Ranty McRant on the OhNoes for today

“Miss America will no longer pole-dance using her formal title. While reigning as the symbol of purity, she will be Miss America; while dancing, she will use the name Fifi La Boom-Boom. Catch her at the Boom-Boom Room, twice nightly! She’s here all month!”

Ahem. Also, last week Harlequin opened a vanity press branch called Harlequin Harlots or something like that–but after a huge hoo-hah* about it that threw everyone from the RWA to the MWA and SFWA into a complete tizzy and caused tantrums on Smart B*ches and Dear Author and Making Light and other writers’ hangouts, they realized the error of their ways. They’ll be changing the name of the new press to not have the magic word Arlecchino, I mean “Harlequin,” on it. Better? Oh, and they’ll still be sending the info about how to publish with Harlots to every author they reject. It’s just the smart business decision.

* [Don’t get on me about “hoo-hah,” because it means a big kerfuffle and much ado. It doesn’t mean what you THINK it means. That’s “hoo-hoo.”]

Now . . . most of us reading this blog already know that self-publishing, POD publishing, vanity presses, or whatever you want to call these enterprises (if a smeep leaps like a bunny, twitches its nose like a bunny, and makes those hard little catfood poopies like a bunny. . . .) costs an awful lot these days (even XLibris of Philly was ruined years ago and is now under the control of the Evil Masters, so Lulu is about the only sane option remaining) and isn’t going to give your book the best chance. So I’m not too worried about that. I don’t believe tons of people can be scammed with this, because MOST people do some research before ever subbing to Harlequin, and lots of them join RWA first for the crit groups and contests. Still, it’s kind of ridiculous.

But you’ve gotta admit it’s a sharp business idea. The new CEO of Torstar, the parent company of Harlequin, probably came up with this one day after a visit from the vanity press people (“Make even MORE money on the ones you reject through our kickbacks!” or some such line) and thought it would be really cool. He probably isn’t a descendant of a publishing family of olde and doesn’t realize all the side issues here, such as dilution of the Harlequin brand and profiting from the people you reject and so forth.

Still . . . should our watchwords be, “What’s moral is whatever you can get away with” and “It may be considered Right Action if you don’t get caught”?

I don’t know. *IF* these books would come up whenever a search on Amazon for “Harlequin” was done, it would be worth the $500 and up, because there are people my own mother knows who will order all five of the books coming out of whatever Harlequin line every month . . . or who will just order whatever strikes her fancy out of the Harlequin lineup for that month. You would have that book sitting on many night tables across America. BUT . . . they’ve admitted that this will not happen. Even more NOT so since they’ve taken the Harlequin name off of it to try to appease the existing Harlequin authorbase and RWA (it didn’t, much, but they made a show of it all.)

I think for the moment we should just write without worrying about selling the stuff (which is really tough for me). We need to see how the e-book thing shakes out. I still believe it is going to sneak up on us all of a sudden, and take traditional publishing for a ride. (Although people tell me they aren’t at ALL worried.)

Right now, I don’t think it’s worthwhile for an unpubbed unwashed like me to even query around. For one thing, many agencies are closed until the end of January and are clearing out the existing stack of queries (Rappaport Agency is one), and several have just plain come out and said you cannot submit a query if you are unpubbed (Ashley Grayson Agency is one) unless you are being referred by an existing client of the agency . . . you know the drill if you’ve been submitting. Kristin Nelson of Pub Rants (that’s “Publishing” rants, not drinkin’ bar rants, dear) said in a recent blog post that she had rejected a book that she knew was really good, but that she didn’t think she could sell–and that this wasn’t the first or the only time, either. I’m sure this is going on at every agency. And because the agents are the primary gatekeepers, editors won’t be seeing and buying our work for a while.

An acquaintance of mine received a somewhat surprising reply to a query yesterday: “Thanks so much for querying us, but we are unsure that this premise would work in this tight market. All said, we would encourage you to do what many of our clients have done and self-publish with a reputable, and recommended, publisher. This is a new age in publishing, and as evidenced time and time again, neither The New York Times bestsellers [sic] list nor major booksellers discriminate against the self[-] published. Oftentimes, authors choose to get proactive in order to build a sales record and boost their chances of being picked up. I would like your permission to pass along your information to someone who can help you get started on your path towards [sic] getting published.” [It goes on.]

Um, no. Already know how to do that through Lulu and Smashwords and Amazon Kindle submissions and so forth. Don’t want to go to the guy who’s giving you a kickback, thanks anyway.

So now most of the queries I’ve sent out for my (new) manuscripts have been answered with rejections that say, with a vague hand-wave, “I enjoyed reading your pages, and it’s obvious you are very talented. However, I {didn’t love it enough/am not the right agent for your work/find that in this market, I am limiting my offers of representation so I can take care of existing clients/hoohoohoo whatever}.” They usually end with, “Prove me wrong! I’m sure someone else will pick this up.” Which is vaguely insulting, in a way. “It’s not you–it’s me–I don’t want to marry you, but someone else will want to! Okay, bye!” (grin) I’m hearing similar tales on others’ blogs, as well.

Here’s my question. (I always use this weird thing called “logic” and “reasoning,” so bear with me.) Where is the crystal ball that tells them, “What you are seeing now is not something that will sell to readers two years from now”? How does anyone know that a particular book cannot POSSIBLY hit big? Who would have predicted that “Twilight” could even get published, let alone become the gold standard? What if coming-of-age novels make a big comeback? (It COULD happen!)

I believe that the market can change quickly, and it usually does. There’s a difference between what publishers think they can sell to readers right now (which dictates what agents believe they can sell to editors) and what they really WILL be able to sell eighteen months from now, when the books hit the shelves. Will vampires lead to zombies? Who knows? Chick lit was the steamroller of all time, but it suddenly snapped when the market got flooded with stuff that wasn’t really very good. (Hmm, how many vampire series are out at the moment? And how much longer will people be out getting “Twilight” tattoos before the Next Big Thing hits? Fickle finger of fate, you swivel without warning.)

No one is interested in publishing 15 midlist novels that are well written and that might end up being long-term sales (you know, the kind of book that stays in print rather than selling well for a while and then having cartons and cartons of it remaindered for $1.) They want ONE BIG SELLER that will get the advance all of the 15 novels should have gotten, and if it fails, oh well. Everyone’s looking for this magical squee-worthy Next Big Thing, but of course nobody knows what that is.

People have told me, “Just write a better book.” But how is “better” defined, specifically? I suspect it’s NOT about the quality of the prose. Even if your prose is polished and eloquent, your book will be rejected if the STORY won’t sell. The public doesn’t appear to have any appreciation for cadenced prose or even for non-clunky prose, as long as the story grabs them a certain way. Simply being a great prose stylist with a new and appealing voice doesn’t mean anything.

What is the essential appeal of the BIG BOOKS that publishers are looking for? Commercial potential, right, but how do you know what that is? Crash-boom-flameout, unbelievably huge conflict where the WORLD WILL END if the person who has just realized she is the ANOINTED SAVIOR OF THE WORLD doesn’t do X by time Y–while having lots of exciting humps? So many of the pitches that I have been reading on the various contest blogs (yes, many editors/agents have been holding contests on their blogs in which authors post a pitch and first sentence as a comment, and then there are “winners” who get to send in their pages, amen) have been outlandish, and the opening paragraphs are too abrupt (IMHO). But this may only be confirmation that I’m not right for this post-postmodern world.

Whenever publishing pros blog about why they take on a book, they assure people it’s all about the writing, EXCEPT they also have to LOVE IT SO MUCH and believe that they can sell it, meaning they need to know an editor who likes this sort of thing (they think) and who has an open slot. How many slots are open? Not too many, I should imagine.

So perhaps I should stick to my vow of Query Silence until after the first of the year. It’d be less frustrating. I’m waiting to see how the e-books perform over the holiday buying season.

But please, all of publishing, just keep cranking out all those vampire and werewolf clone books. We neeeed them as stocking stuffers! Or possibly kindling, should the home fires die down during a snowstorm.

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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