Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Submission Process - Reflections

I've just finished all of my revisions to my latest short story, SEVEN OUT, but now it's time to submit it. My goal is to get into the Kindle Singles program, and like most other selective venues there is a submission process: you need a query letter, synopsis, etc. This is my least favorite part of being an aspiring writer.

I sent out numerous query letters for my novel a couple years ago with no luck. Essentially the query process is sales: you struggle to even get a meeting with your potential customer, you only have a limited window to make your pitch and often the deal is settled on first impressions. Agents, publishers and their assistants receive thousands of query letters from hopeful authors trying to sell their work. Many agencies list that they accept maybe a couple dozen projects a year. That makes it extraordinarily difficult for literary professionals to sift through the mountains of submissions they receive. From the research I've done, even though your rejection letter says something to the effect of "we've carefully reviewed your submission," odds are the agent or publisher (likely their assistants) didn't even get to the end of your query letter, let alone read your synopsis or attached manuscript chapters, before making his or her decision. If you're like me, your thought is, "Well, if you'd read my actual work you'd like it!" We're both probably right, they would. The salesman could say the same thing if the potential client would actually give the product a chance. But publishing is just like every other business. Time is money, and literary professionals are short on both. So, we writers are stuck having to wow the reader of our query letters in the first sentence. We need to make that good first impression.

Here I am, setting myself and my work up for yet another rejection. The realist in me understands the unlikelihood of SEVEN OUT getting accepted, but I'm also an optimist and I know there are people who get accepted. Failure is good. That is how we learn. In hindsight, I've seen how my past letters could have been stronger, and I've since worked to improve my new query letter to make that great first impression. Two great resources I'd like to share are Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb and The book is a few years old, but it's written by an author and an agent and it gives a great sense of what goes on on both sides of the agent's desk. AQ is a community website for writers and features several forums where your writing peers can critique your query letters and synopses before you send them. I've found both to be tremendously valuable, and I can see a marked difference in the quality of my submission materials for this go around.

This is part of the writing game. You put yourself out there and get shot down, but you pick yourself up and try again. Hopefully, with the improvements I've made, this attempt will be a success. I'll be sure to keep you posted! Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

This book was a refreshing read. It's been a little while since I've dabbled in YA Fiction since I've been on a history and historical fiction kick, but this was a good choice to get back into the genre.

No spoilers, so newbies to this series (yes, it is going to be a series) feel free to read on.

Our protagonist is Jacob Portman, who is a stereotypical teenage American boy. Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather's stories from his youth as a Jewish refugee who escaped the Nazis to live in a home for special (i.e. "peculiar" children) on an island off the coast of Wales. Jacob's grandfather's stories were accompanied with a collection of old photographs of his bizarre housemates: a girl with two mouths, a boy covered in bees and a girl levitating. Once Jacob is in his teen years and knows better, he believes his grandfather's stories were nothing more than cheesy fairy tales. But when Grandpa Portman dies and Jacob believes he sees the culprit, a hideous inhuman and non-animal creature, Jacob shuts down and enters therapy. As he struggles with what he saw, he begins to question his earlier assumptions about his grandfather's stories. 

Jacob, his parents and his therapist decide it would be good for the grieving process if Jacob and his father (Grandpa Portman's son) travel to the Welsh island for closure. Jacob, of course, has the ulterior motive of investigating the home where his grandfather grew up and trying to locate the old head mistress, Miss Peregrine, who used to run it. It would be difficult to continue to summarize the plot from here without giving away some spoilers, but it should be obvious to everyone that Grandpa Portman's wild tales are proved true and Jacob ends up meeting Miss Peregrine's peculiar wards.

This story falls into the vein of the superhero team story arc, which anyone who likes X-Men or the Avengers might enjoy. Any story with a band of superheroes or mutants or "peculiars" is bound to have some similarities. However, there are many different directions an author can go, and I feel Ransom Riggs offers an original and fresh take on what is becoming an overdone concept. What I like about the peculiars and their peculiarities is that they are relatively low-key, and most of them are not what we would identify as a "superhero." Olive, for example, cannot fly but rather she is as light as a feather and would float away if she wasn't weighted down. Her peculiarity can come in handy but it's also a handicap. I think if you liked Heroes or Alphas, you will appreciate this aspect of the book. 

I think the novel's biggest strength is the way the children live in the home. To describe it further would be to give away what I think is one of the book's most clever twists, but I'll simply say I did not expect the book to go in this direction when I picked it up. It offers some very interesting prospects for the next installment. By the same token, the cover and YouTube trailer sell the book like it is a bizarre and creepy paranormal tale and that's pretty disingenuous. I'd say the book is in reality closer to the sci-fi genre than to paranormal or horror.

All in all, the book was imaginative, fun and engaging. I gave it four out of five stars for story, characters and creativity. My holdout to giving it five stars was the writing. It seemed a little bland at times and left me thinking there were more compelling prose the author could have used. But like I mentioned earlier, I did pick this up after reading several historical fiction books so it's important to remember that the target audience for this book is teens and young adults. As a note on formatting, the book includes the creepy black and white photographs from Grandpa Portman's collection and I thought that was an excellent touch. I'd never heard of Ransom Riggs before this, and I think this was his debut work, but I was thoroughly impressed. I'll definitely be reading Book 2.

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Welcome to my new blog! If you're reading this let me begin by saying thank you for checking out my page. I'm an author/historian from Toledo, Ohio and this is my way to document the adventure of being a new writer and to keep in touch with my readers. From time to time I'll post news about my writing, reviews of other authors' work and general commentary to get a conversation going. Please explore this site. Feel free to check out my books, see my Top 10 in the book market, and participate in a monthly poll. Once again, thank you for checking out my new blog and I look forward to hearing from you.