From Book Formatting to Metatron

On Friday night I participated in the second installment of The Book Loft Literati Prose & Poetry Extravaganza. This is a monthly open-mic of sorts dedicated to local authors, readers & listeners. The interesting thing about open forums such as this, is that they draw a very diverse group of people. There were over two dozen such characters at this last Extravaganza including: four authors who participated in NaNoWriMo, screenplay writers, poets, one fellow who read from a cheesy Elvis-merchandise mailer & an eccentric guy who shared with us the glories of Metatron.

It is always great to be surrounded by others who share your struggles, hope and dreams. These gatherings are perfect for inspiration, feedback and sheer entertainment value. I was inspired by a fellow NaNoWriMo participant to format my manuscript in a two-column rendition that mimics the actual printed page. Seeing the words in that manner helped me to visualize my random string of words as though they were an actual book. Then, once it was in that format, I discovered other structural changes I needed to make: section dividers, chapter headings, margin adjustments. I was quite surprised at how simply switching the look of the layout spurred me on to tweak other elements.

So, I delayed content editing to work on the structure. And that reworking has actually helped me to think of my manuscript from the reader’s point-of-view.

The editing continues. While the structural changes came as a welcomed distraction, I am resisting the urge to research and download photos of the all-powerful Metatron.

A Celebration of Rejection

As I ran through my morning routine, I thought through three possible ideas for today’s blog. I decided on a topic, but then checked my email to see if there might be fodder waiting there. There was–my first rejection lettter. Booooo! I mean–Yay!  

Dear Mr. Hargis:
Thank you very much for your query, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately, the project does not seem right for this agency, and we are sorry that we cannot offer to serve as your literary agent.
We also apologize for the form rejection.The sheer number of queries we receive prevents personalization in order for us to respond in a timely fashion.
We wish you all the best in finding more suitable representation, encourage you to query widely, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.
The Stringer Literary Agency LLC
In 2000, I sent out appoximately 75 article and poetry queries which resulted in 5 paying acceptances. That’s a success ratio of 1:15. I have queried nine agents at this point. In my little self-coded system of stars & highlights denoting the “fit” of each agency for my novel, this one only received one star–uncircled. So, I am not disappointed. In fact, I am celebrating. 
Rejection letters only come if the groundwork of submission has been completed. Rejection letters are the proof that there is actually someone at the other end. The submission process is complicated–each agent or publisher requires a different set of information. The queries have to be catered to the specific recipient and it can take up to six months to receive a response. So, it’s nice to know that all that effort isn’t just evaporating into cyberspace.
There are still eight queries out there, and one of them is with an agent who received five stars–circled, underlined and highlighted. My goal is to get six more queries out this week so I can hit that magic number fifteen. It’s been good to me in the past. Perhaps, some morning a few weeks from now, I’ll be chewing on ideas while making coffee and decide to check my email first. Maybe there will be another cut-and-paste email for me to drop into a post–an Acceptance letter.
When that happens, I’m hoping it will be from the five-star agent. But, if I can celebrate a rejection from a one-star, I am sure I will be able to find it within me to celebrate any acceptance–even if the star isn’t circled. 
What a crock. Writers always say stuff like: “Well at least I heard something back.” OR “It was a rejction, but there was a personalized line from the agent in it.” Like that really makes the sting any more comfortable. Rejection sucks–whatever its shape or form. It makes me feel inferior, less than, and sometimes angry as hell. I probably should insert some silver lining here. You know, be happy and shit. I refuse. Not in the Invisible Ink. What I honestly, plainly want to say is: Rejection Sucks. Hard.

Dust in a Thrift Store

And my eyes were opened.

My online research of over three dozen publishers was very revealing. A few, of course, were outstanding. The quality of their books, cover art, clients & marketing stood out–in a good way. But for every top-tier company I came across, I also discovered ten gutter publishers.

There are a lot of small publishers out there. And I’m not saying that none of the smaller presses strive for excellence. There are a few whose quality seems to be equal to that of the larger ones. How else can they hope to grow up to be one of the big boys someday? Others, however, apparently have little–to no–criteria for what they print. Many produce a sub-par product that I would personally be ashamed to represent my name.

By checking out the websites I was able to sift the wheat from the chaff. I was amazed at some of the things I found. Many of the book synopses I read could have been written by middle-school students struggling to get a “C” in English. The result was wordy, fragmented summaries with horrible grammar. If the publisher didn’t even edit the synopsis, then how horrendous is the actual writing between the covers?

And then there are the covers themselves. My artistic sensibilities were assaulted with amateur designs, poorly-rendered images and oversized, over-ornate fonts. I had no trouble imagining the dust that would find a home on these books at the local Dollar Tree or thrift store. Perhaps the middle-school art students could have been commisioned instead of those from the remedial English class. Surely the final images would excel beyond some of the artwork chosen.

Some of the publishers’ sites even contained such phrases as:
“While you may have ideas about the design of your book, we are good at what we do. We have artists and designers who ensure each book meets our standards. We know what works.”


As an aspiring author, I can only think of three reasons to choose a publisher such as this: ignorance, laziness or utter desperation. I am rarely accused of the first two traits. And the third, well, I have a long way to go before the darkness of despair encompasses me to that extreme. I cannot imagine taking the child I have been grooming so meticulously and throwing him into the back alleys to forage for food. Daddy loves him too much. I would rather we find what we need some other way: begging, pleading, dancing for our supper. Maybe there is a bit of pride bracing up this opinion. But, hopefully, it is the healthy kind.

What’s Your Book About?

Over the holidays, I got to hone the verbal pitch for my novel in response to the question:
“So, what’s your book about?”

It seems like such an easy question to answer. That is, until the words start gurgling out as though spoken by some other mouth that has no clue what it’s babbling. While I do not have my response boiled down to a succint attention-grabbing answer, this simple question from family and friends has helped me hone it. As I continue to refine my response, I at least have a rough draft of the actual pitch set down in writing.

Capritare looks down at the blood streaming from his wound. He never should have played the game. His hooves are swift but they are no match for the others sporting horns & antlers. He can’t afford an injury. Time is running out.

The Ogen demand his decision. Which of the three deities will he vow to? Each possesses traits Capritare would like to call his own: strength, healing, magic. He wants them all but can only choose one. So, he sets out on a journey to discover which he desires most.

His quest intersects with that of others faced with the same decision. Their journeys into the dark of Thick and the waters of Deep take them closer to learning the true essence of the Ogen. Along the way, Capritare discovers a rare Ranthanalle. What’s is its purpose? Can it help him unlock the answer he is searching for?

The seven cycles he has been given are racing to an end. A decision must be made. If he will not choose between the three Ogen, then he will end up with the only other option– annihilation. But Capritare has learned too much about himself and the deities to let that happen.

CAPRITARE is a young adult fantasy set in a rich world teeming with ever-changing life and adventure at every turn.

While the written pitch is farther along than the verbal “elevator-pitch”, I am quite aware that they both need work. The more my loved ones ask me about it–the more I realize that I need to prepare for the time when I’ll be asked by someone who doesn’t really know nor care about me personally. So, I’m allowing these gentle stumblings to prepare me for the future ones that could mean the difference between getting published or not.

At this point, I have gotten strong responses by replying with a question of my own:
“If given the choice: would you choose to sprout a rack of antlers, a full set of magnificent wings, or have rows of glowing jewels embellishing your body?”

This question gets the listener thinking–personalizing–and transitions perfectly into my explanation of the major themes of sexual identity, self-discovery & personal growth within the book. I have used this method a few times now & found that the initial question engages the listener to the point of wanting to know more. For now, that is my verbal opener. And, so far, it has garnered the most interest in & dialogue about my book.

“If it aint broke….”

A New Year, A New Set of Eyes

Editing. The act of writing is actually nothing more than that. What ideas do I want to include? What details are needed? Which ones should I leave out? What’s the best way to word this passage?

After that initial sweep is laid down as actual words-on-page, there is another round of editing. Tighten the prose. Make sure it flows well. Incorporate smooth transitions & segues between ideas. Ditch any text that doesn’t add to the whole. Declutter.

But, my own eyes can only go so far in the process. I, like all writers, am too close to the story. So, after the first couple rounds of refinement, it is good for me to look away and let another set of eyes see what they can see.

I currently have two such sets of eyes making a go of it. One belongs to my best friend & confidant, Micah. He is not a writer himself but has had a lifelong love of reading & is currently blazing up Amazon Kindle with new finds. The other set belongs to a good friend who also happens to be amazingly adept at turning a phrase. Jason & I supported one another through the grueling task of NaNoWriMo. We both ended up with distinctly different novels and are now swapping for some much needed critique & feedback. Here is a portion of a texting conversion we had yesterday [texting typos, shorthand and all].

Jason: I cant wait till im done giving manbirth to this thing so i can send it off

Me: Hurts doesnt it? But, man, does it want to get out!

Jason: Im pushing! i just want to get my first feedback of the completed work

Me: Yeah, i still need that. Micah is perusing it. he’s given minor feedback but not the the gut-wrenching kind i think it needs.

Jason: Can u email it to me? i can start digging in an hour or so in the evenings. im slow but careful.

Me: I emailed the first 4 cycles to you

Jason: K…ill print it out and get to reading. I could get you my first 4 chapters???

Me: Send what youve got ready & i’ll critique it with an editor’s eye

Jason: its on its way now…

Me: Yeehaw! ur so brave to put it within reach of my hands. Muahaahaaaa

Jason: 🙂 be gently critical

Me: I will guy. Editorial yet friendly. & 4 mine, u have 2 dumb urself down 2 a young adult reading level, but still be an editor.

Jason: Haha…i doubt that. Ill be critical, but will also be sure to suspend disbelief as to enter into the fabulous world youve created

So, we each took the chance. With swapped novels in one another’s hands, we have exposed them to scrutinizing eyes which do not possess the same love, commitment, blood, sweat & tears as their authors. It’s done now. We each are letting the other babysit for a few days. And we gave one another permission to nurture & punish as needed. I’m going to love on Jason’s man-baby and see if I can help it grow a little faster. And I’m hoping my baby returns to me stronger, more mature & potty-trained.