Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Agent Search Continues (with some tips)

A while back, I talked about my novel submission coming back from Baen. I submitted it using their online submission process. I had already been waiting about ten months when I visited Alan Dean Foster's home. We discussed it for a few minutes, and he told me that he and his agent recently had discussions with Baen, and that Baen was only buying alt history and military SF. Since my novel is neither, I knew the manuscript would be rejected, it was just a matter of how long I had to wait.

I finally got the rejection in October. I decided to try the agent route instead of over-the-transom. My SFWA membership is worth the price for the SFWA directory alone. It lists who represents who, a priceless resource for somebody looking for an agent. You want to find somebody who represents similar writers, and you want a good filter to screen out the crooks. Chances are pretty good that if well-known-writer X is represented by agent Y, it's a legitimate operation.

Preparing the query package takes attention to detail. Every agent wants something different, but there is also a lot of overlap. For this novel, Neanderthal Swan Song, I prepared around a dozen files so I mostly have to just grab the ones I need and print them out. If I come across a new file, I'll make it and park it in the parent directory.

I then make a subdirectory for each agent an drop into that folder everything I send that agent's way. Most of it is mindless, but the cover letter (aka query letter) is not. Go look at this agent's blog, especially this entry. (For the record, I have not queried him.) Note the point about it being bad form to let him know who you queried before him.

Everyone knows you don't rewrite the cover letter from scratch, not since they invented the hard drive, anyway. Everyone recycles letters like this, but you have to go over that cover letter very carefully to ensure you spell the names right, you get the right enclosures listed, and correct any other legacy points that came from the last agent you queried.

So anyway, as I watched the Cardinals post 9-7 as their 2008 season record, I went over a list of 27 agents that I culled from the SFWA directory based on having a New York proximity (with one exception) and having at least one client with a name I recognized. I narrowed it down to my top picks and prepared 7 query packages this evening.

This business is a numbers game. Read about that aspect from a guy with 100 novels, Dean Wesley Smith. It took me a long time to start finding my niche markets with short fiction. I submitted to all the same markets that my writer friends sold to, but I never sold there because I don't write what those markets want. I write what different markets want. It's not a statement about whether that is better or worse, it's just different. The same goes for agents.

I won't repeat the stories of the writer whose manuscript was rejected 50 times then made millions of dollars on the 51st try. But it does happen. If you are competent, there is a market waiting for you. It's just a matter of trying to find it. That's a numbers game.

I sold 7 short stories in 2008. I was disappointed with my year (mostly due to all the distractions in my life) but another writer commented that he would be delighted to sell 7 stories in one year. But, I also collected almost 100 rejections to sell those 7 stories. Not everyone is Jay Lake, who claims to sell about 1 in 3 submissions. I'm not, but then, he's been at this game longer than I have. Maybe someday I will, too.

But, that isn't the point. The point is that you can't read an agent's mind from across the room, much less from 2000 miles away. So it has to be a numbers game. You don't know which agent will like your work enough to want to work for you. That means you have to find the ones you want to work with and work your way down the list, just like with marketing short fiction.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cold Front

Yes, yes, I know it's -17 degrees at International Falls. Still, a cold front moved through and it's supposd to stay in the mid to low 50s here in the valley of the sun. And I know that everyone back east and up north wishes they had this weather.

Still, when you get used to desert summers, the winters feel just as cold. It's particularly bad when you don't run the heater in the house. It's just plain chilly, with everyone wearing sweatshirts and warm socks.

At least the rain stopped for a while.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Future Fire

My short story, "A Rock by Any Other Name," is now live at The Future Fire. You can read it here, or first view the cover page and art here.

This from the Future Fire's manifesto:

This magazine is intended to showcase new writing in Social, Political, and Speculative, Cyber-fiction. No work will be turned away because of its genre or setting so long as it is good and original; dark, unexpected, exploratory, weird and says something important about the world.

It should be no surprise, then, that this story will be controversial, but I'll let you read it and decide. The story is published along side a lovely sketch of the angry soldier, drawn by G. Edwin Taylor.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sale" Come to Slaughter, Pig

I just got word that AnotheRealm has purchased my short story "Come to Slaughter, Pig." This is the online magazine that awarded me the D.G.K. Goldberg award for my short story "The Cosmology," which appeared in December of 2007. No word yet on when this one will appear.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Recital Time

Audrey and Reanna had their annual winter piano recital. See if you can determine who practiced more.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Gets My Gall?

In the December issue of the parent newsletter from the Paradise Valley Unified School District, there is a letter from the Superintendent. I wanted to excerpt part of that here then comment.

On November 4, voters in the PVUSD approved the continuation of the K-3 override, but defeated the Maintenance and Operation budget override. That will impact every employee in our district in some way.

We have work to do to make appropriate decisions for dealing with the loss of approximately $5 million in revenue from the Maintenance and Operations override...

Okay, so what's wrong with this statement? It helps if you understand what an override actually is. An override is permission to EXCEED the budget. So why the hell is PVUSD already making plans to spend money that by all rights they should be able to function without?

There are budget overrides on the ballot every year. How did we get into this cycle of depending on overrides? Every year the portion of my property tax that goes into PVUSD increases. Two years ago, every item in my property tax went down except PVUSD. That went up almost 20%, and yet they cut the band program for the 4th graders.

There is a fundamental flaw in the budgeting process for this school district. If the budget is too small to begin with, we should be working on using the political system, including ballot propositions, to restructure the PVUSD budget. Asking every year to exceed the budget not only makes it look as though the school district cannot handle the money it already has, it also leaves the real budget far too susceptable to downturns in the economy and the mood of the voting public.

Overrides are a bandage. We need a real solution, and it behooves PVUSD to address the real problem instead of begging the public to allow them to exceed the budget year after year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wow, don't Blink

Wow, a whole week went by without a post by me. Strange thing is, I didn't even realize it. so what happened this week? I put down a good 1500 words on the novel-in-progress. My son, Russell, earned the Boy Scout rank of Second Class 9 months after joining the troop. Last weekend we did the orienteering course and that went very well. I got busy at work again, but I took today off. I go t some gifts purchased, the few remaining cards out the door, and wrapped the kids' gifts so they can't peek. That about sums it up.


For those of us who grew up watching the original Star Trek, we lost a little bit today. Majel Barrett Roddenberry passed away. In our fictional lives as in reality, one thing that sucks about getting older is losing friends. Nurse Chapel and the voice of the Enterprise computer passed with her.


The Codex Writers just started a news blog. You can find it here:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Spec Fic Writers Have a Heart

Not long ago, friends of speculative fiction writer Vera Nazarian began a drive to raise money to help her through some hard times. Friends contributed, and complete strangers (like me) also contributed. $5 or $10 times many many people = a much needed helping hand.

I won't go into all the details, but I did want to show you what a good group of people today's speculative fiction writers are. A lot of the action happened inside private forum in the SFWA area on, so I can't share the specifics of the discussion. What I can share with you is the outcome.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008


If you live in the Phoenix metropolitan area and enjoy fiction, you might be interested in a joint reading from two writers groups. We'll be reading at 2:00PM on Sunday, December 14th at Dog Eared Pages Used Books. Here is the announcement from their mailer:

cid:image003.png@01C93B6B.85705200Sunday, December 14th 2:00 pm Jerry’s Writing Group has accepted the Flash-Challenge issued by Science Fiction Fantasy Writers (SFFW) and they will all be meeting to read their Flash Challenge Holiday Stories aloud here at Dog-Eared Pages Used Books. Join us for some original, fun holiday stories.

SFFW consists mostly of published writers (two of us are SFWA members, two more SFWA-eligible) and a few unpublished writers that survived our vetting. I know nothing about Jerry's writing group except that the owners of the store are part of it.

SFFW started these flash challenges (echoing the online writers group Liberty Hall) as a way to kick-start some writing. We had enough fun with the first one that we decided to do another one, this time holiday-themed. It will probably be something we do every 6 months. Whether we continue to do open readings will likely depend on the results of this coming sunday.

The challenge is to write a story in around 1000 words. When we meet to read them, it's just for pure entertainment. Unlike our usual meetings, there is no critique involved. If you are interested in attending, the address is below.

Dog-Eared Pages Used Books

16428 N 32nd Street Suite 111

Phoenix, AZ 85032

(602) 283-5423

"Bringing affordable reading to our neighborhood"

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Running Amok

This quarter, Audrey has been participating in track at the middle school. Unlike academics and music, she has found something that she isn't particularly good at. Although she enjoys it and its definitely good exercise, she's not the athlete in the family.

The middle schools had the track and field festival yesterday, and Audrey ran in the 1600 meter, the 400 meter, and the 800 meter. In that order. She finished in the middle of the pack on the 1600, she had her best finish on the 400 meter taking 4th place. Her school took the top 4 spots in that heat. On the 800, which she ran maybe 15 minutes later, she finished near the back, but not last.

She runs with a steady pace from the start gun to the finish line, and her endurance is really pretty good. She just isn't that fast. But, she has fun and that's the important part. It's also good for her to compete in something where she is not among the best just to get some perspective. Hopefully, it will make her appreciate the talents she does have.

I must say. This was my first time as a spectator at a track and field event and I'm glad I brought a book.

Friday, December 05, 2008


I took the day off work today ('tis the season to use or lose PTO) and drove down to Papago Park in Phoenix. We're going to take some of the younger boy scouts there next weekend to use the permanent orienteering course. I went to check it out.

I spent an hour trying to find a ranger so I could get the directions (ie, direction and distance to each marker) but it turns out they don't have anything published. I find that hard to believe, but maybe they just lost track of the document over the years. Regardless, I drove back to the orienteering course. yes, drove. It's a big park that contains around ten hiking trails, the Botanical Gardens, and the Phoenix Zoo.

I decided that I had to go find all the markers if we had any chance of bringing the boys out next weekend. Let me tell you, that ain't easy. First of all, we have to deal with declination that matters here. back in Wisconsin, you could practically ignore the difference between magnetic north and true north. In Arizona, no such luck. Second, the markers are all hidden from each other. It makes the course challenging with a compass. It makes it a bloody nightmare when you have no frigging idea where they are and have to wander around in the desert looking for them. It also makes it hard to get the direction correct trying to spot a hidden marker a good 200 paces away. Some are in washes, some behind trees, and some just in unexpected areas.

I managed to find the starting marker pretty quickly and ended up discovering the posts in reverse order from marker 10 through 4. I found 2 and 1 before I found 3. I measured the direction compensating for what I called a 10-degree declination and paced the distances off. I must have put in a good ten miles of wandering around before I finished. The good thing is that I found all the markers and we now have that all written down.


I started recording Silent Night instead of Hark! The Hereld Angels Sing. The slower tempo is easier to deal with while I'm still learning the equipment (both the recorder and the instruments). After a number of false starts with various instruments, I put down a vocal track all the way through. I'm not thrilled with the sound of my own voice, and saying I'm an untrained vocalist is being kind. But, maybe it's just hearing it acapella. With support from instruments, maybe it will be okay. Maybe, but I'm still no Frank Sinatra.

I recorded the first two verses, left a big gap for instrumentals, then vocals on the last and a repeat of the first verse. I tried to insert a clarinet solo in the gap, but it didn't fit and instead overlapped the vocals of verse three. I killed that one, partly due to some unplanned improv that I would have kept had it fit. Instead, I started at the beginnign of the song with the intention of moving the track later. That got aborted when everyone else got home, as it was 10:30Pm.

At least I got the vocals done when nobody was around. right now, nobody is the wiser but you.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

HM #8

The frustrating Writers of the Future contest results came back with yet another honorable mention finish for me. That makes 8. I would like to either win the contest or make the sales to become ineligible. I actually did not think I would finish this high with this story, so maybe that's a good thing. If I think something is less than stellar work and it wins HM, maybe I am improving. Hmm.