W. P. Johnson

Archive for April, 2016|Monthly archive page

The Road To Publication Part III. Or, How I Wasted Two Years Of My Life

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Another layer of dust brushed off the blog.

Truth be told, I fucking hate writing a blog, but they say a writer needs a platform in order to become successful. And by they I mean whatever Trilateral Commission of half human half lizard people there are that control the publishing industry (thank you William Cooper/acid for ruining my brain). Likely they were born from the dirt after a hooded figure mixed presidential cum with the blood of unbaptized children in a used starbucks coffee cup (sorry to tarnish the reputation of cum with starbucks). After which, they crawled up from the muck fully clothed with blackberries in hand and questions regarding the number of twitter followers you currently possess and how often you hashtag #amwriting (less than 300, and NEVER, if you want to cut to the chase). Truth be told, I’m too busy writing to bother finding creative ways of hashtaging about it. Same goes for my disdain of NaMoWriMo, which has been every month for me since I started. No offense…

…okay, so I think it’s stupid to wait all year just to pressure yourself into writing a shitty book in under thirty days when you could be writing twelve shitty books a year.

I feel like, in many ways, my smarmy cynicism, foul mouth, and overall nastiness makes me a terrible candidate for literary agents. As much as I try to be friendly and get along with everyone (which I do!), I find myself rolling my eyes to most positive and or cute forms of creative expression. Examples include vapid endorsements of whomever is the social media flavor of the week (Caitlin Jenner), memes (Philly Girls Are The Best, Share If You’re A Philly Girl!), doing the “happy dance” for pretty much any news that cannot yet be shared, or writing letters to non-living things as if they can respond (dear winter, could you go home already? sincerely me). UGH.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m being a real sour puss. And truth be told, I’d never disparage anyone of these actions, or publicly trash someone unless I felt like there was some moral obligation to call Donald Trump a cunt. I’m a fan of “if you can’t say anything nice, just shut you stupid fucking mouth”. I just wonder if my lack of social media presence makes an agent raise an eyebrow when they see that I’m looking for representation.

On the other hand, I love to work. I mean, no bullshit, I’m up every morning typing on this goddamn thing, so much so that I’ve gone through three shitty laptops and half an office chair.

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My soon to be wife asked me if I wanted to get a new one, but I kind of want to see how long it’ll put up a fight with my ass. Spoiler alert: unless it gets cancer, my ass will win.

Point is, I HUSTLE. Maybe I don’t have any workshops I’m teaching soon, or big name writerly friends that will surely endorse my work, but I bust my ass as a writer and I busted my ass on the book I’m now trying to sell.

As such, as it has been in previous installments of this column, it behooves me to share a few nuggets of wisdom for those in this stage of novel writing: pitching it to publishers/agents.

First off, make sure the book is ready to be seen. Did you do a spell check? Good, then tie it to a brick and throw it through the window of the Random House offices in NYC. Because it’ll illicit the same effect as showing them your two hundred thousand word pile of dog shit you wouldn’t change a word of because its your “baby” and you’ll hopefully, justifiably so, be arrested for obscenity charges. Truth is, you need to throw a bottle of plan b at your book and cesarean twenty percent of that shit, and that’s the minimum. If you don’t think I subscribe to this, know that the original draft of my novel A Song For John was over two hundred thousand words. Even Stephen King was like, “I don’t got time for this shit…” So I cut it down to a tidy 150,000.

Now, once you’ve done a spell check, and cut 20%, you need to get people to tell you why it sucks. This can be difficult, but easily done if you’ve got good friends that are kind of shitty people, especially if that’s why you are friends with them. At the very least it helps to have a few writing friends you’ve critiqued for (especially if you were hard on their work). After that, you are done!

NOT. You need to write it AGAIN and send it to a post beta reader reader that can not only provide you with feedback, but can also make sure you’re not spelling Mississippi wrong.

My circumstances are unique in this respects, as I have family that offered services which I promptly accepted like the leech I am when I can get something for free. Once I made sure all the words were spelled right and cut the remaining fat, I was finally finished.

So what then?

There are a few avenues you can take. You can either self publish, sub it directly to publishers, or seek the representation of an agent. My personal feeling is that a self published book is rarely a book that will be read without a reputation that precedes you. As far as subbing it directly to publishers, only the indies will likely be open to unsolicited submissions, and while many are great, there are a few that are dicey when it comes to paying their writers on time (or at all). Not to mention the fact that you probably wouldn’t receive any kind of advance. So as exciting as it would be for Farty Pants Books to release a digital copy of your magnum opus, ask yourself- will they fulfill all the needs a larger more established publisher would? Needs include: good artwork, widely published reviews, a decent amount of ARCs, promotional trailers, ability to get good blurbs or to get you on panels, or an advance that you might actually be able to pay your bills with.

Again, indie publishers have their place and serve a great purpose. An indie publisher will take a chance on a newer writer. An indie will take a chance on something that’s kind of fucked up and weird, so much so that a larger publisher won’t touch it (like my collection of novellas, The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die, as an example). In fact, novellas in general have become something of a trend for indie publishers, and they can be a great way of promoting yourself as a writer.

However, my personal feelings, with no disrespect to indies, is that a writer should shoot for the stars and try to score a big pay day, or at least get something more than a royalty based contract. However, due to the fact that larger publisher won’t even acknowledge your existence without an agent to grease the wheels, it is beneficial that an author seek representation.

Doing so is a bit tricky in the onset, but no more than publishing in general. With short work, I used duotrope and learned how to write brief letters of submission, as well as paid close attention to what a publisher required when it came to the format of a story. Agents and agencies are similar with respect to their expectations that you give them what they ask for, no more, no less. The glaring difference I noticed was that, unlike short story submissions, agents want a little song and dance, what is commonly known as the “query letter”.

My initial attempt at a query was really awful. It went something like: Hi, I wrote a book, fart, burp, its like really long and shit, and its about music and stuff (scratches nuts), do you want to buy it? Well, anyway, there’s a few chapters attached that might be viruses, hope this doesn’t end up in your spam folders, lol. Anyway, let me know. Laters.

Okay, so that wasn’t my actual pitch. But here’s one I did use in the first 10 emails or so, summarily burning a bridge with those agents:

Kristin Callihan,

Below is a very short description of my dark fantasy novel A Song For John followed by the first ten pages and my bio. The novel blends horror, weird fiction, dark fantasy, mystery, and gothic horror. It also features a strong female lead, which is very much lacking in genre.
Note, this novel can also potentially be pitched as a duology or a trilogy of novellas.
Thank you for your time, I look forward to your reply.
-W. P. Johnson (Bill)
 So, aside from it being not that great (I listed 5 different genres), I also misspelled the agent’s last name. How the fuck I got Callihan from Nelson, I’ll never know. What I do know is that her bridge is burned to a crisp, and its unlikely that Kristin, or any of the ten agents I sent a similar pitch to, will ever open an email sent by me again.
I regrouped, wrote another query after realizing agents want you to actually describe the book beyond the obvious that its not yet published and you’d like help with that. Here’s my second pass, which is a little better:
I am currently seeking representation for my debut novel A Song For John. It is an epic urban fantasy that blends various genres including weird fiction, gothic horror, and mystery. Featuring a strong female protagonist inspired by Joan Jett and Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, it’s Lovecraftian horror if Lovecraft was a record obsessed punk from Philadelphia.
Clocking in at 150k, the novel’s length is a challenge, however, I believe it can also be pitched as a duology, titling the first book as A-Side, and the second book as B-Side, representing the halves of a record (and, yes, the entire novel IS finished). It could also be pitched as a trilogy of novellas similar to Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, titled A-Side, B-Side, and Ghost Tracks, respectively. Only instead of nature, it would be weird fiction about rock and roll!
As a horror writer, I have had work published by or forthcoming from Dark House Press, Blight Digest, Pantheon Magazine, Fox Spirit Books, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Kraken Press, Dark Moon Digest, Thunderdome, Spark, Pulp Modern, Shroud Magazine, One Buck Horror, Niteblade, and Pseudopod. You can also follow me on social media via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram.
Below you’ll find a very brief description of the novel, a plot synopsis (minus spoilers!).
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.
-W. P. Johnson (Bill)

 

Not terrible, but still not great. It fails to even remotely state what the plot of the book is exactly, and is somewhat apologetic about the length, which suggests that I lack the confidence to pitch it as a duology. Also note that I wrote a synopsis for the agent without “spoilers”, which I only point out to remind you that it is super important to pay attention to what these people are looking for as opposed to just shotgunning a hundred queries to every agent listed. In that sense, I got a small part of the query right.

I rewrote it again, finding a pretty good tone:

A Song For John is an epic urban fantasy that blends various genres including weird fiction, gothic horror, and mystery. Musically driven, it features a strong female protagonist inspired by Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, making it a Lovecraftian horror tale if Lovecraft was a record obsessed punk girl from Philadelphia. Having spent nearly a decade playing music and living in Philadelphia, this is a story that is very close to my heart.
Inside of Fox is a long dark hallway with many doors and eleven Collectors whose rooms rattle and glow with the light of their collections. Fox is a collector himself, wandering the earth in search of the transcendent memories of musicians, memories he hopes to one day spend eternity dreaming of inside the body of the next Collector. When his body begins to die, he approaches Jolene, the lead guitarist and singer of a Philadelphia punk band called The Flu Shots. Offering her immorality, all she had to do is let go of her past and give them the house that is her body. Meanwhile, John Larkin, who is Jolene’s estranged father, revisits his childhood home in order to regain his forgotten past and reconnect with his only daughter. When the smoke clears from his mind, he learns the dark truth about his family’s history and what must be done in order to stop the cycle of the Collectors.
With a word count of 150,000, the novel’s length is a challenge, however, I believe it can also be pitched as a duology, titling the first book as A-Side, and the second book as B-Side, representing the halves of a record.
As a writer, I have had short work published by or forthcoming from Dark House Press, Blight Digest, Pantheon Magazine, Fox Spirit Books, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Kraken Press, Dark Moon Digest, Thunderdome, Spark, Pulp Modern, Shroud Magazine, One Buck Horror, Niteblade, and Pseudopod. You can also follow me on social media via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram.
Below you will find the first two chapters of the novel. If interested in reading more, I am able to send the entire manuscript upon request.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.

 

Almost there! I showed this particular query to my writer friends and they suggested that I shuffle a few things around and sent me links to a few craft books on how to write a query. What I ended up with, and what I am now using is this:

A Song For John is an epic urban fantasy in the vein of Joe Hill’s Horns, blending weird fiction, gothic horror, and mystery. With an antagonist whose origin story spans nearly a thousand years, the novel’s main plot is centralized to the modern day punk scene of Philadelphia and a haunted house in Carbon County Pennsylvania over the span of just three days before Easter. Musically driven, it features a strong female protagonist inspired by Joan Jett, making it a Lovecraftian horror tale if Lovecraft was a record obsessed punk girl from Philadelphia.
Our antagonist Fox is the twelfth in a long line of Collectors, collecting the memories of musicians in hopes of one day spending eternity dreaming in these stolen moments. When his time as a Collector comes to an end, he approaches Jolene, the lead guitarist and singer of a Philadelphia punk band called The Flu Shots. Offering her immorality, all she has to do is let go of her past and give the Collectors the house that is her body before becoming a Collector herself. Meanwhile, Jolene’s estranged father John revisits his childhood home in Carbon County in order to regain the memories he lost after a rock club fire left him with amnesia nearly twenty years ago. When the smoke clears from his mind, he learns the dark truth about his family’s history and what must be done in order to stop the cycle of the Collectors.
The novel’s word count is 150,000 words, however it could be effectively split and pitched as two stand alone books, titling the first book as A-Side and the second book as B-side, representing the halves of a record..
As a writer, I have had short work published by or forthcoming from Dark House Press, Blight Digest, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Kraken Press, Spark, Pulp Modern, Shroud Magazine, One Buck Horror, and Pseudopod. You can also follow me on social media via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram.
Below you will find the opening chapter of the novel. If interested in reading more, I am able to send the full manuscript upon request.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.

 

What this pitch does is a few things: it immediately describes the tone of the book by comparing it to a popular novel of the same genre by a well known writer, it articulates the time frame and setting of the story, as well as what kind of person the main character is, and it succinctly describes the plot without off roading into other details or sub plots. Also note the confidence in which I suggest pitching it as a duology (also, it’s kind of a sick idea and is in keeping with the themes of music).

As far as who you send it to? Query tracker is a great resource and helps you keep track of who you’re querying, hence the name. Its only a few dollars and well worth it. My only last bit of advice would be to have some patience in sending your query out. Make sure it’s tight before you start pitching, otherwise you’ll end up like me and send a terrible query to ten agents that might have otherwise liked the book.

Thus far, I’ve gotten about ten rejections out of nearly sixty queries. But, I did receive a request to read the full manuscript by a professional agent! Better yet, she didn’t even get the good query, which means she had to trudge past the awful email to get to the content itself before deciding it was worth asking to see the entire book (which means she really liked the opening chapter). So, in the end, there are no absolutes trying to find an agent, just a bunch of stuff we think works and usually does. Now and again, the thing that isn’t supposed to work does anyway because life is like that.

That is it for me tonight. I hope you enjoyed it and hopefully this will keep you from making the same mistakes I did in querying agents.

Until next time, here’s to being funky.