Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Gifts for an Aspiring Author

So, it's that most wonderful time of the year. There's still more than a few shopping days left in the season and it's a safe bet that most of us slackers have yet to finish checking off everyone from our list. For those of you who have an aspiring author in your family or social circle, I thought I'd help you and throw out a few items they may need (even if they think they don't):

The Amazon Kindle ($139). This thing is the Borg of e-readers. It's everywhere. It's not friendly with all e-formats (You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile). And I'll be frank, most writers hate these things, or think they hate these things. We love the smell and feel of paper; we love touching it and turning the pages. Writers are stubborn that way. But most importantly, writers are B-R-O-K-E, or at least close to it. A humble writer can save anywhere between $5 to $15 per book. Plus, it's green (green is the new black); they're not killing trees. Bonus- guys writing Romance under a female-esque pen names don't have to expose the cheesy covers of whatever they're using as research material.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition ($49). Yeah, I know, it's a hardback, pricey, it's a lot of pulp (kills trees), and it runs contrary to the whole e-reader thing. But, it's not legally available in any e-reader format, and it's the King James of style (writing and grammar, not fashion; might be important to point out the difference). This is one of those things a new writer might not think to buy for themselves. Of course, it's huge and bland, and they may look at you like you have a dick growing from you forehead ('You think my grammar is poor?' i.e. 'Does my butt look big in these jeans?').

Grado iGrado Headphones ($49). Your lovable aspiring author may spend hours in a writing coma using music to isolate themselves from manic households and hone their focus. If they use Apple products, I'm going to bet that more than a few are still using those trendy little white ear buds. From that I can guarantee their ears get sore as hell after several hours of Boom Boom Pow. I'm not going to get into the geekery of audiophilia, but these behind-the-neck cans (slang for headphones) can be worn for days and sound better than anything you own. Even your Bo$e and Beat$. Sadly, I have a $200 set of Grados and these are damn near as good. I almost cry thinking about it.

Last gift: Time (free, or expensive depending on how you look at it). Laugh as much as you want, but I don't think there's anything nicer than giving your lovable aspiring author a gift certificate for time; there's simply not enough of it lying around. Pack up the kids, arm the security system, throw out the dog, lock the doors, and leave. Make sure you leave your writer behind. Do they have a conference coming up? Head to the relatives. Trying to get out a round of queries? Give them a weekend. Seriously, they'll be blown away by your kindness.

That's it. I could go on and on, but that should be enough to get you thinking. Or shopping. Go now, you lousy bunch of procrastinators. Go!

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Writer Seeks Advice

But I'm not the new writer. What? It appears I'm now an expert, or at least other people think I am. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as a student of the art. Over the last year, in the time I've gotten serious about writing and learning about the publishing industry, I've been very content to sit back, ask questions, and learn from those who did this before me, whether they were published or not.

(I think it's important to note that just because a writer isn't published, that doesn't mean an aspiring author should discount their wisdom and experience. This is a long journey; for a few, publishing happens, but for most, it doesn't. As we like to say in the military: it's the reality of the profession.)

Okay, back to title. I've blogged about this stuff in the past, but this is the first time it's hit me in real life. So, late last night dude walks up to me in that parking. (No, I'm not getting carjacked. We're both in uniform, so it's cool. I actually know the guy.) Here's how it went.

Him: "Hey, Ken, I heard you published a book?"

Me: (completely flattered) "Well, no. I'm working on it."

Him: "What do you know about publishing?"

Me: "Not enough, but I've learned a ton. What do you need?"

Him: "Well, I wrote a book. I've been working on it a while. I've tried to get it published, but I really don't know how?"

Me: "What genre is it?"

Him: "It's a series of humorous stories I've written down since I came into the Army."

Me: "Okay, that's interesting. How's your query letter?"

Him: "What's a query letter?"

Me: "How much time do you have?"

So he and I plan to get together and talk. He's a peer, so I'll do my best to help him out. The current problem is we're in the middle of a massive training event that will probably prevent us from getting together until after New Year's Day. To keep him occupied, I gave him a homework assignment:

First, find a writing group and ingratiate yourself with other writers. Second, Google 'query letter' and start educating yourself on how the publishing industry works. Last, go to a site like Querytracker.com and find agents looking for your specific genre.

Me: (military aphorism) "Know your enemy."

Him: (nodding) "Ah, target the right agents." (He meant for his book, not literally. Words matter. You have to watch yourself around Army dudes.)

All this didn't click until this morning. One of my favorite agents, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency, tweeted that about 60% of the queries she receives are, for lack a better phrase, a wast of time. Of that, she said, only 10% are good enough to seriously consider. I know the competition was stiff. I know there are a LOT of writers out there trying to get published. What I didn't know (and I'm using beer-math) was that the huge majority of queries flat out suck.

So, when I do get a chance to get back with my peer and try to pass on some of my limited knowledge, I'm going to do my best to ensure he falls more into the 10% category rather than that dreaded 60%. I have to wonder what that 60% does with their free time. Obviously not research.

Research, people, it's your friend.

...and, hey, I'm an expert!