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How Do I…?


I want to get my book published. How do I do this?

This question was asked a few days ago in a chat room I frequent on rare occasion and I felt compelled to answer. Then I realize I have this nifty site that actually does the hard work for me (advertising posts, etc) and figured the response could help many struggling and aspiring authors out there.

Many authors have different ways. Some try for years and get nowhere, while others get lucky on their very first submission. J.R.R. Tolkien received something like 50 rejection letters for The Lord of the Rings books. J.K. Rowling? 200, so I hear. David Weber? 75. Michael Z. Williamson? Zero. These aren’t small names in their respective genres, in case you haven’t been able to tell yet. These are the people who commanded decent sized advances and are considered the top of their weight class.

Don’t get me wrong, much of their success comes from the simple fact that they can tell a damn good story. But the fact that Harry Potter was rejected that many times should tell us something, or that we almost never got a chance to read about Frodo and Sam while Kendra’s story made it in on first try. It’s just a business, which is one thing we authors tend to forget in our creation of a novel.

Now, in hindsight we can see that all the houses who rejected Harry Potter initially are kicking themselves hard and most even committed seppuku. Agents gnash their teeth in frustration, and so on. It’s not a pretty sight, being in those back offices in 2002 and listening to the Editor in Chief of a publishing house screaming at his incompetent so-and-so’s…

But back to it being a business.

You see, most publishing houses don’t employ psychics, so the art of judging a book is an acquired skill. How does a slush reader (or an acquisitions agent) know which book to select? I’ve received many rejection letters which say “I like it, but I don’t love it.” So how do we make them love it?

First off, you have to know which house or agency you’re submitting it to. Most houses state on their website what they’re looking for. It makes no sense, for example, to submit a romance novel set in Victorian England to Baen Books or Tor. Or a space opera starring Buck Walters to Harlequin (unless you did something to it that you should go to jail for). So… keep your genre straight. Submitting the right genre to the right house is what 50% of first time novelists fail to do, then they wonder what’s wrong with their novel. Don’t believe me? Ask around…

Secondly, you have to have one hell of a plot hook. Original ideas are there, trust me. For example, everyone does vampires these days. Even me. Anybody can write vampires, and there is little you can do with them. But… how do you hook the agent or publisher when they already have a set author who uses vampires?

You could cheat and get in touch with the author in question and propose a collaboration. That works, but more often than not unless you have a previous relationship with the author in question you’re going to get shot down faster than a B-18 during World War 2. And get laughed at.

Trust me, I know. I still remember what I was told. “That’s not how you ask someone if they want to do a collaboration with you.” Though to be fair, I kinda did come out of left field with my request.

Or you can have a different twist. Blade wouldn’t have been interesting if he was just a run-of-the-mill vampire hunter. However, making him a “daywalker” who is both vampire and human makes for an interesting plot hook. Or take the Sookie Stackhouse mythos. Sookie isn’t a vampire but early on falls for one. Booooooooooring. But then, Sookie is psychic and can read almost anyone… except vampires. Vampires are intrigued by her, humans who know distrust her… okay, an agent thinks. This has potential. Let me see what this is about.

So that means that after your magnificent outline and proposal letter, the individual who receives your novel will want the first three chapters. And that means… what?

That means your book, in the first three chapters, must blow their socks off.

More next week.

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The E-book Wars


I took this post from author Dave Freer, a man I highly respect. It discusses his opinion of e-books and the current royalties situation. It is very informative and, I believe, help prevent authors from getting shafted whenever an e-book is released. I’m a fan of the Eric Flint model… cheap, non-DRM formatted e-books for someone to share. Hell, if someone loves the book after getting it for free, there’s a decent chance that the person will buy your next book. Or better yet, pay for the paperback version of the e-book. Or *gasp* buy the hardcover.

You cannnot distrust your consumers. You have to entice them. They owe you nothing, after all. You write and publish to entertain them. This is how the RIAA isolated the music industry from reality.

Dave Freer writes at http://davefreer.livejournal.com/99217.html:

It appears the tree of greed and short-sighted insanity is well watered right around the world. Here we have car prices going UP – an average of 11.3 % I believe as sales fall throught the floor. Or as for e-books (http://www.ereads.com/2008/10/random-house-changes-e-book-royalty.html). Sigh. Firstly as demand is increasing, it means you can bring your prices down, secondly, as some of the major expenses – namely, printing, paper, warehousing, physical distribution and RETURNS – are not a factor. Costs actually compare VERY favorably to the costs for other media, and therefore the rates of payment to authors and costs to public could both be very much improved. Fortunately Baen so far anyway have no part in this, and I hope they keep it that way. They pay a better % too.

The shortsighted result of this is very obvious — already established well-known authors are thinking… well, they could really do this without the publisher. Instead of accepting 12.5% and falling… they could have 50% and pay some editor to work for hire and pay a cover artist (and get to CHOOSE their cover art), and get off-site storage for next to nothing, and probably come out with say 45% of the take. The next move I predict from publishers is going to some form of ‘only we have the rights to sell your e-books in perpetuity’, especially aimed at smaller authors and newbies who are in a poor position to resist. I hope we get some form of authors’ collectives next to cut retail and advertising costs.

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Writing Whilst Working


Just wanted to give you a quick update on the writing progress…

Corruptor is in the final edit process, and the publisher is eagerly patiently waiting for me to deliver final version. I seem to have worked out the kinks that had been plaguing the book. Kinks or not, this book needs to get out soon. It’s already nine months overdue. This is not the way you keep publishers happy, by the way.

The Green Jewel is done and edited. The Midnight Crew, its’ sequel, needs some editing work before it goes off into Neverland. The Eternal Dragon, the third book in the series, is outlined and ready to motor.

Mandate of Heaven, the constantly changing title of the quasi-vampire book, is moving slower than when I try to ice skate uphill. Mainly due to the fact that I haven’t been working on it as much as I complete the final edit of Corruptor. Not sure if or when this will continue moving.

No news from Travis S. Taylor regarding Fermi’s Paradox. It’s hovering around 70,000 words and we think it’s half done at last guess. That’s a very frightening thought.

The Wraithkin is on hold as Leo and I go over the history of the universe surrounding the story. There are some things in the history (I stole the “Night of the Long Knives” from the Germans) that I’m really interested in seeing in the story. We just can’t seem to decide what goes in and what shouldn’t.

So, how’s your writing coming along?

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The Voice of a True Generation


The best advice I received from author John Ringo was, at first glance, simple.

Make sure you have a voice in your writing.

But then one starts to delve deeper into that meaning and find themself often wondering “What does that mean?”

Your voice is pretty basic. It’s how you tell the story. It’s your pacing, your technique and your handling of paragraph structure. The best writers have a very distinct voice. Smart writers, however, steal from others.

Don’t believe me? Then ask any struggling author who they used for inspiration. Then go back and look over that author. Compare them. Eventually, you will see patterns in both inflection and speaking habits. Different rhythms might emerge from seperate books, but pacing will roughly resemble one another. It happens throughout the publishing industry, and there is no end in sight. Nor should there be, really.

Agents and publishers are always looking for the next big thing. Right now, it’s Stephanie Meyer. Five years ago, J.K. Rowling. But while searching for the next big thing, publishers often take midlist and new authors whose voice or story base resembles that of the New York Times bestsellers.

So while John says to find a voice, I will add that it doesn’t have to necessarily be your voice alone…

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Question Before Vacation


I’m going out of town from June 2 -12, and I won’t be around to respond to this blog.

Therefore, I’m going to post this question to others around the blogosphere.

Does environment matter to you when you write? Are you influenced by what part of the world you live in when writing, or can you write anywhere?

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Do It For Grignr


I sometimes wonder if writing is even worth the effort. Struggling to get anything done, I pound my head against the desktop and glare balefully at the screen. I ready myself to a life of having people in my head, driving me nuts. Then I suddenly get a burr in my rear and crank out 7,000 words in a period of five hours. It’s not all golden and needs a lot of editing, but it’s a start. It’s progress.

There’s no profit in this industry. Don’t kid yourself. For every Twilight or Harry Potter there’s thousands of others who are lucky to sell 5,000 copies of their novel. Authors get paid less than minimum wage for the tears, sweat and effort we put into a single novel. I think for Corruptor I put in something like 40 hour weeks on top of the job at the school for three solid months, and it’s been 2 years since I received a contract for it. The payback, so far, has been zero. The book’s release has been delayed, which is okay with me. I’d rather have a finished, polished project than something that resembles Atlanta Nights.

It got worse as I wrote Vindicator and later the first two books of the Christian Cole mythos. Horrid hours, women in my life wanting to destroy my computer and haul me out into that retched thing call “outside”… Too much love and energy goes into the standard novel. Yet when it comes to actually seeing the work published, most authors have to deal with either an agent or the dreaded pit o’ doom and despair: the slush pile.

Yet we do it. Consistently. Not for the glory, nor the money (okay, a little bit of the two doesn’t hurt when dreaming). We do it because we have these characters and stories in our heads that, if we don’t get them out in a timely manner, will surely drive us insane.

Support an author, buy a book. Tell them you appreciate their work and effort, even if it’s The Eye of Argon.

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Be Prepared


When driving through the forest of insanity inside a writer’s mind, it is a good idea to keep the windows rolled up.

Many times I wonder if I’m the only one who sleeps with a notebook next to their bed, or a person who carries around a small notepad at all times. It seems like a redundant idea, but when the inspiration strikes, do you want to be the person who doesn’t have anything to write their idea on? Napkins and receipts work in a pinch, but then they become crumpled or wrinkled in your pocket and then you can’t understand your own writing. Or, heaven forbid, the pen you are using doesn’t work on napkins.

My point in all this? BE PREPARED.

It’ll pay off in the long run. Buy a notebook and pens. Keep them (at the minimum) in your car or buy one small enough to fit in the pocket.

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Writing

Do or Do Not…


I get asked, quite often, about the steps I take when writing a novel. Nearly every day I have someone saying “Oh, I tried to write a novel once but I didn’t finish” or “I’m writing one right now, any advice?”. They ask how I wrote so many books in such a short amount of time. I usually inform them that during the time of the writing I was always unemployed and usually spent a minimum of ten hours a day working on said novel.

Basically, writing a novel is a dirty, dirty business. But there are things that can help you while you work.

First off, environment. If you have the TV on in the background, sometimes you might find yourself listening to the TV and you find your attention flagging on your novel. I know I do, and have cursed the Animal Planet channel many times whenever they show the “Growing Up…” series. This may sound redundant and simple, but if the TV’s bothering you, turn it off. If you have someone else living with you (spouse, children, etc.) this might not be the best idea all the time. Another way is to buy sound-reducing headphones so that you can listen to music while you write.

Secondly, music. It can soothe you, get you worked up, and can direct the flow and pace of your novel. I’ve found that making play lists on my iPod is not only helpful but helps me create a source of energy for the books. If I want a fight scene and need to build up the tension before hand, I find the appropriate music. I then sit back, listen, and let the fight run through my head while the soundtrack is playing. Again, a simply solution but an easy one.

Third, research. I used to have this problem of writing the book before the world was fleshed out. While it allowed for creativity and a frantic sort of free writing, not being bound by limits and rules caused problems in the novel later on when I was struggling to get it ready for publication. Now I use massive amounts of research and, for books like the Christian Cole novels, actually drew out relevant maps of each district of the city as well as the housing layouts. This is a bit over the top but, as I move onto book 3 of the series, I know the background, the city layout, and what is where. Little things that crop up in later novels will have places to reside and I already have an idea what their impact would be in that neighborhood. I also know, in advance, what the temperature is like in the area (mountains of Southern California in this case) during any particular season.

Another little trick I learned is to know my limits. My goal is never to write the next “Insert Name Here”, but to create entertaining fiction. I have no desire to win a Hugo, Nebula or Peabody award. Quite frankly, I would be disappointed if someone took what I wrote and made it some sort of “literature”. I know that I’m never going to be an Ayn Rand, but maybe, just maybe, I can make someone say “That book was fun” after they reach the last page.

Lastly, patience.  Someone once equated writing a novel as staring at the computer screen until a drop of blood appears on your forehead and drops onto the keyboard, from which the Writing Gods are appeased with your sacrifice and allow you to create literary masterpieces. Not everybody can write a novel in a month (or a year). Or so they think. Eric Flint pointed out one time that if you give yourself a goal of writing a set amount of words per day, you’ll reach your novel’s end in no time at all. Like this, for example:

Joe gives himself a goal of 1,000 words a day. He knows how fast he can type (say, 40 wpm) and has the novel fully in his mind and ready to go. He writes for 30 minutes each day. Hypothetically, with his words per minute typing speed, he writes 1,200 words per day. This is optimistic, after all, because we all hit snags. So let’s say that Joe writes this way for six months.

1,200 words x 180 days = 216,000.

Holy crap, Joe just wrote an 800 page novel!

Just some tips I’ve come up with as well as borrowed from other writers I’ve come across over the years. Hope they are of any use to aspiring writers out there. I know they sure help me.

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Blog Update

A New Blog…


Huh… new blog, fresh start.

I’m starting this wordpress blog so readers can keep up with what’s going on with any number of novels and also to be able to keep in better touch, should they so choose. www.jasoncordova.com is still under construction, as my wonderful webmistress keeps reminding me, so this is by far the easiest way to find out exactly what I happen to be working on at any given time.

Any questions or comments, just direct them this way. It’s easier, I swear.

Take care,

Jason