Friday Links

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Everywhere I look, I see signs that fall is coming. Back-to-school sales, fall book lists, the return of pumpkin-themed foods. But despite all that, it’s still full-on summer in my neck of the woods, another heatwave bearing down and the air conditioning on high to combat constant sweaty foreheads. Though we human beings are the ones who imposed the concept of seasons over the way our weather cycles, we seem terribly bad at actually enjoying the seasons as they play out. Life in a commerce-driven world — we are at the mercy of the marketing calendar.

But I’m more concerned with the weekly calendar today. TGIF! I’ve a nice selection of links for you, and I hope you enjoy them, whatever sort of weather or season you’re experiencing. Don’t forget to squeeze in your writing time. Happy weekend!

The End of the Ambitious Summer Reading List – An interesting look at how our collective reading habits have shifted.

The Great Booksellers Fall Preview – A peek at the books booksellers around the country are looking forward to reading and/or selling.

What Happened to O? – Just one more small evolution of language.

The Purpose of Plot: An Argument with Myself – One reader’s relationship with plot summaries.

When the Editor Becomes the Writer – On wearing two hats.

Tips for Navigating the Submissions Process

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Writers often ask how they can improve their chances of getting an agent interested in their work, and of course the most important response, always, is to write a great book — fabulous story, strong hook, beautifully crafted prose, satisfying ending. That’s easier said than done, and it’s not something an agent can really help a writer with other than to encourage them to hone their skills, to get feedback from trusted sources, and to keep on trying. But not all advice requires such time-intensive, career-building effort.

I offer up for your benefit the low-hanging fruit of the submissions process — the advice that is easy to follow. In many cases these morsels are common sense, things that should not even need to be said, but for some reason still get ignored all too often, whether because the writer has gone half-blind staring at their manuscript, nerves make them careless, or the task just hasn’t occurred to them. Most of these things should be done after you’re finished tweaking your manuscript, and in most cases repeated if you go back in for additional revisions. Others apply to your query letters and should be handled on an as-needed basis.

Run spell check. I understand you might have a lot of wiggly red lines in your manuscript and/or query letter. Fantasy writers especially deal in made up words and names that set spell check into a tail spin. If that’s the sort of writing you do, it’s worth the time it takes to create a custom dictionary for your project where you add in the correct spelling of your characters’ names, fancy spells they throw out, the names of countries and rivers and mountain ranges you’ve devised, etc. That way you can not only minimize those wiggly red lines, but you’ll find out if you have a typo in the words you’ve created as well as the more standard varieties. But in this day an age, there is no reason for an agent to face a query letter and/or manuscript with multiple misspellings. If my spell check catches them, yours will, too.

Save edits and eliminate markups. All too often I open a manuscript to find that the writer’s critique partner made extensive edits and comments using Track Changes or some other system, and the writer has left them in the file for the world to see. Even if I have Track Changes turned off, Word presents me with the Final Showing Markup. It’s important to go through all those comments and edits and physically accept or reject the changes in order to have a clean manuscript for submission. If you want to keep track of your critique partner’s or your editor’s notes, simply save a new, clean copy of the file for submission purposes only. You really don’t want your prospective agent to find a sea of colorful revisions the first time they look at your work.

Read the submission guidelines. Agents will repeat this until they go hoarse, and yet I constantly receive queries that show without any doubt that the writer failed to take two minutes to visit the agency site and read over the guidelines for submissions. Take the time. It’s in everyone’s best interests. Why would you want to query an agent who does not handle the sorts of stories you write? Guidelines are there to streamline the submissions process and to help both writer and agent make the best match possible.

Proofread your query letter. This is the first thing an agent will read, so give it the same love and attention you would give your manuscript. The easiest way to handle this is to write your query in Word or another word processing program with a reliable (or customized) spell check, review it carefully for any clunky phrases, missing words and so on, then copy and paste the final version of the letter into your email.

Personalize your query letter and check for errors. Yes, it’s nice if you tell me why you’re submitting to me, specifically, but by this I mean make sure the email address and the salutation match. There’s nothing worse than opening an email query only to see it says Dear [Name of some other agent]. Most agents expect that you’re submitting to multiple people, but don’t let that turn the process into an assembly line. Take the time to double check that you’ve updated all parts of your query letter before you hit send. And by no means should you send a single email to a long series of agents. If the wrong name in the salutation will annoy me, the site of one hundred agents in the to: field will cause me to auto-reject. And no, hiding the list by putting the addresses in the blind copy filed doesn’t change my poor impression. Again, take the time to query each agent individually.

Include pertinent information with all correspondence. Remind the agent who you are and what you’re writing when you send any follow-up emails. If you meet an agent at a conference and they request material from you, be sure to remind them of that when you follow through. Include your name, where you met, the title and genre of your work, and what you’re sending (three chapters, 50 pages, synopsis, whatever). If the agent has requested attachments, be sure they’re actually attached and that they are the correct files, and that they include your name and the title of the work as well. When you write an agent to check up on a project, include your previous email in the thread or, at minimum, use the same email address to make yourself searchable.

Are any of these a magic bullet that will land you an agent or get you published in a heartbeat? Of course not. But they are all basic good-business practices that you should make a habit as you travel along your career path. Agents look for great projects, but they also look for writers with whom they will enjoy working. A writer who takes a few moments to make sure they’re sending the cleanest possible work, with clear correspondence accompanying it, will be a much more appealing prospect than a writer who is sloppy and creates extra work for the agent. Take a professional stance and you will already shine more brightly in the crowd.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday to all! What’s on your horizon this weekend? Mine’s filled with words… I’m deep into a serious submissions-pile catch up, as the number of things rattling around in that particular inbox has been making me twitch for a while now. I tend to read queries and partials during the week when I can work them in around other tasks, but full-length manuscripts are on deck for the weekend. I don’t expect anyone will be seeing much of me.

But before I disappear into a dozen different worlds, I bring you this week’s assortment of links. I hope you find them interesting, educational, and entertaining, and that you might find a little inspiration for your own weekend activities. Enjoy!

The Charge to Be Fair: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay in Conversation – An important talk about Coates’s new book, race in writing, and race relations today.

7 Books to Give You a Taste of Edinburgh (If You Can’t Be There to Soak Up the Culture Yourself) – The annual Edinburgh International Book Festival began last weekend, so this might give yo a little taste.

13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Accomplished – Advice from Gretchen Rubin.

11 History Books You Should Read Before Writing Your Military SF – Nice round up, even if you’re not writing in the sub-genre, plus some more suggestions in comments.

Beyond Bond – The New York Public Library offers up a list of spy novels for lovers of Ian Fleming’s famous character.

How “The Girl on the Train” Became a Runaway Success – A look at the role of Goodreads in the marketing of a successful title.

Happy Book Day!

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Kissing Vicious

Happy book release day to Brooklyn Ann, whose new romance, KISSING VICIOUS, is available today. Known for her paranormal romance, Brooklyn veers off into the very real world of heavy-metal music with her latest tale, the first in a planned trilogy.

Aspiring guitarist Kinley Black is about to get her first big break—as a roadie for Viciöus, her favorite heavy metal band, and for the rock god she always dreamt might make her a woman. 

THE ROADIE 

At 15, aspiring guitarist Kinley Black wished she were a boy. At 16, after hearing Quinn Mayne sing, she wanted him to make her a woman. Now, at 22, her dreams have come true. Quinn’s band Viciöus needs someone to lug their amps around the country, to strive and sweat with the guys. She just has to act like one of them. 

AND THE ROCK GOD 

Quinn had to admit the new chick could pull her weight, but that didn’t mean his road manager made the right choice. Taking a hottie on a heavy metal music tour was like dangling meat in front of a pack of feral hounds—and Quinn could be part dog himself. But more surprising than her beautiful body are Kinley’s sweet licks, so that no man could help but demand a jam session. Quinn will soon do anything to possess her, and to put Kinley in the spotlight where she belongs. And to keep her safe and sound from the wolves.

 

Sheila Heti’s First Time

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The Paris Review Blog is back with more of their “My First Time” series of interviews with authors about their first publications and the experiences leading up to them. Today’s interview features writer Sheila Heti discussing how she became a writer and her approach to learning how to write a short story.

PSA: On Writing the Other

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There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in reading and writing, both in traditional media and social media. I know that one of the problems for writers can be that hesitation to include diverse characters for fear of getting them wrong and ending up doing more harm than good. So I wanted to give a quick signal boost to an online course coming up on Writing the Other, taught by K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl. It’s going to be a small class in terms of size, but I suspect it will be offered again if it’s successful. If this is something you’re concerned about, either generally or for a particular project, you might want to check it out.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday, everyone! This week flew by. In fact, summer seems to be flying by. A friend cornered me the other evening to let me know about her Labor Day bbq, and all I could think was “September? Already? No!” It’s the same every year, yet it always manages to catch me unawares.

But we have a few more weeks of summer to enjoy, and I hope you intend to get some good reading and writing time in along with your other activities. And of course, if you’re in the southern part of the world, I hope you’re anticipating spring’s arrival by staying inside, keeping warm, and cranking out pages on your WIP before sunny days lure you outside. To mix in with all these activities, I offer this week’s links to check out. Enjoy, and have a fabulous weekend!

World Building 101 – N.K. Jemisin recently taught an online class in world building, and here she offers a downloadable PDF of the steps she takes when creating worlds. Not as complete as taking the course, obviously, but still a great resource.

How Romance Novelists Got Such a Silly, Sappy Rap – In the wake of this year’s national RWA convention, an interesting look at romance writers as business people.

Can’t Get Into It – Artist and writer Danny Gregory talks about attention span and reading — briefly.

How to Access a Million Stunning, Copyright-free Antique Illustrations Released by the British Library – A fabulous resource for bloggers, etc.

World’s Coolest Bookstores – Some amazing photos. You’re going to want to add a few of these to your travel list.

Reading More Diversely: Mid-Year Update

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DiverseBooks

Back in December, I did a quick review of my personal reading for 2014, and decided I wanted to make a concerted effort to read more diversely. My stats for last year included a chart that showed I read slightly more women authors than men, and about 25% of the books I read were by authors of color. I also read predominately authors of American or British origin, with very little in translation. While those numbers were not terrible, they were not as well-rounded as I’d like, so I knew I wanted to work at changing them this year.

But how to change? There were a number of challenges going around at the start of the year — suggestions of how to diversify your reading habits no matter what demographic you were seeking to increase. One of the most notable was K. Tempest Bradford’s reading challenge, where she suggested readers go an entire year without reading a single book by white male, cis, straight authors.

I thought the challenge sounded fabulous, but a little extreme for my personal taste, simply because I knew I would trip over books during the course of the year that excited me and that I would want to read immediately, and sometimes they would not fall into the challenge parameters. Instead I decided I would let her challenge inspire me to be more mindful of what I read in general, and make a concerted effort to choose more books by a variety of different authors. They were certainly on my radar — and on my shelves. It was just a matter of pushing them higher up on my to-read list.

Because I did own so many books by authors of color and different backgrounds, I physically pulled a bunch off of my bookcases and made an actual pile. This way, when I’m ready to read a new book, these titles are some of the first I consider. New books by authors of color get added to the stack when I acquire them, as well, keeping them in the forefront of my mind.

So how am I doing? Better, but there’s still room for improvement. As of today, my ratio has increased and approximately 35% of my reading this year has been by writers of color. I’ve read fewer books overall than I’d have liked, but there’s still more than four months left in 2015, so I have plenty of time to catch up in all respects. I’m pretty pleased with my system, but I’ll definitely reassess at the end of the year to determine if I’ll continue this way in 2016, or if I will find a more aggressive way of meeting my goal.

The beauty of reading challenges is that they serve as a spring board. If they fit with your goals, and seem like something you want to try for, terrific! If they seem a little too ambitious for you, tailor them for your own needs. Some readers already read diversely in terms of authors of color but would like to check out more books in translation, or simply by non-American authors. Other readers want to read more women authors, or more nonfiction.

Although I sometimes joke that I’d like to read “all the books,” in reality I know that’s both impractical and simply not true. Not all books appeal to me. There are plenty of titles out there that I’m happy to skip. But with so many millions of books to choose from, there are definitely many I’ve yet to discover that I no doubt will adore. It’s a matter of scratching around and being open to all of the many sources, and widening my scope when it comes to the places where I go to learn about both back lists and new releases.

For instance, despite knowing of Tempest’s challenge, I only recently came across her YouTube channel where she recommends different books by a range of authors, all of which fit her challenge parameters. Even though I’m not following the challenge precisely, this serves as a fabulous source for reading recommendations. I’m also a frequent visitor to Book Riot, where they are actively discussing diversity in publishing and make an effort to talk about a broad range of books. I follow the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and learn about great authors of color writing for kids and young adults.

For me, it’s not sufficient to read more by authors of color. I also want to be more aware of the books that are out there and — I hope — help more great books by authors of color find their way into bookstores and the hands of readers. I’m not just a reader, but a person working in the industry, and so part of reading more diversely for me is about making strides toward diversifying publishing as a whole.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday! I hope you all had a lovely week. I’m still digging out from under a huge pile of work, but otherwise I’m happy to say my summer cold is finally improving, and I finally have working air conditioning again. So all in all, a very good week.

I’m back with this week’s links, and I tried to make them pop a little more than usual to make up for last Friday’s lack. As a result, they’re a little more all over the place in terms of subject, but that just means there should be something for everyone. Enjoy, and have a fabulous weekend!

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Books You Absolutely Must Read in August – A great list of new releases for the month.

10 Reasons Every Fiction Writer Should Learn Technical Writing – I’m not saying this is something you absolutely must do, but it’s a very interesting take on what you might get from adding this skill to your arsenal.

Ursula K. LeGuin Launches Online Writing Workshop – Pretty much as stated.

On Ambition (Or Whatever) – An interesting look at this things that drive us.

Haruki Murakami: The Moment I Became a Novelist – A peek at the writer’s magical moment of conviction.

Master Penman Jake Weidmann – A look at keeping craft alive.

With Conference Comes Plague…

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For those of you wondering where I am, I did not decide to stay back east and indulge in bookish revelry or extended vacation time. In truth, I succumbed to the age old tradition of the conference plague. By the second day of RWA, I had laryngitis, and by the time I left the city Friday afternoon it was turning into an actual cold. I spent last week at my parents’ house, gargling and drinking tea with honey and blowing my nose, and thanks to a much-delayed flight back to LA that had me sitting on a plane for eleven hours, I spent the weekend on my couch doing many of the same things.

I have been assured that what I have is viral, which means not strep, but also means I don’t get any of the good drugs. It’s more annoying than anything at this point, because it is holding on tight, but all I can do is wait for it to decide it’s finished having its wicked way with me. In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting as soon as I have more than a few meagre hours of brain power to allocate to the day. Go read something good while I’m gone…

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