- From the Short Story Montana. To find out more click on the Short Stories page above.
When just a girl her mother said You have a hundred acre heart. Someday, I know, you’ll meet a boy And you and he will never part. He’ll love your heart’s untrammeled wilds, The seasons of your vagrant sky; He’ll build a house for both of you And sow your rapturous fields with rye. But let some paths go undiscovered And heed your woodland pools; the moon Will visit unregarded where The bones—the feasts of wolves—are strewn. Hide from him the baleful owl And if he hears the midnight’s howl, There’s savagery in what you are— Never let him go too far.
- To find out more about this new foray and pricing, click on the new “Short Stories” page directly above.
Stripe is a credit card processor that WordPress offers bloggers. The trouble with Stripe is that they charge a flat 30 cent fee with every transaction. That means that if, like me, one is offering stories for 50 cents or a dollar, their cut of the income can add up to 74 percent of the total. So, I’ve switched back to Paypal. If this doesn’t work, then I might also consider Patreon as an alternative. The short story will be sent to you in Epub format. If you want recommendations for Ebook readers, feel free to email me. I will also send you the password for the blog page.
Montana | A Short Story/Novelette by Patrick Gillespie
A phone call brings news of Sienna’s grandfather’s death; and the lawyer in possession of the will will only speak to Sienna, not her father. She flies to Montana to meet him and also meets a geologist vacationing there. Hints at a new life force Sienna to consider a choice from which there’s no turning back. (Sexual Content)
Nothing to report this week. No agents have responded to my queries and I suppose I’ll send out another round this coming week. My queries, I think, continue to improve, even if my novel doesn’t. That said, in an effort to demonstrate that I’m not a prima donna who thinks his words are writ in gold on gold plate, I’ve been editing my novel and have already removed around a thousand words from the first four chapters.
I picked up The Poet’s & Writer’s Complete Guide to Being a Writer. The book is 480 pages printed on acid-drenched, grocery-bag paper but is nevertheless comprehensive and, I think, a worthwhile purchase (if one wants an overview of the many particulars to writing and publishing). This book and Before and After the Book Deal might be the only two guides one really needs (at the outset at least). Beyond that, I thought I might make a couple quick observations. Every source off- and online stresses the care, etiquette and consideration with which a prospective writer should approach an agent. In an effort to, as accurately as possible, illustrate the relationship between prospective writers, agents and publishing houses (a picture being worth a thousand words) I prepared the following meme:
If you have any questions as regards this diagram, feel free to query in the comment section. Additionally, all of the various sources that I’ve read go to great pains to emphasize the importance of clean, clear, typo free and grammatically correct prose (on paper preferably dipped in myrrh and frankincense) when addressing an agent. As an example of the kind of query/synopsis no agent would consider, the following can be found online:
You’ll notice that the author has egregiously misspelled astronomy as astonomy. No agent worth their salt would ever consider a book from an author who can’t be bothered to spellcheck their synopsis. And rightfully so. I’m not sure if this author’s book was ever published but clearly the author is an amateurish hack. Let this synposis be a lesson to any writer in search of an agent.
Also, agents and editors have years of experience in the publishing industry and if and when they’re willing to volunteer advice to aspiring writers, the writer should always carefully consider what they say. Given their years of experience in the book industry, they’ve no doubt developed a sense for the marketplace and what kinds of books readers are looking for. To wit:
This was for the Cuckoo’s Calling, a book by the little known author Robert Galbraith. One can only hope that Mr. Galbraith followed the publisher’s advice and successfully placed his work elsewhere. Every aspiring writer should carefully review what topics, themes and books any given agent, editor or publisher is looking for along with what books they’ve already published. They know what sells. Lastly, any aspiring writer would do well to read all of an agent’s/publisher’s books before submitting their own manuscripts.
And that’s all for today.
I had meant to write this yesterday, but I’ve been busy.
The latest news is that my novel, Tiny House, Big Mountain, was (sort of?) rejected by Rootstock, a so-called Hybrid Publisher located in Montpelier, Vermont. I liked the look and sound of the publisher, but I’m also very wary of publishers that blur the line between traditional and vanity presses. I know from past experience that I just don’t have the interest or inclination to be my own publicist. It’s not that I’m unwilling to promote my book, but I don’t want the book to succeed or fail according to my own ability to publicize or market. That’s a real job, like being a good writer, and I know my limits. Does the author want to be marketing the book he’s written or writing the next book?
I’ve been reading a number of web sites that discuss hybrid publishing and many of them state that the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press is that the latter will publish anything while Hybrid Publishers are choosy. To me, that’s mostly a difference without a distinction. If an author is going to spend thousands of their own dollars to publish a book, who cares whether the one they’re paying is “choosy”. A hybrid publisher will offer you an almost complete package—usually starting at around $5000—that includes professional editing; professional book design and layout; the purchasing of ISBN numbers; “promote” the book in the “Ingram Advance” new-release catalog; and make the book available through independent booksellers and online outlets like Amazon and Kobo. But you can accomplish the same thing through a vanity press by hiring your own professional editors and book designers. You can purchase ISBN numbers yourself—they’re easy and cheap. Listing a book with “Ingram Advance” appears to be something vanity presses also offer.
But anyway, I write almost because the one thing they won’t do is market or promote your book unless its “in partnership“. And here’s how I interpret that: I hybrid publisher doesn’t have any (or very much) skin in the game. It’s the reason they can afford to be so generous with royalties. If your book doesn’t sell all that well, then they’re not the ones out $5000+. You are. Everybody but you, the author, has made money—the editors, the book designers and the hybrid publishers themselves (have all taken a cut of your $5000+). To the extent that they will make more money if your novel is a bestseller, it’s in their interest that your book succeed; but the less money they invest (gamble), the lower their risk and the higher their potential reward. Think of it this way, hybrid publishing is like investing/gambling with someone else’s money. There’s little to no downside for them if they lose so long as they don’t risk their own money. That is, inasmuch as it’s in their interest that an author’s book succeeds, it’s even more in their interest not to gamble on the book if it fails. That’s why they say they will partner with you. By partner they mean that they will guide you in how to best spend your money—not theirs. That guidance may or may not be effective, but here the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press, in my judgment, grows exceptionally thin. If you think you’re a good publicist and marketer, then partnering with a hybrid publisher may be a great choice, that needs to be stressed, but then the same might be said of a vanity press.
My own preference, at this point, is to work with a traditional publisher who has some skin in the game. They have presumably invested thousands in getting my book ready for the shelf, have paid me some kind of advance (if small), and are not going to get that money back unless they publicize and market my book. That is a true partnership. I’ve taken a risk and so have they. I’ve given them exclusive rights to my book and they’ve paid me money for those rights. Now it’s in both our interests to see the book succeed.
But getting back to my sort of rejection by Rootstock. They suggested I needed a significant developmental edit—of the entire book—based on only having read roughly 6% of the novel—or the first 30 pages. They further stated that at just under 109000 words, the novel was too long (again, without having read the actual novel). So, they’re objection to the word count is not based on any structural knowledge of the novel but simply because they don’t like the word count. Period. So, they’re less concerned with the novel’s integrity than with publishing exigencies. I don’t take that as a good sign. I write “sort of” because they then recommended some affiliated editors and possibly re-submitting.
Now I found that curious.
Here’s why: As part of their package Rootstock offers professional editors.
- We provide a professional editor for your book, as an essential step to a quality publication.
- We provide a professional proofreading of the final manuscript.
So why are they suggesting I hire an editor, presumably the self-same editors they offer as part of their package deal, before re-submitting the book? My guess is that they either don’t want the book or are ambivalent; but they’re not opposed to feeding business to editors they already work with. They want me to pay an editor or associated editor X hundreds of dollars so that it doesn’t come out of their $5,500 publishing budget. What that suggests is that they’re making money from authors rather than readers.
Needless to say, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
But, take what I write with a grain of salt. If you’re looking to publish your own novel, you should do your own investigating and come to your own conclusions.
So for those of you who dream of writing a novel or of publishing an already written novel, here are my experiences so far.
On the 1st of January, 2021, I completed my novel.
When I first researched novel word counts, I read that most novels were considered to be true novels at around 100,000 words, and so that’s what I aimed for. I’m lucky to have a pretty good feel for narrative and word count while writing. My actual novel came to just under 109,000 words. I thought I did well. Then I discovered other sites, like Writer’s Digest’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post. There I discovered that an ideal novel length is between 79,999 to 89,999 words. A novel between 89,999 to 99,999 words is “generally good”. Novels between 100,000 to 109,999 might be “too long”.
Now I’m straddled with a novel that might be too long. I might be able to cut down the novel but everything is tied together in such a way that it’s not simply a matter of removing blocks of text. It’s more like a game of Jenga where every block leaves a hole and the whole is more likely to collapse as a result. The undertaking would not be minor and the novel would inevitably lose some of its richness.
So, we’ll see; but that might already be a strike against me.
I submitted my novel to agents starting in the first week of January. I’ve heard back from none of them. I submitted to a second round of agents in March and they’ve also chosen to pass me over (or that’s my best guess). Just today, and for the entire day, I started a third round of submissions. I think I’ve done a much better job writing a query letter and synopsis. Once again I consulted Writer’s Digest based on the recommendations of another agent’s site—How to Write Successful Queries for Any Genre of Writing.
I also submitted the novel to a Hybrid Publisher in Austen, Texas (Greenleaf) and one in Montpelier, Vermont (Rootstock). I didn’t expect to be accepted by Greenleaf. They seem primarily geared toward easy money makers—self-help and ten step books. Among the questions Greenlead asked in their submission form was a multiple choice question asking if I’d like to spend anywhere from $5000+ to a $100,000+ on the publication of my own book. My first thought was: If I had a $100,000 to spend on a book, I sure as hell wouldn’t need to be a writer. My second thought was: I think I’ll choose the $5000+, tight-as-the-god-damn-bark-on-a-tree, Vermonter option. Just last week they politely declined my novel. I’m still waiting to hear from Rootstock.
To be honest, I’m not sure I see the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press. As far as I can tell the only difference is that a hybrid publisher is selective in their choice of authors. But so what. Unless a Hybrid Publisher has skin in the game, then it’s hard for me to see what incentive they have to market a book they haven’t paid for. The investment is entirely the author’s. Conversely, it’s in a traditional publisher’s interest to market your book. They’ve presumably given you an advance, even if a small one, and have spent as much (if not more) money getting your book edited and in print. Whereas a hybrid publisher may offer you upwards of 65% on royalty (because it was your money that paid for the book after all), 65% on a book that isn’t marketed or sold is less than 6% of a book that has the marketing power of a major publisher behind it.
So there’s that.
But I have more to learn about Hybrid Publishing and if Rootstock offers to take up my novel, I’ll have a list of questions ready to go.
I’m already thinking about my next novel. I have some ideas but nothing settled. A novel between 79,000 to 89000 words seems like child’s play after writing 109,000 (which publishers apparently consider a thousand short of War & Peace) and I can write 10,000 words on a good day (and upwards of 10 on a bad day). I’ve read that publishers are less interested in the novel they buy than the novel you haven’t written. The thinking goes like this: If you’re a debut novelist, then your first novel is the ice-breaker. Your first novel makes your name but rarely makes the NYTimes best seller list. It’s the next novel that’s the potential money maker (after the marketplace has been primed). On the other hand, if you’re first novel is a best seller, then they’ve already locked you into a follow-up. So, in a sense, what agents and publishers are really interested in is your nonexistent second book.
So, note to self, get started.
Also, I see all kinds of references to publications that list agents, like this one—the Guide to Literary Agents 2020. And yet, in all the reviews, I invariably read that a significant portion of the information is obsolete and/or out of date. I’ve been searching for agents online and so far I’ve found online listings to be far more reliable and current (for obvious reasons). With age, I’ve grown skeptical and suspicious of any individual or group trying to make money off writers who are trying to find publishers—including publishers like Writer’s Digest (and that’s based on personal experience).
All that said, I remain an abject failure. Even a glorified vanity press has turned me down.
If anything changes I’ll let you know.
upinVermont | May 25th 2021