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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Style, Fear and the Bias Against Creativity

by Ruth Harris

Style was once described as "looking like yourself on purpose." 

I don't know who said it but the words and the idea behind them always made sense to me. Certainly Barbra Streisand, Audrey Hepburn and Tilda Swinton are examples. So are Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Woody Allen. They don't look like anyone else and are instantly identifiable—and millions admire them and even want to copy them.

But what does style and looking like yourself on purpose have to do with writing?

Star hair cutter, Roger Thompson (he was Vidal Sassoon's first Artistic Director), told me that the dilemma is people are afraid to look like themselves. They come to the styling chair with a photo or a clipping and request a hair style like Jennifer Anniston’s, Beyonce’s or the model on that month’s Vogue cover.

Never mind that their own hair is super curly, stick straight or thick and wavy and will never work with the style they dream of unless a hairdresser equipped with curling iron, blow dryer, gel and hair spray is with them 24/7.

They fear owning their own hair, body, face when, in fact, the key to standing out and shining is to do exactly that.

So what does fear have to do with writing?

Stephen King has an answer to the question: “I’m convinced," he says, "that fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation."
When you write, are you afraid of what critics/your Mom/a reviewer/your crit group will say? Do you feel pressured to prove to the world how smart you are and how brilliant your prose?
Do you shrink from ideas that seem too far out/too freaky/too scary/too ordinary/too done-to-death? You know what I mean: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. You don’t want to write that. Not again.
Or do you?  Never stopped lots of romance writers from making a lot of money, did it?
And you do know, don’t you, there there are maybe 7 basic plots?
Are you holding yourself back because you’re afraid? Of what? Of the nay-saying phantoms in your head? Of what “people” will say? Do you cringe from imagined hostile reviews?
Is your writing suffering because you’re afraid of what people you don’t even know much less care about are going to think?
Now you’re beginning to see what I’m getting at, aren’t you?
But, you say, if I let go, if I indulge my nuttiest, weirdest, furthest-out or done-a-million-times idea, people will laugh at me, sneer at me, think I’m crazy, call me untalented.
The fact is, you’re right. The fact is, they might even think of worse things to say.
The reason is that there’s a bias against creativity.
Only a few examples needed to make the point: Jackson Pollock was ridiculed and called “Jack the Dripper.” Picasso’s Cubist paintings were considered “shocking.”
Two experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 subjects discovered that people resist creative ideas because they challenge the status quo:
    People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practicaltried and true.
    Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
    Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

So now what?

The obvious answer is that a writer must face his or her fears. Which we do anything to avoid. Booze is popular. So is chocolate. 

But an article I read a while ago about an in-demand sports psychologist gave me an idea for a different approach. 

Why not accentuate the positive? Why not conquer fear with confidence?

The psychologist’s theory is that if a golfer is a good putter, s/he should practice putting until s/he becomes a superb putter? This shrink’s approach was not to focus on correcting an athlete's weaknesses, but on polishing his/her strengths.

Writers can take the same approach: write what you’re good at. To bring the end of this post back to the beginning, as you polish what you’re already do well, you’ll will inevitably hone and define a style. It will be as individual as a fingerprint, as recognizable as Streisand, Tilda or Audrey and you will develop it by doing what you like best and by practicing what you’re already good at.


Ruth's hilarious new rom-com mystery-thriller, THE CHANEL CAPER  has just launched. Nora Ephron meets James Bond. Or is it the other way around? It's Chick Lit for chicks who weren’t born yesterday. The story is about the ups and downs of long-term relationships and addresses two of the most important questions of our time: 1) Is there sex after marriage? 2) Is sixty the new forty?



What about you, scriveners? Do you think there is a bias against creativity? At first I thought Ruth's title might be a little too provocative, but then I thought of all the times my own rom-com mystery-thrillers were dismissed with statements like "I've never heard of anybody doing that," or "You aren't allowed to mix genres" or a sneering, "well, that's different."  

But the big breakout books are indeed "different" and something "nobody's ever heard of doing." They succeed because the authors showcase what they're good at instead of trying to shoehorn themselves into existing stereotypes. Or they offer a completely different treatment of an old idea.

JK Rowling mixed the obsolete English boarding school story with magic. EL James mixed YA fanfic with very adult erotica.  Hugh Howey sold his sci-fi epic as a series of short episodes like a TV show instead of marketing a traditional novel.

Are you working on developing what you're good at instead of trying to conform to an existing norm? 

Have you ever had your creative ideas rejected by somebody who feared change? 

Or, like me, have you ever tried to write in copycat genres dictated by agents (like steampunk or apocalyptic dystopian) instead of the book you really want to write? (Yup. I failed dismally.)

Is there a book that's really "you" that you've been itching to write, but fearand other people's negativityhas been standing in your way?

For those of you who have faced your fears and written a "weird, unwieldy, unclassifiable" book, I found a contest for you in the Opportunity Alerts below.

Anne


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) FOR THE FEARLESS: The Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize comes from Black Balloon Publishing: "we champion the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable. We are battle-worn enemies of boredom and we’re looking for books that defy the rules." Prize is $5,000 and a Black Balloon Publishing book deal. They want a sample of your completed, novel-length manuscript. It's a two-tiered process, so make sure you follow the guidelines in the link above. Wait until April 1 to submit.


2) Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest. The prestigious literary journal Ploughshares runs a number of contests during the year. Winning or placing looks really good in a query. Plus there's a cash prize of $1000 in each category. This one is limited to writers who have not yet published. They're looking for poems and literary stories of up to 6000 words. Deadline is April 2.

3) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

4) New Literary Journal, The Puffin Review is looking for submissions of short fiction, (up to 3000 words) poetry and essays. They welcome new writers.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is it Really Time for Authors to Stop Blogging?


In a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog on March 15th, L.L. Barkat said “blogging is a waste of time” for experienced authors. She feels blogging is only helpful for beginning authors who need “to find expression, discipline, and experience.”

Her piece suggests blogging is for farm-leaguers only. Once writers make the pros, she says, “they might want to give it up and begin writing for larger platforms that don’t require reciprocity (an exhausting aspect to blogging and a big drain on the writer’s energy and time).”

She’s not wrong about the exhaustion. And I gotta admit, if a larger, non-interactive platform like the New Yorker or the Daily Beast came calling, I might bail on you guys for a bit.

But as a long-term career move? It doesn’t strike me as a great idea.

We live in an interactive age. Sealing yourself up in an ivory tower (assuming the tower wants you) is likely to annoy readers these days.

And the truth is, most authors who aren’t named J.D. Salinger have always had to engage in some pretty exhausting, time-draining "reciprocity" to sell their books.

In the days before blogs, there were book tours.

Back in those dear dead days, most authors interacted with their readership through exhausting, time-sucking (and expensive) traveling. Ask a career author who has been in this business for a few decades whether they’d like to give up blogging and go back to the book tour, and you’d better cover your ears before the high-decibel “H*** NO!” erupts.

Nowdays only the superstar class goes on real-life book tours; the midlist blogs.

I think marketers at the Big 5/6 have probably been too heavy-handed in their fiat that every author must have a blog, and Barkat represents a backlash to that. She said: “the director of Marketing and Promotion from Simon & Schuster…told me flatly, ‘We ask all our authors to start blogs’.

Anybody that dictatorial would get my hackles up, too.

But most Big 5/6-ers have softened that requirement.  As I reported in January, agent Rachelle Gardner has changed her hard-line stance on blogs. She said “A few years ago, the standard wisdom was that authors, both fiction and non-fiction, should have blogs in order to gather an audience and build relationships with readers. Now, not so much. As social media and online marketing have evolved, my thoughts on blogging have changed. I think each author needs to carefully consider whether blogging is an appropriate vehicle for them.”

But later in the piece, Gardner makes it clear an author still has to be on social media. She’s not saying it’s OK to do the J.D. Salinger thing.

Jane Friedman herself doesn't tell us to drop our blogs. But in a post at Writer Unboxed this week, she does tell beginning writers who don't have blogs to let go of the pressure to start one. "If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform."

Friedman says it's best for beginners to concentrate on learning their craft and getting credits by publishing the fiction they want to be known for. (For opportunities to get your fiction better known, check our "Opportunity Alerts" below.)

But she adds a caveat: "Exception to the rule: Nonfiction/non-narrative authors and entrepreneurial authors who are self-publishing. Sorry, but you should probably focus on platform as much as the writing."

I agree. I don't think every beginning writer should be starting a blog. (On the other hand, reading blogs is something that can help from the beginning—and commenting on blogs is a great way to get your name out there.) I've been telling my workshop students that the time to think about a blog is after you've finished at least one polished novel, have another in the works and you're getting ready to query—or you've got a good backlog of short fiction you're sending to contests and journals.

In other words, give yourself time to build some inventory and learn your craft before you start thinking about marketing.

I also don't recommend blogging frantically simply for the sake of piling up blogposts to get the attention of search engines. I'm a big advocate of SLOW BLOGGING—once a week or less, preferably on a regular schedule. You can check out my post on the Slow Blog Manifesto here.

But I do think a blog is helpful, even for fiction authors. This blog doesn't sell books directly, but without my presence here, I'm not sure anybody would even know about them. And blogs are useful for so many other things—networking with other authors and people in the business, polishing your nonfiction writing skills (which are necessary, no matter how "experienced" you are at fiction.) Plus you can learn to write faster and...for fun. Yes. Blogging is fun for a lot of us.

Recently social media Jedi master Kristen Lamb devoted a whole week of blogposts to explaining the reasons why “blogs are probably THE BEST use of an author’s time when it comes to building an author platform using social media.” I wrote more on the subject in my own post that week.

And then there’s Hugh Howey, current media darling and author of the literary phenomenon Wool (and generally phenomenal guy.)

In an interview on Reddit, Mr. Howey said his primary promotion tools were, “After FB, I would say: having my own blog.

Yup. Not expensive ads at BookBub. Not give-aways on Goodreads. Not Kindleboard ads (although he does mention interacting at the Writer’s Café forum on the Kindleboards, which is where I first met him.) Not vlogs or podcasts or book trailers or webinars.

Just his plain old blog and Facebook rocketed him to fame and fortune. (Well, that and a clever serial-format sales plan and a stupendous book.)

The Reddit interviewer followed up by asking him to name “a single most valuable tool for an author to promote himself” aside from “Amazon's inscrutable algos.”

Howey replied, “I'm guessing 90% of my sales are from reader recommendations and Amazon algorithms.”

Well, we all know the “inscrutable algos” are out of our control. (More on algorithms in a future post) but “reader recommendations”—where do they come from?

Howey said, “I don't concentrate my self-promotion on people who haven't read my work; I interact with those who have.”

And in a post on his own blog, he said very much the same thing: “The best promotion, I’ve found, is to interact with existing readers (which is enjoyable) rather than browbeat new people into reading (which nobody likes).”  

Interacting with readers. Reciprocity. His number one self-promotion tool.

And where’s the best place to interact with readers?

Your blog.

So if you’re thinking of taking up L.L. Barkat’s suggestion to drop your blog to concentrate on pure art, do keep in mind that a lot of successful authors like Mr. Howey find their blogs have been a huge help.

Even experienced authors who aren’t blogging simply to practice the art of keeping their butts in their typing chairs.

I should be fair and mention that L.L Barkat and Hugh Howey’s genres couldn’t be more different. Barkat writes literary memoir and Howey writes blockbuster science fiction. Different genre readers expect different things from their authors. Literary readers tend to be conservative about technology, so they may not be on social media much themselves, whereas scifi-ers are in their native habitat on the Interwebz.

And it's important to consider that literary writers often make their livings teaching, and they may have to arrange for time away from anything "social" in order to stay sane. Most writers are introverts, so being around people too much—whether online or off—can drain your energies to the point where you can’t create.

If blogging does that to you, you might indeed feel you have to drop your blog as Barkat suggests. Maybe you can reach people via RedRoom or Google+ hangouts, or by occasionally interacting on Goodreads. Or write a monthly newsletter.

But I don’t think refusing to interact with your readers entirely is a smart move. No matter how experienced you are.

Not if you hope to follow in the footsteps of Hugh Howey, who still blogs regularly, even on his superstar book tour. He even took time to give this blog a shout-out in January. He is certainly a poster boy for the new era of publishing. It would appear that his accessibility via his blog and his reciprocity with readers has contributed to his phenomenal success.

So think long and hard before you give up that blog.

What about you, scriveners? Have you given up your blog? Will you give it up when you're more experienced? As a reader, do you like to interact with your favorite authors on a blog?

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013.

2) POISONED PEN DISCOVER MYSTERY CONTEST Enter your mystery manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words in an effort to win a $1,000 prize, the Discover Mystery title, and a publishing contract from Poisoned Pen Press. Open to all authors writing original works in English for adult readers who reside in the United States and Canada. $20 entry fee. Well worth it. Poisoned Pen is a widely respected small press. Deadline March 30, 2013.

3) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

4) Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest. The prestigious literary journal Ploughshares runs a number of contests during the year. Winning or placing looks really good in a query. Plus there's a cash prize of $1000 in each category. This one is limited to writers who have not yet published. They're looking for poems and literary stories of up to 6000 words. Deadline is April 2.

5) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

6) New Literary Journal, The Puffin Review is looking for submissions of short fiction, (up to 3000 words) poetry and essays. They welcome new writers.


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

So You Want to Use Song Lyrics in Your Novel? 5 Steps to Getting Rights to Lyrics


This week the bookosphere saw something of a teapot-storm when a formerly indie author—now signed with a Big 5 publisher—got an odd notice from Amazon. It said her readers had been asked to delete their old versions of her book and get the new Big 5 version—at the author’s expense.

It sounded like some nasty author-bullying to me—until somebody on a writing forum said the first version might have used pop song lyrics without getting proper permission.

That could definitely get a publisher's panties in a bunch. Using lyrics from a song written in the past century or so can be a very expensive proposition, so most publishers won’t accept a book that quotes lyrics.

Note: I read later on the Passive Voice that there had simply been a misunderstanding and customers who bought the original book had been sent a nice "never-mind" note.

But why would it be such a big deal if the original indie book contained a few song lyrics? Isn’t there some kind of rule that you can use a couple of lines from something without worrying about copyright?

Yup. It’s called "fair use."

Thing is: fair use doesn’t apply to songs. That’s because songs can have very few lines to use—fairly or otherwise.

So be careful you don’t make a typo and have your character step on the gas gas gas, or you might have Keith and Mick’s lawyers on your doorstep asking for their cash cash cash for using a line from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

What you CAN use without permission is a song’s title. Titles can’t be copyrighted.

That means you can say “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” but you can’t say “Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a [US term for petrol times three]", or you’re going to have to pay.

You can also use lyrics of songs that are in the public domain. Jane Friedman says you can be pretty sure something written before 1923 is OK. But some things written after that are OK, too, if the copyright wasn’t renewed. So it’s worth a check. Here are the basic rules for US copyright. A number of sites like Public Domain Review celebrate "Public Domain Day" on Jan 1 each year and give a list of new works that have come into the public domain.

But if you quote the Rolling Stones, (even if you think some of them might look as if they were born before 1923) you’re going to have to pay them.

Here’s Blake Morrison in the Guardian talking about the price of using song lyrics in his novel South of the River.

'I'd restricted myself to just a line or two from a handful of songs and vaguely hoped that was OK or that no one would notice. My editor, reasonably enough, was more cautious, and at the last minute someone from the publishing house helpfully secured the permissions on my behalf.

'I still have the invoices. For one line of "Jumpin' Jack Flash": £500. For one line of Oasis's "Wonderwall": £535. For one line of "When I'm Sixty-four": £735. For two lines of "I Shot the Sheriff" (words and music by Bob Marley, though in my head it was the Eric Clapton version): £1,000. Plus several more, of which only George Michael's "Fastlove" came in under £200. Plus VAT. Total cost: £4,401.75. A typical advance for a literary novel by a first-time author would barely meet the cost.'

Many thanks to Lexi Revellian for giving a heads-up about the Guardian article on her blog.

I totally relate to the urge to use song lyrics. My first stories relied on them heavily. My generation was all about its music, and I felt Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and Carole King could express what my characters were feeling much better than I could.

Not that I was wrong on that. My teenaged stories were pretty bad. Luckily, I didn’t try to publish any of them. If I had, I’d have run into some big trouble.

I’m working now on a novel about Boomers set in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and I’ve solved the music problem by writing my own lyrics. I had a whole lot of fun writing a David Crosby-style folk-rock love song, “Happy Endings are Only for Fairy Tales” and a Donna Summer-style disco song, “City Girls” and a druggy hair-rock anthem, “Bored as Hell.”

I can’t tell you how much it pleased me when my editor told me I’d have to get permission to use them.

But what if you’re telling a story that absolutely requires the use of real lyrics? Say a book set at Woodstock?

Michael Murphy faced that when he wrote Goodbye Emily, his Boomer Lit novel about three sixty-something Boomers returning to Woodstock to revisit their experiences at the iconic rock concert. (Isn't that the perfect cover for a return-to-Woodstock story?)

He says he found some lyrics aren’t as expensive as the ones Blake Morrison mentioned, and it isn't that hard to get permission. Lyricists are our fellow writers and they deserve to get paid too. (And don’t forget you need permission to use recorded music in your book trailer—even if the music is in the public domain—because musicians deserve to be paid as well.)

You just have to know how to do it.

So here’s how:


Five Steps to Obtain Song Lyric Rightsby Michael Murphy


Music was important to the story of my recently released return-to -Woodstock novel, Goodbye Emily. I would not have been able to express what I wanted to in the novel without using certain song lyrics. Lyrics can enhance a novel, but as an author you need to determine whether you’re willing to pay a price to reprint another person’s work

I’d obtained permission twice before in my earlier novels, Try and Catch the Wind and Ramblin’ Man, so I knew how to get started. If you’ve not made your way through this process, obtaining lyric reprint rights might sound like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be. Here are five steps that should simplify the process.

Step 1. Confirm your song title. The rights to song lyrics are usually owned by the song’s publisher. To identify and locate the publisher you’ll need the actual title, the writer, and the recording artist.

Step 2. Locate the publisher. If you’re not certain of the publisher, there are two general sources where the information can be obtained ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

If ASCAP doesn’t have the rights, BMI, Broadcast Music Inc, should.

ASCAP and BMI have searchable databases where you can obtain the name of the publisher by entering the title and artist.

Step 3.  Contact the publisher. Most publishers have websites including information on how to contact them when you’re seeking permission to use the song lyric. This is usually through direct email or an online form.

Step 4. Provide additional information. Once the publisher replies, they will ask several questions such as how many books will be printed or sold, the name of the novel, author, publisher and where the territory where the book will be sold. You may even be asked to provide copies of pages where the lyric will appear.

Step 5. Decide if you can afford it. Once the publisher considers the information, they will quote you a price. If the amount is within your budget and you pay the amount, they will send a letter/document confirming they are granting you permission to use the song lyric. I found the cost to use song lyrics in Goodbye Emily to be reasonable.

If you’re planning to use music for a book trailer, or your website, you must obtain what’s called synchronization rights which may be owned by the publisher or a different publisher. A separate but similar process is followed to obtain synchronization rights. The cost is often on an annual basis.

I hope these five steps have been helpful. Using song lyrics in a novel is an author’s artistic decision, but the process is not as complicated or expensive as many authors believe.


Goodbye Emily is Michael Murphy's eighth novel. A full time author and part time urban chicken rancher, Michael lives in Arizona with his wife of forty years, two cats, four dogs and five chickens who produce a steady supply of cholesterol. Read more about his novels and Woodstock at his website. (And his endorsements from both Wavy Gravy and Country Joe McDonald.)

What about you, scriveners? Have you used lyrics in your fiction or memoir? Did you know you had to get permission to quote even a few words? Have you ever written fake lyrics the way I did? 


UPDATE:  



I’m adding here a comment we got from historical novelist Sarah Sundin  that answers some of the questions we’ve been getting in the comments. The price of the permission varies by how much you’re expected to make from the book. If your book sells more than expected, you’ll be hit with one of those bills like the one Blake Morrison quotes.

If you hit the jackpot the way Sarah did, you have to renegotiate, which is why many traditional publishers have a total ban on using lyrics (unless you write them yourself.)

Here’s Sarah: ”I used copyrighted song lyrics in my first two WWII novels. While I found the permission process relatively easy and not terribly expensive ($75-$100), I encountered problems later.

First of all, my permission agreement specified a certain number of copies. When I found out my novel had gone into a second printing (yay!) and had exceeded that amount, I had to re-contact the publishers (and some had changed), obtain new permissions, and pay new fees. One of the song publishers wrote me a snippy email saying I had to obtain permission from THEM before my book publisher printed more copies. As if they'd told me beforehand!

Second, I almost lost out on some excellent opportunities. When my publisher went into negotiations for large-print, book club, and foreign language editions, the publishers balked when they saw the lyrics. At that point, they would take over responsibility, have to obtain more permissions, and pay the fees. We pacified them by removing the lyrics and editing around them.

Moral: I will NEVER use copyrighted lyrics in a novel again.”

Thanks so much, Sarah, for the additional information!

UPDATE #2 (March 2015)


If you REALLY need those lyrics, attorney Helen Sedwick has some great information on Joel Friedlander's blog telling how to find the song's publisher. There's even a template for a letter to write to ask the publisher for permission to use lyrics. How to Use Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune for a Lawyer.

UPDATE #3 (October 2015)


Author David Hewson has a chilling report on his experience trying to get lyrics for his book. In his Medium piece Never Quote a Rock Lyric in your Book Unless You're Rich, he says three words from the Rolling Stones would have cost him over 1000 pounds. Read the whole post it's enlightening.

His advice: "If you really must have epigraphs in your book here’s a tip: unless you really don’t care about the money pick dead people out of copyright. Makes life a lot easier.

Or actually… just ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this at all?’ Will the book be improved by their omission? Is there really someone out there who’s going to read it and think, ‘You know if only this guy had stuck in a couple of lines from the Peter Gabriel era Genesis this thing would have been so much better?’

Second tip: the answer’s no. 




OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013.

2) POISONED PEN DISCOVER MYSTERY CONTEST Enter your mystery manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words in an effort to win a $1,000 prize, the Discover Mystery title, and a publishing contract from Poisoned Pen Press. Open to all authors writing original works in English for adult readers who reside in the United States and Canada. $20 entry fee. Well worth it. Poisoned Pen is a widely respected small press. Deadline March 30, 2013.

3) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

4) Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest. The prestigious literary journal Ploughshares runs a number of contests during the year. Winning or placing looks really good in a query. Plus there's a cash prize of $1000 in each category. This one is limited to writers who have not yet published. They're looking for poems and literary stories of up to 6000 words. Deadline is April 2.



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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The #1 Reason for #QueryFails—How to Avoid Automatic Rejection from a Reviewer, Agent, Editor or Blogger


Whether you’re a freelance journalist trying to place an article, a novelist looking for literary representation, or an indie author seeking reviews and/or guest post gigs, every writer needs to learn to write a smart, short, compelling query letter. (And no, it can't be a Tweet or personal message on Facebook. Please.)

A query only needs three paragraphs:

1) A statement of why you’re contacting this particular editor/agent/blogger and what you’re offering.
2) A three-to-four sentence synopsis presenting the book, blogpost or article,
3) A quick mention of your most notable qualifications.

Then close with a nice thank you.

That’s it.

Sounds easy. But it’s way hard. Believe me, I know. It’s tearing-out-hair hard. Banging-head-on-desk hard. Especially writing the dreaded synopsis. If you need help in the daunting task of writing your pitch, we can offer some in our post on Hooks, Loglines and Pitches.

But you know what isn’t hard?

Visiting the agent/editor/blogger’s website before you write the query.

And yet this is the number one reason queries are rejected.
  • Agents say their most common reason for rejecting a manuscript is that it’s not in a genre they represent. You can avoid this by reading the bio on their agency website and looking for key phrases like, "genres I represent."
  • Book reviewers say their most common reason for not reviewing a book is it’s not in a genre they read. The genres they review will be stated on the blog.
  • Magazine editors say the most common reasons for passing on an article or proposal are 1) the article is not compatible with the content of the magazine or 2) They ran a similar article recently. You used to have to buy issues of the magazine to see what kind of things they buy and find out about recent article topics. Now you can find sample articles and a table of contentsor maybe even the whole magazineonline.
  • The major reason I personally turn down an author or publicist asking me to review a book on my blog is: I DON’T HAVE A BOOK REVIEW BLOG. Um, look around. How many book reviews do you see? 
  • I also don’t take on a prospective guest blogger who’s a beginning writer who offers to “write on the subject of your choice: free of charge.” Why? The answer is on our “Contact Us” page.
One click. Thirty seconds. Probably quicker than cutting and pasting my email address into that mass query. And think of all the wear and tear on your psyche you’ll save by cutting down on those rejections.

Seriously, it usually takes less than half a minute’s visit to a website or blog to find out if you should be querying or not.

Looking for a review of your inspirational YA romance? If all the book covers on the site have naked male chests on them, you're probably not going to get a review here. And you wouldn't like the review if they wrote one.

Looking for an agent to rep your occult horror novel? If there's a "Scripture quote of the day" in the sidebar and the agents' clients are all published by Christian publishers like Thomas A. Nelson and Zondervan, you're going to be wasting your time.

A few moments more and you can click on the “about me” or “submission guidelines” page and get exciting information like “what I’m looking for” from an agent and see that part where she says “If I ever see another vampire romance, I’m going to drive a stake through my own heart.”

See how much heartbreak an author can save herself with a couple of clicks?

Querying somebody in business isn’t that different from asking somebody on a date (in principle—not in style, please. Always remember a query is a business letter. Candy and flowers may get you noticed, but not in the way you want.)

Most important: the letter needs to be about what you can offer THE OTHER PERSON, not about your own needs.

Which of the following emails do you think would be more likely to land this guy a date?

“Hey there, human being with lady parts (cc half the human race) — 

I’m a five foot ten inch hetero male with brown eyes and hair. I have a degree in English lit from State. Well, almost. I didn’t finish because of the expulsion thing, but the hazing accident at DKE house totally wasn’t my fault. 

I really need a girlfriend. I haven’t got laid in almost a year, because most women are such bitches they won’t give you the time of day. I don't have a car, but I keep very fit riding my bicycle every day, so NO FATTIES! 

But you probably don’t want to go out with me because I live in my mom’s basement and I only work part time as a bike messenger. But I have a much tighter butt than George Clooney, who is just an old guy and totally overrated. 

Please write back by midnight tonight or I’ll kill myself. 

Very Truly Yours,
Desperate Dan”

Or this one?

“Hi Marci—

Fun talking to you in the line at Starbucks yesterday. (I’m Dan, the guy with the dorky bike helmet.)  You sure know a lot about bike trails in the Bay Area. Just as you were rushing to get back to work, you mentioned you did a bike tour of Canada last summer.  I’m planning one myself and sure would like to talk with you about your trip.

Would you like to meet up at Starbucks again next week? I’ll buy your Venti half-caf soy latte!

Hope to see you soon—
Dan”

The first one is all about Dan and his needs. The second one pays attention to Marci—it mentions her interests (and even her coffee order) and why she is a person he wants to get to know. Notice he didn’t shower her with meaningless over-the-top compliments. He asks to meet her for coffee because of what she has to say, not just because he so desperately wants to get an agent a book review laid.

Like Marci, agents, editors and bloggers usually on the run and wildly busy—and fulfilling your needs isn’t in their job description.

If you want a relationship with somebody—whether it's personal or business—you have to show you're a person who's pleasant to be around and respects others. No matter how fantastic your book, content or gluteus maximus, if you treat everybody as interchangeable ciphers, they’re not going to want to work with you.

And you know what? You don’t have to stand in the same line at Starbucks to get to know agents, editors and bloggers these days.

Back in the olden days when I started querying, you had to go to conferences and buy big expensive books like Writers’ Market or Jeff Herman’s Guide every year just to get a few agents' names—and the books were always out of date by the time they went to print.

Now, through the magic of the Interwebz, all that info is available to you—up-to-date and absolutely free—at the proverbial click of a mouse.

So why do so many people fail to use it?

I think some writers are using publicity agencies. A lot of the generic queries I get sound the same, so one place may be churning out a lot of similar generic crapola.

It should be obvious how counter-productive it is to hire somebody to alienate bloggers for you. Blogging is a social medium. Be social. Read book bloggers in your genre regularly. You get big pluses if they recognize you as a regular commenter.

Even though this blog usually has well-known authors and industry professionals as guests, and we've hosted literary icons and movie stars, we'll consider a guest post from a newbie if 1) the topic is unique and useful to our readers and 2) the query comes from a regular commenter. But I have to reject 90% of queries I get. Why? 90% of queriers haven't read this blog. All they know is we have great stats and lots of eyeballs looking in, so WE can do a lot for THEM. But they don't think about what they can do for us or our readers.

Agent-querying services are even worse. Any agent's assistant will pass on a mass query without reading it. When they see that “Dear Mr. or Ms. Esteemed Agent-Person” salutation, they can’t hit the delete button fast enough. Your money has been wasted.

But your book is brilliant! Exquisitely written!! You’re the next Dan Brown/JK Rowling/Hugh Howey rolled into one!!! Plus you have an MFA!!!!

Thing is: the quality of your book doesn’t matter—any more than Desperate Dan’s tight butt—if nobody sees it. If you turn people off from the get-go, nobody sees your fabulous qualities or reads that brilliant, heart-stopping synopsis you’ve been honing for months.

And for those of you who are looking for reviews from book bloggers, I’ll repeat below the wonderful tips we got last year from book review blogger Danielle Smith of There’s a Book.

I need to add that Danielle is no longer a just a book reviewer. As of this week, she has become a literary agent! Yes, Danielle is now an agent repping children's books at the powerhouse new agency Foreword Literary. She’s zoomed from book blogger to assistant to agent in a matter of months—Yes, book bloggers ARE the new gatekeepers. So treat them right!

Congrats to Danielle, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, Gordon Wornock, and Foreword Literary Agency founder Laurie McLean on their exciting new venture.

You can read Laurie McLean's predictions for the world of publishing in 2013 in our archives. She didn’t tell us then that future would include an exciting new agency with a cutting-edge outlook and traditional publishing deal-making skills, but this development does fit into her forward-looking predictions.

Some tips on Approaching Book Review Bloggers

How do you find the right book bloggers to query?

The best way is to check similar books in your genre—especially those that have been recently released. Do a search for those titles with the word “review” and read as many reviews as you can. Make a list of the reviewers you like and read their review policies.

Yes, there are lists of reviewers out there. I’m suggesting this instead of relying on lists because reviewers get their calendars filled up fast and change policies often. Using a prepared list can lure you into mass querying. So if you do use a list, remember you still need to visit each blog before querying. You’ll get better results and make fewer enemies.

Remember:
  • Keep queries short and intriguing. 
  • Don’t take it personally if they turn you down. Reading takes a lot of time and most of them are swamped. 
  • Understand the review is for the READER, not the writer, so negative reviews happen. 
  • If you get a less than stellar review, mourn in private and move on. NEVER respond to a negative review.
 Danielle Smith's Guidelines for Authors Seeking Reviews
  • Make sure you address the blogger by name
  • Include a two to four sentence synopsis—no longer
  • Keep personal information to a minimum. And don’t guilt-trip.
  • Attach an image of the book cover
  • For children's books, give the age range of the intended audience
  • Include the page count (for print books)
  • Provide the publication date
  • Don’t ask for a review outside the blogger’s genre
  • Don’t query if you don’t have a website or a blog. (That screams “unprofessional” to a blogger.)

In other words, treat the book blogger like a professional and she will reciprocate. And for goodness sake: VISIT THE BLOG!!

What about you, scriveners? Have you made this mistake in your query history? (I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent. I cringe at my old queries. I finally burned them all in a big bonfire last year.) What’s the dumbest query mistake you ever made? 

BLOG NEWS: Next week's guest post is from Boomer Lit author Michael Murphy. "So You Want to Use Song Lyrics in Your Novel? 5 Steps to Getting Rights to Lyrics." This is essential information Michael learned when writing his Woodstock novel, Goodbye Emily. Do NOT publish a book using song lyrics without reading this. You can end up owing thousands to the copyright owners.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) BiblioPublishing is looking for submissions of out-of-print or new books for publication through their small press. This 25-year-old press (formerly called The Educational Publisher) is branching out from educational books to other nonfiction and selected fiction. They're especially looking for self-help and sci-fi. They provide cover design, formatting and distribution, but ask your ms. be pre-edited. They publish in print as well as all ebook formats

2) Interested in having your short fiction recorded for a weekly podcast?There’s no pay, but it’s fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

3) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

4) Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest. The prestigious literary journal Ploughshares runs a number of contests during the year. Winning or placing looks really good in a query. Plus there's a cash prize of $1000 in each category. This one is limited to writers who have not yet published. They're looking for poems and literary stories of up to 6000 words. Deadline is April 2.

5) FREE BOOK: Sherwood, Ltd, Anne's hilarious Camilla Randall mystery set in Merrie Olde England, is FREE for your Kindle, Nook, iPad or any other e-reading device for a few more weeks. You can pick it up here.


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Sunday, March 3, 2013

5 Ways “Difficult” Women Can Energize Your Writing and Make Your Fiction Memorable

by Ruth Harris

Before there was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Lisbeth Salander, there was Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, the heroine of a novel called Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. Smilla is part Inuit and lives in Copenhagen.


According to the flap copy of the FSG edition, "she is thirty-seven, single, childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in." She is complex, thorny, obstinate, blunt, fearless, she loves clothes and, when required, she can—and does—kick ass. Like Lisbeth—who's a talented computer jock—Smilla has her tech side and sees the beauty in mathematics.

Thinking about these two "difficult" women—Lisbeth and Smilla—I began to realize that the “difficult,” unconventional female character, like Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, appears in fiction again and again in different guises. 

  • Clarice Starling, the FBI agent in Silence of the Lambs (played by Jodie Foster in the film), must face her fears—and Hannibal Lector—to solve the identity of a serial killer but she has no personal life that we know of. She's a nun, FBI-style, and she doesn’t give up until the case is solved.
  • Jane Tennison, the DI in television’s Prime Suspect, played by Hellen Mirren, is a “woman of a certain age” as they say in France. Her love life is on the gritty side, she drinks too much, she can be flinty—not flirtatious. The men she works with give her a hard time and she isn’t shy about pushing back.
  • Carrie Mathison. Cable television, quite willing to break molds, has come up with Carrie, the bi-polar CIA agent in Homeland, who has sex with the suspected terrorist. Carrie is also “single, childless, moody, and she refuses to fit in.”
  • Maya. The young CIA officer played by Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, is tough-minded, focused and willing to contradict senior officers in her quest to find the al Qaeda terrorist, Osama bin Laden.
  • Nurse Ratched, in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Wikipedia describes her like this: “the ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients.”
  • Annie Wilkes. And while we’re in the medical dept: Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, cuts off her favorite writer’s foot with an axe and cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch. Played by Kathy Bates in the movie, Annie is the unforgettable, over-the-top “difficult” woman in Stephen King’s bestseller, Misery.
  • Ellen Ripley. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the warrant officer in Alien, is courageous, authoritative and has no personal life that we know of. She’s a sci-fi heroine who must rely on her own guts, brains and fearlessness.
  • Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper with no first name in Rebecca, is dedicated to her dead employer, the first Mrs. Maxim de Winter. She is intimidating, manipulative and willing to drive the second Mrs. DeWinter to suicide.
  • Alex Forrest. Glenn Close plays this murderous seductress in Fatal Attraction. She lives alone, has no family that we are aware of and is psychopathically determined to get what she wants.
  • M. Judi Dench as the head of MI6 in the James Bond films. She is blunt and unmarried as far as we know although in one scene it is clear she is sleeping with a male companion. She is James Bond’s boss and does not flinch from bossing him around and dressing him down for his recklessness. 

So what do these “difficult” women have to do with you? What does the tough, determined, bossy, or downright crazy woman have to offer?

The “difficult” female character can—and will—do the shocking, the unexpected and, as a consequence, will give your story an immediate jolt of energy. She is the character who doesn’t fit the mold. She is the boss (M), the beginner (Clarice Starling), the domestic employee (Mrs. Danvers).

2. The “difficult” female character will live in the “wrong” neighborhood, drink too much, have sex with the “wrong” partners—all good ways to add sizzle and wow! plot twists.

3. She will not take her niece or nephew to Disney World but to a stock car race one day, to the ballet the next and teach him or her how to run a bulldozer, how to roast the perfect chicken and how to rob a bank.

4. She will most likely not be a secretary or a dress designer but a (believable) nuclear physicist, petroleum engineer or cat burglar. If she is a secretary or dress designer, it’s because she’s got a dramatic secret that will give your fiction a buzz.

5. She will never do the expected or the conventional: she will not give up a career or a promotion for Mr. Right. She will not fall madly in love, swoon into someone’s arms and make irrational choices although she might be an excellent and loyal lover. She can be stubborn, pathological, repellent but don’t forget the “difficult” woman: she can be the larger-than-life character who will rescue you from the plot blahs and help you break through a block.

I know this because a terror named Chessie Tillman bailed me out of a dead end in Brainwashed—it’s a thriller that takes place in the sour, paranoid 1970’s of Watergate and Vietnam War. Because the book is a political thriller, I needed a politician and I had one. I thought. Except he was so stupefyingly boring he brought the plot, the book—and me—to a dead halt.

I fretted and stewed. Bitched and complained. I was blocked and couldn’t figure out what happened next or who did what to whom. Color me one very very unhappy writer. Then, popping out somewhere from the murk of my unhappiness, along came Chessie.

“Senator Chessie Tillman’s parents wanted a boy. What they got was her. She was short, dumpy, and dressed like a rag picker. She smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, swore like a sailor. She had been married three times, each husband richer and more handsome than the one before.

“A roof-rattling orator and take-no-prisoners arm-twister, Chessie Tillman had mowed down men twice her size. In a series of headline-making speeches, she expressed the nation’s disgust with the sleazy goings-on of the Watergate scandal. In Senate hearings she faced down the beribboned generals who were bullshitting the public about the alleged “progress” being made in the high-body-count, vastly expensive, and increasingly pointless war in Vietnam.

“She was blunt, fearless, and had a big mouth. When something bothered her, she didn’t give up and she didn’t give in. America had never seen a politician like her. Right now, sitting behind the desk in her shambles of an office in the Senate office building, she had a new bug up her ass.”

I hadn’t realized until then the power of the “difficult” woman. Lesson learned: When in deep writing doo-doo, she can—and will—come to your rescue.
***

Ruth Harris blogs here once a month. She is a New York Times bestselling author and former Big Five editor. Her latest book is The Chanel Caper: James Bond meets Nora Ephron...or is it the other way around? You can read more about her work at Ruth Harris's Blog.

This is such a great insight from Ruth! I realize I had a similar experience when Athena Roberts walked into Food of Love. All I wanted was a hairdresser for one scene. In walked this bald, 6-foot Lesbian Iraq War vet. She took no prisoners and took over the story--and energized a ho-hum ms. into an exciting thriller. 

What about you, scriveners? Who are your favorite "difficult women"? Do you write about them? Could adding one to your WIP give your book the "oomph" it needs?


Opportunity Alerts

1) BiblioPublishing is looking for submissions of out-of-print or new books for publication through their small press. This 25-year-old press (formerly called The Educational Publisher) is branching out from educational books to other nonfiction and selected fiction. They're especially looking for self-help and sci-fi. They provide cover design, formatting and distribution, but ask your ms. be pre-edited. They publish in print as well as all ebook formats

2) Memoir Writing Workshop by bestselling memorist and Emmy-winning TV producer Fern Field Brooks with frequent blog commenter Phyllis Humphries. If you're a memoirist living in SoCal, you might want to look into this seminar to be held in Palm Desert on April 4th from 1-4 PM. For details email Fern at letterstomyhusband2011(at) gmail (dot) com.

3) Interested in having your short fiction recorded for a weekly podcast?There’s no pay, but it’s fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

4) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

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