Several things today. First, I got an email from someone who enjoys my blogging on UTI, and sent along this nice comment:
After you mentioned your novel on UTI a couple of days ago, I went to the linked site thinking, “oh great, I like Jim’s writing on the blog, but a novelist?” It’s wonderful! I’m reading a chapter a night before I go to bed, and I’m having a very good time in your world(s). I could always read more each night, but make myself wait as I’m so busy these days that if I gave up sleep, I could finish everything I have to do in the next three months in about three and half months.
Just wanted to tell you that it’s fine work Jim.
I’ll leave it anonymous for now, though I did invite him to come by and post his thoughts for himself. Or I’ll ID him if he gives permission.
Over the last several days, I’ve been trying to identify and contact likely agents to represent me and Communion. As I mentioned previously, I identified over 60 agents who say they handle Science Fiction, so it is slow going to check out each agency online, see what others have to say about them, decide who looks promising, who to contact and who to pass. So far, I have sent queries to seven agents/agencies, and have already heard back from one. That’s the ‘rejection’ part of the title.
But it was quick, painless, professional – all you can expect in this business, and it left me with no ill feelings whatsoever. Having operated an art gallery for 8 years, I know full well what it is like to be on both sides of this equation, and respect anyone who handles giving out a rejection with a modicum of class.
Oh, hits to the Communion site are running between 350-450 a day right now, with something like 150 or so people deciding to download the novel. Over 1100 downloads, last snapshot of the stats I saw.
Well, I finally found the time and energy to dive back into the Guide to Literary Agents, and to start contacting some of the prospective agencies I’d identified previously, after doing some additional research on them.
And some additional research on me. Because as I put together my query letter (each one tailored to a given agency, based on a general text), I decided to go dig further into the stats for the Communion website to bolster my case for why someone might want to publish my book. I’m not that techno-savvy, and had not previously figured out how to configure my hosting account to get all the information possible. Oh, I knew I had been running (on average) about a thousand hits a week to the site for the past six weeks, but I didn’t know how many people had decided to download the .pdf files of the novel.
It’s over 800. Make that just under 1,000 twenty-four hours later. Wow.
As I mention on the homepage for Communion, one of the dangers in writing near-term speculative fiction is being outpaced by the real flow of events in the world, whether that is political, social, technological, or scientific. Which is why early on I try and convey that the novel is set in an alternative time-line, thereby giving myself some leeway to be at odds with what actually happens.
But still, you run the real risk of being dated. In the prequel to Communion, titled St. Cybi’s Well (still very much just starting to work on this book), I’m writing about 2012 – only 5 years from now. One of the key items I had initially conceived of for that book was what I called a ‘UniPod’ – a small, Blackberry-sized device which had nothing but a screen on one side, and which would serve as a phone, satellite radio, music system, palm-top computer – you get the idea. Sound familiar? It should – it’s what the Apple iPhone looks like and basically how it functions (I’m sure the additional capabilities will be built in soon enough). And it already exists, four years ahead of schedule.
Likewise, the pace of world events isn’t what I establish as the basis for my ‘future history’. In it, there has already been a nuclear attack against Israel, and they have unveiled (and put into operation) a plan to establish a substantial colony on the Moon using conventional heavy-lift rockets. Unlikely? Maybe. Outlandish? No – I don’t think so.
But these kinds of things get in the way of people getting into the novel, I think. For any work of fiction, you need a willing suspension of disbelief, and a lot of people have a hard time divorcing current events from what I speculate upon. Yet if you were to go back to 2000, and say that you predict where we are today – bogged down in a nightmare in Iraq, significant curtailment of our civil liberties here at home, seeing the resurgence of Russia as a major power, et cetera – I think a lot of people would have a hard time swallowing it. But having lived through it, being there for each twist and turn, it all makes emotional sense to us now. Solid enough emotional sense that some people have a hard time imagining anything different.
OK, that was weird. For some reason hits to this blog yesterday were 3x the previous high day, and about 20x the recent daily average.
I don’t have any idea why. The stats on the Communion site were fairly normal. It’s like all of a sudden a bunch of people who had been checking out the book decided to come for a visit here.
I thought that I would outline some policies on comments.
First off, I would encourage commentary, either as feedback on the novel itself, or on any of the other posts I make here. As a general rule, so long as I am able, I will respond to any comment made in good faith. To date that hasn’t been a problem, given how few people have been by and the 1% or so who have made comments, but it is certainly possible if things pick up.
Next, I’m going to be an autocratic bastard. Trolls will not be tolerated. Oh, comments and criticism are welcome, if they seem to be in good faith. But any spam or hatred will be nuked. This is my blog – if you want to hate on me or someone else, get your own blog and do it there. It’s not like they cost anything.
So, according to the stats for the Communion of Dreams site, I’ve been getting over a thousand hits a week there, and plenty of people are downloading the files. And I hear anecdotal comments about the book here and there from people. Yet this blog gets little traffic, and even less feedback on the book. It’s weird.
I know from my experience as a columnist and long-time writer in other forums just how few people will ever actually voice an opinion on the stuff you write – it’s only like one percent in most of the cases where I’ve had numbers to run. But still, it seems so odd to me that I have heard so little response to the book, either good or bad.
So this is an invitation, once again, to comment. Good, bad, whatever, feel free. Be anonymous if you want – I don’t have the computer sophistication to track back your ISP and figure out who you are, and I’d respect your desire to remain anonymous, anyway.
No, not a Holy Grail reference.
For over 8 years I owned an art gallery. I think it was the largest gallery in the state of Missouri, and featured works by a lot of local and regional artists of remarkable talent. At any given time we represented a couple dozen different artists, in a wide variety of styles, and had 200 or more works of art on hand for people to see (and theoretically buy, which they didn’t do enough of, which is why I closed the business three years ago).
That 8 years of selling art taught me a lot of things. Among those things was that everyone has a different sense of taste in what they like in artwork. And that that is OK.
The same is true of writing, of course. I don’t much appreciate poetry, as a general rule, though I know that a lot of really good poetry is out there, that it has a level of sophistication and intelligence about it which appeals to many people. I don’t much go in for mysteries (with a few exceptions), am ignorant of the entire ‘chick-lit’ genre, and wouldn’t touch most techno-thriller stuff unless I was being paid well to review it. And anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am a nut forthe Harry Potter books – I honestly consider JK Rowling to be a top-notch writer. (Yes, yes, I realize that many people consider them unworthy kid’s books, and Rowling nothing but a hack. We can argue about that later.)
Even within a genre, there are writers I like, and others less so. That doesn’t make those writers bad (though some of them are, and that is the reason I don’t care for them). It just means that for some reason or another their work doesn’t resonate with me.
Which brings me around to my point. It’s OK if you don’t like my novel. No, seriously, if it doesn’t do anything for you, that’s fine. It could be that you don’t care for Science Fiction. Or maybe you just don’t like my writing. Sure, I want people to like it (or at least respect it for being well-done), but I long ago learned that tastes differ widely – what I like in art or literature may be completely at odds with what you like. And that’s OK. To argue otherwise is to basically come down to saying “you can’t like blue. Red is the superior color.”
Anyway, don’t be afraid to say you didn’t like the book. I’m a big boy, have survived learning that not everything I do is going to please everyone.
That’s how many listings I pulled out of the Guide to Literary Agents as prospects. Now I’m going through the list to do more research on each one, checking websites, that sort of thing. Once that is done, I’ll rank the different agencies, and start contacting those where I think I have the best chance to get someone to actually look at the novel. High on my priority list will be agencies which handle submissions via email – in this day and age, there’s no reason not to do such things this way, and I must admit to a certain bias in thinking that any agency which doesn’t do this is either so behind the times (I’ve been using email for regular correspondence in my business for over a decade, and almost 15 years of private correspondence) or so stuck in old ways of doing business that I would have to wonder how well suited they are to finding a publisher for my book.
Besides, submitting work via email is a lot faster and more efficient. I can embed some text with the cover letter, add links directly to the Communion site, et cetera. Save a tree and postage, also. Not that I have any illusions about what matters to most agents; convenience and efficiency for me is low on their list of priorities. In fact, there may be something to the idea of submitting hardcopies via snail-mail, if only for the fact that fewer people are probably doing that these days. Hmm…
Gah. Spent yesterday pretty much crippled with a migraine. I suspect it was due entirely to getting into the Guide to Literary Agents and reading one phrase again and again under the individual listings for agents:
“Does not want to receive screenplays, science fiction, or romance.”
Welcome to the publishing ghetto.
In this thread on Daily Kos, someone who had read the first few chapters of the novel had some criticism to offer (go down a bit from where that discussion starts). He said that the first few chapters are too information-dense, and that the reader really doesn’t need to know how everything works.
Now, the issue about presentation – how the information is conveyed – is a legitimate one to criticize. He’s the first person to specifically mention this, but over-loading the reader with too much technical exposition is a real danger when writing science fiction, and I do worry whether I pulled it off as smoothly as I could. You have to keep the reader reading, not getting bogged down in explanations of how and why things are the way they are – but you also have to establish the set and setting of the novel’s reality. It is a tough line to walk, and I’m sure that there will be others who don’t feel that I succeeded.
However, the point the critic made about the information being superflous is dead wrong. As I say on the homepage for the novel, this is classic science fiction, in that a scientific breakthrough leads to a new way (literally in my case) of seeing the universe and what it means to be “human”. I don’t wish to reveal any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the information I provide in the first three chapters is the key to the entire story arc, and only with that information in hand can the whole book be understood. There is nothing gratuitous about any of it. In fact, I worked very hard to make sure that all the necessary components were in place appropriately, so that no one would think I pulled a deus ex machina at the end.
I think that this points up both a general observation about fiction, and a specific issue about reading a book in this medium. The specific point is easy to deal with first: without a book jacket, and the ‘approval’ conveyed by being conventionally published, a reader will approach an e-book by an unknown author with certain assumptions (that the book isn’t *really* finished, that the writer needs improvement, et cetera). ‘Nuff said.
The general issue is that we live in an era of instant gratification. If the book is too hard, if it demands too much work from the reader without immediate satisfaction, then it will be set aside. Whatever your opinion of this is, it is a fact. Many publishers only want to see the first three chapters of a book for this very reason – on the idea that if you haven’t convinced the reader to keep going at that point, the book will not sell. As a matter of fact, it’s even worse than that: most books on writing stress the importance of the first page of text – how if you don’t get the reader in that short moment of disbelief, you’ve lost.
I like to think that I’ve done a reasonably good job with these issues, but I know some readers will not have the faith necessary to get into the book far enough to make a final determination. We’ll see.