Monday, May 31, 2010

Another Dead Market

So I sent a story out to market months ago and hadn't heard back, despite a polite query. Today I found out the market was dead, the website name up for grabs, and my story was left hanging. AAAGGGHHH! Months gone by for nothing!

So I fired up Duotrope and looked for another market. This is a tough one to place, a flash piece (under 1000 words) based on a situation I once heard about. It's a good piece, a mainstream work, not for one of my familiar genre markets. So I'm breaking new ground here, a good thing. And off my little piece went, into the void, hoping to find a home.

It's been a busy month and a busy day. Today also sent out another poem and worked on a new novel, and did research into podcasting and grant writing. That's what I do on a day off! Having two careers is a lot of work.

Persistence is the key in this game. One of my stories went to almost 30 markets before finding the right home, despite many editors saying they loved it and it was well-written. And some have sold on the second attempt. You just never know. But you keep writing them and submitting them, and hope for the best.

I used to keep a morgue of magazines and websites that had turned down a story of mine, that were no longer in business. Grew so big I couldn't keep up. They're gone, I'm still publishing. Perseverance.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Publishing Article

Noted author and raconteur Garrison Keillor has an article out
about the publishing biz nowadays. He laments the passing of the old way, the traditional method of publishing.

He is aptly fit to pass sentence, having been an outstanding performer in different media, and has promoted and supported good books and good writers. He's also right, and it is a sad thing. Sadder yet is how the publishing industry is pulling on the lid of their own coffin, and sealing it from the inside.

Awhile back, publishing companies loved books and put them out because they mattered, and sometimes they made money doing it. That model gave way to greed and stupidity, where companies went into publishing solely to make money, as if books were any other commoditized product, like oven mitts or widgets. They consolidated from many companies into the handful that now represent the majority of published books in the country.

What's been the result? Walk into a bookstore and look at the shelves full of crap that get published nowadays. I was in one last night, and felt disgust and despair. Any idiot celebrity gets a six-figure book deal to get their kisser on dozens of books, most of which are badly written by ghostwriters. About half the fiction I pick up these days is downright bad or boring, and I wind up tossing the book without finishing (years ago, I never used to do that, because there might be something of value).

There used to be editors, who worked on books so they wouldn't look bad when they went out. They've been replaced by marketing “experts,” who care nothing about quality, only sales. Few publishers accept manuscripts now, preferring to let agents screen for them. They claim it's not cost-effective to look through “over-the-transom” manuscripts. Horse poop. There are many readers in this country who would be willing to offer a thumbs up-or-down on a manuscript, if asked. A company could send an electronic version out to say, ten people, and if enough said yes, it would go up to the next level. And the company would soon figure out who were the good screeners, and reward them.

But agents work on commission, and many are reluctant to accept new unproven writers, knowing they'd get less than $500 on average for developing a first book from a new writer. They're chasing the big fish, just like the publishers. But you have to go through them now for everything first.

Garrison, in the article, talks about mailing off a manuscript to a publisher and getting it read and accepted. That seldom happens that way anymore, your chances are better of winning the lottery. Most writers of the past couldn't get read or published today, because the authors weren't famous enough or have an opening “hook.” But if they did, they'd still get read, because there is still a market for good fiction.

For years, the publishers took advantage of writers, screwing them out of money through creative, sometimes illegal, accounting practices. Nowadays, it's mostly up to the writer to do their own marketing and selling anyway.

So why shouldn't writers go with the new model? Publishers claim that their business is expensive, but Print On Demand has made it less so, and someone won't have to wait years for their accepted book to see the light of day. Here's my own example: with three good novels written (and the one I'm sending around was deemed good and salable by industry pros), it'll still take about three years for the book to hit the shelves, even if it's picked up right away. Their lag time is ridiculous. And it would take a couple of years for the next one to come out, because they'd be waiting to see how the first sold. So in the next five years, I could have one book out. But with Print On Demand, I could have about 6 out in the same time. Hmmm.

Now publishers will whine about ebooks, fewer readers, and many other things to explain why they're in trouble. But few will admit that it's partly their fault, that for years they kept strangling the geese that laid golden eggs. Now they're standing around in dead birds, looking for someone to blame.

Many publishers wouldn't know a good book if it bit them. They want blockbusters, not quality. There are countless tales of rejected books finally getting out to a hungry public and selling millions, and/or winning prestigious literary awards. One such author won a major award for a book, and resubmitted it under another name. It was rejected- by the same place that had published it!

Let's put out the same challenge to Mr. Keillor-- take out anything that would identify you or the work, and submit your next book to publishers under a pen name, and say you're a new writer. Let's see how long it takes to get published.

There are plenty of good works waiting to be published. But too often the big guys won't seek them out. And yes, there are fewer readers, and more competition for eyeballs. So you'd think they'd change, but they keep their outdated model, and ignore good writers in favor of blockbusters. Thus pass the dinosaurs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Still Need an Agent

Just got a response from an agent to a query, which is something, since a good number of them don't even bother to respond. And it was quick. Points for him.

But he declines to read my novel or represent it. So on to the next. In this modern age of publishing, you need to have some celebrity to get an agent or publishing house interested in you. Maybe I need a show on Faux News, spouting ignorant opinions about people who aren't like me. Then I could get published! Just go into any big bookstore for proof, and see the many titles by those with nothing to say.

Ah, well. Traditional publishing is going the way of the dinosaurs, and it's no surprise. Nowadays there are good alternatives, and no reason not to use them. I've been loyally going the old way out of a sense of duty, but I'm fed up with their gatekeeping, which lets few in unless they've already made it.

I've got to get my books out before I'm dead-- that's the plan. So I've set a deadline. If there are no agents or publishers smart enough to want a good novel or story collection by the end of next year, I'll forego the privilege of making them money, and go another route.

In case you think this is just whiny me, consider the best-selling author, James Lee Burke. He's such a good writer he can make you weep with the beauty of his prose. His book, the Lost Get-Back Boogie got rejected 111 times over a period of 9 years. When it was finally published, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Don't See Robin Hood!

Q: What has 18 movies mashed together and still doesn't move?

A: The awful, crappy new movie of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe...

This riddle was inspired by one of the bits of business in the film. It comes right after the homage to Monty Python. Yeah, Monty Python. They had no idea what kind of movie they should make, so they took every sword film that made a buck in the last twenty or so years (longer for Python, I know), mixed in a few others, and threw it against the wall to see what stuck. Well, none of it stuck, but it stunk. It's a runny, nasty, mess, and it reeks. It's also an offense to history, and good filmmaking. Sure, there are bits and pieces of it that look nice, but they're gleaming specks of Fool's Gold in the dungpile.

About three minutes and six eyerolls in, my wife turns to me and says, “I didn't know this was supposed to be a comedy!” Now this could be a fun film if you wanted to make a parody that incorporates bits of other movies to make fun of them, a la Scary Movie, Hot Shots, and that genre. Maybe that's how it started. But they played it straight (mostly), and the result is the crud at the bottom of the pool at the sewage plant. No one should go watch this bilge-- it's not even bad enough to be fun. And this from a guy who LOVES sword movies and Robin Hood. It's not often that a film offends me so strongly, and on so many levels, but this one managed. So why is it so bad? Oh, so many reasons. Here's just a few.

1: Needless, hyperactive jumping around in time and place, like a bad thriller novel.

2: A complete lack of internal logic, with stupid plot holes you could drive the French Army through.

3: Modern bits of business that don't belong in a period piece.

4: Historical detail of a history that never happened. Your audience members are not as stupid and ignorant as your scriptwriters, guys.

5: Characters acting like idiots, and for no reason.

6: Other laughable dumb stuff.

7: The “Kitchen sink” theory of the more crap you stuff in, the better someone will like something.

8: Bad guys have shaven, bald heads, kings have long curls and ringlets, good guys have short hair. And every adult male has one prominent scar.

9: Horrible lines and dialogue.

10. Obvious thefts from better movies, and too many of them. A partial list:

Gladiator (Russell Crowe is the noble guy who stands up to the black-haired, suddenly-crowned, psycho despot, and suffers)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (None shall pass!)
Braveheart (Freedom! Uh, these bozos live in monarchies, and that's treason)
Lord of the Rings (Robin Longstrider- Aragorn/Strider)
Peter Pan (This one is especially puzzling- see below)
Kingdom of Heaven (Modern multicultural sympathy for the Muslims, from the Crusaders)
A Knight's Tale (Right down to the chubby, funny sidekick from that film, playing the chubby, funny sidekick, Friar Tuck)
Saving Private Ryan (They love that D-Day landing footage so much, they recreated it-- in the Year 1200, and had the French invade England (already done, dimwits, ever hear of 1066?), with LST's no less, a type of landing craft not invented until World War II. WTF? Why didn't they just mount machine guns on them?)

Some things to smack the producers of this crapfest in the head for, for wasting two hours and twenty minutes of my life:
--The Magna Carta was not created circa 1170 by a stonemason, and it was not created to provide all the common men of England with rights. It was a forced agreement from a bunch of rich, powerful guys who wanted to show the King he wasn't as big as he thought he was.

--So you admit that King Richard had been held for ransom for 4 years on his way home from the Crusades-- so where does this “along for the ride” Crusader army spring from? I guess they just hung out in the woods for 4 years, huh? Yeah, that would happen. And if Richard is “pillaging his way across France”, where's this mighty French invasion force that comes along a short time later? I guess they were building their WWII-era LSTs and couldn't be bothered to stop him.

--What the hell is up with the Peter Pan-like/Lord of the Flies Lost Boys? They keep getting tossed into the plot for no reason, like a bad spice. And at the big battle scene, poor, foraging forest kids suddenly show up riding tiny horses (Shetland ponies?) and plunge into battle (for what possible reason?) with little more than fur loincloths and sticks, against well-equipped soldiers. Yeah, pit the equivalent of a couple of fifth-grade soccer teams to fight fully-armed combat vets-- that should be entertaining, for about five minutes-- if you want a bunch of needlessly dead kids.

--A soldier's sword was a necessary piece of equipment, upon which his life depended, and would have cost quite a bit-- and yet in this move, they use their swords as prybars (snap!), hammers, can openers, whatever. The lead doofus pounds the hilt of his his weapon (also an important heirloom) on stone slabs, which would break the sword-- despite the fact he has a 6'9” guy behind him with a giant war hammer!

--Apparently, Robin's men can teleport, because they're on the cliff tops in one shot, and two shots later are in the thick of battle. How'd you guys do that?

--Robin sleeps a few feet in front of an absolute roaring, six-foot high fireplace bonfire. Know how much heat that puts out? They don't, obviously. Robin would have roasted like a chicken. Oh, and with no grate, the floor in front of this bonfire is covered with nice, dry straw. Let's just say Locksley Hall would be a black pile of ashes by morning.

--Wow, coronations for the new King of England need no ceremony, just mom picking up a crowned helmet and slapping it on her other son's head. Done deal.

--Numerous “proclamations” nailed to a tree (oops, Harry Potter snippet) for an illiterate populace, when paper was ridiculously valuable. And a guy yelling for a nail, like everyone's carrying them around in their pocket. Yeah, even nails were worth a bunch back then, and not that common.

There's so much more, but just don't bother. This movie should not have been made, and should not survive and flourish. If it makes money, there will be more crap films like it, so let it die like the stinking turkey it is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Great Book

There's a great book out, which gives us all hope for the future. There are so many doom-and-gloom tomes around, you get to feeling a trifle paranoid.

For a switch, read "The Empathic Civilization" by Jeremy Rifkin. He's got a better take on history, not that we're all headed down the poop chute, but rather that we're getting more empathic, and that's good, because if we do, we could survive. (So, yeah, there's a caveat. But anyone who thinks we can go on waging war forever without a threat to us all is dangerously deluded.)

He gives compelling evidence, and makes a great case. Well done. Despite what we have seen in this country since 2000-- a complete lack of empathy from our leaders, elected and not-- many other people are getting it, and moving toward empathy.

I like to believe in hope for this human race and this planet. When I was born, there were no civil rights, and segregation was the law of the land. Not anymore, it's illegal to discriminate.

The Berlin Wall kept thousands trapped, and many died trying to get out. The Wall is gone now, a historical artifact.

Apartheid was also law in South Africa, and that's gone now as well.

Over and over, people are getting it. Sure, there are some throwbacks, but let's hope evolution takes care of them. We're all on Lifeboat Earth, folks, and better take care of each other. When you help others, you help yourself.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Today is the day we thank our Mom for giving us life and nurture. There also may be gifts and cards involved.

After today, I'm putting a moratorium on receiving greeting cards on holidays, because the greedy buggers have jacked average prices up to the ripoff range, between 4 and 6 dollars. For a card. Yeah, 2-4 wasn't enough. I'm one of the few guys who tries to remember birthdays and such and would always send cards, a small way of saying "hi". But the industry has got to the point where their greed has pushed over the line. Time to stop buying and exchanging store-bought cards. Time for new tradtions and ways of expressing our caring for others. Time for greedy greeting-card manufacturers to go out of business.

How about making a donation to a worthy cause instead? I've had friends do this for me for birthdays in the past, and I'm delighted that they helped someone- it meant so much more than a card which got opened, read, and immediately put aside. Or try just saying a few words of caring to their face. Or even send an e-card, if you need to hang onto that way of doing things.

One of the best ways to thank mothers is to improve the world- and we can do that by getting rid of the waste of the greeting-card industry, all the paper and envelopes and money funneled into the hands of a few. Let's put that money to better use, and show more caring than ever.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Obit for Lynn Redgrave

The current news is that Lynn Redgrave passed away. I'm writing this because I met her, back in the 70's, when I was an apprentice, working as an unpaid volunteer at a Summer theater. The people headlining there seemed famous to me, because they'd been in movies, plays, and television. They seemed glamourous from afar, less so the closer one got. A fair number of them were bitter, unhappy neurotics.

I didn't know her well, only that she was nervous around lightning. As I recall, a co-star of hers was an absolute dick, some old has-been British (or British wannabe) actor, who would get drunk every night and abuse the people around him. How'd you like to be yoked to someone like that for the Summer?

To a 19-year old, these people were Olympians, but now I read that Ms. Redgrave was a mere 14 years older than me, which made her only 33 at the time. Yet to me she had made it. Then you read the modern obits, and they make it sound like she had somehow failed at something-- as if a couple of Academy Award nominations were nothing. Or television, and plays, and a number of other things. Ah, but look at her sister and father and niece, the journalists say. Geez, can't anybody me modestly successful in their own right? I guess if you're from a famous family, you always get compared to the most successful ones. That's gotta suck.

Well, she makes it here because she also did some writing, telling about her life and her struggles with it, so we salute and remember the passing of a writer.

I'm very often surprised when successful people turn out to be unhappy, with a lot of troubles. That Summer was the first revelation of that kind: that money and success were no guarantees of happiness.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Website Updates

Just spent a few hours on maintenance, first finding a new market for a story, then updating my website:

Lots of changes, so it took awhile, and putting in every meta tag you can think of takes some time! But it looks good, there's some new material, and the links seem to be working. If you go there and find something that needs editing, please let me know. Let's hope the search engines pick up the new tags and list me in searches.

Yeah, remember when writers just had to be writers? Now we have to be web designers, marketers, bloggers, publicists, and wear many more hats. Now if I could just find my writing hat and get some more good writing done...