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Award-Winning Novels!

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Snack runs in Utah just got a whole lot deadlierCrimes of Convenience: Grand Finalist of 200 entries in the 40th annual 3-Day Novel Contest. Another Blue-Collar Conspiracy Jessica has become just psychic enough to get herself killed. Too Much Information:
Top Ten out of 1,984 published & unpublished entries in the 2017 Book Pipeline Contest.

 

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Putting the ‘Wealth’ back in ‘Commonwealth’

GCCommonwealth_GamesAs the Commonwealth Games wrap up here on the Gold Coast, it’s easy to feel proud of our city. Not only did we manage to host athletes and other visitors from around the world, but we managed to do it in an atmosphere that was all at once festive and civilized. We celebrated the spirit of friendly competition between nations, and looked on in awe at the persistence that it takes to succeed. As so often when athletes gather, they modelled the values of hard work and respect.

Here’s the thing, though: why do we so often notice those values mostly in athletes?

After all, everyone must know a store manager who was promoted because he was willing to work a double shift. We all must have heard stories about an entrepreneur who kept her business solvent by promoting it online late into the night. Surgeons pull marathon shifts in theatre to keep us alive, and teachers go bleary preparing feedback to keep us educated.

Dare I say it? Writers, especially, have to push and push themselves just to get a novel into the marketplace: even a beloved bestseller.

Now, you’ll need to bear with me, because I’m no mathematician… but sources like Inside the Games seem to commonly cite around 10,000 hours of training—six hours per day for six days per week—before an athlete is ready for the Commonwealth Games. That’s an impressive sum, and one that would test anyone’s persistence. Dividing the number of hours per year into the total comes up with an average of just over five years of full-time sweat. That definitely warrants some applause.

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Marine Scientist and Bestselling Novelist, Ian Irvine

The success of a writer is not so predictable, and much more dependent on luck. Just for a minute, though, let’s compare the athlete’s story to the journey of one writer. In his how-to, The Truth about Publishing, bestselling author Ian Irvine tells how it took nine years’ of effort to get his novel published, and his article goes into some detail about how his version of ‘sweat’ might have looked. That’s just the beginning, though: according to LitRejections, Agatha Christie was rejected for five continuous years, Alex Haley tried to push Roots for eight years, and the bestseller Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance endured 121 rejections. That’s got to be worth a few years right there.

 

Now, when I write and submit, the first submission that I make rarely looks like the most recent one. I develop and change the query letter and the manuscript itself over and over, based on feedback from my editor, from my beta-readers, and from the rejections. My best guess is that these literary greats did the same. The novel that a publisher finally accepted was almost certainly a much better product than the first version they submitted.

Hey. Doesn’t that sound a lot like training?

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What a marathon might feel like to a writer…

It’s not very often, though, that a cheering crowd is standing by to reward the marathon efforts of a store manager, teacher or writer. In fact, our instinct to cheer for athletes seems to overwhelm everyone else. Just take a look at the structure of an average Western television newscast: One-third is dedicated to stories that affect average people, one-third to the rich investment class, while fully one-third of most newscasts focuses on who managed to kick a ball the farthest this week.

 

Oh, and that’s only when nothing startling happens in sports. When there’s any kind of an event or scandal, the ball-kicking news gets a repeat in the first third of the broadcast.

I know this might all come across as disrespect to athletes, but I don’t really feel disrespectful at all. Great role models from any walk of life are what keep our culture—our Commonwealth—moving in positive directions. We just need to get to know a greater ‘wealth’ of those role models… even the ‘common’ ones. If you doubt it, take a minute to ask yourself the last time you felt proud of a gold medallist you’ve never met.

Now, ask yourself the last time you felt proud of a Pulitzer winner.

3 Day Novel Finalist

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Yesterday, satirical adventure Crimes of Convenience became a Top Ten Finalist in the 40th Annual International 3-Day Novel Contest, in the running for a grand prize that includes publication. Geist chose the novel out of over 200 entries.

When a convenience store’s customers are repeatedly poisoned by factory-sealed snacks, the manager must choose whether to protect himself or investigate the conspiracy theories of a paranoid homeless Australian and a gluten-free Vegan activist. Will Cosgrove play along with the suspicious lawyer who is protecting him, or cooperate with the only cop who seems concerned for the victims of the Chomp-n-Pump? One of the Blue-Collar Conspiracies set in Provo, Utah by K. Alan Leitch.

Five Ways to be Badly Published

About a year after I began submitting my writing, I was offered a contract on one of my satirical thrillers, Driven. Because I felt at the time that it was the least polished of my efforts, I began asking advice, and I will never forget one of the earliest and wisest things that anyone has told me to date.

Victoria Strauss wrote, “Being unpublished is better than being badly published.”

At first, I thought that maybe managing the blog at Writer Beware had made Victoria paranoid. I wasn’t even sure what she meant by “badly published.” If someone was willing to print and sell my first novel on my behalf, how bad a publisher could they be?

Of course, Victoria’s mission is to protect a writer’s work and reputation to future publishers, so I knuckled into some research. I quickly learned a few ways to spot a publisher that even new writers don’t want, and have been learning more and more of those ever since.

The Contract

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We all want friendly relationships, but make sure your contract is binding.

Every publisher should offer a clearly worded contract. Some do not. I learned the hard way that ticking a box on a submissions manager is a very poor substitute for a real, big-boy’s contract… and that a real, big-girl’s contract should be about fifteen pages long. Continue reading

Are Trends Really a Novelist’s Friends?

Will hashtags help or hurt Too Much Information?

When I first decided to focus on submitting novels, I assumed that trends were my friends. With all the #MSWL listings asking for them, I tried to write using strong female voices; because they dominated Young Adult fiction, I tried to create paranormal characters. By the time I had written revision after revision, though, I found that agents were already looking for LGBQ voices instead, and that the teenage obsession with friendly monsters had given way to the Dystopias that had probably always lived inside them. In other words, writing to trends was as often harmful to my chances as it might have been helpful.

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Katniss made us forget Bella, but neither are trending now.

How do we judge, then, whether something trendy will serve to enhance an agency query or just give it a shelf life? By the time my editor, Matthew Bird, gave me the tools I needed to craft my sixth revision of Too Much Information, the novel already had plenty of trends in it. It features a teenage girl, after all, who awakens from a coma able to see that everyone around her is a ‘Bully’ or a ‘Misogynist’ or a ‘Murderer,’ just by looking in their eyes. The novel is a murder mystery, but about a super-power that Jessica feels is a curse. It has girl-power. It has wacky sidekicks. It has threats from the darkest corners of our real-life fears, and teenage protagonists learning to face them.

It was about to get a whole lot trendier, though: some say too trendy.

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Duck-Face for the Deceased

There have been a few losses, lately, around my life and community. Trusted mentors and benefactors have passed away: some peacefully and some painfully, and one even in a light plane crash. Some had lived a longer life than statistics would predict. Others were far too young to go.

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Not the best face for expressing sympathy

Still, they all had one thing in common: the overwhelming response on Facebook.

Yes, profile photos taken to impress friends and attract mates scrolled past the bereaved by the dozen, offering peace-signs and fiesta filters and memories of drunken nights out. More than a fair few were even making Duck-Face while expressing their sympathies. Some called it a fitting tribute. Others called it an outpouring of genuine grief. I call it a disgrace.

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Time for some Shopping

Christmas is over, so I’m off to do some shopping. I’ll never leave my chair, of course—the idea of going out to shop has become almost laughable—but there are a few books waiting for me to buy, a few more almost certain to be discovered, and an Android e-reader that supports enough apps to overcome even Amazon’s false Kindle barrier.

In other words, while I struggle to do any writing, I might as well do some reading.

NeverTooLateMy first stop is to pick up B. Lynn Goodwin’s newly released memoir, Never Too Late. If you’ve read any of Lynn’s articles, coaching or other missives over at Writer Advice, you’ll already know that her style will grip you, but that’s not what appeals to me most about the samples of this book. What appeals to me most is that it’s written by someone who remembers when meeting people had to be done without the help of billion-dollar apps, and when the photos that strangers saw of you were too expensive to be reposed or retouched. It’s written by someone who understands that the person in our mirror may not be the person we remember being, and that Craig’s List may be as brave a foray as some are willing to make into social media. It’s written by someone who’s learned that humanity is a fleeting treasure.

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