Don’t Take Candy off of Strangers

Author Jerry Jenkins announced an “Innovative Publishing Firm.” According to Victoria Strauss, innovative in publishing press release speak means charges a whopping fee. But writers might be willing to trust Jerry and his company more readily, believing they’re dealing with good Christian folks. Well, let’s see about that.

Jenkins established Christian Guild Writers Publishing, a self-publishing company targeted toward Christian writers. CGWP offers a six-month writing course, basic stuff for beginning writers. The writers are paired with mentors, that is, published authors who walk them through the process. Only one of the seven members is a fiction writer. At the end, CGWP will edit, proof, design, cover, and produce a book. You’ll get copy-editing, proofing, and basic services like ISBN. Cost to the author: $9,995. There are several caveats. CGWP doesn’t provide distribution; you’re on your own. If your book runs longer than 75K words, there’s a surcharge. Content editing raises the price. Custom design for the interior and cover cost extra, too. CGWP offers the option of hardback, but for print runs of 1,000 copies. Methinks I smell a scam.

Now there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. If that’s the way you choose to go, then you become a consumer evaluating a company that’s providing a service. You can publish your work on Smashwords and Kindle for free. Mind you, you’ll need an editor and someone to design your cover, but CreateSpace will provide such services for less than $2000 if you decide to use these services at all.

Speaking of distributing companies, let’s look at Autharium, a new British site. According to The Passive Voice, Autharium has made it easy for authors to upload, publish, and distribute their work. Out of curiosity I took a look at the site. At first glance, Autharium looks a lot like Lulu and CreateSpace. They’ve got a dashboard that enables you to upload files and directions on how to do it. You set your price the way you do with Lulu and CreateSpace, and they do a quality check before the book is approved for distribution. “At first glance” are the operative words. Things get ugly when you read Autharium’s terms and conditions. I posted some below.

 

  • “By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and license to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for the entire legal term of copyright (and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals of the term of copyright).” That’s the author’s life plus 70 years under British copyright law.
  • “Please note that your removal of your Work from sale in accordance with paragraph 13.1 above will not terminate this Agreement nor cause the exclusive digital publishing rights that you have granted to Autharium pursuant to paragraph 1 above to revert to you. You maintain copyright of the Work at all times.”
  • “If you wish to sell your Work in any Digital Form through any other publisher, distributor or means then you will need to contact Autharium at support@autharium.com to agree transfer of the digital publishing rights to your Work.”

Let’s look at Starship Invasions, published by me and Tom Johnson through the Night to Dawn imprint. The contract runs three years, and then the rights revert to the author. I distributed the book through Lulu and CreateSpace, using different ISBN numbers. Suppose I decided to use Autharium, too? At the end of three years, Tom and I would have to get written permission from Autharium to continue publishing and submitting our stories. Let’s say a publisher comes by, offering a generous advance for our book. We’d still have to request permission and likely pony up a lot of money to get it.

Another scam, only this one acts as a distributor, enticing new authors who are anxious to see their books in print. My mother once told me never to take candy off of strangers. I think she had it right.

I’ve got to thank Mitzi Flyte for sending me the URL for Passive Voice. I’m also blessed to belong to a forum like The Writers Coffeehouse where I can find information like this. Jonathan Maberry originally recommended Preditors & Editors. If you’re testing an unfamiliar market, I recommend visiting as many watchdog sites as possible. If the candy the new publisher is offering really tempts you, these following watchdog agencies can advise you whether or not that company is legit.

 

  • The Passive Voice – the Passive Guy (David P. Vandagriff) is a contract lawyer. He does not offer legal advice on his blog, but he discusses the trends in publishing. He also points out potential minefields for the writer, such as bad formatting or scam distributors.
  • Writer Beware – Victoria Strauss will dig through the underworld of literary scams, schemes, and minefields. She’ll also welcome guest bloggers for Writer Beware. Most of the guest blogs are related to writing advice or perhaps a current problem in the industry.
  • Absolute Write Water Cooler will give you the full disclosure on most agents and publishing houses. In addition, they post basic writing advice, how to handle rejection, “ask the agent,” and other good topics.
  • Piers Anthony is a well-known author, having had a lot of his books published by Tor. If you click on his link “Publish on web,” you’ll get his evaluation of eBook publishers in alphabetical order. Pay attention to the red print – that’s his latest update on the given publisher.
  • Preditors & Editors, an oldie but goodie, will give you the low down on publishers, agents, bookstores, editors, software (yes, writing software), magazines, workshops, game publishers, and so forth.

When you go through the watchdog sites, consider the date of the evaluation. A complaint written in 2008 won’t tell you much because that was then, and this is 2013. New management may have taken care of the problem. Sometimes you’ll get conflicting stories. If you do, I recommend my Balloon Rule. If one person says you’re a balloon, ignore them. If two people tell you you’re a balloon, listen. If three people call you a balloon, get a ribbon and float.

I wanted to include the watchdog sites because I’m a firm believer in writers covering for each other. Are there any sites I haven’t mentioned? What has your publishing experiences been like? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

 

Barbara Custer never takes candy off of strangers.

This candy looks delicious, but I wouldn’t accept it from a stranger.

 

Rejected Again? Take Heart!

Take heart - Barbara Custer of Night to Dawn wants to read your zombie fiction.

Lately I’ve read a lot of posts on the angst people feel when they submit work and get the infamous rejection letter. With my NTD magazine, I’ve been on both sides of the desk, so when I reject work, I try to be careful with how I word my reply. I might make suggestions on improving the story. If I really like the story, but not enough to use it for NTD, I’ll encourage the writer to send more work. Let’s say you’ve read and reread your story to your critique group, gone through the piece for typos with a fine tooth-comb, and you can’t break into a publication. Howcumzit?

Look at your cover letter. You’d be surprised how many submissions I get start with “dear editor.” When someone doesn’t take the time to learn my name, I have to wonder if they researched the magazine at all. I’ve heard this complaint from other publishers, too.  Most editors frown on nicknames, too, but if someone called me “balloon lady,” at least I’d know the person sending was doing their homework. Lose the “you’ll love my story” approach, too. For short stories, keep it simple. A brief bio is great. Also anything that qualifies you to write the story. For example, I let people know I’m a respiratory therapist because my medical background gives technical detail to my stories.

Let’s say your cover letter is clean, and it’s time to read the submission. Well, for me, browsing through submissions like a trip down the party aisle at the supermarket. If a story or poem calls to me the same way a balloon does at the supermarket, that piece will go to print. So how do I select balloons? Glitter, unique shape, original design, and well inflated. How does this compare to submissions?

  • Glitter: The story should glitter with conflict and action from page one. Better yet, the first paragraph in a short story. Your protagonist should protag and not be a spectator. If you’ve cluttered the first two or three pages with backstory, you’ve lost the reader.
  • Unique shape: Butterfly balloons in particular catch my eye. With stories, I’m looking for unique takes on the vampire, zombie, and other conventional monsters.
  • Original design: I’m looking for a story told in a fresh slant. Recently I’ve rejected work because I’d already published similar stories.
  • Well inflated. I won’t buy a balloon that has soft spots because it may be leaking helium. So what qualifies as a “well inflated” story? The conflict and action keep me reading from start to finish. I’ve gotten some stories that started beautifully but fell flat at the end. Sometimes the ending stops me but I can’t say why.

Let’s say you jumped through those hoops and you still get a rejection. If an editor rejects your work with a personal critique, it means they cared enough about the story to make suggestions. Another editor may have a different, more positive perception. If the editor invites you to send more work, they mean it. So keep submitting!

Suspension of Disbelief

When I began submitting short stories, the editors bounced them back with comments such as “characters not believable” or “no suspension of disbelief.” This usually happened when I included a real-life event. I never understood why using real events didn’t work, but I found that embellishing the details helped my cause.

All fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. Basically, we’re trying to convince the reader that the characters and settings in our stories are real, and that the events depicted could happen in everyday life. In horror, fantasy, and science fiction, we’re talking about a giant suspension of disbelief.

We can convince readers our stories are believable by testing details for plausibility and proving that each event is a natural outgrowth from the one preceding it in the novel. For example, I wouldn’t have a blizzard in Florida or palm trees in Alaska, unless I prepared a foundation in my story to make that possible.

Genre fiction introduces a new world with new rules.  Once you’ve set up your world and establish your rules, you have to consistently follow your rules if you want your story to be believable. For example, you can’t have a vampire shy away from religious objects in Chapter One and wear them in Chapter Five unless you’ve established a profound change in him.

One thing that I’ve struggled with is inconsistency in characters. I see this flaw in many books and movies, too. I could never understand how someone could be next to dying on television, and then two days later, back on the job. It doesn’t work that way in a real-life hospital. At least have the hero do some time in Physical Therapy.

If I’m reading a book about a hero with a phobia of heights, and by Chapter Five, he’s scampering up a ten-story building to rescue his beloved, I start to wonder. That character had better be sweating putty balls as he climbs. If he goes up the building calm and cool, that’s going to ruin my suspension of disbelief. I will probably set down the book and head for the nearest balloon store.

My Steel Rose protag has severe hand arthritis. Does she battle a monster? Of course. She has to draw on her strengths to fight. I gave her a long nap before the attack so she could stay alert and think fast. I’m not going to tell you if she survives because that’d be giving away the story.

I’m struggling with inconsistency now in my current WOP, and my writer buddies calls me on it when my protag acts out of character. That is a good critique group. One thing I’ve found helpful was using a calendar. Keeping track of the months in which events happen enables me to write the setting appropriately.

How do you deal with suspension of disbelief and consistency with your characters? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Kryszka renegades like this attack Alexis is When Blood Reigns.

Kryszka soldier that attacks Alexis

Do Writing Critique Groups Help?

Barbara Custer of Night to Dawn writes horror and science fiction.At the Writers’ Coffeehouse meeting last Sunday we had a discussion on critique groups and whether or not they help. Some people felt it best to stick with a group that has professional people such as published writers or editors. Without such member, said some, people may go to a critique group not really expecting to get published.

It was interesting that this topic came up. When I first started writing, the first piece of advice I got was “join a writer’s group.” At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I found plenty of writer’s groups. Some of them specialized in romance; others in nonfiction. Others preferred a mix of genres and subjects. My main consideration, though, was location and dates.

I started out with a group in Plymouth Meeting, PA. I got some great critiques initially, but we wound up becoming more of a social group. We wound up talking about movies, families, everything but writing. The group split up because of this but we remained friends.

I later moved on to Montgomery County Community College Writers’ group. They hold their meetings every other Thursday. I stayed with that group for several years until my problems with night vision made driving difficult. The college is on Route 202 and Morris road, and both of those streets have poor lighting.

For the last year or so I’ve been going to Bucks County Writers’ group in Warminster. They’ve been holding meetings Monday nights and Thursday afternoons. Editor Rita Breedlove runs the group, and I’ve found her critiques invaluable. Humor goes a long way when you’re delivering critiques. I’ve listed the advantages and disadvantages that I’ve found below.

Advantages

  • You can get instant feedback on material you’ve written. This works especially well with a short story if you’re able to read the entire story in one sitting. A novel critique can work if you read installments to the same people each time. The other members can work as your beta readers.
  • Socialization. Let’s face it, writing is a lonely job. I can sit behind the desk so many hours, and then I got to get up and walk around for a little bit, with “little bit” being the operative phrase. After a few minutes, I’m back at my computer. The prospect of showing up at the next meeting empty-handed motivates me to keep writing.

Disadvantages

  • If you’re working on a novel, and can’t get to sequential meetings, you’ll need to spend time filling people in on what happened in your book since the last reading.
  • Your timetable – if you work a day job, then you can’t get to morning or afternoon meetings. During the winter, a bad snowstorm may prohibit attending the meetings. Sometimes you can work around this by agreeing to have an online critique during the winter. Bucks County has done some online critiques, and I’ve been able to schedule days off to get to a meeting.
  • Other members may disagree with each others’ critiques. When this happens, I go with the majority. If one person tells me I’m a balloon, I smile and go about my business. If two people tell me I’m a balloon, I take pause and listen. If three people tell me I’m a balloon, I grab a ribbon and start floating.

All up, my experiences with Bucks County and the other groups have been great. The critiques have enabled me to get my short stories published. For my novels, the critiques point me in the right direction. After I’ve worked extensively on the book, then I take it to a content editor.

So…do you belong to a critique group? How has it worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Zombie Apocalypse Forthcoming…Seriously Speaking

Yes, that’s right. I believe we’re headed for a zombie apocalypse down the road. I may or may not live to see it, but it’s coming. And I’m as serious as Parkinson’s Disease.

The apocalypse won’t be supernatural as it was in City of Brotherly Death, or the short story trio, Trilogy of the Dead, where the dead have major scores to settle with the living. In my forthcoming book, Steel Rose, and its sequel, aliens inject a chemical into live humans, turning them into flesh eating zombies. Sometimes the aliens implant microchips in the dead to make them walk and attack. However, I doubt aliens will have anything to do with real world zombies. I acquired a taste for zombie fiction, having read Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, and other books by Jonathan Maberry. He’s a brilliant writer, but I don’t foresee viruses causing zombie-like behavior either.

Jim Gurley touched on my suspicions about zombies in his book Hell Rig, which opens with Global Oil Rig #13 claiming twenty-one lives during Hurricane Katrina. When Ric Waters, the half-mad sole survivor, return with his restoration crew, they discover the presence of vengeful Voodoo Loas on the haunted rig. Now I don’t believe people will use Voodoo to make zombies in the future, but the weather will cause the dead to rise. I’m thinking about Katrina, Irene, and now Sandy. These monster storms seem to be our new normal. Ditto for the extreme winters where you get two feet of snow or more.

Sandy left behind many battered trees that fell on live wires and property. My local buddies and I have had to change driving routes to avoid the live wires and detours. I got to thinking what if some of those live wires landed near a cemetery. The thought takes me back to Frankenstein, where electricity gave life to a dead body. We’ve just gotten through Sandy, with another nor’easter coming in a couple of days. As the years pass, all of that rain and flooding will cause graves to open up. Lightning and live wires may electrocute the bodies, and cause them to move…and walk.

The zombie’s behavior will depend on how long it was dead before reanimating and the condition of the heart and brain at the time of death. In a recently deceased person who died of say, a gunshot wound to the stomach, the heartbeat might resume, delivering blood to the vital organs, including the brain. Such a person might be able to think, make decisions, and recognize people. They might speak clearly, know right from wrong, and be able to express affection.

A close relative or friend might feel wonderful about being reunited with his Uncle Joe, enough so that they bring the person home with them. And that’s where trouble begins. Basically, we’re talking about a crapshoot. By the time the person reanimates, the brain has sustained moderate damage, and resumption of circulation doesn’t guarantee that deterioration will stop. The first signs of brain damage include agitation, combativeness, and confusion. In the newly reanimated, family members may not pick up these signs in Uncle Joe. So after a couple of days, the “happy reunion” ends when the person fails to recognize his family, acts out, and bites. The bitten may not turn into zombies, but they will pick up a nasty infection, perhaps the kind that kills without timely treatment.

Most of the newly reanimated won’t be able to think because their brains have decayed so much. Their voices will sound like pebbles lodged in the windpipe. I picture them shuffling the streets like the fictional zombies, but not necessarily tearing up and chewing on people. They may become agitated and bite without provocation. If the bitten dies from the infection, they won’t rise from the dead unless another storm comes along, and lightning strikes the grave.

By the time our apocalypse happens, most people will own generators. I pray they do. I pray that someone comes up with a battery-powered generator because many landlords and homeowners’ associations won’t permit residents to own gas-powered generators. That stinks because when the dead rise, a power outage is inevitable. Howcumzit? The dead might go after people who run the power plants, and a plant can’t run itself. Also, if the dead break into a plant and start batting at the buttons and controls, the power from the plant will become history. I’m optimistic that given our track record of storms, most people will pony up the money for a generator and keep it hidden.

These zombies are not going to be strong brutes that can tear down telephone poles and transformers, so we may have electricity in some areas. Again, a crapshoot.

If the zombies come during my lifetime, I’m going to look over my shoulder wherever I walk in case one of the reanimated heads my way. As for my balloon stories or photos, I might share them with a friend who just died and reanimated, and thus able to appreciate a good balloon tale. At the first sign of agitation or confusion, though, I’m running as if King Kong were after me. I’m hoping by the time this apocalypse happens, science invents plasma guns, like the kind in Steel Rose. The kind that’s user-friendly for delicate hands.

How do you feel about zombies? Do you think we’re headed toward an apocalypse? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Aliens injected a chemical that turned Barbara Custer's characters into zombies in Steel Rose.

If live wires or lightning strikes a grave, we’ll get a visitor like this zombie.

“Discrete” Use of English

Night to Dawn features zombie tales among other horrors.

During my current WOP, I ran into major problems with the word discrete, and my fellow scribes called me on it. My manuscript read: “People so we have to be discrete with our conversation.” Wrongies. “Discrete” pertains to separate or distinct, and the appropriate word for caution is “discreet.” The noun version for discrete is discretion. For “discreet,” you’d write “discreteness,” which causes more confusion.

Example: I bought a discrete number of balloons for my home, but if there’s a zombie invasion, I’d better be discreet.

Here is an oldie but goodie verb, lie versus lay, one that confuses writers. I see it in my NTD tales all the time. Yes, Yours Truly has gotten caught on this one, too. If you’re talking about someone who’s reclining, “lie” is used for the present tense, while “lay” is used for past tense, and “lain” for past participle. If you’re setting something in a given place, choose “lay” for present and “laid” for past and past participle.
Examples of reclining: The zombies are gone, so lie down and rest. He lay in the tree all afternoon. He’d lain in bed all morning.
Examples of placing something: Lay the balloon tree on the table. I laid my watch on the drawer. She’d laid her clothes out on the sofa.

“Lead versus led” can cause confusion and frustration. Lead, rhyming with bead, means to be in charge or in front. The past tense is always “led.” Confusion arises because “lead” when you’re referring to the metal is pronounced “led.” So to make it simpler…lead rhyming with bead means taking charge or being in front. Lead rhyming with bed is a toxic metal element. Led is the past and past participle of the verb “lead” (rhymes with bead).
Examples: He leads the soldiers on a quest to capture the zombies. She led her soldiers to the cemetery. They stole the lead from the church roof to pay for the guns.

Do you find yourself stumbling over words like this? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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