Pratt’s writing advice, with my addendums.

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Tim Pratt posted a letter he sent to a writer who wanted to be published by a big New York publisher and it’s full of great advice. If you’re looking for advice on becoming a pro (or you’re just generally interested in that sort of thing) you should give it a read. It’s good stuff.

I would add a few things, though. First, if you’re looking to find out who is the agent for a specific writer, I find it’s much easier to just Google Specific Writer agent before I try searching their websites or acknowledgements in their books. If you Google Tim Pratt agent, you find his agent’s name right in the previews on the Google search page. If you do the same for me, you have to click through, but it’s the work of a few seconds. Super easy.

Second, rather than pay Publisher’s Lunch, I’d drop by the database of Agentquery. You can click the checkbox for one (or more) genres, then do a search (recommended: Put a “not important” in “Actively seeking new clients”), and you’ll get dozens of names of legit agents.

Sadly, it will be in no damn order at all, as far as I can tell. However, it’s easy enough to copy pasta their data into a spread sheet, then sort it by, for example, the agency where they work. It’s boring work but it’s damn easy to do.

Agentquery is also kind enough to link to agency websites. Info on their own site trumps anything you might find on other websites, such as whether they’re currently accepting queries (that’s why I suggested “not important” above).

After that, it’s a good idea to plug the agent’s name into the “Search This Forum” box at Absolute Write’s Background Check board, just in case they’re clueless or a scam.

A further bit of advice: if you’re making a list of agents and you decide you don’t want to submit to one (let’s say you are querying a science fiction novel right now but plan an epic fantasy series in the future, and discover a great agent with no interest in fantasy) it’s best to change the text of the agent’s information to a nice bright color like red rather than delete them outright. The reason is that this can be very time-consuming, and you don’t want to waste hours or minutes researching an agent you’ve already decided against once.

And that’s all. Good luck. #SFWApro

I am a dummy sometimes: marketing as luck-seeking behavior

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As a followup to yesterday’s post about our bias toward survivors, skill, luck, and the creating of luck, I wanted to make one little note here about how wrong I’ve been on one aspect of book marketing.

It’s often said that publicists and marketers will do all sorts of things to get the word out about a particular book, but they know that 90% of it will be wasted effort–they just don’t know which will be in the 90%, so they do it all.

For me and a lot of other people, I suspect, this sounds like a poorly-researched, poorly-planned activity. How can you not know what works and what doesn’t? Why not just find out what’s effective? Do polling/market research/whatever to answer questions like: Do book reviews in Locus sell copies? Do convention appearances? Do radio interviews?

Obviously, this wouldn’t be easy but it sounds doable. What’s more, there’s money on the line and if there’s one thing that begs for careful research into the acquiring of it, it’s money.

But that’s because I hadn’t really thought about it correctly. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, people who are lucky tend to put themselves into new situations often. They’re flexible. They don’t try to control situations. They try new things.

Yesterday, while I was mulling over the prospect that it was my own damn choices that made the Twenty Palaces books so unlucky, it dawned on me that the whole point of “90% is wasted effort” is that it’s luck-seeking behavior. It’s putting information out into the world hoping that it starts catching people’s attention in a big way. People will say things like “I took out an ad on Reddit Fantasy” or “I did a guest post for [Name Author]” or “I got a nice review on [Non-Book Site]” but that’s a kind of suvivorship bias, too. The book was marketed and publicized in a lot of ways, but those were the times that luck hit.

Maybe that’s obvious to everyone in the world but me, but this is my blog, so…

Here I’ve been thinking that most marketing is Not Useful. Maybe I should rethink.

What we talk about when we talk about gorillas who teach at Oxford

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Over on the LiveJournal version of yesterday’s post, I had someone say they were surprised to hear that I was working on a project called KING KHAN. I thought, Have I not talked about this?

Let me give you a quick rundown on this project, what it is and what it will be.

Back in April, indie rpg company Evil Hat was having a pretty good run on a Kickstarter. They were trying to fund a trilogy of books based on their Spirit of the Century game, which is a pulp-adventure game with an emphasis on the 1920-30s, and it was doing well enough that they set some stretch goals. One of those was for me to write a book featuring a particular reader favorite character: Professor Khan, an intelligent gorilla who teaches at Oxford.

After some discussion, we decided that I was going to write a book that had Professor Khan visit Los Angeles in the studio era. There’s a mysterious death, a stolen weird-science maguffin, and lots of high-strangeness of the lightning gun/shrink beam/hopping ghost variety.

And it’s funny. At least, it’s supposed to be funny. There’s action, naturally, but I’m hoping the characters and situations will be amusing and uplifting. Did I mention that it stars a gorilla who teaches at Oxford?

Anyway, I’m nearly finished with the first draft (it’ll be a short book, probably 70K or less) and, after a polish, will send it off and get back to EPIC FINALE WITH NO DULL PARTS. No rest for the weary.

I don’t need to see more characters taking a piss

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Lev Grossman has a fun list of 20 things he wants to see characters in fantasy novels do more often. Someday I’ll do a list of all the reasons the internet is about lists, but this one is pretty fun.

However, I don’t much need to see characters peeing, unless it’s important to the story. Are they trapped somewhere for a long time? Are they showing their contempt for someone? Go for it. Otherwise, leave it implied.

Also, number 1, forgetting things, wouldn’t fit the sort of stories I like to read or write. For most of us, the expectation is that characters will perform to the best of their abilities. If the troll army is marching through a forest, the elven ranger might be able to successfully elude them while the city tax collector could not, but we expect both to do their best. This is why we invented the term “idiot plot.”

Frankly, fiction is artificial enough without adding complications from obstacles like “I swear I packed our weapons!” It seems too much like author manipulation.

As for number 19, I figure worlds on the other sides of portals would be pretty much like ours, in the most basic way. I mean, if I’m not taking up arms against the Dark Lards in our world, why would I believe myself capable of doing it in another?

Short fiction on the donation model

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All around cool guy Saladin Ahmed is giving away a Sword & Sorcery tale on his website, with a request for donations. Times are tough for a lot of people, but as someone with out-of-date prescription glasses, I can tell you how incredibly hard it is for a writer who struggles to see text.

Give the story a read and, if you like it, send a couple of bucks his way.

If it’s from Pixar, it must be good

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Pixar, right? They make good movies that are affecting and also make sense. Sort of a rare thing now.

Anyway, Pixar story artist Emma Coats has been basic story “rules”.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that there is really only one rule: Be interesting. However! Her advice is pretty good. I especially like #6 and #15, and I’ve recommended people do #10, #12, and #20 already. I should probably be better about #2 and #5.

But it’s good stuff.

Okay, okay, you guys, jeeze

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Since folks are pestering me about it*, here’s a list of the old games I bought at Half-Price Books:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Dragon Lair
Legendary
Elven Legacy Collection

My general rule is that I don’t buy games based on other media because they suck so often, but I made an exception for Harry Potter since my boy is a fan.

In truth, I have no idea if these are good games or not. I played Dragon Lair way back in the day when you had to put coins into a machine for it, but the others are completely unknown to me.

We’ll see how lucky I am.

* Note: This is not true. I just wanted to post this list.

WTF, MSN?

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I get my internet through Qwest MSN, which is reasonably affordable and doesn’t make me want to stab people to death.

Usually.

The big problem with MSN is that their webmail is a complete fucking disaster. For ex: A friend posted to a mailing list I’m on about adapting scripts to prose, and my webmail response turned five or six paragraphs into ONE 225-WORD BLOCK OF TEXT!

Microsoft! HOW CAN YOU BE GETTING THIS SO WRONG! When I hit the enter key, it’s because I want to put in a line break! If I do it twice, it’s because I want there to be a blank line between two small blocks of text!

THIS IS THE CUSTOM OF MY PEOPLE! We call them “paragraphs.”

Seriously, how fucking useless can you be? How can this be a big challenge to you? Just leave my fucking line breaks in place so I can email people without looking like a dumbshit. Do I really need to change my email address/ISP/email client because of your incompetence?

No! No, I do not. I’m not going to change anything. YOU ARE GOING TO FIX THIS PROBLEM!