Monday, October 31, 2011

Having the mindset of a failure

I'm sure you've all heard the old adage: failure is not an option.

How would you ever learn from your mistakes if you don't fail at something?  Having the mindset of "failure is not an option" will make your life stagnant, where you'll be afraid to try new things, explore new frontiers, create a better life for yourself, your family, and mankind.  Writers (and everyone else, for that matter) are bound to fail, so fail in style and learn from those lessons of failure.

But what does failing really look like?  Failing, to you, may be receiving a rejection letter from an agent or not having anyone show up at your book signing.  Do we quit at that point?  No.  Pick yourself up and persevere.  In my opinion, a rejection letter is not failure.  It's part of a writer's life.  Quitting, mind you, should never be an option, depending on what quitting looks like.  Smoking or drinking yourself into oblivion or abusing drugs (or any other harmful activities) are the exception to the no quitting rule.

So, my friend, continue to strive for excellence.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't shortsight your goals like JFK and NASA did?

The other day, my daughter asked me, "Dad, why haven't we been back to the moon?"

What a profound question from a precocious eight-year-old.

On May 25, 1961, in response to Russia's push into the space race, President John F. Kennedy boldly announced that we (the American people) would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  In retrospect, this seems like a worthy goal.  But it's shortsighted.  Why just land a man on the moon?  I know it was a huge feat--and one that we succeeded in--but NASA could've gone steps further by not just landing on the moon, they could've built cities on the moon where people could live and work, thriving in a new frontier.  Just simply landing on the moon is like the Wright Brothers inventing manned flight and then, once they achieved it, they did nothing with their grand invention.

Don't shortsight your own goals.  If your goal is to have your book published, that can be easily done today through the advent of self-publishing ebooks--publishing through the more traditional channels is a challenge, I humbly admit, and one I am striving hard to achieve.  But you need to look farther ahead into the future.  Do you want a career as a published author, traveling around the country, speaking at conventions, constantly marketing your work?  If it is, then take up that charge and conquer.  If not, then find out what it is you want to do and do it.  Find out your why, as Simon Sinek tells us.
Think long-term for your life's goals, then put them into action.  Today.  Right now.

In thinking again about NASA . . . what are their goals for Mars?  Hmmmm.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some quick notes regarding your literary agent quest

Three quick notes about literary agents:

Most agencies have websites.  I strongly suggest going to their website.  This way, you'll ensure the most up-to-date information regarding the literary agency you've targeted.  If they don't have one, that's okay.

Also, be sure to check out AAR's website.  This is the Association of Authors' Representatives.  The AAR has a strong code of ethics and is an agent is reputable, they're most than likely members of this organization.  Their website is

Lastly, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has a terrific website which lists literary agents that may be dishonest/scam artists.  It is also a great tool for compiling yet another list of agents.  Their website is

Writing as a business - the selling side

In the last few blogs, I touched on the query letter, which is linked to this topic.  Let's assume you've completed your manuscript, thoroughly edited it, and have polished up your query letter.  Now what?

It's time to start querying.

This can be an extremely daunting task, in and of itself.  There are essentially two ways to go about doing this.  Okay, there's three, but the third is the self-publishing route.  If that's more your style, read all you can about it, the pros and the cons.  What I'm going to touch on is, what has been known as, the traditional route.  Those two ways are either through a literary agent or directly with an editor/publishing company.  Typically, most publishing companies won't even consider you unless you have an agent, and although there are exceptions, I'll just touch on the literary agent route.

Okay, where does one begin?

First, I'd get a copy of the Guide to Literary Agents published by Writer's Digest, preferably the latest copy but one even a year or two old should contain mostly current information.  This will give you the most comprehensive list of literary agents.  You can either purchase this, and I can be quite reasonably priced, or you can borrow it from your local library.  You may also go to their website:

If you'll notice, each listing describes what each agency is looking for: nonfiction, thrillers, horror, no sci-fi or fantasy, and so on.  In the back, GLA lists each category out by literary agents' preferences, so it's easier to find out which agents are looking for certain genres.

Each listing will also advise you on how they want to be contacted: mail, e-mail, fax, website.  Be sure to adhere to these or else you'll find yourself rejected without your query letter even being considered.  Keep in mind, literary agents are some of the most overworked groups of people on the planet, and some receive over a hundred queries a day.  Be patient.

When I go searching for an agent, I scour the GLA from cover to cover.  I rank each agent by genre preferences and even contact method.  Due to the high cost of mail, I prefer to sort through all of the agents who prefer to be contacted either through their website or e-mail, then I move on from here.

Once you've compiled a list of agents, now it's to actually contact them.  Make it a goal to send out X amount of queries in a week.  If you do one to three a day, you should have all of them contacted within a month or more.  Be mindful of any responses back.  If an agent wishes to see a piece of your work, send it out immediately.  Do not delay.

Last but not least, never ever give up.  Out of a hundred agents, you might get a dozen or so who seem interested, but in the end only one or two of them will actually request the entire manuscript.  If this doesn't happen, review your query letter.  Is it the best you can make it?  Is the description of your story seem like something that you'd even want to read?

There are a lot of factors involved in selling your story.  If you go through your list and get no bites, search the web for other literary agents not listed in the GLA.  Be careful though.  Not all agents are what they seem.  If they demand money up front for a reading fee . . . RUN the other way!  This is very unethical and could typically be a scam.

As a side note, and something I haven't done up at this point but will be considering it down the road, is conferences and conventions.  Attend writing conferences and conventions.  I've read multiple stories from authors who've become noticed by an agent by meeting them at a convention.  Even though a particular agent rejected you doesn't mean they won't consider you when you meet with them face-to-face.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A query letter - part 3 - a sample letter

***This is a basic example of a query letter, and yes I mean basic.  I'm not trying to be clever in any such way.  This is just a rough idea of what one should look like.***

October 26th, 2011

Your name
Your address
Your city, state, and ZIP
Phone number
E-mail address
Blog address

Literary Agency
Their address
Their city, state, and ZIP

Dear Steve: (or whoever the agent's name it)

     I am looking for a literary agent to represent me.  I have completed a 430-page, 85,000-word manuscript of humorous science fiction genre titled Fry Chef Alien.

     Fry Chef Alien is about an alien who lands on Earth and finds his spaceship is in need of repairs.  Repairs he can't do because, quite frankly, there are no repair shops for spaceships.  The alien then finds work as a fry chef, only to discover that many of the customers are also from his planet, also stuck here on unrepairable ships.
     I have both a B.S. and a Masters degree from the University of Minnesota in creative writing, and have studied under the direction of award-winning Minnesota author Mark S. R. Peterson.  I am also an active member of a local science fiction writer’s group named "Geeks R Us"

     Thank you for your time.  If so desired, I am able to send either the first few chapters or the entire manuscript for you to review.


Your name

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A query letter - part 2

How do you write a query letter?

If you were to type this question into Mr. Google's search engine, you're probably going to get millions and millions of hits.  Most of them are going to be similar, so let me sum it up for you.

(You may ask, why should I take advice from you, since none of your novels have been published?  I understand your inquiry, however even though no agents at this point have signed up to represent me, a handful have looked favorably onto my query letter and have asked to see a few sample chapters--one even asked to see my very first novel. Also, I've read quite extensively on this subject, so I do have first-hand knowledge of the subject.)

First and foremost, your manuscript needs to be complete and thoroughly edited.  If it is, then let's move on.  If it's not, then go back to work and finish it.  The vast majority of agents will reject you if your manuscript isn't complete.  There are a few exceptions to the rule, but you have to be one damn talented fellow in order to move forth through the gauntlet AND something special--like a psychologist who's been practicing for twenty years with troubled teens and have a wealth of information to share.  That kind of special.  Not a oh-I-think-I-can-write-like-J. K. Rowling (or whoever your favorite author it)-just-because-I've-read-all-of-the-Harry-Potter-novels.  Keep working.

Manuscript complete?  Check.

Thoroughly edited?  Check.

Good.  Let's move on.  At the top of the page, put today's date, then put in your contact info (put e-mail address, cell phone number, and even a blog website if it showcases your writing) right below that.  Next put in the agent's address.

For the salutation, find out the name of the agent you're sending it to.  DO NOT send it to the attention of Mr. or Mrs. Literary Agent.  Chances are it'll be rejected.  Make it personal and put in their name.

For the body of the e-mail, there are a few formats to choose, so experiment a little to find the right one.  It should contain: your name and also why you're contacting them (looking for an agent to represent me), three to five sentences on what your book is about, and a brief history of yourself.  Finish your letter by thanking them for their time, and if they're interested, you could either send them a few chapters or the entire manuscript to review.

Lastly, keep your query letter down to one page.  Any more than that, and you'll probably be rejected.  Think of the query letter as a sales pitch, an elevator pitch.  Keep it short.

Sounds fairly simple, doesn't it?

Try it.  In fact, even if you're currently working on a novel right now, start your query letter immediately.  That way, when it's done, you can go back and tweak it.  I even suggest having a few people read it (preferably not family, as they can be a little biased towards you) and ask for their honest opinion.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A query letter

I've written a total of five novels and have queried agents on most of them.  But the weird part is, writing a query letter to a literary agent is harder than writing the novel in the first place.

Why is that?

First, I think when one spends months and months (or even years) writing your book, to summarize it into a handful of sentences is a challenge equal to that of hand-to-hand combat with a gladiator.  There's so much to put in, even though you can't.  Second, there's a lot of importance to the query letter.  It's a lot like dating.

Very, very few agents will take a look at your manuscript unsolicited.  And with the cost of postage nowadays, I wouldn't want to shell out that kind of dough, because not only are you paying for the novel to ship sent to the agent, you'll have to pay to send it back in a self-addressed stamped envelope (or box in this case of your manuscript).  Of course, you could e-mail it, but no agent will open an e-mail with thirty to fifty attachments.  The agent will probably hit the DELETE key.

So, my fellow writer, you'll need to write a query letter.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How does one get to Carnegie Hall?




Okay, I didn't mean to be redundant but I'm sure I got your attention.  If you want to be good at something, you need to practice.  No matter what it is: writing, quilt-making, singing, piano playing, car repair, hunting, bodybuilding, carpentry, bicycle repair, selling, painting, drag-racing, and the list goes on.

I'm going to pick on the writers out there because it's something I know about, but it also applies to most everything.  Whatever you craft it, practice it with excellence.  For writers, every single time you lay down your written word, let it be the best you can be.  No sloppiness.  Even if what you're writing is a simple e-mail that comprises of a whole two sentences, write it with excellence.  Others may not recognize it, but you will know.

I'm reminded of a story I once heard about a skilled cabinet-maker.  He took so much care on each and every piece of his work, that even the back of the drawers were sanded down to perfection.  One day, his apprentice asked, "Why do you put just as much time in the front of the cabinet as you do the back?  No one will see it."

"But I'll know," said the cabinet-maker.  "And that's all that matters."

Don't do something sloppy that could be performed with more excellence, even if it takes a little longer.  Because you'll know.

And that's all that matters.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Welcome rejections

This pill might be a little hard to swallow, but as a writer you need to be ready for rejections.  If you're not ready, then write and keep your writings within the confines of your own little world--ok, J. D. Salinger did this for the remainder of his life after his tremendous success with Catcher in the Rye but that had nothing to do with rejection.  But if you've ever dreamed of publication, you have to be ready for the onslaught of rejections.

If you're ready, you are in great company: Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, John Grisham, and the list goes on.  Because each and every writer has been rejected at one time.

Don't take it personally.  Rejections can range from an overworked editor or literary agent to the quality or layout of your work.  But plow ahead fellow writer.  Perseverance is the key to winning in life, including being a published author.

Why did I name this blog "Welcome rejections"?

If you get in the mindset to welcome rejections, you won't be surprised when it happens, and then you can move on to someone who will accept your work.

For those who have read Stephen King's On Writing (and for those who haven't, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of this book immediately), you'll note a time in Mr. King's life when he would tack his rejection letters on a nail in his bedroom.  And when those rejections became too numerous, he replaced the nail with a spike.  And King is one of the most bestselling authors in the world.  Remember that next time you get a rejection from a literary agent or an editor.  Welcome it, and move on.  Persevere, fellow writer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Am A Writer

I am a writer.

Plain and simple.

I am proud of that title.

I am not an aspiring writer or one who dabbles in writing - I am a writer.

What are you?

Be proud of what you are, even if others snub their nose at you.  If those others are your friends, I think it's time for some new friends.  If those others are relatives, sorry you can't just up and unfriend them (okay, maybe in Facebook world you can - and I have).  But you can ignore them and feel sorry for their ignorant ways.

I recently found a very cool podcasting blog just for writers:  I found this website by pure accident.  I was on Wikipedia, looking up a fantasy author that I like named Brandon Sanderson.  Anyway, near the top of the page it said he participates in a weekly podcast called Writing Excuses.  Wow!  I felt like a kid in a candy store (not to overuse a very overused pun but it's the easiest way to describe it).  I've downloaded several podcasts so far and they're great.  I even saw a few Youtube videos of theirs, one of which featured a guy who called himself "an aspiring writer."  He was talking about how he loved the podcasts and all, but in the end one of the four writers who participate in this weekly show Howard Taylor advised the guy to call himself a writer, not an aspiring one, and be proud of that title.

What are you?  A writer.  A painter.  A carpenter.  A quilt-maker.  A mother.  A father.  A pastor.  A speaker.  A street sweeper.  A lawn cutter.  A landscaper.  An auto mechanic.

Most of us are more than one of these, but for your life's work, one defines it.  Sure, most of us will be mothers or fathers, husbands or wives, but the title of your work you should never be ashamed of.  Don't let anyone tell you to just get a job like everyone else.  That will inspire no one.  Be inspiring and be what you are made to do.

And, as always, do it today.  Right now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Little More About The Mud

An additional quick note about the mud.

The mud is also an old project, something that seems to be going nowhere.

Try write something new.  Something different.

Even if you're in the middle of a grand epic fantasy novel and you feel like you're losing traction, mix it up and try something new for a little while.  Because if you work on something long enough and it isn't finished, you can start to get bored with it and the passion that you once held towards it starts to fade.  When this happens, stop, save that file, open a new one, and do something different.

Who knows?  Maybe this new thing will be the story that breaks you into the publishing business.  And if you really liked that old story, you can always come back to it.  I have five completed novels at this point, and one day I plan on going back to the first two (these need a lot of work when compared to the rest at this point) and re-working them.

But not yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quit Standing In The Mud

At what point does one stop working on their current project (one they've been working on for several years) before they should move on to the next thing?

"But Mark," you say, "I know this is a great story.  If I can just spend the next five years, I know I can get it right."

Sometimes we have to let go and set aside what we're working on and go forth with a new and fresh idea.

The same can be said about writing the first draft of your novel.  When I wrote my very first novel (a 1,000-page horror story I wrote back in college) I remember writing the first three chapters.  Each chapter introduced a different character.  Then, when I finished with the third chapter, I went back to the first one and expanded it.  And expanded it.  And expanded it.

Did I say that I expanded it?

My first chapter ended up to be 50 pages long.  Holy cow!  There were two or three flashbacks, even.  Not a good thing.  But I couldn't get past it until I thought it was perfect.  Then, I made an amazing discovery.  I needed to just write the story, right to the end, without going back and perfecting anything.  So, I spent the next 18 months doing so, spending a lot of late nights and missing (I'm sure) a few parties along the way.  But did I mind?  No way.  I learned a lot about that process, about setting a goal of finishing that first draft without looking back.

What are you waiting for?  Quit standing in the mud, squishing your feet into the wet earth, and get moving.

Write!  Write today!  Don't wait . . . because if you do, you'll get stuck in the mud.  Make the commitment to get out of the mud, because it's nothing but a stagnant pool of failed dreams and lost potential.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Call To Action, Part 2

The fictional world J. K. Rowling created has done some fantastic things to the real world.  Especially the writing world.  Simply put, she's revived it.  With her well-crafted stories, she made it fun to read again.  She made it fun for others who haven't read a novel in their life enjoy the magical world of Harry Potter.

I have met countless people who I never took for readers, but who've read the Harry Potter novels, only to fall in love (metaphorically) with Rowling's world she's created.  And you know what else happened?  Those non-readers started reading other stories.

I will be the first to admit there's a lot of junk that's published nowadays.  Especially now when it's so easy to actually publish something in the way of self-publishing.  But us true writers, lovers of the written word and the story, have to push forward, honing our skills to create our own masterpieces.  And we will continue what J. K. Rowling started, by issuing into the world more and more readers.  Because readers are sorely needed.

Readers . . . are leaders.

But that's for another blog.  And another time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Call To Action

I am in competition.

All writers are in competition.

Not with each other though.

Far from it, although one may tend to believe this.  But why?  People buy more than one book.  Hell, some people's homes look like a mini-library.  I know mine does at times.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I have shelves upon shelves of books, many of them discarded from the local library and bought for mere pennies.

Who am I, and every other writer, in competition with?

Illiteracy, of course.

You see, the better our books, the more fantastic our stories, the more people will read.  One target is the youth, because the youth are open to new ideas and are willing to take those grand journeys of the mind, deep in their own imagination.  The youth are not afraid of shouting from the mountaintop the next greatest thing.

Let that next greatest thing be your stories.

So, I issue at this time a call to action: we writers need to be on a mission, a mission where our enemy is illiteracy.  Write the best stories that you can, take your time to craft just the right words, and capture more and more readers into our nets.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Death of the Great Innovator

I walk into the grocery store and pick up a jar of peanut butter. Do I know who the CEO of that company is? Nope.  Not a clue.
What about the CEO of Coca-Cola or GM or Hewlett-Packard or countless other products?  Don't know the CEO there either.
Most of us do not have a clue who the CEO--let alone founder--of many of the companies that line the stores today.  Sure, we know Sam Walton started Wal-mart and Bill Gates started Microsoft, but most we are clueless.

What about Apple?  Steve Jobs, of course.
Ironically, I happen to be reading Start with Why by Simon Sinek, who goes in great detail as to why Apple is so recognizable nowadays (along with other great innovative companies such as Harley-Davidson and Southwest Airlines) and why people buy from them.
Steve Jobs was the Great Innovator, for lack of a better title. Someone tonight, after the announcement of his death, compared him to Thomas Edison. But I think Steve was much more than that. He transformed the way businesses operated and got people excited for their many products, even if there were flaws. Now, I have to say that I do not own an iPhone or an iPad . . . hell, I don't think I own one single Apple product (more for financial reasons than anything at this point in my life), but I'm boggled at how many people absolutely love their products. One day I will too, but at least I knew who Steve Jobs was. Do I know who the CEO of Ford or GE or 3M is? Not a chance.
What also brings this closer to home is that Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer at one point, even though we may have died from a tumor.  My wife has acute myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer, so when I see such a young person like Steve Jobs (who was 56) die from cancer, I know that we have a long ways to fighting this awful disease.
Thanks, Steve, for the great innovation you've given the world. Rest in peace.