Of Twitter, Pitches, and Agents

Something happened last week that sent me all a-Twitter (see what I did there?)

I was working in the office one afternoon when my friend Joe burst in (virtually) on G-chat, demanding I get off my electronic butt and log in to Twitter. Apparently there was a pitchfest going on. A number of agents and publishers were taking tweeted pitches from authors at #SFFpit.

With the kind of subtle prompting only a life in the military could give him (e.g. “GO! GO! GO!”), he convinced me to enter a pitch of my own. His own agent, Sam Morgan of JABberwocky, was one of the participating agents.

I nearly wimped out, but Joe used his Command Voice again (“FUCKING DROP EVERYTHING”).

So I did. I picked one of my more promising manuscripts, a fantasy-comedy-murder mystery.

Here’s what I tweeted:

tweet1

Organic, too.

 

And here’s who responded.

 

Contact info edited out.

Contact info edited out.

The same Sam Morgan who was representing Joe! From the same agency that represented Brandon Sanderson! And Sam wasn’t even aware that I KNEW Joe (at that point anyway)!

I’d pitched articles to magazines before, and queried short fiction magazines, but this was the first time I had received such a positive response so fast! I nearly wimped out again, but I finally sucked it up (with help) and sent in a full query and three chapters.

Sam’s reply included the words “best pitch” and “really excited”, which in turn made ME “really excited!”

Right now, all I can do is sit and wait. It’s still way too early in the process yet—in fact, I don’t even think process has even begun. Sam probably still hasn’t read my query, and when he does he could always say “no” and turn me down. God knows I’ve seen enough of that happen at FFO, where we turn down strong writers just because it’s not the right fit.

But if he says “yes”, and asks for the rest of the manuscript?

Excuse me. I’ve got some editing to do.

P.S. If your email signature reads “Right Hand of Darkness”, I want to work with you.

The Mystery of the Mismatched Writing Speeds

I write nearly every day. On the business side, I write blogs, brochures, and websites. On the fiction side, I write short stories and novels (well… just the one right now). I’ve been doing this for years now—nearly a decade. And over the course of my writing career, I’ve noticed one very weird thing:

My writing speeds don’t match.

“Whuh?” you say? I say it too!

I used to think I had one consistent writing speed—you know, like how people have one top speed for running. But all that changed when I tried the Pomodoro method and put my writing to a timer.

I discovered that my business writing comes out at a much faster pace than my fiction. When I write blogs or articles, it takes me about 20-30 minutes to get to the 500 word mark. When I write my novel, on the other hand, it takes me nearly an hour (sometimes more).

This was a very annoying realization, because I’ve been trying to get my book out the door for ages. Here was Fiction Me, chugging away at 500 words an hour and trying console himself that he was doing his best effort, only for Business Me to speed by and leave Fiction Me floundering in his wake.

As frustrating as it is, it’s also kind of reassuring. I can increase my writing speed. I just have to figure out why Business Me works so fast and replicate the conditions.

Time to break out the metrics (Ugh. Metrics)!

What about you? Do you notice anything weird when you write two different things?

5 Ways to Keep Your Writing Momentum

If you’re like me (and if you are, I pity you), then your writing flow is full of stops and starts. Just when you get into the writing groove, the world (or worse, yourself) conspires to interrupt you and break this –

– hold on, bathroom break –

Where were we? Oh yeah.

– break this sublime streak of productivity. That’s not good for your word count. Nor is it good for whatever you’re writing, because you’re going to lose your train of thought and risk going off on tangents that are totally irrelevant because that’s what tangents do and…

(deep breath)

Sorry. Anyway.

There is help for us, my friends. There are ways to keep you in your seat and pounding happily (or unhappily, for some of you) away at the keyboard. And not all of them require cattle prods and electrified fencing. In fact, most are quite pleasant.

Image by Caitlinator from Flickr

1. Write to a goal

This is the tip that seems to work best for me. Your goal can either be word count, a number of chapters, or a set time period. The point is to have something to shoot for: small manageable goals that you can repeat on a regular basis.

2. Psych yourself out

It’s not just for athletes. Getting in some serious mental mojo can really get you pumped up to write. Meditation might work, if you’re into that. But egging yourself on works too (just don’t believe your own hype.)

3. Get a cheerleader

If cheering yourself on seems to weird for you, then you might consider having someone else be your cheerleader. This person will hold you accountable for the goals you set, and if they do their job right it can really push you to be productive – especially if there’s a reward, like a round of drinks or something. Your cheerleader can be your spouse, your friend, or even a fellow/rival writer (for some people, it’s competition that brings out the best in them.)

4. Remove unsafe distractions

Notice I said unsafe distractions. There’s no way to completely remove yourself from distractions if you really can’t concentrate. The key here is to know which distractions are the most debilitating to you – like the Internet, in my case, or noise for others. Then you can use safe distractions like music to shut out the outside world.

5. Move somewhere else

Most writers work at home, and the problem with working at home is that sooner or later a family member is going to ask you to do something. I go through this with Flossie sometimes, and I do admit that it’s hard to say no. The solution? Remove yourself entirely and work somewhere else. The library. The coffee shop. Anywhere you can work comfortably and not be disturbed.

A Red Thing by Joe Zieja

My friend Joe over at Loose Threads has taken the plunge (well, more like dipped his foot) into the world of self-publishing by putting his dark fantasy short story, “A Red Thing”, up for sale on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

I’m seriously excited for him. Not just because he’s attempting to self-publish, but because his work deserves to be noticed. Joe recently won an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future (though not for this story), which is kind of a big deal. I’ve read “A Red Thing” before, and it is one of my favorite short stories, not just from him, but in talking about short fiction in general.

Here’s the posted synopsis for those too lazy to jump the link:

A red evil has fallen upon the world. The Maji Benkara, demons who crave sensation and pleasure not accessible to them in their ethereal forms, must possess humans to achieve a vicarious life. They rule with magic, with fear, and with cruelty – but they need a willing host to do it.

“A Red Thing” follows one man’s journey through the dissolution of his humanity as a Maji Benkara takes control of him and uses his body to wreak havoc. The lines become blurred between a conscience lost and a power gained, and he must fight every moment to retain some shred of the man he once was.

So give his ebook a try. It’ll cost you only a buck, and in return you’ll get a great tale that you can share with your friends.

Update 7/10/12: The ebook just hit #45 on the Kindle’s bestseller chart for fantasy anthologies (which is wierd, because it’s only one short story, but there you go.)

After The Dream

It’s the modern-day dream. Being able to work for yourself without being tied down to an office, a boss, or a company. No dream comes free though, and all freelancers have to take the good with the bad. But who are you to complain. You’re living the dream, right?

Right.  

That’s what I always thought until I spoke to Hollis Bartlett, a freelance web developer and designer I met a few days ago. He’s been building websites since 1996 and loves what he does. He’s built a very successful business for himself, and even hired an assistant developer to help him with the workload.

Unfortunately, the nature of the business just became too much for him, and he decided to hang up his mouse and keyboard and (partially) retire. Here’s an excerpt of his email to me:

I’ve grown to dislike the business. It’s a shame, because I still love creating designs in Photoshop, and oddly enough I love love love creating web design using css & html. I love putting together CMS templates with all of these components, and my favourite part is still helping people get their business online properly. The business part afterwards, however, sucks the big one. Waiting for invoices to get paid (usually late). People not paying attention to what you tell them, and constantly bugging you for shit you already told them 10 times. People don’t read emails. They assume they can call you at any time of the day, on any day of the week including Sundays.  I had one show up at my house unannounced on a Sunday afternoon.

You can read the rest of it here.

The reason I find this so poignant is that many people (myself included) dream of being able to support ourselves and our families by doing the thing we love. We work hard and put ourselves through hell to make it happen and, through luck and blood and sweat, some of us do. Hollis did.

What Hollis’ experience taught me is that there’s always an after. Always. Life doesn’t stop once you reach that dream. You don’t watch the sunset through your home office window and cue the credits to roll. Things still happen. Projects fail. Clients complain. Bills come in. Your motivation dies. The dream fades to gray.

By that same token, you don’t have to stay there. Things can turn sour, but there’s always a way to make it better. Hollis took the leap by retiring and moving to a new city. I’m sure other freelancers who got sick of the job adapted in their own way as well, whether by retiring or evolving into different services.

Will I ever be able to support my family with my freelancing? Am I ever going to be a published author? It might happen. Once I do, will I eventually get sick of it? It’s possible. What am I going to do when it actually happens? I have no idea.

Do you?

Fool Me Once, Shame On Me

I had mentioned in a previous blog post that I had a certain delinquent payment that I was trying to resolve. I wouldn’t say I was chasing the editor down. Rather, I was just emailing every single person on the magazine’s contact page until I found one that would respond. Very reasonable, right? No cuss words or stalker-ish phone calls or anything. And it just so happened that the person who responded was their publisher!

Perfect! Attention from the top!

This person was very polite, even after I sent her the delinquent invoice of $80, and said the payment would be taken care of in short order. Sure enough, after an hour, I received a payment in Paypal. But it was only for $25. Huh?

I was by turns confused, concerned, insulted, confused again, and finally curious. There had to be a mistake somewhere.

And there was. Just not where I was expecting.

I mentioned (in very polite terms) the agreement that the editor and I had at the start of the project. I referenced the amount in the job ad they’d posted, which was the same amount the editor and I discussed over the phone. $80. The publisher politely but firmly instructed me that there must’ve been some confusion, and to consult the contract I’d signed at the start of the project.

Uh oh.

Did you read?

I checked. And there it was, in black and white. $25.

Now, I could’ve gone ballistic and yelled my head off about not getting the agreed upon amount. I could’ve sent a nasty email about the bait and switch that these people were pulling on contributors who work in good faith. But really, all I could muster was a resigned thought: They got me.

1st rule of freelancing is to always check your contract. Always. Golden rule. So this situation is really my own fault. The magazine may have been sneaky and underhanded, but they did nothing illegal. I signed a contract that I didn’t read. Lesson learned, watch out next time.

And honestly? I’m just glad I got paid at all.