Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Response Times: Why do we put up with them?

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So I go to check my email the other day and what do I find at the top of the list but an email from Baen Books. It took me a few seconds to figure out what it was all about. Then I remembered: about a year ago, I sent them a copy of the The Hall of the Wood for review; the email was a rejection of my novel. I think their guidelines mention "about a year" on their response times, so give them points for sticking to that. But it was still a bit of a shock to (finally) get a response back, especially since I'd forgotten I'd even sent my novel to them!

I wonder: why do we put up with such lengthy response times?

The easy answer is because we have to if we want to see our work in print. It's just one of the realities of the publishing industry.

The long answer is that we really don't have to put up with it at all. There are other mediums in which to publish our work: self-publish, POD, Amazon Kindle, our own web sites or blogs, our MySpace page, Facebook, lulu.com... the list goes on.

But this approach lacks something: validation. Anyone can write. Anyone can think their writing is good. But to have someone else read our "stuff" and approve... that's what we're striving towards. That's the golden apple. Not to mention we get something else that's critical to the success of our writing success: the marketing and resources of a "real" publisher. Now, maybe money isn't important to you, but for those of us who have hopes of someday doing the writing thing full-time, it's paramount.

So we put up with publishers' response times. Fortunately, most are much quicker than Baen's one year.

The Hall of the Wood: free fiction

One year and two days ago as I write this, I first offered my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood, as a shareware download on my web site. The 'experiment', as I called it, has, I think, been a success. Over 2200 downloads, numerous comments (mostly positive), a (very small) amount of money received in payments. OK, not a smashing success, but a worthwhile endeavor nonetheless.

I was going back and looking at The Hall of the Wood and I realized something: it lacks presentation. I basically threw out the same copy I was sending to agents and publishers. They want a certain font and double-spaced lines and other stuff, whereas a reader probably wants to see something a bit more presentable and, most important of all, readable.

As of now, wonder or wait no longer, for I have re-packaged The Hall of the Wood into a most presentable work of fiction. Some minor changes here and there, but mostly just new fonts, cleaned up the headers and footers, slapped a new cover page on there, and some other tweaks. The end result is a more presentable product.

If you haven't downloaded The Hall of the Wood yet, feel free to do so now. I've dispensed with most of the requests for donations at this point. It's out there, for free, so download at your leisure. I always appreciate comments, good or bad.

Quitting Your Day Job

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James Dashner, author of The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Tales (reviewed, interestingly enough, just yesterday by Fantasy Debut), is living the dream. Or, he "likely" will be:

James Dashner is a number cruncher by day and an architect of children's fantasy novels by night.
    This West Jordan accountant/author has battled for years between his creative right brain and his logical left in deciding which career path to follow.
    Now, with a national book contract in hand, Dashner says he likely will quit his budgeting job...and choose the right - brain.

It's encouraging to see someone "making it" after reading this piece of somber news.

I can relate to the left/right brain allusion more than others perhaps: I'm a software engineer by day trying to fulfill the creative end at nights and in my free time (I work with accountants, too, but that's another story). Dashner is, without a doubt, ahead of my game: He's under contract for a "five book series" from Shadow Mountain Publishing, but has a handful of books to his name already. Congrats go to James not only for showing some longevity but also for taking the plunge and saying good-bye to the stability of his accounting job for the potential uncertainties of life as a writer.

You often hear straight from the horse's mouth (successful authors, that is) not to quit your day job until your writing makes up a certain percentage of your current income. That percentage is without a doubt a personal threshold--we all grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle and have different tolerances for sacrifice. It also depends on if you are the sole money-maker in your household or not, how many dependents you have, etc.

We still want to achieve our writing goals, though, and so it becomes an issue of balance. Dashner understood this balance. He worked his day job while writing in his free time for eight years. Only with the security of a multi-book deal in hand did he jettison the day job to focus on his writing full-time.

Good luck to him. I hope I get there someday, too.

Quitting his day job - Salt Lake Tribune

Borders explores sale, suspends dividend

This is bad news. Or is it?

Think of it this way: If Borders is absorbed into, say, Barnes & Noble, as shoppers we have one less outlet to choose from. As writers, our publishers have one less venue from which to sell our product. That means less sales. Less sales means publishers will be far more picky about where they invest their resources (i.e., time and money). Pickier publishers means we or our agents have a harder time selling our work. This is bad.

On the other hand, if, say, Borders is absorbed or simply disappears, doesn't that open up the playing field for the "little guy", the small and independent booksellers who oh so many times were squashed by the likes of a Borders or B&N moving into their neighborhood? Maybe, maybe not. There's still some big players besides B&N, including Amazon and Wal Mart, for example, who sell in large volumes at relatively low prices. In fact, analysts cite the presence of those retailers as one of the reasons Borders has failed.

As with most things, time will tell.

Borders explores sale, suspends dividend - Yahoo! News

Unpublished Writers: Web Sites and Blogs Recommended

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Agent Kristin of PubRants fame talked yesterday about web sites and blogs, and if unpublished writers should have either or both.

Something I've often wondered about is whether or not an agent or publisher bothers to look at a writer's site. I know I've read in the past about specific ones who do not; Agent Kristin lays this question to rest (inasmuch as she's concerned, anyway):

"When reviewing sample pages where we like the writing, we’ll often give the writer website a glance and see what’s there. I don’t bother if the sample pages haven’t caught my interest."

She goes on to offer a few tips:

"Don’t have a website/blog unless it can be a professional one. The homemade sites look it and just make me cringe. It won’t keep me from asking for your full (or if I like the novel, offering representation) but it’s not putting your best foot forward and that’s never a benefit."

This is a given. We're not aspiring to become professionals--we already are professionals; we want our web site or blog to reflect that. Choose colors that are easy on the eyes. Use a layout that makes sense. There are a ton of resources available on the web that discuss how to choose color schemes or even ones that generate one for you. If you're using WordPress or Blogger or, if you've chosen to be a little more adventurous like me and opted to use BlogEngine.NET, choose a theme that both complements your message while maintaining a professional look.

Content? Agent Kristin says:

"...the standard. About you, what you are working on, any cool interests you have that might inspire your writing, workshops you are doing, critique partners or anything about the writing process."

And the most important aspect of our blogs and web sites:

"...remember that the writing you have there needs to be representative of you and your good work. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you shouldn’t blog if the writing doesn’t represent your “usual” quality."

We've all read about the job candidate whose prospective employer decided to take a look at their blog... keep the content professional and relevant but, more importantly, put your best quality out there. If you're still learning the craft (we all are), think of your blog as a way to hone your writing skills. Use the same attention to detail when writing blog entries as you do when writing your "stuff". Do a rough draft, revise, proofread. If you happen to be looking through an old post and notice a typo or some other oddity, fix it. Our blog entries remain forever, indexed by Google and other search engines, so who knows when someone is going to access that post you wrote 2 years ago. Make sure that first impression is as good a one as if that person landed on your current home page or latest blog entry.

Now I need to practice what I preach and do some proofreading of my own on this post.

Good luck with your writing.