Slush Reading, Seuss Style

Slush I Read
by Jim C. Hines

(Apologies to Seuss)

I read slush.
Slush I read.

That slush I read.
That slush I read!
I do not like that slush I read.

Do you like fanfic with vamps?

I do not like them Mary Sue.
Why do these vamps all worship you?

Here’s a tale from D & D!

I do not want your D & D.
I do not like your elf PC.
I can not stand your purple prose.
I want to punch you in the nose!

Would you like a hot sex scene?
I wrote it for my online ‘zine!

I do not like your pervy tale.
Your metaphors make readers pale.
Your paragraphs are pages long.
Your bad sex scene is oh so wrong!
Can people do that with their lips???
I do not like your manuscripts.

This one is in Comic Sans!
My parents are my biggest fans.

That evil font we do not want!
My aching eyes, my weary sighs.
Why can’t you get the format right?
We post our guidelines in plain sight!
I will not read your 8-point type.
I want to bash you with a pipe!

Would you read this in the loo?
Let me slide it right to you!

I would not, could not, while I poo!

You just hate me ’cause I’m new!
I’m too original for you!

Too original you say?
This book is one absurd cliché!
It should not see the light of day.

I do not like your Mary Sues.
I do not like your crackhead muse.
Eve and Adam, Star Trek slash,
Tolkien ripoffs, pointless trash,
Prologues forty pages long,
Spelling every third word wrong.
I do not want to read this slush.
It’s all too much, my brain is mush!

Just one more story for today.
Soon I’ll clear this slush away.
No more vampires, I pray.

Wait–
This cover letter’s brief.
The format’s clean.  What a relief!

Say!
This story from the slush.
This story gives me such a rush.
These pages have a brilliant hook.
I want to read it in a book!
The wordcraft makes me start to swoon.
Is that the end? It came too soon!
I read it one time, two times, three!
It is so good, so good you see!

So I will read the slush again.
And wade through drafts by Twilight fen.
And I will read the pointless plots,
And tales of busty blonde sexbots.
And I will read your pissed off mail.
And I will read it without fail.
Yes I will read slush by the bale
So I can find that next great tale.

Dedications

I’m still taking interview questions.  I’ve got a dozen or so good ones, but nothing silly yet.  Knowing y’all, this surprises me.  If you’re interested, e-mail a question at mermaid@jimchines.com and I’ll add you to the drawing to win a copy of Strip Mauled.  All I ask is that you post the Q&A on 10/6 when Mermaid officially comes out.


This was what I saw Sunday afternoon in the SF/F section at Schuler Books in the Meridian Mall.  Isn’t it a beautiful sight?*  That little hand belongs to my son, who lit up at the sight of Daddy’s books on the shelf.  He was almost as excited as I was.

Of course, he got bored fast when he had to wait for Daddy to sign everything.  But then I took him back and showed him the dedication page for Goblin War.  He read the letters one by one, and all the energy came rushing back.  “That’s me!”  Then he looked up at me and asked, “Why is my name in your book?”

It’s a good question, and got me thinking about the dedications I’ve done, and why.  In part, dedicating a book is a gift I can give that feels special.  But there’s more.

Goblin War: To My Son

  • Because you embody everything I love about my goblins–the cleverness, the humor, the berserker attacks against your Daddy…
  • Because even if you betray me and ascend to the rank of Death God, I’ll still watch over you and protect you.
  • Because of Shadowstar’s “He’s my son” scene on pages 300-302.

Stepsister Scheme: To My Daughter

  • Because my wishes for you include Snow’s joy, Talia’s strength, and Danielle’s heart.
  • Because you’re as beautiful as any princess.
  • Because you don’t need to be rescued.
  • Because without you, this series wouldn’t exist.

Mermaid’s Madness: To My Wife

  • Because this was the worst deadline pressure I’d ever experienced, and you still loved me when it was all over.
  • Because in so many ways, you are the Beatrice of this family.  (Even though your Dad’s pontoon boat isn’t quite as cool as the Phillipa.)
  • Because part of this series is about family and teamwork, and you’ve taught me so much about both.

I didn’t know how to explain all of this to a four-year-old.  So I just told him it was because I loved him, and that I’d explain it more when he was older.  He seemed content with this.  But the whole thing left me feeling unusually sappy, so I thought I’d share with you all.


*Most bookstores won’t have it in stock yet … though it might be worth a phone call to check 😉

Arr! Google Update Ahoy!

“The proposed settlement gives Google rights to scan and provide online access to millions of books, many of which are out-of-print or otherwise not commercially available.”  (Note that out-of-print =/= public domain.)

“The Settlement Agreement uses the term Commercially Available, which generally means that a Book is in-print. If a Book is not Commercially Available, that means, in general, that it is Out-of-Print. Google is authorized to make Display Uses and Non-Display Uses of each Book that is not Commercially Available for the term of the U.S. copyright for that Book UNLESS the Rightsholder directs Google not to do so or directs Google to remove the Book.”

The latest twist: “Google’s book project has scanned and digitised millions of out-of-print books and made them searchable online as digital files. Now, it’s enabling web users to make old-fashioned, bound hard copies of these hard-to-find books using a new high-speed, on-demand printer called the Espresso.”

ETA: “And On Demand Books, the Espresso’s maker, potentially could get access to even more hard-to-find books if Google wins court approval of a class-action settlement giving it the right to sell out-of-print books.”

What?  Isn’t this Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Enough of that. Off with ye, me hearties, and go enjoy the pirate ditty Talk Like a Pirate Day (MP3) by Tom Smith!

Anthology Invites

Like I did last week, I’m rerunning this piece from 2006 (with minor edits) to get it into WordPress.

For a long time, invitation-only anthologies were my Holy Grail, a goal only one step below actually selling a novel to a major publisher.  I drove myself a little loopy trying to crack the invite market, and thought I’d share those experiences for anyone trying to do the same. More

Bechdel Testing

Hey, guess what showed up in a big ol’ Fed Ex box yesterday.  I’ll give you a hint–it wasn’t The Tick 🙂

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Because it came up in the comments yesterday Tuesday, I thought I’d talk a little about the Bechdel Test.  For those of you unfamiliar with the test, check out the Wikipedia link.  In brief, a story has to meet the following three requirements to pass the test:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man.

The Angry Black Woman posted a modified version regarding race:

  1. It has to have at least two people of color in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a white person.

The first time I saw these, my first reaction was of course to apply them to my own books.  The goblin trilogy is iffy on the first test.  Book one fails, but then we get Grell, Golaka, Kralk, Billa, and we start to fare a little better.  The female characters are definitely in the minority though, and I’d have to go back and check to see how much they talk to one another as opposed to being all about the men.

In terms of race?  Not a clue how to apply it to the goblins, since few of my characters in this series are human.  On the other hand, the actual humans, dwarves, and elves were all white.  Why?  There’s no deliberate reason; I just defaulted to white when I wrote the books.

The princess series fares better, passing the original test with flying colors.  When it comes to race though, that’s a little different.  Of the three heroines, Talia is the only non-white character.  It’s not until book three that the books pass the racial test.

I’m not aware of anyone saying every story has to pass the tests.  We’re not talking about quotas, and I swear to Cthulhu I’ll loose the goblins on the first one to raise that strawman.

The point, at least for me, is how few stories actually pass these tests.  Because we default to what’s easy or familiar, or what we’re used to reading and writing.  Why did Darnak the dwarf have to be white and male?  Why is Talia the only non-white servant I’ve described working in the palace?  Did I think about the politics and racial atmosphere in Lorindar and make a conscious decision to minimize non-white characters, or was I just lazy?

Most of the time, I don’t think it’s a conscious choice.  I know I don’t always see the trends in my own writing until I deliberately stop and look back at my work.  The Bechdel tests are one way to do that.

Remember IDIC from Star Trek?  (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, for those of you whose geek-fu is not as strong.)  It’s not about quotas or satisfying the PC police.  It’s about telling better stories.  Because defaulting our stories to a single narrow slice of reality, limiting what we write and read to tales of Straight White Men, is simply illogical.

Diabetes Details 3: $$$

SciFiChick is giving away a copy of The Mermaid’s Madness. Deadline to enter is 10/16.

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work. I absolutely love this piece.

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So apparently this is the week to talk about invisible diseases/conditions.  I don’t know how invisible my diabetes is … the insulin pump is kind of obvious, and I don’t try to hide when I’m checking my blood sugar.  On the other hand, it’s not like my pancreas has fallen out in the middle of a convention panel or anything like that.

I’ve chatted about the disease a bit already here and here.  With a doctor’s appointment set up for this afternoon, I got to thinking about the cost of the damn disease.

I’m very fortunate to have good health insurance, which means most of that cost is actually invisible to me.  The insurance is one of the reasons I took my day job, and it’s the biggest reason I’ll likely never be able to quit and write full time.  But recent events got me thinking about how much diabetes would cost if I were ever to get laid off or lose those benefits.

  • Blood sugar test strips (testing 6-7 times/day) : $200/month
  • Lancets for blood tests: $63/month
  • Insulin pump infusion set:  $116/20-day supply
  • Insulin pump reservoirs: $33/20-day supply
  • Insulin (this one is a guess): $100/month

That’s $586.50 per month, and that’s before we get into doctor visits (every 3-4 months), bloodwork (also every 3-4 months), and occasional costs like replacing the insulin pump if it breaks ($1000?) or, if things go really badly, a trip to the hospital.

If I were covering the costs myself, there are changes I could make to save money.  I could test my blood less frequently, switch from the pump back to multiple daily injections, not see my doctor quite as often, reuse lancets and syringes, and so on.

Of course, the more I skimp on the daily care, the more likely I am to end up in the hospital due to complications…

It’s not something I think about very often, but it scares me a bit, and I very much resent that it takes away my option to try to go full-time as a writer.

Three Weeks to Mermaid!

• I don’t link to many reviews of my work, but I’m going to make an exception for this one.  sigelphoenix has posted one of the most thoughtful reviews of The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] that I’ve come across.  Some spoilers, but worth reading: http://sigelphoenix.insanejournal.com/168038.html

• Balancing this out, Andrew Wheeler glanced at a copy of Mermaid and warns readers to “Expect a lot of singing Motown into shampoo bottles, or whatever the fantasy-novel equivalent of the ‘girls bonding montage’ is, when The Mermaid’s Madness hits stores.”  Hmph.  I’ll have you know my book contains absolutely no shampoo, minimal singing, and only a few bondage scenes.

• Hey reviewers!  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] has gone to press, which means physical copies of the book exist, even if they aren’t showing up in stores quite yet.  If you would like a review copy of the book, please contact me, and I’ll try to hook you up with my publicist.

Finally, I wanted to present some SHOCKING REVELATIONS FROM THE MERMAID’S MADNESS!*

  1. Snow White becomes a Sparkly Vampire®.  (She is awfully pale…)
  2. Meet Queen Beatrice’s newest agent: Dragonslayer.  Jig Dragonslayer.  007, License to Cower.
  3. Magical power is revealed to come from tiny magichlorians in the blood.
  4. Snow White gropes Neil Gaiman.
  5. Danielle, Talia, Snow White, and the Little Mermaid transform and merge into SuperMegaPrincessZoid.
  6. Prince Armand comes back in time, blows up Lorindar, and reboots the whole series using mysterious “Puce Matter.”
  7. Montage of all three princesses singing Motown into shampoo bottles.
  8. Fairy Tale Princesses vs. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus!
  9. In a shameless attempt to build Internet buzz, Talia tapes bacon to a mermaid.

Feel free to suggest your own 🙂


*It’s possible that some or all of these shocking revelations might have been cut from the final manuscript…

PublishAmerica’s Twittery

If you’re bored by publishing talk, go learn how to build TRON lightcycles out of LEGO instead.

PublishAmerica has been around for a while.  You might remember them as the publisher who offered to buy Atlanta Nights, an educationally awful book designed to demonstrate that Publish America would accept just about anything.  Nor does PA pay much attention to things like cover art, as you can see in one of my old LOL books.

PA claims to be a traditional publisher (a term with no actual meaning).  They emphasize that they’re not a vanity press; they pay an advance (generally $1.00), and they urge writers to avoid self-publishing.  From their FAQs:

PublishAmerica adheres to the traditional publishing concept … we earn our income by selling books.

So who do you think they’re selling those books to?  You’ll find few if any PA titles in bookstores.  They’re listed on Amazon like everything else, but an Amazon listing by itself doesn’t sell books.  As far as I can tell, PA appears to make most of their income by selling books to their authors.

PA recently joined Twitter as @publishamerica.  They’ve already protected their feed.  For those of you who don’t want to follow PA, let me sum up.

There’s a note about a 66% discount for online orders, which is cool.  I’d love to be able to sell my books at 2/3 off.  (But my publisher doesn’t sell horribly overpriced books, so that kind of discount is difficult to pull off.)

Reading on, I see a few tweets about individual authors … and a ton of tweets talking about how great PA is.  Canadian libraries stocked seven of our books!  Our authors have booksignings in 50+ bookstores this weekend!  A bookstore in NY just ordered some PA titles!

This isn’t advertising intended to sell books to readers; it’s aimed at selling PublishAmerica to new authors.

Compare this to @dawbooks, my own publisher’s Twitter feed.  DAW also uses Twitter for marketing, but almost every post includes an author’s name and/or a book title.  The goal is to sell books to readers.

From the PA stream:

one cool element of PA’s success is that it drives the opposition nuts. they keep writing about us, fortunately spelling our name right.

Opposition?  That implies that PA has any impact whatsoever on serious publishers.  But they’re right about one thing.  PA does drive me nuts.  It pisses me off when people take advantage of new writers.  I spent years trying to break in.  I remember that feeling of desperation, of wanting someone, somewhere to validate my work.  Of wanting to finally be a published author.

If all you want is to be published, PA might be the right choice.  You’ve got almost zero chance of rejection, and they’ll create a book with your name on the cover.  You’ll probably even get that $1.00 check as a bonus.

If, on the other hand, you want to be read–if you want people to seek out your book, to read and enjoy it–well, there’s a simple test.  PA claims to have 35,000 authors, orders of magnitude more than any commercial publisher I’m aware of.  How many PA books do you own?  How many PA writers have you read?

So how does PA stay in business?  I’ll toss out one final tweet to answer that one:

one twitterer just purchased 200 books, using his ‘twitter’ coupon. his savings: over $3000.

Why worry about selling books to readers when you’ve got authors willing to shell out thousands of dollars for copies of their own books?

There are no shortcuts.  Frustrating as this road can be, I’m very happy to have waited until I could sign with a publisher who would get my work out to readers and fans.

Self-Publishing Myths

I wrote this piece two years ago, but wanted to get it reposted to the new WordPress site, especially after reading a few of the comments over at Genreville’s post on self-publishing.

I have absolutely nothing against self-publishing.

Let me say that again. I don’t hate self-publishing. I don’t hate self-published authors. I’m not interested in keeping anyone down, bashing authors, or mocking people who have accomplished the difficult and impressive job of completing a novel.

I do have serious problems with scammers trying to talk would-be writers into shelling over hundreds or thousands of dollars, while completely deluding them as to what they’re getting into.

The sad thing is that most of these places recycle the same old lines about how “traditional” publishers refuse to accept new writers*, and then they start listing famous and bestselling authors like Grisham and Paolini who chose to self-publish instead of going with one of those New York monstrosities . . . the implication being that you too will be a NYT bestseller if you self-publish your novel!

I finally got annoyed enough to gather some of these claims together, starting with good old Grisham.

1. John Grisham self-published A TIME TO KILL. Actually, Grisham sold A TIME TO KILL to a small publisher, Wynwood Press, who did a 5000-copy print run. Grisham bought the remaindered copies, which he sold himself. While this is the sort of hard work self-publishing often involves, A TIME TO KILL was certainly not a self-published book.

2. Christopher Paolini self-published ERAGON. Paolini’s family ran a small commercial press. ERAGON was not the first book published by Paolini International. Paolini International was founded in 1997, and you could make a strong argument that they are a commercial publisher, albeit a small one. On the other hand, since they were publishing the work of their son, you could also call this self-publishing. In either case, Paolini’s success** relied heavily on the fact that his family had five years of experience running a publisher, and were willing to devote themselves full-time to promoting his book. Unless your family has the same experience and devotion to your book, I wouldn’t count on achieving this level of success.

3. Mark Twain self-published HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I love this one. Companies will loudly proclaim that publishing is changing, that “traditional publishers” are the dinosaurs of the book world, and that self-publishing and print-on-demand are the wave of the future. These same companies then cite examples well over a century old. HUCKLEBERRY FINN was published in the late 1800s. Given how much the publishing industry has changed, how about we confine our arguments to examples less than a hundred years old. M’kay?

4. James Redfield self-published THE CELESTINE PROPHECY. Actually, this one appears to be true. From everything I’ve researched, Redfield did indeed self-publish. He gave away about 1500 copies, and word-of-mouth helped from there. What, you thought I was only going to post the false myths? Self-publishing canlead to success. Not as often as scammers would have you believe, but anything’s possible.  (For an example of a SF/F author who made it work, check out Simon Haynes.)

5. William Strunk, Jr. self-published THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE for his classes at Cornell University. Also true. However, it’s misleading. First of all, this book had a captive audience from day one. Unless you can force several hundred students to buy your book every semester, don’t count on seeing the same success. Also, there’s a huge difference between self-publishing non-fiction and fiction. With non-fiction, if you have a niche audience and you’re an expert on your topic, then you have a built-in platform through which to market your work. The success of Strunk and other non-fiction works is pretty much irrelevant to those of us who write fiction.

6. Even famous authors like Louis L’Amour self-published their work! L’Amour’s collection SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR was published in 1939 by Lusk Publishing Company, which was owned by Enoch Lusk. I’ve been unable to find any other books from this publisher, so it may be self-publishing and not a small press publication. Regardless, what this claim usually omits is whatL’Amour self-published. The implication is that he’s another success story who went from humble self-publishing to bestselling author. In fact, SMOKE FROM THIS ALTAR is a collection of L’Amour’s poetry. Poetry, like non-fiction, is a very different beast than fiction. L’Amour’s first novel appeared in 1950, and he never self-published his fiction.

7. What about L. Frank Baum? He self-published, right? L. Frank Baum wrote 14 Oz books, which were published between 1900 and 1920. (So I suppose you could say this example is less than 100 years old. But you’re cutting it close!) THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ was the first book, and was published by the George M. Hill Company in 1900. Hill also published at least one of Baum’s earlier books. George M. Hill went out of business in 1902, after which Reilly & Britton published Baum’s Oz books. The final two Oz books (by Baum) were published by Reilly & Lee. But this myth isn’t completely false. My research suggests that Baum did indeed self-publish one work . . . a manual on chicken farming.

I could go on at length, but this could easily become a novel-length work if I had the time and energy. I have books of my own to write. And my goal isn’t to analyze every last myth, but rather to take a critical look at some of the most popular claims, in the hope of helping others do the same.

Publishing is hard work. It doesn’t matter which route you choose. Commercial publishing can be slow. Most authors who go this route face years of rejection and struggle. Self-publishing gives you more control. You can publish the very first book you ever write, if you’re so inclined. (I’d advise against it, but that’s just me.) On the other hand, the average self-published book sells very few copies, and requires much more marketing and self-promotion by the author. A commercially published book doesn’t make you an instant celebrity either, of course. Believe me, I wish it did. But the average book from Baen, DAW, or Tor will sell more copies in its first week than most self-published books sell in their lifetime.

There are no easy paths to success. Whatever you might think of THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, Redfield did an awful lot of work to sell his book and build word-of-mouth. Paolini went to hundreds of schools, in costume, promoting ERAGON. My books are published by DAW, but I still I spend way too much time designing and distributing promotional materials, not to mention traveling to conventions and libraries and anywhere else I can go. Being a writer is hard! (Anyone who says differently is selling something.)

Bottom line: know what your goals are. Do the research. There are plenty of scammers and snake oil salesmen*** in this field. Don’t fall for the sales pitch, and make an educated choice.

Good luck!

*Off the top of my head, here are a few new SF/F authors who sold books to major publishers in the past few years: Sarah Prineas, Tobias Buckell, Joshua Palmatier, Marie Brennan, Jay Lake, Matthew Cook, Anton Strout, Seanan McGuire, Stephanie Burgis, C. C. Finlay, and myself.

**Don’t get me wrong. I would love it if my books did half as well as ERAGON!

***The snake oil salesman analogy is borrowed from John Savage, who writes an excellent entry on self-publishing myths at http://scrivenerserror.blogspot.com:80/2004/08/autobibliophilia.html.

Thursday has a Prize Inside

• Holy crap!  Some time this week, I hit the 1000 friends mark on LJ.  This calls for a book giveaway!  I used random.org to pick a winner: #676.  I then realized that counting through the list to figure out who #676 was would be a major headache, but fortunately, plugging ’em into Excel proved to be quicker.  Congratulations, patesden!  Would you please e-mail me at jim -at- jimchines.com to let me know which of my books you’d like and where to sent it?

dragovianknight made two LJ icons, and gave me permission to share them here.  ::Happy dance::

 

• Last night was my daughter’s first day of soccer practice, so I was out entertaining the boy at the park while she practiced, which means I didn’t have time to think up anything for today’s post.  So instead, check out this LEGO Demonic Castle by einsteinonthebeach.  Click the link or the picture for details.  This thing is mind-blowing and seriously twisted.  Minifigs bathing in LEGO blood falls?  Evil genius.

Jim C. Hines