What’s in a name?

“Someday I am going to publish my book.”   A lot of work happens with that goal.  A story is inside and must escape onto paper, or word processor, or something.  Plot, setting, theme, characters, genre, the list goes on and on.

My fellow contributors on this blog have been giving a lot of good advice on writing.  Today I want to take a moment and look at the business side of writing.  We all enjoy the art side, and talking about books, movies, the stories and what we like and didn’t like.  However the business side of writing is also a large arena full of decisions, and in today’s market a lot of decisions need to be made.

Self publish, large publisher, indie, e-pub, and POD.  However, I want to focus on something even more basic.  Your name.

Why stage and pen names?

John WayneMark Twain, John Wayne are two examples of a pen and stage names.  Mark Twain is the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  Marion Mitchell Morrison, better known by his stage name John Wayne, was an American film actor, director, and producer.

There are many reasons writers chose to have a pen name.  It keeps their worlds separate.  As a writer, you want to become famous. However, fame has a price.

No privacy.

Look at many famous people today; the paparazzi follow them everywhere.  Your name is your identity.  Your family and friends know you, professionals know you.  Some people want to keep family and friends separate from the professional side of things.  Now Samuel Clemens doesn’t sound like too bad of a name, but he liked the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain was a depth call used on riverboats.  The Mississippi River was a prominent part of his works.  Those who rode the river were familiar with the river culture would immediately identify a book by Mark Twain as being a part of that life.

Today the publishing world has genres and sub genres that a name will be forever associated with the genre the author writes in.  However, a good writer may want to try a hand at a different genre.  Thus, a pen name would allow the writer the ability to explore a new area of writing.

Your pen name becomes your identity.  If you go to a writer’s conference, sign in as your pen name.  Introduce yourself with you pen name.  You are that persona.  Think of it as your writing business.  Thus in today’s world it would be Mark Twain, LLC.  The LLC is not part of the pen name, but think of it as part of it.  Your writing company so to speak.

Some of the contributors to this blog are using pen names.  So it isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

Using Your Own Name

 

You can also use your own name.  Just be careful where and how you do things online.  It is you.  For me I want to see my book cover with my own name on it.  However, that choice has pros and cons to it as well.  How do I separate my writing life from my personal life?  It all blends together, but I am comfortable with that.  Other people are not, so a pen name would work better for them.

Now with all that said before here is the take home point.  Before you begin to build a platform, (I’ll blog more about that in the future).  Before you send out query letters, you need to decide on a name.  What will that name be under (or over) the title of that best seller you are working so hard to write?

What do you think?  Is a pen name for you?  Why or why not?

Those Infamous Lines

I love movies. Every now and again, a line from a movie is perfect for a scene in my writing. I can quote The Princess Bride like nobody’s business. And even in my darkest writings, I find the humor of Maverick, Wayne’s World or Robin Hood: Men in Tights to be useful at keeping the reader willing to continue with my ramblings.

Most of us are guilty, using lines to interest the reader, communicate something found universally within various media. Shoot, Laurell K. Hamilton uses The Princess Bride in almost every Anita Blake novel.

An issue came to light recently while editing another author’s work. Throughout the MS were several lines from still copyrighted movies, action scenes from recent blockbuster movies, and even love scenes.

I had to note each one, noting the movie and actors, remind the author copyright laws are still in effect.

The point? When talking to someone, quoting a movie line is fine. When working to be published? You’d best acknowledge the movie to prevent legal issues.

It is argued that all plotlines are the same, it is the creativity bring the plot to light which is unique to each author. The voice, a twist on the characters, a different world – all are unique. But when quoting from others’ work, whether book, movie or speech, keep in mind the copyright.

Most don’t mind if we quote every now and again. Shoot, several authors and actors have said they find it flattering if remembered.

But we all get upset if it’s stolen and passed off as someone else’s.

“If I must, I’ll take you a piece at a time,” he said, pointing the sword, a piece of cloth at the end.

Sound familiar? Yep, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the 1991 movie with Kevin Costner, spoken during the last sword fight with the Sheriff. Makes for a great action line, no denial there. Yet if you try to pass it as your own line during whatever action scene, and someone recognizes it, you could find yourself in hot water.

What about those fairy tale retellings currently so popular? Many of us understand those are not under copyright. The new retellings will be, but the originals aren’t. Not a problem.

Most copyrighted works are recent, but by no means the only ones. Gone With the Wind is still copyrighted by Mitchell’s estate, a book more than eighty years old.

If you are going to use lines and scenes from other works, err on the side of caution, make sure you tell where it came from. When revising and editing your own work, keep a thought in the back of your mind if a scene is straight from a recent movie/book. I admit to finding little things every now and again, but they were caught and revised. Our imagination can work things in without conscious thought.

It’s also a good reason why Critique Partners and Beta Readers are so important, they often catch them if you don’t. Always a good thing.

I’m not saying don’t use them, I’m saying use them carefully.

We Welcome TJ as a new contributor

TJ has been a guest blogger and has come on board as a regular contributor.  She Blogs over at Writing From the Padded Room.

I have recently decided to take all those worlds and characters out of my brain and attempt to publish. Can always be found with caffeine, a dog when creating and a cat when editing, and often wearing a really pretty purple huggy jacket. I have held many jobs from shoveling water to upper management in a Fortune 500. Former correctional officer, a lot of upper education and way too many student loans, I have lived in 14 states, ventured out of the U.S. on occasion and more often than not, can be found allowing my mind to wander into places that may be best left alone.

Looking forward to more from TJ.

Want Your Query Read? Three Things NOT To Do

I’m not an agent. I don’t even have one. But in the years I’ve been reading industry blogs and, particularly, the many, many queries and query questions that come into Agent Query Connect, I’ve learned a few things. (Veterans will know these things, so this is more for those entering the arena and intent to go the traditional route.)

There are more new writers trying to be heard than imaginable.

In an increasingly bottom-line business climate, fewer publishing houses are willing to take a chance on a new author, and fewer agents are taking on new authors’ books unless they promise a highly likely sale. But I’m not going into that aspect.

Before an agent can sell your novel, you have to sell the agent. Of course, you must have a great novel, but before you get through that door, you have one huge sale that comes first:

YOURSELF.

You have to sell yourself.

Not your personality or experience. You have to sell your ability to write a novel the agent will be able to sell.

Here’s where reading those many, many queries comes in. I only read a fraction of what an agent gets every day, but what I do read gives me a good taste of their jobs. And here’s the thing:

MOST of the queries I start, I don’t ever finish. If I were an agent, that would be an instant form-or delete/no response. Harsh, I know, but after a while, it doesn’t take much to KNOW.

And why? What are the sure triggers for a fast delete and pass? Here are three that do it for me, and I’m probably more forgiving than most agents could afford to be.

1.  Do NOT do your research

I don’t mean proper Elizabethan undergarments, either.

The most obvious, and, okay, I’ll say it—infuriating—is seeing that the writer has made little, if any, attempt to read up on what goes into a good query.

There are many guidelines, often confusing, and no hard-and-fast rules, but there is consensus, and it’s easily found. Agent Query itself is a good place to start. Query Tracker, Query Shark, Nathan Bransford, Rachelle Gardner, and many other sources.

They may differ as to where to put the title/genre/word count, they may differ as to the number of sentences that should comprise the hook, how many paragraphs the whole thing should be, how many names to include, etc. BUT having read each of them and more, one cannot help but get a strong sense of what should be in a good query and what should NOT.

When I see “How would you feel if you woke up and…” Reject. I don’t need to read on.

If it opens with “TITLE is a story of revenge and justice, dignity and degradation…” Reject.

I’m pretty sure all the sources would agree about opening with a rhetorical question or a telling of theme.

I’m not going into what you SHOULD write. Just know that if you don’t do that most basic research, IT WILL SHOW. Just as it will if you send a horror novel to an agent who represents Romance or an erotic fiction to one who represents MG.

If you can’t take the time to learn the most basic aspects of the business you’re trying to break into, why would the agent take the time to read any more?

2.  Do NOT check your grammar and spelling

Please use your spell-check, but DO NOT stop there. It will not flag “their” when you mean “there,” or “it’s” when it should be “its,” “then” instead of “than.”

No excuses. We all make the occasional mistake, but we should, no, MUST know the differences and catch them in proofing.

The same goes for run-on sentences.

There are many old “rules” of grammar that beg to be broken in creative writing. Fragments can be effective. Infinitives CAN be split.

It’s usually clear, however, when a writer knows her craft and is breaking rules for effect and when one simply isn’t yet ready for prime time.

The best of us make errors, and that’s why it’s important to have other eyes on your work. That’s why AQC is such a great place. But to get the help, you’ve got to show you warrant it. Harsh? Maybe. But it’s how it is.

3.  IGNORE basic guidelines

This harks back to the first. There may not be rules, but there are some guidelines that follow through. Ignore them at your peril.

DON’T begin with a rhetorical question. It begs a snarky answer and quick rejection.

DON’T start by telling what the story is about. SHOW who the protagonist is, something to make the reader care about him/her, what conflict changes his/her world, what s/he must do to set things right, and what stands in the way. Character, conflict, stakes. HOOK. Not a log-line, a good, solid, grab-ya-by-the-throat hook. There are as many ways to accomplish that as there are stories and authors, but every query needs a good one.

DON’T pour out a name soup. Keep the names to the barest minimum, usually only the protagonist. If Romance, the love-interest. Keep it to the minimum number of characters. You’re not synopsizing the whole novel, you’re teasing with its most tantalizing core to induce the reader to NEED to read more.

DON’T tell your novel’s themes in your wrap-up. If you haven’t written the query to show those, you haven’t created a query that does its job.

DO close professionally. Don’t say you look forward to hearing from them soon. That’s a pressure they don’t need, and if they’re a no-response agency, you may never hear from them. Don’t presume. And don’t say you’d be pleased to send the entire manuscript. Of course you would. They know that. Once you’ve written any pertinent bio information (and please, NOT that you’ve been writing since you were six) and shown why you’re querying him or her specifically (again, it’s that research thing,) then just close. Professionally. Thank you for your time and consideration. Nothing more is needed. Don’t kiss ass and don’t grovel.

What are the things that make you hit the “next” button without reading past the first paragraph or even the first few words? What would you advise someone pretty new at this game NOT to do in that oh-so-important query?

Don’t Cut Your Own Throat

Hi, Gang.

It seems to me that the question of having an agent before you get a publishing contract is weighing on many of our minds lately. Let’s face it, some of us have become so enamored of the battle cry, “You must have an agent to get published!” that it is bordering on becoming one of the Ten Commandments.

I’m afraid I’ll have to call BS on that one. Yes, it is a good idea to have an agent, but if we honestly believe that we have to have one before we can even think of getting published; then how did all those other folks get published without one?

Steven King worked without an agent for three years after Carrie was published, and J.K. Rowling didn’t get an agent until after the first Harry Potter story―which she self-published―began to sell big. So, where did having an agent first factor into the two biggest names in writing getting published? That’s right… it didn’t.

I’m not certain exactly when, “Publish, or perish,” turned into, “Agent, or perish.” But, I do know that it is one of the biggest lies in this crazy business of ours. If either The King, or Ms. Rowling had bought into that lie, Steve would still be teaching High School English class, and Ms. Rowling would still be waiting tables.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have an agent. Having an agent is one of the best things a writer can do. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if you don’t have an agent―well, let’s just say you’ll deserve the screwing you’ll eventually get.

My problem lies with the fact that so many of us have bought into the lie. I have actually noticed aspiring authors ready to commit literary suicide over the fact that they couldn’t get an agent first. They honestly believe that if they can’t land an agent, their dream of being a writer is over. They believe that they must be a horrible writer if an agent isn’t willing to take them on as a client, and they should just quit.

I’ll admit that it is a very good thing to have an agent first, but with more an more agents ‘cherry picking’, this is just not as practical an option as it used to be. When added to the increasing number of writers who ‘found an agent’ after they had a publishing contract in hand, it should be pretty obvious that the old agent first fallacy is falling down like a house of cards in an earthquake.

Plain and simple, brothers and sisters, this is a t-o-u-g-h business. And if you are pinning all your hopes on acquiring an agent first, you are cutting your chances of ever getting published to the proverbial bone.

Yes, submitting to a publisher who accepts unsolicited/unagented material is a slower, and sometimes more ego crushing process. In short, you better bring your A-game. However, if you’re not getting any interest from an agent in the first place―Whaddya got to lose? And I’m not even going to go into the self-publishing/e-publishing arena. But it seems to me that if any of us are really serious about making it in this business, the last thing we would want to do is slam the door in the face of any opportunity to become a successful author.

One thing I can guarantee, gang: If you go into a fight with one hand tied behind your back, the odds are you’re going to get your tail whipped.

The other thing I can guarantee is: If you happen to take any legitimate opportunity to get published, and start making a name for yourself among the only people who really matter―the readers―both agents and publishers will be beating on your door with both fists.

How you got there isn’t nearly as important as actually getting there. No one will care how you snuck into the spotlight, so why cut off possible lifelines when you’re drowning anyway? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Later, Gang. 😉

Shinny and New

guest post by T. J. Loveless

Today we have a guest: T. J. Ls oveless.  She has a lot of wit and charm and a fun member over at AQC We are glad to have her here.  She has her own blog over at Writing From the Padded Room.  She agreed to a guest post, so here is TJ

As writers, we all have a love of gadgets to some degree. Whether it’s a shiny new writing program, pretty blog pictures or *gasp* a brand new laptop/PC/tablet *insert girly – manly sqee here*. Anything to make it easier as we spin those lovely yarns into words on paper.

Some of us need music playing in the background, others require quiet. And there are gadgets for that too. Personally, I need a good mug that will keep coffee hot and my music blaring in the background.

Yet, when we actually sit to write the first rough draft, we forget the one shiny, new object which started the whole thing in the first place. Our vaunted imaginations. The very thing that forced us to sit down and create a world in which fictional characters and their lives play out.

Not everybody loves to edit and revise. In an attempt to make it easier for ourselves, we edit as we go and forget the rough draft is named “rough” for a damn good reason. It’s supposed to suck, have badly written scenes, repeated phrases and actions, often followed by flat characters and dialogue that would make Rodney Dangerfield wince.
“Danger! Danger!” *I know you did the robot arms reading this. Don’t lie.*

When the wonderful, new, shiny idea forms, the main idea is to put it on paper, or in our case, whatever writing program currently in use. Let it remain shiny, unexplored and filled with plot holes, passive writing, redundant phrases, info dumps, scenes that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Let the shiny and new have it’s day on paper. It can be tweaked, repaired, upgraded, and winced about later.
And when you write “The End” – celebrate. However you want. Whether it is a glass of wine, some expensive chocolate, or bragging to all of your best one hundred friends on Facebook and three hundred followers on Twitter. Let your shiny and new idea have it’s day on your harddrive of choice.

Just back it up. Repeatedly. The nightmares of losing all that work is enough to make me shudder writing this.
My rather rambling point is this: revisions and edits are the spit and polish. The scrubbing, the new avenues, the tweaking, the rounding of characters, filling of plot holes, laughter at the one scene with a character in a pretzel kicking the butt of some intergalactic robot. But before that, let the Shiny and New be just that – Shiny and New. Your imagination has the right to a day of perfection.

//

What If

Riding off of a phrase E.F. Jace said last week, we are going to focus on ‘What if’

ImageOne question I see turn up in many different author interviews is. “How did you get your inspiration?”

Every story is written with two questions:

“What if…”

and

“What happens next?”

It’s the drive of every fiction writer, not just us Speculative Fiction.  The bonus of Speculative fiction is that our boundaries are so much wider. 

Such as:

Two people walk out of a building.  There’s your start. 

Then you ask the usual questions:

Who, What, Where, Why, When, How.

Next you work in the ‘what if?’ and the ‘what happens next?’  Adding the Spec. Fic twist:  It doesn’t have to be held down to humans, on a normal street.  It could be dragons walking out of a cathedral, headed for the spaceship to help some aliens with a wraith problem. Tehehe. And just like that, a literary fiction has been transformed into a Speculative fiction mesh.

Anytime you get stuck with an idea for a story, all you need is a what if.