, SleuthSayers post “Killing Dreams One Rejection at a Time,” I wrote about my experience reading 160 submissions for Black Cat Mystery Magazine’s forthcoming cozy issue. Let me tell you, the days when I could kick back and relax with a mere 160 submissions is but a fond memory.

BCMM’s most recent submission window ran September 1 through September 30. Over the course of the month I received 264 submissions, and I responded in one way or another—rejection, hold for second read, and/or acceptance—September 5–October 26.

Of the 264 submissions, three were withdrawn before I could read them, and I accepted eight stories upon first reading. Of those eight, two were stories I had previously read when they were submitted to, but were not appropriate for, an anthology I edited.

From the balance, I held 59 for a second read and, of those, ultimately accepted 32, for a total of 40 acceptances. That’s a 15% overall acceptance rate.

But that also means I rejected 221 submissions. If you’re gnashing your teeth right now, I can safely presume yours was one of those stories.

SPACE CONSTRAINTS

Despite my best intentions, I did not read every word of every submission. Before I explain some of the reasons for rejection, let me note that all of the stories I held for a second reading, and many that I did not, were publishable as is or with minimal editorial work.

So, why did so many stories fail to make the cut? The most obvious is limited space. My goal was to fill two and a half issues, which, depending on story lengths, requires approximately 25 stories. By accepting 40, I filled approximately four issues. I won’t know exactly how many issues I filled until I have time to organize everything and schedule the stories for specific issues.

REASONS FOR REJECTION

Other editors have suggested that once submission volume reaches a certain point, they no longer look for reasons to accept stories, but instead look for reasons to reject. I found myself doing the same.

Because this was an open submission period, I read stories representing all sub-genres of crime fiction. So, I didn’t see any clear subject-matter trends, such as an abundance of stories with theatrical settings, the way I did when reading submissions for the cozy issue. What I did find were three things that weighed heavily against writers:

1. Not starting the story in the right place. Several stories began too soon or provided too much back story before anything of significance happened.

2. Bad dialog. Several stories began well enough, but the first patch of dialog kicked me out of the story.

3. Weird formatting. As I mentioned in my April 6, 2021, post, previous experience has proven that a writer unfamiliar with the fundamentals of Microsoft Word is going to be difficult to work with. In the past, I’ve been willing to suffer the pain of working with such an author, but this time I was not. Bad formatting led to rejection, even for otherwise fine stories.

RANDOM NOTES

The most stories submitted by a single author: Six.

The most stories accepted from a single author: Two—a pair of stories by a female author and another pair by a male author.

Accepted stories written by two authors in collaboration: One.

Accepted stories translated from another language into English: One.

Five accepted stories came from authors with addresses in Canada, two came from authors with addresses in the Netherlands, and the rest came from authors with US mailing addresses.

Twelve stories were written or co-written by female authors. The rest were written by male authors or authors whose bylines were not gender-specific.

I wish I had time to delve deeper into the data to determine, for example, how the ratio of male/female acceptances correlates to the ratio of male/female submissions and how the ratio of accepted stories from non-US residents correlates to the number of submissions from non-U.S. residents.

Alas, I don’t.

SUMMARY

With a 15% acceptance rate, the odds are clearly stacked against any one particular submission, so your goal as a writer is to improve your odds. If you’re submitting to Black Cat Mystery Magazine or to any project I edit, you can improve your odds considerably by doing the following:

1. Read, understand, and follow the guidelines. Though I have seen many submissions from writers who didn’t follow guidelines, this, thankfully, was not a significant issue during this submission window.

2. Learn how to properly use Microsoft Word. Seriously. A writer not knowing how to use Microsoft Word is like a carpenter not knowing how to use a hammer.

3. Don’t dawdle. Get your reader into the story as quickly as possible.

4. Master dialog. Bad dialog is a story killer.

And then let me see your stories the next time Black Cat Mystery Magazine has an open submission window. I look forward to reading them.


19 April 2021

Remaindrance


Our friend Josh Pachter has appeared in these pages before. He won the 2020 Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. In addition to writing and translating, he edited The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (Down & Out Books), The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), and The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press). He co-edited Amsterdam Noir (Akashic Books) and The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press).

You can find Josh at www.JoshPachter.com

— Velma
A Note about Remainders
As kids, we sometimes saw comics or paperbacks with the upper half of the covers ripped off. Those were ‘remainders’, a publisher’s overstock. Likewise, bargain book tables at Barnes & Noble and Walmart are likely remainders too, excess copies deeply discounted by publishing houses. In extreme cases, publishers will ‘pulp’ books, grinding them to powder to be recycled into… books.

Remaindrance of Things Past: A Memoir

by Josh Pachter

Chapter 1: The Remainder Bind

In the Olden Days, BigFive Press would agree to publish your book. Their marketing geniuses would do the math and decide on a first printing of X copies. In principle, those copies would all sell, and BigFive would go to a second printing—and then a third, and so on ad infinitum, until you were wealthy enough to buy a little cottage on the Sussex Downs, where you could keep bees and lord it over your serfs.

In practice, though, what was much more likely to happen was that BigFive would wind up with unsold copies of your baby. Those copies took up valuable warehouse space, and if BigFive later needed that space for newer books, they would “remainder” the remaining copies of yours.

That meant that they would sell your leftovers to Wal-Mart or one of the other big-box retailers for pennies on the dollar, and Wal-Mart (or whoever) would dump them into a big bin—the dreaded remainder bin—priced higher than what they paid for them but way lower than the original retail price.

So, for example, let’s say I opened a vein and poured onto the page my magnum opus, Gone Girl With the Wind in the Willows. BigFive would slap a retail price of $20 on it and print five thousand copies. Only three thousand of those copies would sell: two thousand to liberries (remember liberries?) and a thousand to my mother, who would give them away as Christmas presents.

That meant that BigFive would be stuck with two thousand copies of a book they couldn’t sell. Those copies would sit in the warehouse for a while, until BigFive needed the shelf space for the eighth novel James Patterson “wrote” that month. At that point, they’d dump their remaining stock of GGWTWITW onto Wal-Mart for, say fifty cents a copy, and Wal-Mart would mark them up to two bucks apiece and toss them in the bin.

A win-win situation, right? BigFive got rid of some books they didn’t want to continue to warehouse, Wal-Mart cleared a three-hundred-percent profit on every copy they sold, and the customer got a $20 book for a tenth of its retail price.

Wait a second, that’s actually a win-win-win: everybody wins!

Well, almost everybody. The one loser would be me, since instead of earning a royalty of two bucks a copy (ten percent of the retail price), I’d only get a measly five cents a copy (ten percent of BigFive's remainder price)—and then I’d have to give fifteen percent of that to my agent, leaving me four and a quarter cents a copy for a book that ought to have earned me forty times that amount.

So I guess we’d have to call Remainderama a win-win-win-lose situation, with the author the one and only loser.


The Great Filling Station Holdup anthology colourful cover

The Beat of Black Wings anthology cover

Top Science Fiction cover

Top Fantasy cover

Top Horror cover

Top Crime cover
Chapter 2: Remaindeus Unbound

Those Sayers of the Sleuth who know me—or know of me—were perhaps surprised a couple of years ago when, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I suddenly began editing anthologies.

Since 2018, in fact, I've done eight of them for six different publishers with more on the way:

  • The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads)
  • Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads)
  • The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (Down and Out Books)
  • The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press)
  • The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press)
  • The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press)
  • Amsterdam Noir (Akashic)
  • The Man Who Read Mysteries: The Short Fiction of William Brittain (Crippen & Landru)

My emergence as an anthologist wasn’t exactly “out of the blue,” though. Forty years ago, I was living in Amsterdam, and I edited half a dozen anthologies for a midsized Dutch publisher, Loeb Uitgevers. Loeb marketed four of them—Top Crime, Top Science Fiction, Top Fantasy and Top Horror—internationally at the Frankfort Book Fair, and various combinations of the four titles sold to an assortment of publishers in Europe and the Americas. Heyne Verlag in Germany, for example, did all four books in mass-market paperback editions (TSF in three volumes and TF in two volumes.) Top Crime, Top Science Fiction, and Top Fantasy were published in England by J.M. Dent & Sons in hardcover and paperback, and Top Crime had a US hardcover edition from St. Martin's Press (with one of the worst cover designs I have ever seen in my life, featuring a silhouette of a gun without a trigger — and what did that say about the twenty-five stories in the book?!).

But I digress. A couple of years later, I was living in what was then still West Germany and teaching for the University of Maryland's European Division on American military bases. One day, I got a snail-mail letter from J.M. Dent, notifying me they were about to remainder the last thousand copies of the hardcover edition of Top Science Fiction to W.H. Smith & Sons for something like a quarter apiece—and, as a courtesy to me, they were offering me the opportunity to buy some at that price.

I remember that I was in my kitchen with this letter literally in my hand, trying to decide whether to buy twenty-five copies or fifty to give away as Christmas presents, when my phone rang. On the line was the director of the UMED textbook office: another instructor wanted to use my anthology as the text for a course in the literature of science fiction, but he wasn’t sure where to find copies and wanted to know if I could help.

“As it happens,” I said, “I own all remaining copies of the book, and I'd be happy to sell you as many as you need.”

The caller was hesitant, because (he said) he usually bought texts in enough bulk that the publisher was willing to offer him a discount.”

“How much of a discount,” I asked, “do you usually get?”

Twenty-five percent off the retail price, he said.

“And how many copies do you want to buy?”

A hundred, he told me.

“Well,” I said, “I can give you a twenty-five-percent discount, but I’ll need you to take two hundred copies.”

And I’ll be damned: he agreed!

I hung up and immediately called Dent in London. “I got your letter,” I said, “and I want to buy some copies of Top Science Fiction at the remainder price.”

How many did I want?

“I’ll take all of them.”

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Finally, the voice asked if I realized how many copies that was.

“Yes, I read the letter,” I said. “I’ll take them all.”

Another pause. Did I realize how much storage space I’d need for a thousand hardcovers?

“Yes,” I said, “I do. I’ll take them all.”

An even longer pause. Did I realize how much the shipping charge for a thousand hardcovers would be?

“If you sell the lot to W.H. Smith,” I said, “you’ll comp them the shipping, so I expect you won’t charge me for it, either.”

And that’s the way we ultimately worked it. I bought a thousand books for two hundred and fifty dollars including shipping, having pre-sold two hundred of them to UMED for something like three thousand dollars plus shipping, making me the only person I’ve ever heard of who actually made money off a remaindered book.


Chapter 3: The Remainders of The Day

There’s a little more to the story.

Over the next couple of years, UMED reordered Top Science Fiction several times … and, each time, I told them the price had gone up. By the time I moved back to the US in 1991, I’d gotten them to buy almost all of my thousand hardcovers—and I’d also picked up the entire remaindered stock of the paperback edition.

I shipped the last of the hardbacks and several hundred of the paperbacks to the US, and I still have some of each in the attic—including one box of paperbacks that’s moved from Germany to New York to Ohio to Maryland to Iowa to Virginia over the last thirty-one years and is still factory sealed.

It’s a pretty cool anthology: twenty-five excellent stories by twenty-five of the greatest science-fiction writers alive in the early 1980s—Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, A.E. Van Vogt, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, more than a dozen others—each story selected and introduced by its author as their favorite of the stories they’d written up to that point in their careers.

Anybody wanna buy a copy? I make you good price, my friend!

22 February 2021

Your Tax Dollars at Work


I may have mentioned, once or three hundred times, that until I retired I was a government information librarian. One of my hobbies back then was collecting interesting government titles.  Now you get to benefit from my dedicated time-killing.

All of these are real and I include links to prove it. Some of these titles no doubt made sense when they were published. Some make sense now if you look them from the right point of view. Some – like the terrorism one  – are just a garbled mess. And some are artifacts of one of the most tragic impulses that can occur to a government author – the desire to be clever or “hip.”

Dullness is your friend, Mr. Bureaucrat. Embrace it. If you are putting an exclamation point in a government title, you are on the wrong track.


22 December 2020

All We Want for Christmas is a Fair Shot


Earlier this year, Alex Acks, in “Slush v Solicitations: Just tell us where we stand,” wrote about magazines’ and anthologies’ “complete lack of transparency regarding just how much of their content they actually take from the slush pile versus how much is solicited.” Though writing primarily about SF/F markets, Acks’s comments apply equally to other genres.

TRANSPARENCY

Before I react to Acks’s blog post, perhaps I should provide some transparency about my editorial work.

I edited my first five anthologies more than a decade ago. So, while I’m pretty sure every story in them was selected from slush piles, I don’t honestly remember. I can, however, discuss more recent editorial work.

The Eyes of Texas
: Almost every story came from the slush pile. The one that didn’t was an anomaly. At the Toronto Bouchercon, I discussed the anthology with another writer and mentioned that I was surprised I had seen no stories involving a certain historical event. He asked several questions and later submitted a story in which that event played a role. I accepted the story.

Mickey Finn, volumes 1 and 2: I invited four writers to submit to the first Mickey Finn because I felt they would deliver solid stories around which I could shape the anthology. Three of the writers submitted stories, and I accepted all three. Other than my own contributions, the rest of the stories in MF 1 and all of the stories in MF 2 came from the slush pile.

Guns + Tacos, seasons 1, 2, and 3 (coming July-December 2021): All of the stories included in the first three seasons of G+T were solicited.

Jukes & Tonks (coming April 2021): All of the stories in J&T were solicited.

Black Cat Mystery Magazine
: I suspect several stories in the first issue were solicited (mine wasn’t; I invited myself). I wasn’t involved with the editorial side for the first few issues, but every issue since I joined the staff has been filled from slush pile submissions.

FOUR TYPES OF SUBMISSIONS

In “Slush v Solicitations: Just tell us where we stand,” Acks describes four types of submissions—slush, solicited, backdoor, and select/private—all of which can or do serve as barriers to new writers.

Unsolicited submission via the slush pile is the primary way new writers break into publishing short fiction. However, the slush pile may offer false hope at publications that acquire only a small percentage of their stories from the slush.

So, is it fair to dangle hope in front of new writers by having a slush pile without acknowledging the other three types of submissions and how they impact story acquisition? Acks doesn’t think so and advocates for transparency. If editors are transparent about how they acquire stories and how many stories are actually plucked from the slush pile (as a percentage of total published stories, not as a percentage of total submitted stories), then writers will “know not to waste [...] time or emotional energy on a useless want” where slush piles are more for show, and writers can therefore target submissions to where they feel their stories have the best chance of acceptance.

FROM THE WRITER’S SIDE

Granted, the more information available to writers, the better their odds of success, but in addition to Acks’s desire for transparency, there’s an equally important question that new writers should be asking: How does one rise from the slush pile to become a writer whose work is solicited, whose work will be considered by publications that say they’re closed or that allow submissions via a “submissions portal” with a URL that is “not public”?

The answer is simple: Hard work, good writing, and professional attitude.

Every single magazine with which I have or have had a working relationship began when the editor plucked one of my stories from a slush pile. Almost every working relationship I have with anthology editors began when those editors plucked my stories from the slush piles of open-call anthologies.

I began writing professionally in the 1970s, so much of the information available to new writers today either was not then available or was much harder to acquire. What I knew about publishing came from the pages of Writer’s Digest and The Writer. What I knew about open markets came from the back pages of those same magazines and from the annual Writer’s Market. Later, I discovered newsletters such as Janet Fox’s Scavenger’s Newsletter and Kathryn Ptacek’s The Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets.

Even so, I had little or no information about how many published stories were discovered in slush piles, nor how many in a given issue of any magazine were slush pile finds vs. stories that were acquired through some form of “insider” submission (solicited, backdoor, and select/private). What I did know was that the only way out of the slush pile was to submit a well-written story that met the publication’s guidelines.

So I did it. Again. And again. And again.

And now, though I’m a writer whose work is sometimes solicited, I’ve yet to encounter any publication with formal or informal backdoor or select/private submission policies. That may be the difference between SF/F markets and mystery markets, or it might just mean I haven’t yet reached that level of success.

FROM THE EDITOR’S SIDE

You may have noticed that some writers appear in several of my projects, regardless of whether the projects are open-call or invitation-only. If there isn’t some secret handshake, how does this happen?

The reason is simple: these authors provide good stories, well-told, delivered on time and on theme, and they have proven themselves easy to work with throughout the editing process.

YOU GET A FAIR SHOT, AND YOU GET A FAIR SHOT, AND YOU GET A FAIR SHOT

So, yes, there may be publications and anthology editors with backdoor submission policies and secret/private submission portals, and there certainly are many invitation-only projects, but one’s goal as a writer should be to reach the point where one no longer has to battle through the slush pile on a regular basis.

So, should editors be transparent about their processes? I’m with Acks on this: Yes.

Will complete transparency create a level playing field for new writers? Alas, no.

But, really, all a writer wants is a fair shot.

So, for Christmas this year, let’s ensure that every writer has a fair shot.

10 August 2020

The Writer Diaries


Joseph Pittman
introducing…
Joseph Pittman is a friend from about the time we opened bookstore in Austin, called Mysteries and More. I was writing a column for Mystery Scene magazine called Southwest Scenes. I had also started going to Mystery Cons in order to meet authors, agents, booksellers, editors, publishers in person, because I used their information for my column.

Joe Pittman was one of the big name editors I telephoned on a regular basis. He would tell me which books were ready for release. Joe was always helpful, giving me reliable info and we usually spent a few extra minutes chitchatting. We finally met in person in St Louis, MO when Bob Randisi put together and hosted a PWA CON, the first ever conference for private eye writers.


I knew Joe had left publishing because he wanted to write and write he does. He's published more than a few books. We reconnected on FB a couple of years ago. Then, a little over a year ago, Joe and his husband Steve adopted Shadow. And Shadow, a black lab youngster, soon learned to type on Daddy Joe's computer. Shadow began a diary. Talked about settling into a new home with a nice back yard to play in and how he's learned new words and how to play with other families, making friends with other dogs. And especially learning about love. Daddy Joe compiled Shadow's diaries into a book, and Daddy Steve did the cover artwork. It's a small but very entertaining and charming book for all animal lovers.  I highly recommend it.
— Jan Grape

Joseph Pittman is the author of over 40 novels in various genres under his own name and pen name Adam Carpenter. He has written comic crime, noir, small-town sweetness, intrigue, and erotica. His current series features private detective Jimmy McSwain.
Shadow is a beautiful 2-year-old Black Lab / Greyhound mix who has lots to say. His first book, The Shadow Diaries, has just been published. Funny, poignant, insightful, it’s a full-year in the life of a rescue dog. Follow him on Instagram at theshadowdiariesbook.

The Writer Diaries – Volume 32

by Joseph Pittman
Hey, Pittman here. It’s midnight while I write this. The moon owns the night. There’s a pretty dame walking down a dark avenue. A handsome lad in a fedora trails her. My eyes don’t judge either. They just wonder what each is hiding. Probably truth.

Whoa, what’s going on? Have we finally gotten to a diary entry that focuses on the classic American detective novel? Is it noir week? Yeah, sweetheart, it sure is.

You can do a wayback and think about Chandler, Hammett, Cain. They created a genre steeped in language people hadn’t read before. Grit, gumption, a different way of seeking justice. I’ve read ‘em but was never involved in any reissues of their iconic novels.

But I did get to work with some of the giants of the mystery world. it’s interesting to think how they helped shape me as a writer. So, I’m going to focus on four authors, some you may have heard of, all who bring a unique spin to the crime genre. What they have in common? They always let you know whodunit.

I’m gonna start with the Grandmaster. The one and only Mickey Spillane. Back before publishers did hard/soft deals, back before all the mergers, a hardcover publisher would sell the softcover rights to a paperback publisher. And one of the most loyal arrangements was that between E.P. Dutton and Signet. Their star author? The great Mickey Spillane, creator of Mike Hammer. I, The Jury put all three on the map. Hammer was tough. Spillane’s language was hardened poetry.

In the 1990s, Mickey, after a silent period, resurfaced with a new novel, Black Alley, the return of Mike Hammer. I had the privilege of working on this book, but more than that…I got to meet Mickey. He was being named Grandmaster from the Mystery Writers of America, their highest honor. Mickey came to the office that day for a champagne toast.

I remember him telling me I wasn’t born when Hammer was taking his first punch. It was the perfect introduction. He’d brought along with him “the dame,” a lovely woman who had starred with him in those Lite Beer commercials in the 70s. Then we all went to the Edgar Awards banquet, NAL having secured a table to celebrate our Grandmaster. I couldn’t believe I was his editor.

But I experienced that feeling a lot over my career, which brings me to a twist in the noir. Lawrence Block (another Grandmaster) is a gentleman, a scholar, and a bit of a schemer! I’d known his Matthew Scudder detective series, but he also had a lighter side. Enter Bernie Rhodenbarr, bookseller and thief, into my life. Dutton/Signet, now fully merged, was offered the opportunity to revive this comic crime series, starting with the first book in ten years, The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams.

This series became one of my favorite adventures in publishing, and certainly gave me some credibility in the mystery community I loved being a part of. We ended up republishing the first five books, in both hardcover and paperback. Then we published four more new titles. The Burglar in the Rye features a dedication…to me. A treasured moment when I saw that.

To say Bernie inspired my Todd Gleason character is an understatement.

Then there’s this guy, Max Allan Collins. Another genius of detective fiction. I first learned of him when I worked at Bantam. A book called Stolen Away, a historical mystery about the Lindbergh kidnapping. Later, when at NAL, we acquired his Nathan Heller series and went on to publish six titles. Nate was always getting involved in mysteries of the past, helping to solve the unsolvable. His attention to detail, his cleverness, but ultimately his prose, absorbed me.

Lastly, I want to talk about the Gatekeeper of all this history with his devotion to detective fiction. Robert J. Randisi. He is the founder of the Private Eye Writers of America, which awards the Shamus for the best in American detection. I did several anthologies with Bob, memorably a collection of Shamus-winning stories called The Eyes Still Have It. Randisi has published so many books in so many genres, it’s hard to keep track. If I learned anything from him: stay prolific. Finish writing a book, there’s another waiting behind it.

The detective novel is quintessential American. It’s about mood, about voice, it’s about characters who might have been damaged by life, men and women who are looking for solutions on the streets. But ultimately finding their redemption within their own hearts. Motive isn’t just something to uncover in a suspect. It’s something to find within your hero.

At the PWA conference in St. Louis in 1999, I was surprised and humbled to receive a plaque from Bob. “Friends of PWA.” I still am, and I’m grateful to these four talented authors for taking me on their journeys. Truthfully, my P.I. Jimmy McSwain doesn’t exist without any of them.

Thanks for reading.

Love,      
Joseph

27 June 2020

What Went Wrong – (and pass the Scotch)


My friend and colleague John Floyd has inspired me many times, but this time for a singularly bizarre post:  Things that go wrong in the life of an author.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Publisher Version

1.  The publication that never was.  John, you mentioned in your recent post Strange but True, that you have received acceptance letters from publishers who then realized they sent them to the wrong person.  I can do you one better (if you really want to call it that.)

This year, I received a very public congratulations from the Ontario Library Association for being a finalist for their YA award.  I was thrilled!  It was my first YA crime book, after 16 adult ones, and they don't usually give awards to crime books.  I basked in glory and excitement for about five minutes until I realized the title of the book they mentioned was not the book I had written.  There ensued a very public retraction.  Everywhere.  And apology.  I am not sure there is anything more embarrassing than receiving a very public apology for an honour snatched back from you.

2.  It isn't often a publisher buys ads for your book and we all celebrate when they do.  The publisher of Rowena and the Dark Lord was out to create gold.  The first book in the series was a bestseller.  So they decided to throw money at book 2, advertising it at more than two dozen places.  And throw money, they did.  Throw it away, that is.  Unfortunately, the ad company misspelled the title of the book in all the ads.  ROWENA AND THE DARK LARD might be popular in cooking circles, but it didn't make a splash with the epic fantasy audience to which it was targeted.

3.  Back in the mid 90s, I was making it, or so I thought.  Had some stories with STAR magazine.  Broke into Hitchcock.  And later, big time, with Moxie magazine.  Remember Moxie?  Up there with Good Housekeeping and Cosmo? No, perhaps you don't.  I was really pleased when they offered me a 50% kill fee of $750.  Not that I wanted to collect it, but it was a status symbol back then to get offered kill fees in your short story contract.  Unfortunately, if you story is killed because the magazine goes under, ain't nothing left for a kill fee.  Big time becomes no time.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Event Version

1.  It's always tough when you are shortlisted for a prize and you don't win.  It's even tougher when you are actually at the gala event, and all your friends are waiting for you to be named the winner.  Tougher still, when you are shortlisted in TWO categories, and you don't win either.

But that doesn't touch the case when you are the actual Emcee for the event, you've just finished doing an opening stand-up routine to great applause, you have media there and a full house, you are shortlisted in two categories, and you don't win a sausage.  And still have to run the rest of the event from the stage.

This is why they invented scotch.

WHAT WENT WRONG:  The Agent Version

1.  No fewer than THREE big production companies have approached my agent about optioning The Goddaughter series for TV.  This has gone on for four years, and included hours of negotiating.  "Really excited - back to you on Friday!" said the last one.  That was last summer.  I'm still waiting to see any money.

2.  My first agent was a respected older gent from New York.  Sort of a father figure, very classy.  Like some - okay many - agents, he wasn't the best at getting back to us in a timely manner, particularly by email.  We kind of got used to it.  So it was with some shock that I got a phone call from another author, who had discovered that the reason we hadn't heard back from J is because he had died two months before.  Nobody had gotten around to telling us.

I have a really good agent now. She's still alive, which I've found is a huge advantage in an agent.

Here's the book that was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award last year, along with that short story that also didn't win (pass the scotch):



Remember the A-Team?  We're not them.  
But if you've been the victim of a scam, give us a call.  
We deal in justice, not the law.  We're the B-Team.
At all the usual suspects including....

25 May 2019

Why I Chose a Traditional Publisher


Students often ask me why I don’t self-publish. 
I try to slip by the fact that I was a babe when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Meaning, I was writing long before self-publishing on Amazon and Nook etc. had even become an option.

Having a publisher and agent before self-publishing was a 'thing' has certainly made a difference, I'm sure.  But now we have a choice. 

Why do I still stay with a traditional publisher?

Gateway Endorsement

There’s no getting away from this:  a traditional publisher, no matter how small, is investing THEIR money to produce YOUR book.  They believe in your book so much that they are willing to risk their own money to see it published.

What’s more, readers know this.  They know that if your book has a publisher, then it has gone through a gateway of sorts.  Someone in the business who knows about the book trade – someone other than the writer - has determined that this book is worthy of being published.

They believe in your book.  That’s a huge endorsement.

You may believe in your book.  I hope you do.  And you may decide to self-publish it.  That’s your choice.  And it may be just as good as any book that is released from a traditional publisher. 

But the reader doesn’t know that.  Further, they don’t know if you’ve already sent the book to a dozen publishers and had it rejected.  In many cases, they assume you’ve done just that.  They assume that no publisher  wanted it.  Therefore, they figure they are taking a risk if they buy your book.  And most readers don’t want to take risks with their money.  (Some will, bless them.  We love those 
readers.)

Distribution and Promotion

Traditional publishers – particularly large or mid-size ones – get your paperbacks into national bookstore chains.  They will also include your book in their catalogue to the big buyers, create sales info sheets for your book, and perhaps buy ads.  They arrange for industry reviews.  We authors complain they don’t do enough promotion.  But they certainly do these things that we can’t do.

We, as authors, can’t access the same distribution networks.  We can’t easily (if at all) reach the prominent industry reviewers like Library Journal and Booklist. 

And then there’s the whole problem of bookstores insisting on publishers accepting returns.  So if your book doesn’t sell, your publisher has to pay the bookstore back the wholesale price they paid for the book.  Independent authors can’t work that way.  We authors would go broke if we had to return money to every bookstore that shelved our paperbacks but didn’t sell them.  Remember, you don’t get the book back.  The cover is sent back and the book is destroyed.  Yes, this antiquated system sucks.

All the other crap

I’m an author.  I want to write.  I don’t want to spend my cherished writing time learning how to navigate Amazon’s self-publishing program, and all the others.  I don’t want to pay substantive and copy-editors out of my own pocket.  I don’t want to seek out cover designers (although I admit that part might be fun.)  I don’t want to pay a bunch of money upfront to replace the work that publishers do.

If you self-publish, then you become the publisher as well as the author.  I asked myself: do I want to be a publisher? 
  
This was my decision, and you may choose a different one.  You may love being a publisher.  But I find it hard enough being an author.  Adding all those other necessary factors to the job just makes it seem overwhelming to me.  I may be a good writer.  But I have no experience as a publishing industry professional.  I have no expertise.  So I publish with the experts.

You may choose a different route.  Just be aware that when you self-publish, you become a publisher just as much as an author.  It’s all in how you want to spend your time.

Good luck on your publishing adventure, whichever way you choose to go!

That's The B-Team, a humorous heist crime book that is a finalist for the 2019 Arthur Ellis award, in the photo below.  You can get it at B&N, Amazon and all the usual suspects. 

ON Amazon

29 May 2018

Are the Sensitivity Police Coming to Get You?


by Paul D. Marks, Jonathan Brown, Elaine Ash

Contents:

— Context and White Heat – Paul
— Dude? Why so Sensitive? – Jonathan Brown
— The Right to Write – Elaine Ash
— Paul’s original post
— In conclusion – Paul


“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.”

                                                       —President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Four Freedoms Speech

     Context:

It’s time to revisit a topic that’s very important to me, and I would think it should be to all writers. And though some of it may be repetitive, and it is long, I think it’s worth your time if you’re a writer, a reader, a sentient being.

In March, 2017, I did a piece here about the Sensitivity Police (find it at this link, but also “reprinted” near the end of this new post, http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2017/03/the-sensitivity-police.html ). I don’t get very political on social media. There’s only two things that I talk about in that regard and then not that much. The two things are animal issues and free speech issues. The latter is what this post is about. In a nutshell, I’m a free speech absolutist. There’s almost nothing I don’t think people should be allowed to say or put in print. It can be awful and hateful and offend you or me. But that’s what’s great about this country – you have the right to say what you want. I don’t have to agree, I don’t have to break bread with you, but I’ll fight for your right to say it.

I see things all the time that I agree or disagree with but I don’t see much point getting into verbal firefights about them. I’m not going to change any minds and no one is going to change mine. Mostly, I just scroll past political posts.

This revisit is prompted by an article I saw recently in the Guardian, the British paper. The article was “Lionel Shriver says 'politically correct censorship' is damaging fiction.”  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/22/lionel-shriver-says-politically-correct-censorship-is-damaging-fiction

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Lionel Shriver. And I still haven’t read her works. But I agree with that statement. Again, I am a total free speech advocate. I know the arguments about shouting fire in a crowded theatre or hurting people’s feelings, but I also remember when the ACLU defended the Nazis’ right to march in the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois. (And for the simpletons out there, No, I’m not pro-Nazi!) And I remember when people would say “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” That seems to be a dying sentiment.

I understand that people get offended. I get offended, but I just grin and bear it and move on. Maybe you’d rather fight back, verbally. Fine. Just don’t stop the other from saying whatever it is. I’m against any form of censorship. And it scares the fucking hell out of me!!! Free speech is the foundation of our society. Without it totalitarianism reigns. Yet a recent Gallup poll shows college students aren’t totally behind the concept of free speech — See:

https://medium.com/informed-and-engaged/8-ways-college-student-views-on-free-speech-are-evolving-963334babe40 .

——Or——

  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/college-students-support-free-speech--unless-it-offends-them/2018/03/09/79f21c9e-23e4-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fcceb8833c43

As writers sensitivity police should scare the hell out of us. As citizens of a free society likewise. Maybe what we write is uncomfortable, maybe you’re offended. Maybe you should toughen up.

This time around I’m inviting two guests to join me and add their opinions, Jonathan Brown and Elaine Ash. I was originally going to intercut the things that Jonathan, Elaine and I have to say on the subject, but I’ve decided to run all the pieces as a whole. I asked a few people if they’d want to comment from the point of view of wanting censorship of one degree or another. Nobody wanted to go on record. I truly hope you’ll take a few minutes to read everything.

***


     White Heat:

My Shamus Award-winning novel White Heat is a noir-mystery-thriller. It’s about P.I.s trying to find a killer during the 1992 Rodney King riots – that makes it much more than a simple noir-mystery-thriller. While protagonist Duke Rogers tracks down the killer, he must also deal with the racism of his partner, Jack, and from Warren, the murder victim’s brother, who is a mirror image of Jack in that department. He must also confront his own possible latent racism – even as he’s in an interracial relationship with the dead woman’s sister.

The novel looks at race and racism from everyone involved, black and white, and no one gets off unscathed. These things can be a little uncomfortable. Believe me, I know. I was uncomfortable writing some of it. Ditto for Broken Windows, the sequel coming out in the fall, that deals with immigration via a mystery story. These are touchy issues, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk or write about them. And if we do so honestly we might unintentionally hurt some feelings.

To quote from my article a year ago, “It’s getting to the point where we have to constantly second guess ourselves as we worry who might be offended by this or that? In my novel, White Heat, I use the N word. And don’t think I didn’t spend a lot of deliberating about whether I should tone that down, because truly I did not want to hurt or offend anyone. But ultimately I thought it was important for the story I was trying to tell and people of all races seemed to like the book. I think context is important. But even without context, as a free speech absolutist, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. There used to be an argument that went around that the way to combat negative speech was with more speech, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, ‘Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly.’”

I did add an Author’s Note warning people: “Some of the language and attitudes in the novel may be offensive. But please consider them in the context of the time, place and characters.” Today we’d call it a Trigger Warning. And I don’t mind doing that, as long as no one stops me from saying what I want to say.

If you don’t defend free speech now because your ox isn’t currently being gored, to coin a phrase, then no one will be there to defend you when it is. And revolutions always come back to bite the head off. Look at what happened to Robespierre during the French Revolution. It’s like that quote from Martin Neimoller during World War II: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

My mind hasn’t changed in the last the year. And now here are Jonathan and Elaine to talk about the issue:

***

     Jonathan Brown: 

Jonathan was born and raised in Vancouver British Colombia. He works as a writer, fitness trainer and drum instructor. His Lou Crasher mysteries recently landed him a two book deal with Down and Out Books. The first novel: The Big Crescendo is slated to be released in early 2019 and the follow up: Don't Shoot the Drummer will be released in 2020. Brown has also written a fictional biography about the life of boxing trainer, Angelo Dundee. The book: Angelo Dundee, a Boxing Trainer's Journey is published by The Mentoris Group and will be released in December 2018. Jonathan and his lovely wife Sonia enjoy life in sunny south Los Angeles. jonathanbrownwriter.com

Dude? Why So Sensitive?

When Paul was gracious enough to offer me a chance to weigh in on the ‘sensitivity reader’ issue I said, “Sign me up, please.” For those new to this phenomenon a sensitivity reader is someone hired by a publisher to read manuscripts with an eye sensitive to one particular race, religion or gender and so on. While the publisher’s heart may be in the right place or if the publisher simply wants to avoid a lawsuit, I think the practice is not only superfluous but also dangerous. Dangerous might be a little extreme, let’s say asinine instead.

Here’s where this jazz is headed. The sensitivity reader(s) will essentially be the politically correct police. The potential to take what might be the next great American novel and water it down to Disney meets Hallmark on Mr. Roger’s front porch is huge. For example, Writer X has a vigilante ex-gangbanger as the anti-hero. He enters the warehouse and finds the banger that killed his family. He raises the Sig Sauer. He closes one eye and lines up the enemy down the gun sight. Finally, he shall have his revenge. As a parting phrase the avenger says, “You’re a dead person of color with ancestry dating back to ancient sub-Saharan Africa!” As opposed to: “You’re a dead nigga!” Pop, Pop, Pop.

Under the sensitivity cop regime urban gang bangers won’t use authentic dialog; terrorists will be of a fictitious ethnicity (thus being limited to Science Fiction) and although books will still have steamy sex scenes the party engaging in coitus shall be genderless—out of fairness to the gendered. Can you imagine? Try this scene:

“Hey baby, want to get it on?”

“Sure, if you’ll just put your—”

“Don’t say it. I can’t wait to feel your—”

“No, don’t say it!”

And so the participants put their matching or perhaps mismatching parts together and…did it. 

The End

Can you feel the heat? No? Yeah, me either. I’m rarely the slippery-slope-guy and I’m truly weary of the expression but I must say the incline will become pretty slick here if we engage in this sensitivity reader censorship parade. And what, may I ask makes a sensitivity reader? How does one become one? Is there a questionnaire? The bigger question for me is why have we stopped trusting our own judgment? Don’t we all have some measure of built-in common sense about sensitivity? I say we do, if I may be so bold as to answer my own question.

If a manuscript becomes ‘green lit’ by a publisher that means an agent and possibly her assistant has read the manuscript. Then, let’s toss in two to four low-level readers at the publishing house and cap this off with one or two of the top brass readers.  Do you mean to tell me that from agent’s assistant to top Banana none of those cats know what is basically offensive and what’s not? I call bullshit. As members of society we all know what is basically offensive but now we’re too afraid to say it, so let’s put it on the sensitivity reader…yeah that guy. Phew, thank god we now have a scapegoat if this thing goes south, right? Grow up people.

If this castration of the arts by ‘sensitivity cop’ flies then Noir literature will become beige, Romance will have gender sensitive sex scenes (which I suppose means all genders will have an orgy all at once, what with inclusion and all…hmm) and Horror films will no longer have the ominous black cat, they will have to be Tabbys, Siamese or Ginger cats…which will be referred to as: orange hued. Imagine:

As I walked down the dark alley I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a six- month old tabby cross my path. It was then that I knew…I…was…doomed! (Insert wolf howl sound effect!)

Let art be art. It’s a good thing the sensitivity cops didn’t tell Picasso how to paint, and didn’t instruct Beethoven to avoid all minor keys and thank god they didn’t force Harper Lee to make the accused, Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mocking Bird a white-male primary school teacher with a sunny disposition.

***

     Elaine Ash:

Elaine Ash edits fiction writers—from established authors to emerging talent. She works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals.  www.bestsellermetrics.com

The Right to Write

When Paul asked me to throw my hat in the ring for a post on free speech and sensitivity readers, I gulped. Navigating these topics can be as delicate as tucking a hand grenade inside a wasp’s nest. But, admittedly, I’ve brought this on myself, since I take pride in freedom of speech and feel strongly about the right to write.

One way to look at sensitivity readers is simply as a new layer of vetting that writers must hurdle when they submit to Big 5 publishers. First, let’s refresh  on what some famed writers have had to say about protecting artistic integrity.

“Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.”
― Neil Gaiman

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”
― Henry Louis Gates Jr.

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”
― Oscar Wilde

Taken in context with these quotes, the picture of a sensitivity reader redlining a literary opus looks as clunky as jackboots on a ballerina. Add on that the average pay of a sensitivity reader is $250 per manuscript, and it seems impossible that anyone paid this low could influence a billion dollar-plus industry and force millionaire writers to change their work—but they are.

Do Sensitivity Readers Affect You?

First you have to look at your target publishers. There are sensitive and not-so-sensitive publishers. In general, sensitive would be Big 5 and their imprints; non-sensitive would be medium and small indie publishers. Big 5 science fiction and fantasy publishers trend “sensitive.” YA and children’s markets likewise.

Mystery and crime-related genres have strongly resisted sensitivity. In fact, noir and transgressive genres are expected to be offensive—that’s how they make a larger point. But agents have recently confided to me that it’s getting harder and harder to sell mystery fiction. Does this have to do with sensitivity bias? I suspect so, but have no figures to back up that claim other than the frontline reports of literary agents. In other words, publisher demand has constricted, and I suspect that it’s not for lack of the buying public—it’s because publishers fear backlash and boycotts. (More about this later.)

S-readers are not called in on 100% of manuscripts, but if a publisher sees that a writer of one ethnicity might be writing a character of another ethnicity, they will call on an S-reader to vet the manuscript. The problem with this is pretty obvious. Since the original writer isn’t reporting fact but creating art to make a larger point, the original intent of the art may become skewed. Want to check the rules to make sure you get them right? Err, that could be a problem. There is no sensitivity readers guild to consult, and no published compilation of guidelines.

A Case in Point

Science fiction/fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal has killed projects over negative feedback from sensitivity readers.  http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/sensitivity-readers/   The problem with this tactic is that the rules she’s trying so hard to abide by are not set in stone, they’re not law. They’re merely someone’s opinion, and opinions change. The court of public opinion can change with the day of the week. Is it even possible to write something that offends no one? I suppose so. The greater question is, Is it possible to write something that offends no one that is worth reading? Stories are supposed to disturb, instigate, provoke thought. That comes with the risk of offense.

What sensitivity readers are really all about comes down, in the end, to cold hard cash, as everything in business does. Looking at a hot topic through the cool lense of business is a way to bring practicality to the subject. If a publisher is afraid that they may become the target of an angry boycott, they’ll do everything possible to avoid it. Until recently, these boycotts had real power. But the recent trend is “boycott backlash” where the boycott-ee suffers a drop-off from advertisers, and then receives a sympathy bump from purchasers who disagree with the boycott. It reminds me of when banning books was all the rage. It only made them more popular. What people are told they can’t have, they make special efforts to get.

Sidestep the Time Wasters

My purview is not to make a case for S-readers or against them. I’m here to point out navigation tactics. As I write this, tens of thousands of manuscripts are waiting for Big 5 vetting when some of them could be sailing into medium-sized publishers and landing deals without added delay.

If you are a first-time author, my advice is to go for a smaller publisher to land your edgy material. If you are an established author looking to make the leap to Big 5, you’d have the best bet with a fairly controversy-free manuscript from the race or gender aspect. “White savior writing” is a thing, and sensitivity readers are rejecting it. Google the term and read about it for yourself.

Meanwhile, many mystery and crime readers are looking for gritty authenticity, using nomenclature that coincides with a hardboiled PI or criminal.  Already, you can see how S-readers may chill the edgy, provocative material that underscores much of the best mystery writing.

Express Yourself

As an editor, I’m about preserving the integrity of the writer’s vision, intent, art and freedom to write. I am not a censor for political correctness. For example, I’m horrified by third-wave feminist Andrea Dworkin’s contention that every act of sex is an act of rape. Would I edit a story with a character in it who held that belief? Most definitely. I’m not a censor, I’m an editor. My job is to preserve the writer’s vision, even if I disagree with it.

My best advice is to avoid writing to trends and never write to satisfy sensitivity readers. Take my client Chrome Oxide, winner of two coveted Writers of the Future awards. He’s a humorist making fun of big government and bureaucracy—using the sci-fi and fantasy genres as a backdrop. He came to me thinking there was zero chance of getting a publisher—self-publishing would be his only option. But there are so many alternative publishers now for everything from comic books to novels, that a good agent, or an editor wearing many hats like me, can find a market.

If your agent says there’s no market for what you’ve written, it’s time to get another agent. For Chrome Oxide I had to go to Superversive Press out of Australia, but the terms were the best I’d seen anywhere. The terms almost made me cry, they were so beautiful. This publisher really, really wanted Chrome’s material.

Only you can assess where your manuscript and platform as a writer stand in terms of attractiveness to publishers who assess writers through sensitivity vetting. It’s a big world with many markets. Ultimately, what does not sell will take a diminished place in the market and readers will find what they’re looking for.

Bottom line, you must write who you are and what makes you tick, not what you guess sensitivity readers will approve. Express yourself freely and then find the market that matches your angle. It’s out there waiting if you look.

***

      Thank you Jonathan and Elaine. And here's my/Paul's previous post:

Here’s the pertinent part from my earlier article (see link above):

And now to the subject at hand: I recently came across an article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Publishers are hiring 'sensitivity readers' to flag potentially offensive content.” That, of course, piqued my interest. And I will say at the outset that I’m a free speech absolutist. If you don’t like something don’t read it, but don’t stop others from saying it or reading it.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-publishers-hiring-book-readers-to-flag-sensitivity-20170215-story.html

After all, who’s to say what’s offensive? What’s offensive to me might not be to you and vice versa. That said, I see things every day that I disagree with. I don’t like to say that I find them offensive because I think that word is overused and I also think people tend to get offended too easily and by too many things.

As writers I think this is something we should be concerned about. Because, even if you agree with something that’s blue-penciled today tomorrow there might be something you write where you disagree with the blue-pencil. Where does it end? Also, as a writer, I want to be able to say what I want. If people don’t like it they don’t have to read it. I don’t want to be offensive, though perhaps something may hit someone that way. But we can’t worry about every little “offense” because there are so many things to be offended about.

It’s getting to the point where we have to constantly second guess ourselves as we worry who might be offended by this or that? In my novel, White Heat, I use the N word. And don’t think I didn’t spend a lot of deliberating about whether I should tone that down, because truly I did not want to hurt or offend anyone. But ultimately I thought it was important for the story I was trying to tell and people of all races seemed to like the book. I think context is important. But even without context, as a free speech absolutist, I think people should be allowed to say what they want. There used to be an argument that went around that the way to combat negative speech was with more speech, but that doesn’t seem to be the case today. As former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly.”

And, of course, publishers have the right to publish what they want. But limiting things doesn’t change much. It just goes underground.

The Tribune article says, “More recently, author Veronica Roth - of ‘Divergent’ fame - came under fire for her new novel, ‘Carve the Mark.’ In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.” So now we have to worry about how we portray people with chronic pain. Again, where does it end?

I’ve dealt with chronic pain. Should I be offended every time someone says something about those things that I don’t like. Get over it, as the Eagles say in their eponymous song. The piece also talks about writers hiring people to vet their stories for various things, in one case transgender issues. If it’s part of one’s research I don’t have a problem with that. Or if it’s to make something more authentic. But if it’s to censor a writer or sanitize or change the writer’s voice, that’s another story.

There’s also talk about a database of readers who will go over your story to look for various issues. But again, who’s to say what issues offend what people? Do you need a reader for this issue and another for that? If we try to please everyone we end up pleasing no one and having a book of nearly blank or redacted pages. Or if not literally that then a book that might have some of its heart gutted.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t strive for authenticity but I think this kind of thing often goes beyond that. When we put out “sanitized” versions of Huck Finn or banning books like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which has also been banned and of which Wikipedia says, “Commonly cited justifications for banning the book include sexual explicitness, explicit language, violence, and homosexuality.”


The Wall Street Journal also talks about this issue, saying in part, “One such firm, Writing in the Margins, says that it will review ‘a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language,’ helping to ensure that an author writing ‘outside of their own culture and experience” doesn’t accidentally say something hurtful.’ I’m not saying one should be hurtful, but I am saying one should write what they want to write. And if taken to the ultimate extreme then we would only be “allowed” to write about our own little group. And that would make our writing much poorer.

I’m not trying to hurt anyone. But I do believe in free speech, even if it is sometimes hurtful.

We should think about the consequences of not allowing writers to write about certain things, or things outside of their experience. Think of the many great books that wouldn’t have been written, think of your own work that would have to be trashed because you aren’t “qualified” to write about it. There are many things in the world that hurt and offend and that aren’t fair. And let’s remember what Justice Brandeis said.

In closing one more quote from the Journal article: “Even the Bard could have benefited. Back when Shakespeare was writing ‘Macbeth,’ it was still OK to use phrases like, ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ But that is no longer so. The word ‘idiot’ is now considered cruelly judgmental, demeaning those who, through no fault of their own, are idiots. A sensitivity reader could propose something less abusive, such as, ‘It is a tale told by a well-meaning screw-up, signifying very little but still signifying something. I mean, the poor little ding-dong was trying.’”

***
     In conclusion:

So there you have it, three arguments for freedom of speech.


~.~.~

I’m thrilled – I’m Doubly Thrilled – to announce that my short story “Windward,” from the anthology Coast to Coast: Private Eyes fromSea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer and me) is nominated for a Best Short Story Shamus Award – and that the anthology as a whole is nominated for a Best Anthology Anthony Award. Thank you to everyone involved!



~.~.~

My Shamus Award-Winning novel White Heat was re-released on May 21st by Down & Out Books. It’s available now on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a "...taut crime yarn."



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com



11 April 2018

The Hillerman Prize


The past ten years I've been a reader for the Hillerman Prize. (They in fact call it a 'judge,' but that inflates my influence or importance.) The contest is for the best first mystery in a Western setting, in the spirit of the late Tony Hillerman, and what it comes down to is reading up to half a dozen manuscript submissions. Each year's winner gets a book contract with St. Martin's. It's a blind test, because the authors are anonymous at the time I see the manuscripts.  

I think the process is pretty fair. There are obviously quite a few of us, spread out across the mystery community, writers, readers, and editors, and I don't imagine any of us have a particular axe to grind. I might prefer hard-boiled to cozy, myself, but if it'd good, it doesn't matter. Tie goes to the runner. You have a responsibility to give good weight.

Having said that, there's the Yes, But factor. Basically, you're a gatekeeper. You're triaging the slush pile. It's the inside of the transom. You want to know why those interns at publishing houses were ready to slit their wrists, back in the day? Now you know. Now, on the other hand, no such job exists. The big trades don't accept unsolicited. Agented only. Which makes agents the gatekeepers, and they don't accept unsolicited, you have to pitch. Which means the Hillerman's a throwback.

You see where this is going. Think about your own stuff that got turned down, even by a sympathetic editor. After a certain amount of heartbreak, you begin to harden your heart, but let's be honest, you always take it personally, because it's personal. How not? This is something you made out of whole cloth. You bled on it, laid awake nights, washed it in your own tears. And some oblivious bozo sends it down the slop chute with a dismissive comment or two.

So, yes. It's a stacked deck. It does none of us any credit to claim otherwise. Then again, to be utterly brutal about it, you think what's being published is crap? You ought to look at what doesn't make the cut. Some of it's just numbingly bad. As if these people had never picked up a mystery in their lives, or paid much attention. You give in to terminal aggravation, sad to say.

A very well-regarded agent once explained to me that editors read for rejection, meaning they wait for the first stumble, and spike the book. It's an unforgiving process. Maybe we all make the same rookie mistakes, and learn by doing, but surely by now, with all the practical advice available - Larry Block, Stephen King, David Morrell, Anne Lamott, just off the top of my head - is the learning curve really that steep? The fifty-page flashback. The serial killer first-person prologue. The indecipherable clue, held up to a mirror or over a candle flame, and blindingly obvious to Aunt Hezekiah, who does acrostics, or the insufferably precocious sixth-grade computer savant. Not that you can't get away with devices like these, but it takes a practiced hand, and cute wears out its welcome in a hurry. Tonstant Weader Fwows Up.

You want to respect the work. You know how much work it is. That first year, I read all six manuscripts front to back, and it was a real effort, because two of them were terrible, but I thought I owed it. Two of them were marginal. One of them was better than okay, and one of them was really good. I strongly recommended a second read for the two I liked.

In subsequent years, I'm loath to admit, I've had less patience. It's not something you really want to cop to, but the plain fact is, if it's a shitty book, you can tell pretty quick. Once or twice I haven't even lasted thirty pages, and that only because I felt obligated to go further than page two, knowing from the outset it was road kill.

On the upside, out of some sixty-odd books, I've found at least one to like every year, or something to like, a solid lead character, the evocation of place.  I've never picked a winner. I've picked a couple I thought might go the distance, but not, in the end. I hope they're heard from, down the road. I know of one guy who submitted, and didn't actually win, and got a three-book contract out of it. 

If there's a lesson in this, it's humility. Good, bad, or indifferent, these people laced on their sneakers, and came out ready to play. You gotta keep faith with them.