Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Big Hairy Toe In The Waters Of The Small Press

Well, I’m officially dipping my big, fat hairy toe into the waters of the small publishing press. Lyrical Press, Inc. has offered me a contract for my urban fantasy, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I have to be honest—this isn’t the way I originally imagined my first foray into the publishing world. I had hoped to start with an agent and then take the plunge, but after numerous rejections and great advice on this particular work, I opted for a new direction.

It’s not that I’ve given up on wanting an agent. That’s an avenue this author is still pursing, but after getting lots of mixed signals from agents, I decided that the best thing I could do was to pursue publishing my novel down a different path. Enter Lyrical Press, Inc. and their wonderful editorial staff!

Since this is a small press, there are no advances, but Lyrical authors do get paid royalties for their work. This house publishes in both ebook and print on demand form. They are committed to working with their authors on developing their novels to their fullest potential, as well as, helping to provide marketing opportunities.

As of yet, I do not have the official release date for my urban fantasy, Nephilim, but I will keep you posted. Curious about this publishing group? Check them out at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Never Whistle While You're Pissing

I blog a lot.

OK I never blog. This is my first blog. Literally, my very first, but I do like to write, and I do (for reals) write a lot. I thought I’d share a concept that helps me stay focused and get things finished in a relatively short amount of time. As the title suggests, that concept: Never whistle while you’re pissing.

I didn’t make that phrase up, it’s from the 1975 Illuminatus! trilogy, but I think it still holds true. Roughly translated, put everything you have into what you are doing, and do it well.

Having said that, most writers have other things going on in their lives – kids, spouses, ‘real jobs,’ hobbies, extreme sports, etc. Between all those moments, on the drive back from soccer practice, while waiting on the bus, as you walk the half mile from one end of the your office building to the other, you’ve got some free time, and I say why waste it?

For example, a friend of mine recently joked that I should write a Steam Punk novel. I think he was tired of reading the reams of writing I regularly put out, and was hoping by tossing a confusing new genre at me it might slow me down. I of course took it as a challenge.

First, I ordered some Steam Punk anthologies. Now right before drifting off to sleep or during my special alone time in the bathroom, I read about Steam Punk. I keep a notebook and pen with my anthologies, and I take notes on speech patterns, clothing types, and the world in general. I broke out the old Sherlock Holmes anthology as well for more Victorian Style atmosphere. And I took more notes. I found websites on Steam Punk names, Steam Punk art (lots and lots of Steam Punk art), Victorian Slang, Victorian habits and lifestyles. I even developed a monetary system based on the same unequal distribution of wealth as Victorian London.

I stopped short of Victorian London though. That’s a little too spot on, so I decided this would be a fantasy world, something Tolkien-like, but jump-started with Steam Punk technology. I added goblin professors, ork mercenaries, fairy messengers, four-foot-tall elf-type creatures with butterfly wings, and threw them all into a medieval city populated with Victorian style and sensibilities. I mapped out the city too, including the different sectors and important locales, and I hadn’t written a word yet.

All this occurred during breaks at work or while waiting for the bathtub to fill up for the kid. When I went running or otherwise worked out, I rejected the ipod and music and instead choose to listen to characters interact in the Victorian style, or to imagine their world, their style, other people they might encounter, and then afterwards furiously typed up notes before I jumped in the shower. Even during writing exercises with the other people in this blog, I took whatever writing start point they gave us, and put it in a Steam Punk world. I had a main character, a winged anti-hero named Gossamer, and a world for her, and I started writing.

I still needed to add details to the world, so I kept an eye out for them. What sorts of things we enjoy now might exist in a Steam Punk world, especially one with fantasy creatures?
I think the greatest example came while my wife and child and I were at the mall one day. They were picking out earrings. There is only so much I can do with a wife and 5-year-old choosing earrings, and wasted witty commentary and dry sarcasm hurts me in my heart. So I borrowed a pen, dug out an old grocery receipt from her purse, and wandered out into the main throughways.

The first person to walk past was a heavy woman wearing expensive sunglasses and headphones. She moved quickly, wearing tennis shoes, possibly working out. Hurm. Sunglasses = goggles, that makes sense. What to do with headphones? Ah, got it. I jotted down,

A thick upper class woman in bejeweled night-vision goggles almost knocked Gossamer down rounding a corner. As the woman passed, Gossamer noted the small fairy clutching her back, attached by a braided silver leash, singing soft melodies into the woman’s ears to drown out the cries of the unmentionables in the streets.

I wandered back into the jewelry store to check on the family. No change. Some sort of debate between silver studs or loops. Then I turned to see a mother and grandmother taking pictures of their baby getting her ears pierced, even as the baby screamed in pain. I pulled out the receipt and the pen again.

A shriek nearby startled her, and she shifted her focus to a toddler boy crying out to the gods while a group of men held his arms and a blacksmith branded him with a tiny guild mark. All while his father and grandfather toasted and celebrated this ritual with their tankards of cinnamon beer.

What about zeppelins? Gotta have zeppelins… Ah, there, advertisements hanging from the ceiling became hanging scrolls from tiny fairy-flown dirigibles, with massive passenger balloons hovering way up in the sky.

And so it continued. I kept writing even when I didn't have time for writing. A big flat screen TV looping video of Chinese female dancers became a steam-powered window looking in on the performing dancers in an extra-dimensional Aether. An electric train running up and down the center of the mall became a miniature steam carriage with a goblin coachman carrying noble children around the outdoor market. A blog request became a blog about Steam Punk.

Hey, never whistle while you’re pissing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sixth "Dear Literary Agent" Contest

The Guide to Literary Agent's blog is always full of great tips on how to find an agent as well as profiles on agents old and new. Now they present their Sixth "Dear Literary Agent Contest."

This installment of the "Dear Literary Agent" contest is open to works of Urban Fantasy or paranormal, both YA and adult. The submission consists of a log line and the first 150-200 words of your completed manuscript (read the guidelines included in the link above for full details). In addition to bragging rights, the top three winners get the first 10 pages of their manuscript critiqued and a year's subscription to (not a bad haul, if I do say so myself).

The agent judging this installment of the contest is Marisa Corvisiero of the L. Perkins Agency. Marisa is actively seeking works of science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance as well as YA and children's.

Don't miss your chance to test your manuscript's hook! Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Writing Prompt--Reject a Hit!

Writer’s Digest is one of the most useful magazine subscriptions a writer can have. Not only does it keep one up to date on the current trends in publishing, but it also offers excellent techniques for improving your writing. Need to know how to capture the young adult voice? Curious about what agents want in a query letter? Interested in learning more about small and independent presses? Then check out Writer’s Digest!

One of my favorite columns in the magazine is called Reject a Hit. As a multimillionaire in rejection, the idea of writing a fake rejection letter for a well known novel, appeals to me on more levels than I can count. A few months ago, the magazine published a rejection letter to Bram Stoker in regards to his classic novel, Dracula, saying that such vile creatures as vampires will never sell. This month, some brave writer wrote a letter to J.K. Rowling, passing on Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone with the reasoning that no child would want to read about a dorky tween’s experiences in the world of wizards and magic.

So of course, I have to put it out there…

Who among us is brave enough to select a hit and then write the all powerful, evil rejection letter? Me! Me! Me!

Of course, there is so much to choose from. Faulkner? Hemingway? King? Meyers? After some thought, I believe Charles Dickens will be in my line of rejection fire. I’ve never been a fan of A Christmas Carol. Bah humbug!

I’ll be posting my completed rejection letter next week, but I’d love to see some others. Feel free to post your letter in the comments section of this blog, or if you’re super brave, submit it to Writer’s Digest at with “Reject a Hit” in the subject line.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Although writers have always outnumbered publishers, it seems like today the supply of writers has far surpassed the demand for books. As more and more writers get fed up with the state of the publishing industry, there's a growing trend toward self-publishing. Yes, self-publishing does let you get a book "printed" faster than going with a traditional publisher; however, this does not mean self-publishing is the answer to your publishing problems.

Self-publishing is not right for everyone (neither is traditional publishing). There are many cons associated with self-published books:
  1. No barrier to entry: Meaning anybody willing to pay can get published (whether the work is good or not). 
  2. Negative stigma: Because there is no barrier to entry often times the editorial, print, and design of self-published books are of poor quality. As such, many retailers won't shelve self-published books and many media outlets won't cover/review them.
  3. Poor distribution: A printed book is worthless if you can't get it out into the retail chain. Often self-publishers don't have the contacts, reputation, or resources to effectively distribute their books.
  4. Cost: No advances here, the author foots the bill on the entire project as well as serving as project manager and marketer
Of course, there are some positives, like:
  1. Creative control: You can say how it looks, what it says, and where it goes.
  2. Ownership: You're not selling your rights to a publisher, so you get to keep full ownership of your material.
  3. Time to market: traditional publishing can take years to get a book to market, whereas most self-published books can get to market in a matter of months.
  4. Higher returns: There is no one else to pay but you, so you get to keep the money you earn on the back end. 
Traditional publishing isn't good or bad either--it's just a different model. Some of the negatives of traditional publishing include:
  1. No ownership or creative control: You sell your rights to the work, and often times your rights to final say in cover design and other elements.
  2. Time to market: As stated earlier, it can take years to traditionally publish a work.
  3. Barrier to entry: You have to go through an agent, which also adds time to the publishing schedule (and another mouth to feed).
  4. Small royalties: Most authors never earn back their advances, much less start earning royalties (if you think you can get rich as an author, you're in the wrong industry).
On the other hand, traditional publishing provides:
  1. Credibility: Traditionally published books are thoroughly vetted, so retailers and media know they are good quality.
  2. Strong distribution: Traditional publishers have established national distribution to all the major outlets.
  3. Small up front costs: You're still responsible for your marketing, but here you're not expected to make any other investment and often times you do receive an advance (though those are shrinking).
So, before you take the plunge into self-publishing, do a little research and get serious about what your goals are as an author. If you have the ability to market and distribute your book and the funds to invest to produce a high quality work and to partner with a distributor, then maybe self-publishing is for you. If not, you may want to stick with the traditional route. Either way, be committed and educate yourself on the process. It will make everything easier on you and the publisher.

To learn more about your publishing options, read this white paper.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pen Name Fun

I love standing in line at the grocery store and glancing at the names of the romance novelists whose books have been stashed there. Sure, there’s the readily recognizable ones like Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele, but I enjoy reading the names of the lesser known authors—Emma Darcy, Jeannette Diamond, and Suzy Stinger. It’s common for writers to write under different names, but my grocery line perusing got me to thinking about what my name would be. At a recent writing meeting, I found a link that generated pen names and after debating over a few (Adelina Burner, Zenaida Swonke), I settle on Xenia Zeminski.

But then the question arose: What does Xenia write?

Christian erotica, of course.

Now I’m not trying to offend anyone—far from it. Actually, I’m trying to stimulate your writing juices. See, Xenia got me to thinking about writing in a different style and certainly a different genre than I’m used to. While I don’t think Christian erotica is for me, coming up with a pen name and a author bio was a lot of fun.

So I have a challenge for you, Faithful Followers. Come up with a pen name for yourself and a short author bio( 100 words or so). Post it in the comment section of this article, and we’ll select a winner whose bio will be posted for all to see. Try to keep it reasonably clean! Funny is always good…

Yours truly,

Xenia Zeminski

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Author Submission Mistakes

We all know that there are major changes happening in the industry, many of which are working against authors going after traditional publishing deals. That's why its so important to take advantage of every opportunity you have to improve your odds. One mistake may not completely ruin your chances, but it can make the difference when you're competing with other authors for that coveted slot on the agent's or publisher's list.

Why am I able to talk about this, you ask? I sit in on book review every week. My desk is right next to the woman who receives the submissions. I hear all the mistakes author's make. Here are the biggest ones that come through on a consistent basis:
  1. Being rude. Our submissions team truly cares about the writer, not just the project. If you're kind, they'll go the extra mile to champion you in review. In fact, it is standard practice for them to reveal in review whether the person was nice or difficult. Who do you think we would rather work with?
  2. Not following guidelines. Agents and publishers clearly post their guidelines for a reason. Following them will boost your chances of getting a favorable review. 
  3. Not submitting to the right people. If the agent or publisher says they only represent nonfiction, don't send them an epic fantasy or book of poetry. You're just wasting everyone's time including your own. 
  4. Properly formatting your manuscript. Funny fonts, bizarre margins, or adjusting the font to skew page count only reflects bad on you. Look at Formatting & Submitting your manuscript for guidelines, but typically your manuscript should be double spaced, 12pt Times Roman, with one inch margins. Start each chapter 1/3 of the way down and put the page number and title/last name in the header of every page.
  5. No contact information. What good is submitting if we have no idea who submitted? Yes, it's that common.
  6. Promoting yourself. Yes include a brief bio, but don't say you are the greatest at anything, don't start with a sales pitch, and please, please, please do NOT mention the word bestseller. It's a four letter word in the submissions process. No one can predict bestsellers. Don't assume that your novel will be one.
  7. Don't respond negatively to rejections. Publishing is not a one size fits all venture. There are many factors that make an author a good fit for one house over another. Yes it's difficult getting rejection after rejection, but its much better to unleash your anger in private or at your writer's group meeting rather than ruining your chances forever with one or more publishers.
The laundry list goes on and on, but these are the big ones. Please do yourself a favor and keep these in mind when you submit. The gatekeeper handling submissions is a kind book lover scouring for the hidden jewel. Be kind and considerate of them. It will help you get through the gates. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Make Your Book Appealing to Publishers: Compelling Content

We wrapped up Austin Publishing University this past Sunday. Of the many topics covered was how to make the content of your book appealing to an acquisitions editor. Lari Bishop, the managing editor at Greenleaf Book Group said that in order to entice a publisher (and ultimately readers) the content needs to be compelling, marketable, and memorable.


In order to attract readers, the topic or hook of your book needs to be something people are interested in. If you are writing a business book, it needs to be a subject that can improve a professional's business. If you are writing a middle grade novel, the hook needs to be something an 8-12 year old would want to read.


There needs to be enough people interested in your topic in order to justify the cost of developing the book. Publishing and promoting a book takes a great deal of time and money. There's editing, design, printing, warehousing, shipping, publicity, marketing, etc. Be sure you are making it worth their while.


The writing needs to be good. Something about the book needs to stick with the reader after they're done, whether its character development, voice, setting, or a combination of many factors. This is what creates the desire in the reader to tell other people about the book. Word of mouth promotion is essential to the life of a book.

You need to consider all three of these elements before you even start writing. You need to develop your book with the reader in mind and you need to be able to clearly communicate to the publisher who the reader is and how many of them there are. Remember, publishing is a business. You need to approach it with both your business and your artist hat on.

Happy Writing!