Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: writing (page 1 of 4)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several essays in which authors have enumerated reasons not to “self-publish.” I think that their use of the phrase implies some prejudice already–no lesser a source than Hachette (one of the big 6 publishers) notes in a leaked document that “Self-publishing is a misnomer.” When one major corporation acknowledges the phrase is misleading, another is tries to pawn off vanity services as “assisted self-publishing,” and more writers are discussing all the reasons not to do it, one possible implication is that it has become more viable.

That’s because it has.

Which means the big question is whether or not you should do it.

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All the “versus” debates floating around recently have made me think about debates in the first place. Binary thinking.

Conceptual versus linear thinking. Which, of course, one could argue is just as binary.

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Print versus digital. “Self-publishing” versus “traditional publishing.” “Plotters” versus “pantsers.”

Everything in publishing seems so binary lately and has a “debate,” and it’s starting to drive me crazy.

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Yesterday, I caught Chuck Wending’s post over at his Terrible Minds site, “Writers Are the 99%.” Interesting post about the marginalization of writers in industry and culture.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, and especially with regard to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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It’s that time of year again!

I’m surprised to realize I wrote “A Writer’s Alternative to NaNoWriMo” two years ago now.

Looking back, it’s fun, but I realize I’ve been reconsidering my opinion of it, especially in light of recent posts and novels.

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A year ago today, I began to serialize Meets Girl, then published it in paperback and on Kindle over the Thanksgiving holiday, three weeks into its serialization. I refrained from writing about it for a couple of reasons, the most major being that I didn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. However, given that a year–give or take–has passed, I feel the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired.

So I thought I’d take a moment to write about it. If you haven’t read it yet, pick it up here, for Kindle or in paperback, and come back.

If you have, more after the jump.

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The other day, amusingly obscene penmonkey Chuck Wendig posted a prompt about Terrible Minds nicknames to Google+. His note at the time was that one’s first name was the object immediately to one’s right, while one’s surname was one’s greatest fear.

Which is where the title of this post comes from, as mine was Remote Control Mediocrity.

Because it got me thinking about success and how we define it. Years ago, I thought six-figure (or any-figure) book contracts were required for validation, because I thought for sure that if one wrote a “good enough” book–meaning a book that is technically competent in all ways–one could get an agent and attract a corporate publisher like Random House.

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There are lots of ways to share a book and, in doing so, improve as a writer. Not all those ways are created equal, and some work better than others.

I’m pretty sure there are various websites that basically serve as online writing workshops, and I’m nearly certain that part of Richard Nash’s Red Lemonade has some of that functionality, wherein writers post chapters and stories and the best rise to the top. I’ve participated in both writing groups and online writing workshops in the past, and they all share one thing in common: all are best with a smaller amount of material, and honestly most effective for short stories.

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The other day I mentioned you have to decide for yourself what “good enough” means to you. I want to elaborate.

I opened this “Add New Post” page with the intention of noting that I don’t mean it’s okay to be mediocre.

But then I got to thinking, “What’s mediocre?” Just like we wonder “What’s ‘good enough’?”

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Lately, I’ve noticed an uptick in the numbers of writers (and agents) discussing when it’s time to give up on a book. Not in the sense of beginning to write a story and then realizing, at some point, that the meat of it isn’t there and it’s not meant to be a novel, but rather in the moment when it’s time to look at the finished product of a novel, acknowledge it’s not good enough, and move on. Such moments inevitably come after a long, slow process of submission and rejection. Sometimes the thought seems to be that if enough literary agents pass on a novel, it must not be good enough for publication and is better off trunked or drawered, ignored but never quite forgotten, dismissed but never quite put out of mind.

Other times, the time to shelve or drawer or trash or bury a book comes later, after an agent has already accepted a project for representation and taken it out on submission to editors, all of whom read the book but scratch their heads because they can’t figure out how to sell it or don’t have room in their lists to do so.

I don’t think you should ever give up on a story just because someone else doesn’t get it, and between the condescension of agents purporting to know when to start a novel and the outright masochism of writers kowtowing to business and commerce and market and all the other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with either writing a good book or telling a good story, I’m just not sure which is worse.

Should you give up on a story? I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you how to make that difficult choice. I know. I’ve done it before.

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When I was a child, one of my favorite things to read–besides the Hardy Boys series–was Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels. Mostly, now, I remember their covers, with their white backgrounds, colorful graphics, and red highlights, as well as the note included in the front of every one of them I can remember: that the books weren’t meant to be read like regular books.

If you don’t remember the novels, or if you’ve never seen them, basically, each had a particular premise–pirates, or a mysterious island, or a haunted house, or . . . whatever, really. There were aliens and space travel and underwater adventures and treasure hunting. And each book started out with you–because the books were written in the rare second-person perspective–getting acquainted with the set-up and the setting. After a few pages, you’d encounter your first choice. Sometimes there were two or even three choices for each particular decision, and each one would ask you to flip to a certain page of the book to continue with the story.

I loved them, but it didn’t take long to grow out of them. I was always fairly ahead of the curve, reading-wise (I read Needful Things in sixth grade), and as I remember the novels, they were skewed more toward middle-grade readers, which I was doing fairly well by second grade or so. I remember another book, too, that seemed more advanced, and just now some quick research leads me to Mystery of Atlantis, which is apparently the eighth installment of the Time Machine series. Seeing that cover . . . that book is on the shelves in my parents’ basement, along with my old Star Wars figures and Construx. From Wikipedia:

The main difference between the Choose Your Own Adventure series and the Time Machine series was that Time Machine books featured only one ending, forcing the reader to try many different choices until they discovered it. Also, the series taught children basic history about many diverse subjects, from dinosaurs to World War II. Only the sixth book in the series, The Rings of Saturn, departed from actual history; it is set in the future, and features educational content about the solar system. Some books gave the reader their choice from a small list of equipment at the beginning, and this choice would affect events later in the book (e.g. “If you brought the pen knife, turn to page 52, if not turn to page 45.”). Another main difference between the Time Machine novels and the Choose Your Own Adventure counterparts was hints offered at certain junctures, where the reader was advised to look at hints at the back of the book. An example was in Mission to World War II about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where the reader was given the choice of starting the mission in the Jewish ghetto or the Aryan part of Warsaw, in which the hint read “Hitler may have had Jewish family members”, suggesting the reader should begin in the Jewish section of the city, but not ordering it, or it was possible for the hint to be missed.

I think maybe that’s why I remember that particular book as more advanced, but it’s also worth pointing out just how much things can influence you without your awareness. Meets Girl may be semi-autobiographical, but The Prodigal Hour is who I am.

But I digress.

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The very first essay I wrote at USC was called “What I Saw That Day (9/11/01).” It was an essay I’d been trying to write successfully for several years but never pulled off, and I thought bringing it to my first non-fiction class and submitting it for workshopping would help to improve it.

And I was right. Thanks to Madelyn Cain-Inglese and my classmates, I finally felt as though I’d written something worthy. I think that’s the only way I can describe it. So much has been (and continues to be) written about that day, and my feeling’s always been that if I don’t have something to contribute I’d rather leave the discussion to others.

“What I Saw That Day (9/11/01)” was something I wanted to contribute to the collective cultural memory.

I wrote “The Come Back” the first time I visited New York after writing that essay to my own satisfaction.

In May, when I heard the news that American Special Forces had killed Osama Bin Laden, I started a new essay. I started it with the intention of posting it here, but it ultimately became something rather more. It became something of a discussion of how my life had changed after September 11th.

And as it did, I thought it would be fitting to create a new book for Kindle. Something specifically honoring and chronicling that day and discussing my experiences and memories of it.

So I did. Here’s the link. It’s a dollar.

When I first published Entrekin, I dedicated a portion of its proceeds to charities, including the United Way and the Red Cross. I’m doing the same with this new collection.

Over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds site, the resident penmonkey extraordinaire was kind enough to chat with me and introduce me to his readers.

We discuss some thoughts about indie versus so-called “self-publishing,” but we also chat about writing advice, motivations, and beverage of choice.

Check it out.

Also, I’d be remiss not to mention Chuck’s Irregular Creatures, a short story collection. He’s got two collections of writing advice worth checking out, as well.

In November 1913, Nils Granlund, a manager at a theater in Marcus Loew’s chain, produced a promotional video for an upcoming musical, which he intended to show after other movies had already finished, which was why such short promotional videos were called trailers. The Marcus Loew chain ultimately became Loew’s Theaters (now AMC), and savvy theater managers began to run trailers before movies, rather than after.

Now, of course, the trailers/previews/coming attractions are one of the highlights of going to the theater.

And they’re not just for movies anymore.

It was easy to appropriate the idea for television. Trailers were just commercials for movies, anyway, so previews for new and upcoming episodes and shows were just that. And then came MTV, which was basically trailers for albums in the form of music videos.

In recent years, authors and publishers have taken up the idea. James Patterson, who was successful in advertising before he became the brand-name author he has become, was pretty much the first author to use the idea successfully in 1993 to support the launch of Along Came a Spider. His publisher wasn’t exactly for it, but Patterson wrote, produced, and paid for the commercial himself, and if it wasn’t the first-ever commercial for a novel, it was certainly a milestone in the current big-name publishing landscape and brand-name authors. Now, the internet, YouTube, and digital cameras have made it simple for authors to make and distribute promotional videos for their books even more easily.

Now that the idea is more popular and more authors are using it, however, more people are wondering about how effective teasers are (I like to call them teasers. They’re not trailing after anything, after all). Should authors really be worrying about them, or are they a waste of time?

To answer those questions, we have to back up a ways.

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New to the novel? Start here.

Chance awoke to bumps and shudders, a wailing, backward-rushing cacophony and the furtive rustle of crinkling plastic. Something clung over his nose and mouth, and pain throbbed in his head. His first thought was of his father and the gunman. His first emotion was panic. His first action was to sit up as he reached toward his face, where his fingertips brushed a mask.

Quick movement. A man to his left crouched over him. He wore a crisp, white shirt with a gold-and-black patch and put a latex-gloved hand on Chance’s chest. “Take it easy.”

“My dad.” Chance’s breath fogged the mask. His voice didn’t make it past the plastic.

“We’re taking you to County.”

Chance tried to rise, but the man pressed back against his chest, whispered something about sedation if necessary, and then, when Chance wouldn’t calm down, when Chance couldn’t calm down, made good on the warning. Chance felt a pinch near his elbow, looked down to see a clear plastic syringe with numbers on its side jammed to its hilt into his arm. He didn’t see the man depress the plunger, only felt calm, warm indifference spread like infection through his body before he sank slowly again into the darkness.

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New to the novel? Start here.

Southwark, England. 1606.

The first public performance of Shakespeare’s
The Tragedy of Macbeth


The Globe Theater was exactly as Leonard Kensington had expected: an open-air amphitheatre with three levels of gallery seats looming up and over him. Crushed hazelnut shells on the ground didn’t quite mask the body odor of 2,000 people who lived in a society that hadn’t yet discovered underarm deodorant.

Onstage, Richard Burbage, as Macbeth, began the fifth act to conclude the play. “Hang out our banners on the outward walls,” he pointed out over the audience as if he were seeing Inverness, and so the Globe pretended it was a centuries-old castle in Scotland, the river Thames pretended it was Ness. “The cry is still, ‘They come.’ Our castle’s strength will laugh a siege to scorn. Here let them lie till famine and the ague eat them up. Were they not forced with those that should be ours, we might have met them dareful, beard to beard, and beat them backward home.”

The quantum implant in Leonard’s temporal lobe began to buzz. He squeezed his earlobe, quietly cleared his throat, which meant: wait. He looked around at the people standing beside him, all of whom were enthralled by that big man on the stage and his words.

Backstage, and so in the bowels of Castle Inverness, several women screamed. Macbeth turned toward the sound. “What is that noise?”

“It is the cry of women, my good lord,” Will Shakespeare, playing Macbeth’s attendant, Seyton, answered. Shakespeare was a small, pale man with fine features and quick, lively eyes. He hurried offstage to investigate.

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“It is not unknown to me that many have been and still are of the opinion that the affairs of this world are so under the direction of Fortune and of God that man’s prudence cannot control them; in fact that man has no resource against them. For this reason, many think there is no use in sweating much over such matters, but that one might as well let Chance take control.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli, in The Prince


Part I

Present Fears

“Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute, there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”
-T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”



Chance Sowin hoped only for a new beginning.

Halloween 2001 found Chance driving the narrow streets of the development in which he’d grown up, headed home. Six weeks before, he’d hustled out the main entrance of the World Trade Center only an hour before it fell, taking all that business and life, along with Chance’s temp job at a law firm, down with it.

Chance hadn’t been sure what to do next. His father, Dennis, had suggested he come home. “Take some time,” his father had said. “Sort yourself out. All the time you need.”

Chance had been uncertain about it until he’d realized there was no longer anything keeping him in Manhattan, and familiar sounded good. Familiar sounded just about right. And so he’d packed everything he owned into a compact rental car and taken the Jersey Turnpike south, and now he pulled that car to the curb in front of his childhood home, a long, flat rancher. He squeezed the steering wheel as he took a deep breath, as if to steel himself, though for what he didn’t know, and then he got out of the car and stepped up the curb and was struck by déjà vu like sudden density goose-prickling up his neck: You’ve been here before.

Of course he had: he’d grown up here, after all, played stickball at the foot of the cul-de-sac, even tripped and busted his baby teeth on the very same curb he stepped up, but what crawled his skin was not simple familiarity. It was stronger, stranger, and it made the world seem hyper-intense, the October leaves speckling the lawn more vibrant, the afternoon light more glaring. It persisted as Chance crossed his lawn, until he saw the front door: brief space between the edge of the door and its jamb, wood splintered where the deadbolt had broken. Chance felt two simultaneous emotions collide.

First: uncanny familiarity—of infinite broken doors on infinite splintered days, over and over again—followed then, as lightning by thunder, by cold, brutal fear.
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One of the most interesting parts of this new job I’ve got (and believe me, there are many. I seriously can’t express how excited I am about this gig) is that I’m working on a special project that in many ways combines everything I’ve ever studied and written and challenges me to take it all up a notch. Writing? Better. Researching? Better. Reading? Better. Brainstorming? Better. Publishing? Better.

It’s totally exhilarating.

And it feels like every day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked a very simple question:

“What’s a story?”

I love this question. It so totally and completely summarizes–at least for me–the entire dilemma of the internet and new publishing and new writing and web 7.6 and social networking and connection and etc.

Used to be, there were such clear delineations.

You write a short story, you sent it off to a magazine. You knew The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Playboy, and Esquire were the most desirable markets, so you sent cold queries to them before you slunk off, rejected, to try out one of those smaller magazines nobody ever heard of that paid you in a copy and the prestige of being published.

You write a novel, you sent it off to agents. Because publishers and editors, of course, wouldn’t accept unagented manuscripts. Mainly because they hoped to use their collegiate, unpaid interns for esoteric tasks unrelated to managing the slush. Agents were okay assigning slavesinterns to the slushpile. You hoped for a four figure advance you might see three of after everyone else had taken their shares.

You wrote private thoughts in your journal. If you had one. If not, you bored your friends.

I’m kidding.


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Recently, a friend of mine, Nina Perez, who maintains Blog It Out B, decided to bite the bullet and publish her new novel without the backing of a major corporation or the “advocacy” of a literary agent. This coming Friday, her novel, The Twin Prophecies: Rebirth will launch, and I for one am looking forward to it. She’s been working with a guy named Steven Novak on design and illustration, as well as concentrating on formatting and lay-out.

Launching a novel, especially independently, is an anxiety-filled endeavor. Every author faces the stomach-churn that comes with the launch of a novel, but I’d stake a claim that anxiety is doubled for an independent author, who not only faces the daunting challenge of both reaching new readers and hoping those readers don’t respond negatively, but also faces the general negativity of the publishing industry–including literary agents and editors associated with corporate publishers–as a whole.

As Nina has been prepping her novel for publication, we–we being myself and several of her other friends–have been discussing writing and publishing. We’re a diverse group of writers still emerging, still building, still working, still aspiring. We don’t have contracts with big corporations. A couple of us don’t have books out. But we write, and that’s what counts.

And given that we write, and given that we’ve been discussing writing and publishing, lately, we’ve been discussing Amanda Hocking. How can an aspiring writer not, nevermind to what said writer aspires to. Regardless of whether a writer wants millions of dollars or millions of readers, Hocking seems exemplary of a case study of success.


(There’s always an “except,” isn’t there?)

Now, I’m going to break from discussion, because I’ll not put words in other writers’ mouths. But I’ve noticed Hocking, and her work, and her story, and I’ve gotten a couple samples of her work, and I’ve got to be honest: I don’t get it.

Then again, I didn’t get Twilight, either.

Still, a million teenage girls (and their moms) and the millions of dollars they spent can’t be wrong.

Or can they?

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This week, two publishing deals made big news, each for very different reasons.

Early this week, in an interview with Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler revealed he’d declined a six-figure deal from a major publisher. Instead, he will publish his books independently, on Kindle.

On the other end of the spectrum, Amanda Hocking scored a seven-figure deal with Saint Martin’s Press. Hocking made a well-recognized name for herself by publishing low-priced Kindle-exclusive novellas and novels. Recently, she’s mostly known for having sold more than one hundred thousand books in January, which isn’t surprising given that she published eleven books since, like, April of last year.

I’m sure many of them were in a trunk somewhere, and she didn’t write them all in eight months.

Actually, considering their quality, I’m not sure of that.

This particular pair of writers has created a total binary in terms of discussion with regard to so-called “self-publishing.” It’s an easy black and white to paint.

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Finishing my MBA at Regis University.

Regis splits semesters into two eight-week sessions, and this year, this Spring 2011, my first eight-week session was devoted to what they call the capstone, and which is actually titled Strategies in Global Environments. So the reason I disappeared was that, for the past eight weeks, I’ve been part of a five-student team acting as consultants, in a simulation, running an athletic apparel company called Mercury International.

Given that it’s a simulation, the whole experience has been rather like one long, turn-based RPG videogame. Well. I think that’s what it’s like. I tend to prefer third-person, plot-drive shooters when it comes to videogames (inFamous ftw!), and this was nothing like that. It was divided into weekly rounds, and every week, we held a conference call during which we discussed and agreed on strategies going forward, based on previous results and future objectives.

I had a great team, and a great time. But I’d wanted to finish this strong, and I feel, now, like I have.

And now, just one more course to go. Product Management.

Product management is interesting from my side of things. I’m a writer, but if you think artists are selling art, well, at least in a digital context that becomes slightly problematic. Ross Pruden has an #infdist hashtag on Twitter that discusses Infinite Distribution, which is basically how creators can make a sustainable living from their creations in an age where information pretty much, at this point, demands to be free.

Of course, that’s not even to mention how many creators actually ever make a sustainable living, anyway. Stephen King and Jo Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, sure, but they’re modern-day exceptions. Shakespeare pretty much made a living as a real-estate agent when he wasn’t collecting money from some lord or other (to whom he may or may not have dedicated his sonnets).

Really, nowadays, with sites and Kindles and apps and independence, what writers are selling is more themselves. Which tends to be even more problematic from the self-promotion side of things (because no writer wants to be Tila Tequila).

Which I think is going to be helpful for me, in approaching this final course. For years, now, I’ve been trying to work out the kinks in what I’m doing, between MySpace and Facebook and Amazon Kindle and this site and Twitter and work and teaching and writing. I go back and forth in terms of how rewarding any one endeavor is, but there’s so little cohesion between everything. I look at authors who have nine different profiles across seventeen different sites, and all I want to do is take a nap.

And write.

So wish me luck. Hopefully, after I finish, I’ll have some better ideas, some better strategies, and some better writing for your better reading.

When Simon Smithson and I published Sparks, the deal as we had discussed it always included a 6-week clause. When Sparks did so well at the outset–flying up the Amazon rankings in multiple categories and hanging in as a “Hot New Release” over Christmas–we briefly discussed keeping it live longer, but ultimately decided against it.

I think it was the right decision for Sparks. The 6-week window introduced an element of scarcity it didn’t otherwise have.

Digital publishing, however, seems to favor what many businessfolk call the long tail and I like to call the long game, mainly because even though I (mostly) have an MBA, I still like to play.

Now, just a week or so ago, Amazon announced a new Kindle Singles program, which Wired hailed as a beacon to “save long-form journalism.” Basically, it’s Kindle-original content that’s longer than a magazine piece but “much shorter than a novel,” clocking between 5,000 and 40,000 words, it seems. According to Wired. According to that press release, the lengths hew to approximately that midpoint.

I liked the idea. When I first published Entrekin, I used Lulu to implement what I called the iTunes publishing model; the collection was available, but each individual story was available as a 99-cent PDF.

It was a rousing success. It sold way more copies than I’d ever expected. When I made the digital content free, the downloads skyrocketed.

And now that Sparks‘ time has passed, and now that Amazon has announced this Kindle Singles–which is pretty much exactly the model I implemented nearly four years ago–well, it felt rather natural to published both of my Sparks stories the same way.

So I’m going to, and I’m going to start with “Struck by the Light of the Son,” and I thought, hey, what a great opportunity to talk about it a bit.

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I‘ve been posting stuff online, in various forums, for more than five years. A couple of years ago, shortly after graduating from USC, I realized I needed a while to be quiet. I needed some time to figure out what “being a writer” meant for me.

I’ve realized this is part of it. That the trouble with blogging is not something that concerns me anymore. Don’t take me wrong; I still want to explore the dilemma there, but more in the sense of what marketing and writing mean nowadays.

I’ve nearly completed my marketing MBA. I enrolled in Regis University when I lived, for a time, in Denver several years ago, and it’s possible to complete the program online without any of the connotations of online degrees. It’s not University of Phoenix–with no offense intended to that online institution.

There is, however, an interesting point I stick to there, and I think it applies overall. Nowadays, it’s so easy for people, online, to not only pose as experts but to become them. You get a lot of people talking very loudly in a small community, and regardless of their backgrounds, knowledge bases, and levels of expertise, people start to look to them for advice when the advice they offer is not actually all that sound.

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Let’s say you’re a business. You have a product that you dedicated a lot of time to. You’re not sure you can properly distribute that product on your own. Sure, you might be able to handsell your product door-to-door, but you realize that, maybe with some help, you can get your product distributed on a wider basis, and maybe even generate some great attention for the product. There are a few companies who specialize in distributing your product, companies who have a stranglehold on distribution, in fact–if you don’t partner with them, chances are you’ll never get that wide distribution.

Already it’s a problem.

Here’s the big question, though; say one of those specialty companies came to you and said they’d help you distribute your product. Would you enter into any business arrangement with them without reading a contract? Would you sign said contract without reading it?

That’s exactly what all the writers entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award are doing.

Now, I’d mentioned I considered submitting Meets Girl to the contest. I think it would have a solid shot at winning on merit alone, and that’s not even to mention that I think it would probably be right up the alley of Lev Grossman, who wrote The Magicians and who is one of the major judges of the contest. The Magicians was the first full-length novel I read on my Kindle, and it was solid–if not great–in a genre-bending sort of way that crossed literary with fantasy, which is what I think Meets Girl does.

I mentioned, in passing, there are other, better contests writers could enter. And commenter Sid (the only Sid I know is my graduate writing advisor, Sid Stebel, but I can’t tell by the email address if the commenter and my advisor are the same person) asked after those contests.

So here are the top-five writing contests I’d submit Meets Girl to over the ABNA.

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The other day, I mentioned a positive review from Shannon Yarbrough at the LL Book Review. Today, I’m going to mention a few others, and make an announcement about something I’m rather excited about.

Today, Raych at Books I Done Read gave it high-caterpillar review. A juicy blurb:

Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot card battle royale

Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.

I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.

I felt the same thing about Veronica’s brother Tom, in the novel. I could see his band–Foolish–doing something silly and poignant and real. Some of what I think are exactly those moments in the novel–the ones that are silly and poignant and real–belong to Tom. When Tom handed our young hero-narrator Foolish’s CD, I saw him offering one with a jaunty, silly, hand-crayoned cover because leave it to the wise-fool to leave the name of the band off.

So it fit, and when I needed a title for that album, I cribbed Raych’s blog.

She doesn’t seem to have minded. Thank goodness. I’m glad she didn’t sue my ass. For cookies. Because who’d sue a broke-ass grad student/novelist/professor/personal trainer for money?

I do wonder about objectivity. Not Raych’s. Just in general. Like, is anyone objective anymore?

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Pretty much every year for the past several, I’ve tended to get a note from a friend or loved one, right around Christmas, wishing me a happy one and asking if I’d seen all this information about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. They’ve known how intent I’ve been to be a writer, you see, and they figure it sounds like a promising contest for a novelist who hasn’t yet gotten a huge break.

And they’re right. It does.

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award tends to attract a big-name judge from one of the major corporate publishers–usually an editor or author (or both); a big-name judge from a prestigious literary agency; and a lot of aspiring writers. No, no: a lot. Of various degrees of ability, too: some are young, just starting out at the writing thing, just penning their first drafts of their first novels; others have been writing for years, and have completed multiple drafts of multiple novels that perhaps haven’t gotten them offers of representation (which are, as every rejection letter that ever was reminds, completely subjective, and based solely on the tastes of the agents reading them. Agents, for their part, are also generally quick to remind that they base their decisions neither on quality of writing nor perceived saleability but rather on whether they “fell in love with” the manuscript).

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (hereafter the ABNA) seems like a great idea, almost like an American Idol for books. Entrants submit their manuscripts, excerpts, pitches, synopses, and even a photo (if desired), and progress through multiple rounds of judging, some of which are merit based and others of which are popularity based.

This year, I thought about submitting Meets Girl. It’s gotten solid reviews across several venues, and the response has been positive. People seem to like it, for the most part, and even, like any good book, seem split on their reactions; some people think the opening drags before it gets to the story, while others have noted they loved the opening but sensed a shift of tone and execution later. The manuscript is obviously finished, and I’ve written a good enough pitch–though for a different project–it’s been a Galleycat finalist. And hey, new headshot!

The contest entry period for 2011 begins this coming Monday, January 24th.

But I’m not submitting my book. And I’ll tell you why.

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So, how about Monday’s final chapter of Meets Girl? With the kissing and all? I don’t think I’m spoiling too much if I tell you that chapter thirteen is actually “Kissing Veronica Sawyer,” because how could our young hero narrator resist rhapsodizing about said making out?

Of course, if you want to read it, you’ll have to pick it up here. It’s still only $2.99. I’m keeping it there for the time being. I figure anyone who buys it right now has been following along, and keeping it inexpensive is my way of saying thanks for keeping up.

At this point, it doesn’t look like I’ll be posting any more of the story online. I mean, I won’t rule it out, if someone asks to run an excerpt or something, but here and now I like the cliffhanger, and really, three bucks for the rest of the story–which is really picking up–is a total bargain.

Already, it’s been a solidly positive experience. Reviews are good: Shannon Yarbrough of The LL Book Review said “So it’s romance and fairy tales. But it’s magic and whimsy too. It’s a writer’s lament and a coming-of-age tale (for lack of a better cliché.) It’s experimentation and taking chances. It’s poetry and music. It’s love and art. Boy says so himself…”

Which I thought was great. I liked that Shannon called it a coming-of-age tale, because while the hero-narrator of the story is in his mid-twenties, he still seems pretty immature, for the most part, for most of the story.

And there is a solid chunk left. Somewhere around twenty thousand words.

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In which certain things, which may or may not already have been obvious, are, if not revealed, at least made explicit

(the story so far)

where I found waiting for me a letter. The envelope addressed to me in my own writing.

Crash course: back when the events of this story took place time, aspiring writers would query their aspiring manuscripts (whose dreams are to be bound into real, honest-to-goodness books that will be shipped to real, honest-to-goodness bookstores, where they will be placed on real, honest-to-goodness shelves from which they will one lucky day by plucked by real, honest-to-goodness readers) to prospective agents by mail. As I record this at this very moment, many agents have switched to using e-mail, and who knows what tomorrow will bring (hopefully this very story will have something to do with whatever happens next)? The first time I wrote all this, nobody’d ever heard of Kindle or digital distribution.

Nowadays, I can read books on my Android-powered smartphone.

Back then, however, was different. Back then, writers had to use the good ole’ United States Postal Service to send literary agents query letters, and given that many agencies received hundreds, if not thousands, of queries every week, they simply couldn’t possibly keep up with the price of return postage, so writers had to include self-addressed stamped envelopes with their paper queries.

(Quicker crash: a literary agent acts on behalf of authors to negotiate publishing contracts with publishing houses.)
I mention all this so you understand why I was so excited to receive a letter addressed to me in my own handwriting; I’d included that very same envelope in the query I’d sent to Merrilee Heiftetz only a week or so before.

It may not be possible to open one of those letters calmly. Too many of us writers associate too much of our identity with our words and the possibility of the publication, and each new letter brings with it the blackjack rush of a gambling high: not the euphoria of winning but rather the uncertain glee of going all-in on a straight flush. That gut-clenching, icy feeling of knowing how much rides on the current hand.

Me, my hands have always shaken. Every time I have one of those moments—which don’t come often—I try to remain calm but never succeed. I know they shook, then, as I withdrew from the envelope a single, twice-folded sheet of high quality paper, thick and off-white. Fountain pen letter head, business address, and, below—

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That was one of the search phrases that led someone here. The actual phrase was “is blogging worth it writer,” but it immediately rewrote itself as a question in my head. I’m going to figure the seeker in question found “The Trouble with Blogging,” which remains one of the most popular posts on this site.

That post discussed the dilemma sharing writing online, for free, poses to the professional writer–and by “professional,” I’m meaning both those writers who are aspiring toward bestsellerdom and those who have already achieved it. Actually, though, I’ve realized, more accurately, it’s really only a dilemma for aspiring authors, less so for ones who’ve gotten publication deals already; certainly, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King don’t really have to worry about any such dilemmas, given how much money they make from their books already.

Then again, none of them blog.

(Can I note, as an aside, how much I loathe the word? “Blog”? It sounds like the Internet drank too much. It sometimes reads that way, too.)

The prevailing dilemma I wrote about was a simple question often raised in other contexts: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? If I–as a guy who’s endeavored, over the past few years, to become a professional writer, and, indeed, has a master’s degree in it–continue to post good, well thought-out, well written essays on my site, why would readers want to buy my books?

Of course, the answer is right there; because my site is not my book. Because my books–while well written and well executed and occasionally full of essays–are mostly not what is on my site.

But is it worth it?

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Which is the one you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it?

Because of course I got in touch with Angus. I mean, as much as I’ve built up his presence in this story? But first: I needed a job and had no idea what to do. I was lucky that my crummy Hoboken apartment was really just a room in the three-bedroom unit/ground floor of a house I shared with two other guys, which meant that my rent was ridiculous by most standards and positively ludicrous by those associated with Manhattan and its outer satellites. Still, I had a several hundred dollar rent bill due on the first of February, and while I had some money saved up, I’d still need a couple hundred besides.

I thought about calling my temp agency, Force One Entertainment, but decided to go to their office, instead; I liked everyone who worked there and was tired of spending time in my apartment. January might be cold, but walking in Manhattan tends to get one’s temperature up, and there are few more awesome places to be. So I took PATH up to Herald Square, where HMV gave way to the progress that is Victoria’s Secret, and headed uptown. Past glitzy-electronic shops with pocket calculator-sized laptops next to only slightly larger cell phones modified for web-surfing and e-mail receipt, because who needs a desk in the digital age? Up past Virgin Megastore, likely the last remaining on the entire island, then a few blocks East, to a building I only call non-descript because it was in the center of a Manhattan blockful of buildings nearly identical.

Elevator up to the fourth floor, with its two doors: directly opposite the elevator was the bookbinder, with a sweetsmell of glue and a sharper one of leather, then right to Force One.

I loved Force One, but didn’t often have occasion to visit their office, nor even to call it until very (then) recently; why would I, considering my long-term gig at the New Yorker? I got there in the middle of the afternoon, when it was full of both new graduates and the recently career-displaced, the former of whom wore, like their professional business attire, anxiety like puppies hoping for a treat. The latter tended to possess a more deliberate demeanor, their nerves less result of worry of not finding a job but rather the right job.

That first room looked as much like a doctor’s office as one associated with an employment agency: the same bad prints on the wall, the same particle-board furniture on which sat semi-recent Entertainment Weeklys and a few copies of the latest Village Voice, the same half-wall beyond which the receptionist, Joanne (Jo to her friends) sat at a desk to accept incoming candidates and juggle seven or eight different phone lines. I approached that half-wall, ready to greet Jo (who had become my friend shortly after I had broken up with my fiancée, when we went out for obligatory, post-break-up drinks), but I stopped up short and surprised.

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