Answers the Forth! (or, Gonzo Time With Andy!)

Continuing the cavalcade of questions that need answering, as usual, my friend Andy McBride brings the goofy!

In the tv show ‘Airwolf’, Michael Coldsmith Briggs III is hiding the advanced helicopter from the CIA as leverage for them to look HARDER for Stringfellow Hawke’s brother in Vietnam. Now granted, we are dealing with the CIA here, one of the most powerful organizations in the world. Wouldn’t they use every resource they had to find the chopper that cost then more than $1billion to design and produce? I could sooooooooooooooooooooo see them finding where it was and no one EVER hearing from Hawke, Briggs and everyone involved EVVVVVVVVVVVVER again….. THOUGHTS?

I confess, I never watched that show when it was on. So, he stole this nifty helicopter from the government but then, while holding it hostage to get the government to look for someone, the government never just came along and took it back? Really? Well, I guess this is the same kind of logic that had the US government utterly unable to track down and recapture the fugitive A-Team, even though anyone who was trying to save their little family business in the face of threats by some rich bully could track them down. Strange! But with the A-Team, we’re talking a handful of fugitives, not a billion-dollar piece of military hardware. (And was that the only one they made?)

This is the same kind of logic that always had me wondering why SPECTRE, in the James Bond movies, launched such outlandish plots. I mean, this is an organization that can literally build a facility to launch space rockets inside a dead volcano! Didn’t it occur to anyone to just say to Blofeld, “You know, we can pretty much use our money to rule the world anyway.”

-OKIE DOKIE, this MIGHT get long but hear me out…….. Battlestar Galatica, the recent version, brought up a great thought. It showed the weakness of ALL MALES, Baltar, when it comes to getting it on with a REALLY HOT female, SIX. HELLO! He gave her the codes to ALL the nuclear weapons on the planet!! MEN have caused many sorrows on the human race throughout time for women….. Can you justify his actions in anyway??? I must admit, as a heterosexual male, I can kinda see him justifying it in his mind.

I think it was partly a man, well, thinking with his “Johnson”. I also think it was Baltar wanting to be powerful, wanting to show off that power. Baltar comes off as a man who is extremely intelligent, but also deeply insecure, so it probably didn’t take much for Number Six to appeal to his vanity and prop up his ego. He probably shared the information not because he thought it would get him sex, but because…well, actually, that’s probably a bigger part of it than I had thought. He was showing off. It never occurred to him that this woman might be someone he probably shouldn’t give that information to, and why would it? He’s the great genius Baltar!

No, I can’t justify it. That’s really what it is, and by the time he realizes what he’s done, he is simply in too deep and can’t get himself out in any way. He has to keep playing along with her, continually betraying his people, even as he is horrified at what he’s doing and clearly views himself as superior to everyone else while at the same time loathing himself for betraying them. Gaius Baltar is really a fantastic villain!

-Do you have an ‘OUT’ or two with the new ownership of the Bills? I have two, if that CLOWN Trump, everyone that would call him a savior just watch the 30 for 30 about the USFL and how he destroyed it, buys them or if the new owner moves the team after the lease at ‘RICH’ yeah I still call it that, comes up. Then I am OUT!!! I will NOT root for them…….

Heh! I honestly don’t care all that much. People who have enough money to buy an NFL team tend to be people so far removed from any kind of life that I conceive that there really isn’t much of a “likability” factor at all. It’s interesting to watch, though, isn’t it? Terry Pegula came out of nowhere a few years ago to buy the Sabres and “save” them, and then he started building stuff downtown to further cement this city’s hockey fever, and he was a hero around here. But then the Sabres fell apart as a team, and people decided that Pegula had allowed the poor management to stick around too long, so his star got tarnished a bit…but if he buys the Bills and pretty much establishes them as being here for many years to come, then I wonder how many more years of missing the playoffs they can turn in before Pegula starts dropping again in local esteem!

I do hope the team stays, I really do. It would devastate an awful lot of people if they left. But I really cannot get behind using any kind of public money to build a new stadium; I don’t understand why the team needs a stadium with all those bells and whistles and luxury boxes when there is virtually no big wealthy corporate presence around here; and I reject the idea that even if we do have to have a new stadium, it needs to be someplace other than where Ralph Wilson Stadium is. I live here and I can tell you, the current place is not hard to get to. But anyway, if disaster happens and the Bills do leave, my “fandom”, such as it is, will not travel with them. I will not root for the Toronto Bills, or the LA Bills, or the San Antonio Whatevers.

And if the team does leave, well, life will go on. There are a lot of fine cities out there that are doing great without professional sports. Being Austin or Tulsa or Providence wouldn’t be the worst fates I could imagine!

-What was the moment when you said to yourself, “You know, self publishing my novel is the way to go.”?????

Well, I queried and/or submitted Princesses for the better part of a year or so before I finally decided to go independent. I always kept going indie in the back of my mind as the way to go if I didn’t break through in the traditional way, and I think I’m fortunate to live in a time when that’s possible. Indie film and indie music (and, to a lesser degree, indie comics) have long had their own infrastructures and their own ways of getting the work distributed, but indie book publishing has been slower to take off, for various reasons. (One is that it took a while for tech companies to figure out how to make e-readers that people would want to use, and another is that print-on-demand technology seems to have taken longer to become a real thing than it had once been mentioned.) So I knew that Princesses would not have to endure its round of rejections and then sit in a drawer, either to be revisited later on when I wrote something “better” or just for me to fondly remember as one of my “practice” novels.

See, here’s the thing: there is no question in my mind that I wrote a good book. None. Likewise, there is no question in my mind that there’s a market for it. When I started writing it, three years or so ago, I figured that “grimdark” trend in storytelling and popular culture, what I call “Awful People At Work And Play”, had to wind itself down at some point, and that there would be a place again for storytelling that was not lighter, exactly, but…geez, how to put this…infused with light. (I’m sure that reads horribly, but I’m going with it.)

I submitted to the major publishers who still accept unagented submissions (and there are only a handful of these), and I queried every agent I could find who represented fantasy and science fiction. Why didn’t it get picked up anywhere? Well, I’m going to rule out the most obvious answer, “Because it’s not good enough”. Now, maybe I’m wrong and it really isn’t good enough, but…well, I just don’t think that’s the case. Sorry if that sounds arrogant, but it’s simply true that a lot of books that are good enough get rejected all the time. Hang out in writers’ groups online or read writers’ blogs or that sort of thing, and you will see article after article after article listing books that are now beloved which got rejected dozens of times prior to publication. Harry Potter is a perfect example — everybody rejected it, and it was only dumb luck that some editor happened to take the manuscript home and leave it out for his or her kid to find and read and come out later asking, “Is there more to this?”, prompting that editor to take a closer look. Good books get rejected, and bad ones get published. It happens, all the time.

Well, my book is on the long side. As an unpublished author, turning in a long book is a strike. So is the fact that its genre isn’t totally carved in stone — I call it space opera, because that’s what it is, but space opera isn’t a section at Barnes&Noble. It’s science fiction, sure…but given the style and the characters, it could be Young Adult…but again, it’s maybe too long for Young Adult. I make no bones about the fact that I wrote the book I intended to write, and no other. I didn’t set out to write a Young Adult space opera and then keep it to 80000 words or whatever. This is the book I wanted to write, and if I’m going to put myself out there, it’s going to be with the book that I wanted to write. As Jean-Luc Picard once said, “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.” But again, that may constitute a problem from the industry’s point of view.

(And in all honesty, “length” is relative, anyway. Princesses is long for the kind of book it is, but it’s still shorter than four of the Harry Potter books, and it’s way shorter than anything George RR Martin’s been writing of late.)

Even if I refuse to admit the possibility that my book stinks, however, there’s another that I do grant: Maybe my query letter sucked. There’s just no way to know, other than to have a successful query. Reading up on query letter advice was maddening when I did it: some agents said “Never include any of the writing from the book itself!”; others said, “Give me your first few lines, if you think it helps.” Some said “Never mention any other books at all!”; others said, “Feel free to namecheck books that inspire you, as long as you don’t compare your book to those.” And so on.

The problem there is again one of numbers. Just getting publishers to bite, whether you’re submitting or using an agent, is hard enough, but the query letter is tough as well. What you’re literally writing, in query letter, is a direct mail sales pitch, and professional copywriters will tell you that a really good rate of response to a sales pitch — not even leading to a sale, just to a request for more information — is about ten percent. Think of that: if you’re selling by direct mail, if you have a good letter, only ten out of every one hundred recipients will respond. That’s why direct mail companies send out thousands of mailings…but there aren’t thousands of agents handling books like I wrote.

And the numbers get harder! Consider this: I used a site called QueryTracker (which I strongly recommend, by the way — it’s an outstanding resource) to organize this stuff. QT offers lists of agents that you can sort and exclude on the basis of genre, so I was able to just whittle their database down to agents repping F&SF. Useful, yes…but there’s a wrinkle. You might end up with a list of 200 agents in your genre, but you’ll find that a lot of them work at the same agencies, and many, if not most, agencies have a policy where a rejection from one of their agents is to be taken as a rejection by the entire agency. If a dozen agents are listed from a single agency, and one of them rejects you, you’re not allowed to query the other eleven.

So, basically, getting back to the original question…after about a year, I decided to stop that process and proceed a different way. Did I pull the plug on my submission and querying too early? It’s entirely possible…but you know what? I’m tired of waiting. I’m confident that I’m not jumping the gun as far as the book is concerned, and life’s just too short. Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’. Or as my Mom says, “Shit, or get off the pot!”

(By the way, here’s an announcement, for you folks who have read this far: October 1 will see some strategic leaking of details on the Princesses front!)

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5 Responses to Answers the Forth! (or, Gonzo Time With Andy!)

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    AND self-publishing MAY help the other books down the road. One could imagine, anyway.

  2. Jason says:

    Regarding Airwolf, yes, there was only one helicopter. It was a highly advanced prototype, one of a kind, faster and more kick-ass than anything else in the world. As far as why the CIA didn't seem to try harder to get it back, my own theory is that it exactly where the CIA wanted it to be. Our heroes were manipulated into believing they were renegades fighting on their own terms, but in fact, they were using the chopper for exactly the purposes the government wanted it used for.

    Or it could've just been an '80s action TV show where such considerations weren't all that important. 😀

  3. Andy says:

    Jason!!! That's a great theory!!!!!

  4. Call me Paul says:

    I am currently reading – well, perhaps 'reading' isn't exactly the word… There is a book on my bedside table with a bookmark in it at page 8o. According to Goodreads, I started reading it on October 25, 2012. I was at page 80 on November 1, 2012. There are no further Goodreads updates. So, you know, in my opinion, it's not a very good book. Yet it got published. I sometimes wonder how these things happen.

  5. Lynn says:

    Maybe I'm weird but I am attracted to long books. When I immerse myself in a fictional universe I don't want to come out too soon.

    I have been trying to break myself of the habit of rejecting books for being "too short". Some shorter books are very good. I just try to think of them as very long short stories.

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