BEA Writer’s Convention Observations Part One

The first thing the convention taught me was that I am not alone. As much as I read about the overwhelming number of query letters agents receive every day, how many times I hear about the thousands of manuscripts in slush piles overflowing out the doors and windows of publishing offices. There is nothing like a convention room filled to the brim with writers to illustrate how desperate my situation is. These writers, who I am sure believe in their work as much as I believe in mine, all paid their hard earned money, money they didn’t earn writing, to be there. THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF US IN THAT ROOM. Hundreds, who like me crossed great distances and spent extravagant amounts of money to get a few precious moments with an agent. Writers are not in short supply.

I wondered what would happen if every person in that room had a brilliant masterpiece, a novel of unequalled quality, the magnum opus of their genre in our time would the agents be able to take them all? Would they all get published? I believe that the sad answer to that question is no. There are too many of us for all our talent to be recognized. The system cannot take everything it is offered, no matter how good it is.

Luckily, I am sure that only a handful of the people in that room had good stories. Right? That is what they would have you believe, that is how the system is set up. But I don’t know. I heard a lot of pitches, both practicing with strangers and overhearing the guys and gals in front of me and I liked most of the story ideas I heard. I am sure that a lot of people in that crowd had mediocre stories or mediocre writing skills and they will be rightfully culled from the herd. Won’t they? Again I am not sure. I have read a lot of really bad books, and I know you have too.

The system cannot guarantee that it will discover all the talented writers nor can it weed out the untalented. So I have to wonder how does one succeed in such a fundamentally flawed establishment? The only answer I have is luck. You have to get lucky, bottom line. It sounds bad right? But it isn’t as bad as all that. You can work with luck.

What is that? You ask.

Work with luck? How is that possible?

Sit back and listen to the Nevada boy.

LUCK IS ODDS. Odds are probability. Probability is a mathematical equation. Equations are manipulated through the use of variables.

Here are the variables: Number of books published and the number of submissions received.

If the givens are that your work is good enough to be published the more you submit or query the better the odds are you will be published. I warn you the odds are really shitty to start out with, but I’ve pulled to an inside strait with no outs, if the pot is right, you just have to go for it. (I do not mean to spam query or do anything stupid or rude that will get you blackballed in the publishing world, I am only saying, query or submit to every available and viable source.)

You see what I mean?

So here is the pot. Your work being read, and enjoyed, by a person you’ve never met.

I hear so many people talking about wanting to see their names on the cover, or their book on a shelf at Barnes and Noble, or just seeing their work in print.

I think all that stuff is awesome, but it isn’t what I am writing for. I am writing to entertain people with my stories, as many people as I possibly can.

So with that illustrious pot piled up on the table before me, I’m going all in, and seeing where the cards take me.

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I have seen the elephant

In Victorian England the British Empire spanned the entire globe. It was so expansive that the Brits bragged that the sun never set on the British Empire, and it was true, there were colonies and commonwealths on every continent. No matter what the hour, it was daylight somewhere in the vast empire. During that time, the empire’s most unruly and combative subjects were found in Africa, India, and Asia. Veteran British soldiers were said to have “Seen the elephant.” because if they had gone into battle it was more likely than not that they had done so in a place which, quite simply, had elephants. Today the term is more loosely used to describe any veteran of any endeavor.

After Writers Digest’s BEA Writers Convention, I can say without a moment’s hesitation that I have seen the elephant and what an ugly beast it is.

I have to say on the whole the convention was great. Karin Slaughter was an awesome keynote speaker, the breakout sessions and seminars were informative and fun, the lunch speaker was great, and the pitch slam was exactly what I thought it was going to be.

At a safe distance any elephant can seem charming. Everybody loves elephants, in a zoo, behind a sturdy fence, maybe even a moat. Do you dare climb over that fence, swim that moat and cavort with the great beasts up close and personal? I did, and I’ll tell you what I saw.

In my next couple of posts.

And Here Comes the Pitch

So obviously the moment we’ve all been waiting for is fast approaching. I am going to sit down with as many agents as I can and pitch my novel Midnight In Vegas. The poor agents are being forced at gunpoint to listen to the pitches of possibly hundreds of desperate writers such as myself. This is the infamous BEA pitch slam. Writers and agents crowded together into a hot room for an uncomfortable hour of pure selling. The neophyte writers sacrificing themselves en masse on the bourbon stained altars of the seasoned veterans of the publishing world.

At least that is how it goes down in my imagination. I have no idea what it is really going to be like. It looks like it could be an unadulterated orgy of ideas and I am, how you say, a wirgin? (Gotcha) I’ve never pitched my book to anybody. Now I am signed up for the biggest manage-a-minds in the industry.

How do you prepare for that???

  • Go over my story in my head. Over and Over and Over again. –check
  • Write down key points I need to cover in my Pitch. -check
  • Read every blog ever written about pitching, both by agents and authors. –check
  • Brush teeth. – check (never hurts to start early)
  • Work on roguish yet authorial look in bathroom mirror every morning. – check
  • Make super cool personal business cards with all contact info. -check

Things that I might do, or that I am not sure I should do, or really don’t want to do.

  • Write down and memorize a pitch. While that appeals to paranoid little voice in the back of my head, I don’t think I want to do that. I have some notes and highlights jotted down but I don’t want to sound robotic or rehearsed and I am a very extemporaneous type of speaker anyway.
  • Go Naked. If there is one way to be sure they’ll remember me, that’d be it. Obvious drawbacks. (To any agents or publishers who might read this, I am joking, It’s going to be ok, really. Put the phone down, don’t cancel the trip, please, I’ll be good. I really want to talk to you.)
  • Get a haircut- For real this time. I think I need something more roguish, or authorial. I alternate on which I need every morning.
  • Pack a couple of copies of my manuscript. As everyone with a complete manuscript knows, the bastards are heavy, but I don’t want to be caught flat footed if somebody asks for a full? From what I have seen and read I don’t think that they will. Best case; they’ll wait for me to email or mail it to them.
  • Burn full ms on to a couple of thumb drives. Could solve the fantasy problem of having someone wanting to read me right away. But those cost money and I am already spending too much of that.

 

Anybody else have any suggestion or comments? Am I missing anything?

Tchuss

-Lystra

Queries Suck Part 2

Still working on my query. I know, I know, should be done by now. I just want it to be a good representation of my work. I want the people who read it to jump out of their chairs, spill their coffee all over their cat and scream, “Oh, I have to read this!”

Is that a bit much?

Maybe.

I know I’m going to get rejection notices. It is a part of the business; most authors wear them like a badge of honor. I don’t care about those, but I would like to get one, just one, request for the full manuscript. I know that I’m not going to get any rejections or requests with the number of queries that I have sent out to date: 0. I have resigned myself to finishing my query and getting it out there. I have been messing around, editing, and re-editing my MS when I should be editing and re-editing my query and sending the bugger out there.

My favorite blogging agent Janet Reid wrote this on her blog today http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2009/05/weve-terrified-wrong-half-of-yall.html about terrifying the wrong half. I think she is right, so I need to face my fear and get that query done and out the door.

Tchuss

-Lystra

Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 2:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tymon Story Part One

The Spaniards were beginning to get on his nerves. They had taken their zeal for the Reconquista, purging the Moors from Iberia and brought it with them to this strange new world. All the skills the Spaniards had learned both in warfare and religious fanaticism during the Reconquista they brought to this new fight, this Conquista of the natives of this place. While the natives were no more Christian than the Muslim infidels that had conquered Spain, they had committed no great atrocities against the Spanish. They had not subjugated and converted its people to their religion. They had done nothing, except stand in their way. Yet the Spanish warred with them with all the brutality and hatred they had used against the Moors.

Tymon watched the little Aztec village burn. The women and children screamed as the conquistadors rounded them up and shoved them into a pen their men had used for livestock. The men, every one over the age of twelve, littered the ground of the village their blood turning the clayey soil into mud.

“What is that look on your face Brother?” The monk standing next to Tymon asked. “Surely you are no stranger to the realities of war.”

Tymon sighed and turned away from the scene. Sadly the monk was right, he had seen far too much war. He knew all too well what happened to the people caught in them. “It is not my place to judge.”

“No, it is not.” The monk agreed. “It is your job, and mine, to convert these savages to our religion; to save their heathen souls. Let the soldiers do their jobs; then we will do ours.”

“How willing to listen do you think they are going to be after this?” Tymon spat.

“I think they will be very willing. They always are, with their men dead, their homes destroyed and no hope for life outside of the mission.” The monk laughed.

    With his back turned to the village Tymon was the only one who could see the young man crouching at the edge of the jungle, well hidden in the dense foliage. He was at least fourteen or fifteen years old, old enough to get the sword instead of the pen. His wet eyes were full of rage and fixated on the Spanish soldiers doing their odious work. Tymon watched the boy’s body pulse as he worked up the courage to do something. Tymon knew what that something was going to be, and the inevitable results of an unarmed boy attacking trained Spanish soldiers.

    “Brother Sanchez.” Tymon said. “I must relieve myself.”

    Sanchez, still watching the conquistadors, didn’t even turn around. “Fine, do not stray too far into the jungle. There are jaguars.”

    Tymon first went to the wagons and after a few seconds of searching found a grain sack of suitable size. Then he lifted the heavy Jesuit robes up off his body. The robes were cumbersome but they had their uses, they concealed Tymon’s sword for one and he hurriedly unbuckled it and placed it within the folds of the robe. He stashed both carefully underneath the wagon. Grabbing the grain sack and made his way into the jungle well away from where the boy was hiding.

    The dense foliage was soft and wet; making it all too easy for Tymon’s experienced feet to tread silently through the jungle. He looped out in a wide arc, bringing himself back to the spot that the boy was hiding. As he worked his way along a fallen log he spotted the young man again. He was crouched in the same position. This close Tymon could hear the boy’s sobs as he saw his muscles tense and flex then go slack. Next to the boy lay an obsidian headed javelin and a small deer; so he had been hunting when the Spaniards had arrived.

    Tymon crept ever closer, until they were just paces apart. He unfurled the bag and leapt quickly pulling it over the boys head, shoulders and arms before burying him under his weight.

    The boy struggled furiously, but to his credit he did not cry out. Tymon tightened the bag around the boy’s shoulders and arms keeping the flailing legs pinned under his. Tymon made soft noises, gentle noises, having no idea how to speak in the boy’s language. Tymon wasn’t sure if it was the noises or the realization that he was completely incapacitated that made the young man stop struggling.

    He pulled the bag over the boy’s legs and fastened the drawstrings. He slowly got up, the young man’s form was outlined in the sack but it did not move or struggle. Tymon looked back to the Spanish wagons and Father Sanchez standing there watching the soldiers tally the butcher’s bill and wondered what he was going to do now.

Heading to New York.

I made up mind. I am going to attend the BEA Writers Conference. Signed in, booked the tickets and reserved my hotel.

I feel really optimistic about this.

I have my agent list ready. I know who I want to talk to and why I want to talk to them.  

Now to work on my pitch. I’ve lost a little bit on my fastball over the years but I still have a nice changeup and slider, so I can use those in a pinch.

Doing a turn around trip. Fly in, do the conference and fly out. Three whirlwind days, should be fun.

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 8:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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Almost the most twisted.

I almost won a little online writing contest!

Well I did win, then I didn’t. I sort of cheated, I guess, on accident.

The contest was to write a story idea based on a prompt provided by Kari Lynn Dell on her blog http://montanaforreal.blogspot.com/ .

The prompt was: 16 people are trying to get a job being a caretaker on a desert island mansion.

 I heard the bell ding as the light bulb lit up and I typed out a quick entry into the comment box (I did not take the time to transfer it into Word to get a word count, or even a spell or grammar check (Which would later turn out to be unfortunate).  I just wrote what I thought up and hit post. Here is my entry:

The sixteen applicants jumped off the boat and gathered on the beach looking at each other. They wondered what it would take to win this position, a chance to live on this island paradise. How would they prove themselves the best possible choice?
A man in an aloha shirt walks up to the group, laden with multicolored plastic beach toys; shovels, buckets, and sifters. He drops them into a pile at the center of the group without a word and climbs into the boat. As the boat backs out of the beach, he calls to the baffled crowd. “The guns are in the house.” Then with a laugh, “The bullets are in the sand.”

I didn’t think much of it. It was a fun idea, I ran with it. “What if” is my favorite part of writing, it is the easiest for me. “What if this or that” is how a story starts for me, starts are easy, finishing is hard. So I typed in my “what if” and carried on about my day.

Today I thought I would check back in and see who won. I had already read all the entries before me and while I liked mine, there were several others that I thought were just as good. I was surprised to find a post saying that I had won but had been disqualified because I went over the 75 word maximum.

Was I sad that I didn’t win? Hell no! I am bouncing off my seat happy. I feel really bad about the stir that I caused by going over the limit, many people wrote a lot of bad things about the contest because of the word count issue. I wish I had read the rules a little bit closer, I could’ve shaved forty words off my entry no problem (it probably would have made it better, the idea won, not the writing), but ultimately I know that I had a good idea and so does Kari. I still feel like a winner, and I got a little recognition for my work, to me that is way more valuable than any prize I could have won.

I would like to thank Kari for picking me and apologize for any grief anyone has given her over my entry. I truly am sorry, it was a great contest and a huge success in my book. An even better prize is Kari took the time to critique my query letter v1.0 . Check it out, I think she gave me some real gems.

Tchuss

-Lystra

Mother’s Day Post

It’s Mother’s Day, so I thought a post featuring my mother would be appropriate:

Manhattan Nevada is the diametric opposite of Manhattan New York. For starters everyone knows about Manhattan New York; the only people who know about Manhattan Nevada are the twenty one souls that live there. The lonely mining town boasts two bars, a post office and an assortment of shacks and trailers housing the miners who toil there.

The gold mine at the bottom of the hill employs most the town, except for the postmaster and the bartenders. The bars, known affectionately as the lower bar and the upper bar, due to their position on the one paved road through town, take turns being open as there is insufficient clientele for both to be open simultaneously.

At the top of the paved road that winds up the little canyon that cradles the town sits my parent’s single wide trailer. It is one of the nicest trailers in town, its only competition being the double wide trailer owned by my grandparents just down the ravine from ours.

I was twelve years old and I loved the little ghost town. It was a great place to be a boy. I had a motorcycle parked in our front yard, there were lizards, scorpions and bugs in plenty and adventures around every corner for a boy with an overactive imagination.

That night however my parents were fighting. My brother and I were holed up in our room, waiting out the storm on our bunk beds, wondering if our parents were going to get divorced. They weren’t of course but when you are a kid every fight seems like the end of the world, and my brother and I were sure that this was going to be it. It certainly sounded bad. I can’t remember what they were fighting about, probably one of the thousands of inconsequential things that couples find to bicker about, one of the things that I probably have fought with my own wife about. It doesn’t matter now, and it didn’t matter then, I just remember the raised voices and the tension in the air.

At the apex of the argument my mother came into our room. Her face was still red with anger, tears and frustration. “Lystra,” she huffed, “come with me.”  I remember thinking that the fight had to have ended with them deciding to get divorced. I guessed that they had decided to divide me and my brother up between them and Mom got me. Choking back tears I hopped off my bunk and put my shoes on and followed my Mom out the door of our trailer.

I clearly remember looking at my father as we left. He was sitting on our couch in the front room, his eyes a mirror of my mothers, while it hurt to see my Mom’s tears it was far scarier to see my Father’s, he never cried, unless it was bad, it had to be bad, I wondered how long it would be before I saw him again.

We loaded up in the Ford LTD and Mom sped down through the little town past both bars and out past the lower trailer park. I saw her choking back tears and decided that I could not add my own; it would be too much for her to bear. I was well acquainted with being the man of the house, I knew the duties my Father expected of me, I had to be strong, like him, for her.

The little paved road that led out of Manhattan went up a small hill before it dropped into Smokey Valley; there was a turn out at the top of the hill. My Mom swerved off the road and into the turn out in a cloud of dust and threw the car in park.

We sat in near silence, the only sound being the barely controlled sobs emanating from both of our throats. I heard my Mom breathing deeply, steadying herself with each breath and I tried desperately to imitate her. Finally she spoke, her voice was calm.

“Look at the sunset Lystra.” She said.

I looked; the sun was just going down behind the mountains to the west. The sky was lit up in crimson and purple, God’s palette is far more diverse than any man can devise. I have seen sunsets on three continents, and I have never seen anything to rival the desert twilight, the crepuscular glory of the high desert is beyond compare. That night it was magnificent, there were light layers of clouds to catch the prismatic rays of the dying sun and for a second I could only stare.

“I want you to remember this.” My mother whispered to me. “Life is hard Lystra, it is hills and valleys. There are going to be times in your life when everything is easy, you are going to be on top of the hill. Those are great times, enjoy them, make the most of the them. But,” She sighed. “There are going to be hard times too. Times when everything seems pitted against you, when nothing goes your way, you will be in the valley. Those are going to be hard times but you have to remember that the hill is coming you will leave those valleys behind you. But even when you are in the valley you have to look at the good things in your life, the simple things, like a sunset, because even in the deepest of valleys you will find beauty if you look for it. I want you to remember that.” 

I could only nod in agreement. I had the vaguest notion of what she meant. I had hill and valleys in my young life, although none as high or as deep as I have had in my adult life. I promised not to forget. I do remember the sunset and I remember her words.

The sun went down and the world went dark and my mother fired up the car and drove us back home. My parents made up that night or a night soon after and have been married through hills and valleys for 36 years now.

My parents have given me many things. Too many things, both material and immaterial, so many life lessons that it is impossible to quantify. But that talk and that sunset come back to me, when my life is hard, when things don’t go my way, when I don’t know if I have the strength to carry on. My mother’s words ring true in my ear and I and strive forward and find the beauty around me and the will to see the next hill, and even the next valley.

Happy Mother’s Day.

I love you Mom.

Thank you

-Lystra

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 5:46 am  Comments Off on Mother’s Day Post  
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BEA Writers Conference

I have been going back and forth on whether or not to go to the BEA Writers Conference/Pitch Slam. I had just about given up on it but this post by Janet Reid (the infamous Query Shark herself)  today turned my head back around. Now I don’t know what I should do.

 I figure a round trip shot to NY with hotels and eats would run me about$1200.00 give or take, which is about the same my run to Cincinnati cost me. While that is a lot of money to throw out the window of a plane, it is doable, it’ll hurt, but it is doable. The big question is will it be worth it?

The crux is the pitch slam. For those of you who haven’t heard about this it is at the end of the conference all the agents and editors let the unwashed (or unpublished anyway) masses assault them with pitches for our books.   Obviously no deals are signed on the spot but the conference boasts several book deals a year from pitches made at the slam. The benefit is when I send my new and improved (still working on it) query letter to any of the agents I meet at the conference they might not throw it directly into the slush pile, they might actually read my first five pages, then they might actually read more (dear God let them read more.)

So there you are. Do you see my dilemma?

I put together a list of the agents who will be attending that I want to talk to about my book. (You’ll notice I have Janet Reid on there, while I’m not sure my book is her thing, her blogs, both QueryShark and her own personal blog are awesome. So if I do go, I absolutely have to meet her.) and there are alot of people who seem to be looking for my genre attending.

So how far do you go chasing rainbows?

Hmmmmm.

What do you think?

PITCH SLAM 2009

MIRIAM KRISS (Irene Goodman Literary) is seeking all areas of commercial fiction including, but not limited to: mystery, romance, thrillers, YA, fantasy (especially urban fantasy), and SF.  She is also interested in narrative nonfiction and memoir.

CHERRY WEINER (Cherry Weiner Literary) handles all genres of fiction, and
specializes in science fiction, fantasy (especially urban fantasy), romance, Westerns and Native American works. Some nonfiction has even crept into the mix but she doesn’t consider poetry or children’s.

JOANNA STAMPFEL-VOLPE (Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation) represents everything from children’s books (chapter books to YA, both nonfiction and fiction), to adult fiction (speculative, romance, historical, paranormal, unique fantasy, thrillers, literary, dark comedy, dark drama, horror) and she will occasionally take on strong narrative nonfiction with pop culture, environmental or food elements.

GRETCHEN STELTER (Baker’s Mark Literary Agency) works with creators who write in the same genres she loves to read: middle grade and YA fiction, magic(al) realism, contemporary fiction, and women’s fiction. She is interested in anything with an urban fantasy touch (more Mike Carey than Maurice Dantec), and the middle grade and YA should have edgy, true-to-life characters and dialogue. The contemporary and women’s fiction should have a wide entry point for its audience but a strong hook that makes it stand out from the crowd.

GINGER CLARK (Curtis Brown, Ltd.) represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, paranormal chick lit, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade fiction.

STACIA DECKER (Firebrand Literary) is looking for adult narrative nonfiction in the areas of politics, history, biography, travel, memoir, current events, and pop culture. She also specializes in hard-boiled mystery and crime fiction.

LEAH HULTENSCHMIDT (editor, Dorchester Publishing) is looking to meet with authors or agents who have a completed romance manuscript of 75,000-95,000 words in the following romance subgenres: historical, paranormal, futuristic, urban fantasy, and romantic suspense.

SANDY LU (L. Perkins Agency) specializes in both quality fiction and nonfiction, with a particular interest in dark literary fiction, edgy urban fiction, historical fiction, mystery, thriller, psychological horror, upscale women’s fiction, and multicultural fiction.  Her nonfiction categories are narrative nonfiction, history, biography, science, pop culture, and food writing.

JENNY RAPPAPORT (The Rappaport Agency) specializes in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, young adult, and romance. 

JANET REID (FinePrint Literary Management, aka QueryShark) specializes in crime fiction.  She also represents narrative nonfiction, reference and how to books.  She’s open to pitches on any topic however.  Good writing trumps all.

Query Letter V1.0

Here is my first query letter attempt:

Dear Mr/Ms Important Agent or Editor

Jeff Heaven is getting a bit long in the tooth to be a club kid, let alone an Ecstasy dealer. He had thought he had seen it all when a strange and powerful new drug emerges from the pulsating clubs of Las Vegas, instantly replacing Ecstasy as the drug of choice for the ravers and revelers. The substance spreads like a cancer throughout the city, and Jeff discovers his friend is the sole supplier.

Niccolo Casciano is a strait laced Las Vegas Metro Officer out clubbing with his girlfriend Abby. He knows little about street drugs and less about the supernatural but when he finds out that his girlfriend has dosed him with Ecstasy he storms out of the club with Abby in tow and into a crepuscular nightmare world. He has to learn quickly about both to survive.

 Deep within the pastel shadows cast by neon lights a demon patiently watches as her essence is consumed by thousands. She grows in power and influence; soon she will have enough to return to our world. Can either Jeff or Nic realize what is really happening, and if they do, can they stop her?

Midnight in Vegas is a 125,000 word supernatural thriller that takes the reader from the high tempo club scene of Las Vegas and into the twilight realm of the Perimeter, the world between worlds.

Nic must fight his way through both to face the demon at the opening of a brand new club and stop her from reentering our world.

 I’ll be glad to send you my complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Respectfully

Lystra Pitts

Okay here is the deal. I don’t want any positive feedback. NONE. I love you guys who are all support but if you can’t think of anything mean to say don’t say anything at all. I WANT REAL CRITISISM. Same as the last drill, email, tweet or comment. Please help me, this is important.

Thanks

-Lystra