Monday, September 30, 2013

Let's Dance!

[Okay this post is technically recycled, but the blog it was featured on is no longer around. So pretend its new.]

Come, sit around the campfire. I will tell you something I learned from a million years ago when I used to work in acquisitions (meaning, I read slush and sent rejection letters and hurt preshus feelsies).

Submissions is like dating.

Really, guys, stay with me here.

Submitting a book to a publisher is like asking someone to the prom. Your success is dependent on a number of factors, only a few of which you have real control over.

Would you walk into a room and ask out every person in there in the hopes of getting one to say yes? Um, you could, but that's not very effective. Everyone would see what you're doing.

This is why I advise people to customize their query letters, and not CC the submission to each and every publisher on their list at the same time. Yeah, sure, I know you're going to ask all those other people to the prom. But I'd sure like to feel like you at least know my name.

So now you're staring at this room of really pretty people. Okay, they're not all pretty. Some are ugly, but they'll be your back up choice. Do you just randomly ask them all out? Or do you wait and listen? Most are looking for a very particular kind of date, and if you spend some time around them, you'll learn what they want.

If you browse any publisher's catalogue, you'll learn what they're interested in. If you pay attention and follow agents on Twitter, you'll figure out pretty quickly what it is they like in a book, and what I don't. There's no big mystery. They often blog in detail about what makes them take certain books.

Now you've settled on a few possibilities for this prom date. You're both into the same things. You're exactly what they're looking for in a date, and they're totally hot. Now is when you run over and beg them to date you! Apologize for the fact that you live in a basement and have never dated before in your life, and don't bother combing your hair or anything.

Um, or you could clean yourself up and approach them respectfully.

First impressions count. You need simple cover letter, not long and rambly, that contains all the information they need to know about your submission. You don't need your life story in there. This isn't a discussion of marriage--this is a DATE, so to speak.

If someone you ask out says no...well, just tell her she's an idiot! You don't need her anyway! Like you even wanted to date her in the first place--ha! You'll just yourself. That's the NEW way dating works--people just date themselves. Plus, she's kinda funny looking. You should tell her that too, and point out that other guy over there who's way hotter and just tell her that he's already accepted you anyway.

Or you could beg and plead. That'll work. Ask your friends to call her at all hours of the night and tell her what a GREAT prom date you'll make! Maybe if she just knew you better.

And you could ask her a bunch of times why she won't date you. Is it your hair? Your clothes? Is she not into your gender? Is it your breath? Oh, she must tell you why! And if she doesn't, maybe she just doesn't mean it. Maybe you should just tell her that you're going to the prom together no matter what.

Um...alternatively, you can thank her for your time and move on.

Listen, kids: no means no, and yes means yes. I've dealt with all of the above. None of it is attractive to a potential publisher, save the last point.

It sucks major hairy goat ass to be rejected. I know. So you go cry to your friends, then go out and do it all over again.

You're going to write another book someday (I hope, and if you're serious). So you may decide to query this publisher again. The rejection was definitely not personal. Don't burn your bridges. If you yell at everyone who rejected your first book--which, just maybe, wasn't the best thing you're ever going to write--do you really think they're going to take an unbiased look at your second?

Bridges. They are of the good. Don't set them on fire, or you'll have nowhere to go and you'll be dancing by yourself at the prom.

When you're dealing with a publisher, treat him or her like someone you want to date. Be respectful. Don't come on too strong. Present the invitation to the prom, but remember there are a lot of other people asking and don't take it personally if she declines your invitation.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I woke up this morning and new that summer was over. It didn't take more than opening my eyes. I could feel the change immediately. Granted, it's been happening gently over the last few weeks. Some days have been characteristically warm and sunny and some have been blustery and fall-dim. We even had the mother of all storms last weekend. Still, it felt like we might get a summery day at any moment...until today.

There was just a fall feeling, a chill that hadn't been there before, even on the cooler days. It had happened, any way you looked at it. The season had shifted.

And as a writer, I immediately went, hmmm, am I using this properly in my fiction?

Because there is a power to that feeling of seasons changing, and I want to incorporate anything with that emotional force into my written words. Weather has its own effectiveness, though most agree not to open with it. (Thank you, Grapes of Wrath) It can lend a mood here and there, certainly. But seasons are bigger. They stand for something. Maybe its the poet in me (I know, I keep trying to kill her.) but there's a symbolism to a seasonal change that I can't not notice.

I took inventory of my novels, and more than one of them are set with "winter approaching." It's possible this says something about me aside from the fact that I love the fall. It also says something about the tone of the books, the dark encroaching, worry on the horizon. Fading light and something ominous ahead.

If I wrote a lot about spring, I suspect the books would be different. I do use it here and there, but that winter looming feel seems to be a favorite. It also tells me I could use to stretch a little. Maybe try spring next book and see how it comes out. Maybe the height of summer next time...

Who knows. I think I'll pay attention to it now, as a reader too. Can you think of a book that uses seasons or seasonal changes well (aside from the obvious Christmas stories)? Do any specific authors use them intentionally? Well?

I suspect, like anything, like weather, it could be overdone, but I also suspect that its there more than we notice, an underlying theme, that the seasons affect us more than we notice, even in our modern world.

At the very least, today, I'm trying to remember where my sweaters are.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Recycled Post - Asking For Feedback

Dr. Dina is still on hiatus. She'll return next month with scintillating posts on drowning, choking, medications, wound care, sutures, and other medical fun. Right now, though, enjoy this post recycled from the original ELEW blog, dated October 2011! I've resurrected it from the archives and updated it to reflect present day. 

Today I want to talk about feedback.

I've ranted on the subject before about opinions being like assholes – everybody has one (well, unless you're grown in a lab and are genetically engineered not to have one…hey, I write…I think about these things). I've also ranted on the subject of how much weight you should or shouldn't give to an opinion. I've talked about crit and how to respond to it without looking like a douchebag.

What I haven't talked about is what it means to offer crit/feedback.

Critting someone else's work is time-consuming and can be very dangerous for a lot of reasons. If you're critting for a friend and they're not the kind of person who can separate personal and professional critique, you're going to have a problem.

Some people just don't understand that you can like them as a person, but not like their writing or their story. As I said, some people can't separate the two; "well if you don't like my writing you must not like me."

Absolutely not true. I can like a person fine, but not like something they do. People who work for Amazon or Wal-mart, let's say. I don't like either of those companies, but some of people I know who work for them are awesome. It's not their fault the company they work for has issues.

Just like it's not my fault if I tell you that your writing isn't up to par, or is missing something, or has something lacking. We can still go to dinner and talk about things.

I don't crit often for this reason. I am one of those people who will give you my opinion – my honest opinion – if you ask me for it.

Note that: if you ask me for it. You should never ask me a question you don't want an honest answer to. Don't ask the question if you don't want the answer. If you want me to tell you something specific, tell me that. I still won't lie to you, though.

I make it very clear that I don't crit for many, or often. The first reason being time. I just don't have the time to devote to another person's work right now. I did once upon a time, but now I don't.

That's one of the things you should consider when offering to crit or beta for someone. Do you have the time? If you do, what kind of crit are they looking for? Are they going to get pissed at you for giving your honest opinion? You know…the opinion they're asking you to give?

Most importantly – can they separate the personal and professional? It's harder to do than you might think. It's hard not to take criticism of your writing personally because you put so much of yourself into it. That's a piece of you, a part of you, and when someone finds fault with it, it's hard not to associate that with the rest of you.

But you have to. If you're going to make it as a professional writer, you have to learn the difference between personal and professional crit.

If you're going to offer to look at someone else's work, make sure you know what you're in for. I've had more than one relationship change over this very thing. Make sure they know what they're asking of you.

Also, make sure you're comfortable giving them what they want. I, personally, am not comfortable just telling someone what they want to hear. It feels like lying to me, and my honesty might be brutal, but at least it's honest. I don't pat people on the head and tell them they're good when they actually suck. I feel that's doing more harm than good. If you want someone to tell you they love you no matter what, ask a parent or spouse. DO NOT ASK A CRIT PARTNER/BETA.

The whole point of feedback is to improve. You can't improve if you don't want to be told what's wrong.

And you can't help someone if they don't want to be helped. You can't tell them something is wrong if they don't want to hear it.

Remember that the next time someone asks you to read their stuff. Ask them questions about what they want – feedback, crit, or just a plain old-fashioned opinion. There are vast differences, and you should know going in which one to give.

The following terms are used interchangeably and indiscriminately, but there are differences you should be aware:

Feedback – generally refers to "editorial feedback," or an in-depth review of the work; what does and doesn't work, plot and structure consideration, character development, interaction and likability, etc. (You'll see a lot of rejection letters say something like "I'm sorry I can't offer feedback on this." This is what they mean. They can't tell you what needs improvement, etc. They can just tell you that it's not for them.)

Crit – short for "criticism." This is more than an opinion but not quite as much as feedback. This is more than "tell me what you think." This is "tell me what you think and why you think that." Crit can also include things like punctuation, misused/repeated words, typos and so on. It's a good look at both the story and the mechanics.

Opinion – "Tell me what you think." This is the basic form of feedback and the one that can get you into the most amount of trouble. It's just an opinion, usually in the form of "do you like it or hate it," and again can be taken the most personally. They don't want to know why you hate it or why you like it; just which one. Sometimes they'll ask "why" after you tell them which it is and you have to come up with your reasons right there on the spot. That's always fun….

Now, if you don't have someone you can ask for crit/feedback, there are plenty of professionals out there who will do the things above for various fees, depending on which you want. Do your research or ask someone who has used these services before for a recommendation if you're not sure where to turn.

So there you go. As a writer, be sure what you're looking for, and be sure you ask the right people for the right feedback. You shouldn't ask your best friend for editorial feedback if they're not an editor or don't have a background in English or know what they're talking about. If they read a lot, great! But if they don't…well…you might run into a problem.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy Birthday, Skyla!

Today, we here at the Evil League of Evil Writers celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our dear co-founder, Skyla Dawn Cameron.

Skyla is more than our beloved Bitchstress Dreamkiller. She is an icon. (No, really, I mean it.)

She is a tireless force of evil. I would not deign to insult her eviltry by labeling her with words like "kind," "giving," or  "charitable," but I will say she's a fundraising superstar (she's closing in on $10,000 raised for various charities THIS YEAR ALONE...what are YOU doing with your life, slacker?), as well as a fantastic editor and graphic designer.

You would be beyond fortunate to know her and have her in your life - those of us who do recognize this fact and take pleasure in your jealousy. (Note: I, the Gothic Goddess, am the only existing holder of exclusive stalking rights to Skyla. If you want them, you'll have to fight me to the death for them. *points to Thunderdome*)

The Evil League of Evil Writers would not exist if not for Skyla, and several charitable organizations and people would be poorer for her absence.

Lift a glass in her honor today. (She prefers vodka.)


Friday, September 20, 2013

Home is where your butt-print is

I've been travelling a lot lately. For a variety of reasons, but in short, it means that I'm not spending much time at home these days. And while I'm enjoying the various places I've been, I'm starting to get a little homesick... there's just something about sitting on your couch, ignoring your chores that makes you feel like you're home.

They say home is where the heart is, but for me, I think it's more home is where my butt has left an impression on the sofa.

Uh, yeah. I'm not going for deep or insightful posting today :)

I'm headed off to the airport again shortly, and I'm trying to decide if I should bring my computer so I could try and squeeze in some writing. I mean, I know I should, but I'm also pretty sure that this weekend is going to be plenty busy (we're celebrating my brother's birthday in Vegas), so i'm not sure it's worth the hassle and weight.

Still, I often find that it's easier to write on vacation so maybe I can squeeze in some words.

What do you guys think? Travel with the laptop, or no?

Also, what makes you call a place home?  For me, despite the butt-print theory posited above, it's where I can snuggle with my husband and our pets.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to School

I almost missed my day again. My kids are back in school, and unlike other parents who are celebrating their week of renewed freedom, that means I'm back to a heavy, insane schedule that includes teaching them from home.

The first month is always panic time as I try to adjust to their new classes, they try to adjust to my panic, and I watch my rapidly shrinking writing/productivity time vaporize in a flurry of "more important things."

 Teaching is a lot more work than we ever guessed from the other side of the desk. I wish I could say I was good at it. I'm not. I do my best, but I allow myself to get impatient, frustrated. Thankfully, I have the backup of real, trained teachers in our program, but I don't know how they manage to stay so calm all the time.

This leads me, rather indirectly, to my point. Teachers rule. My father used to say that teaching was the most noble of professions, and I'm beginning to agree with him. But teachers aren't all created equal, and they don't all have anything to do with school.

Some of the best teachers I've ever had didn't even know they were teaching. (One particular, amazing editor comes to mind.) A writer's teachers can be beta readers, readers, editors and other authors. They can be the stories themselves, the characters too. In fact, we're sort of tripping over potential teachers.

All we have to do is be ready to listen.

And that's the tricky part. Opening up to the idea of learning. Opening our eyes to the chances to grow and deepen our skill set.

And being ever so grateful for the teachers who step up and offer that chance. I am very thankful for all the teachers in my life. I hope I can continue to meet people who challenge me to learn and grow, and for everyone who has along the's a big ol' apple and a heartfelt thank you!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Recycled Post: Stall Demons

We interrupt our regularly scheduled "Ask Dr. Dina" series to bring you this recycled post from 2008, as Dr. Dina is out of the office this week. Enjoy!

(Originally posted 2/28/2008 on my Livejournal. This post is 100% recycled material. Some references have been updated to reflect the current year.)

*eyes the little maniacs in the corner laughing gleefully*

Stall demons.

"What are they?" you ask. Good question. Most people don't recognize them when they see or encounter them, or they confuse them for Shoulder Devils/Shoulder Demons, which are a completely different type of demon. (Hmm...maybe I should blog about types of demons at some point. *makes a note* There are a bunch.) Shoulder Demons/Devils are the ones that tell you it's okay to do things when you know better.

Stall Demons are no such creature. These are evil miniature imps from the Timesuck Realm that tell you, "It's okay, just check Twitter. It won't take that long!" or "You know, you have a WHOLE DAY to write/get XYZ done/do what you planned. This will only take a minute." or "Have a nap. You're tired and will work much better if you're rested."

This is the thing with Stall Demons. They're much, much different than Shoulder Devils/Demons. Stall Demons pretend to look after your welfare. They're only helping! After all, don't you deserve a little break/fun/pie before whatever it is you're supposed to be doing? For emotional/physical/mental well-being? C'Mon...just check Twitter. Or Facebook. Or your F!list on LiveJournal. Or Tumblr. Or Pinterest. Aren't you behind on that webcomic? That was pretty funny, and you could use a laugh. No? You're right. You're right. You should write. Blog something to get your creativity going.

You see the pattern here?

Stall Demons are also responsible for the stipulations you put on yourself, such as "I can't write, the bathroom needs cleaning" or "I'll wait until the house is quiet" or "Wow, I have a lot of laundry to do. I can't write until I do something else."


Stall Demons will do absolutely anything to stall you. Fun things! Shiny things! Games! Want to clean? Sure! Let's do that! That's good for inspiration you know...a mindless task really helps clear your meditating!

Back! Back you demons! Back into your realm of Timesuck where you belong! I know what you are and what you're trying to do! Back! Back I say!

Ah, but Stall Demons cannot be subdued. Just frightened off temporarily. Like Sandpeople (Tusken Raiders for the politically correct or uber!geektastic among us) - easily startled, but will soon be back. AND in greater numbers. (Points if you know the name of the noise that frightened them off Luke Skywalker!)

What frightens off a Stall Demon?

Confidence. Determination. Willpower.


Never mind what the Borg say. Resistance is NOT futile. That's a party line to get you not to fight. Fight the Stall Demons! Don't let them take away your productivity!

Don't trust yourself? No willpower? There are programs out there like Freedom and StayFocusd that will force you to stick to your guns.

Does the prospect of not being able to connect frighten you? Still can't manage to resist? Fear not! There is still hope.

You'll have appease the Stall Demons with a bargain. They're DEMONS, first and foremost, and how do you deal with a demon?

*Brando imitation* Make them an offer they cannot refuse.

Offer a deal. You'll Stall AFTER _____. After your wordcount for the day is reached, you'll read Twitter. Do the dishes. Clean the bathroom. Blog something. NOT before. They leave you in peace for whatever you need to do, you'll goof off for (amount of time here).

It's what I did today. The Stall Demons had me captivated with their Sirens' song for a time this morning, with me protesting all the while about wordcounts and deadlines and how I had to get to work.

"No, go read Twitter," the Stall Demons replied soothingly. "It won't take long."

"That's timesuck, and I don't have any time I can afford to squander," I protest feebly, all the while lulled by their wonderful charms. "Things to do."

"They're not important, you're important," said the demons, who really know how to stroke an ego. "Networking is important. You want to stay in touch, don't you? Come Twitter. Go check on your characters in World of Warcraft. Your auction should be concluded by now. Just go take care of your bank stuff. It won't take long...."

"It won't take long" is the stock phrase of the Stall Demon.

Beware this phrase. If you hear it in your head, or even from a friend, be very careful.

You could just have a Stall Demon in your house. (Points if you get the reference!)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Finding the balance...

Yesterday I got some bad news. In fact, it's been kind of a crappy week for a lot of my friends. Especially some of the evil ladies here... but at any rate, it's a rough week. Life isn't going exactly the way I wanted it to, but you know, that's life. (That's also why this post is late... sorry!)

On the other hand, Today I left for vacation with some of my favorite people, so I get to spend a week hanging out in Yellowstone and hiking and kayaking and playing board games. Yeah, hiking and kayaking maybe not my first choice of vacation activities (which include reading and drinking fruity cocktails), but I'm being brave :)

So, I'm trying to find the balance. Yes, yesterday sucked, but today should be great. And the coming days will also be great (assuming I don't get eaten by a bear, but my friend didn't put death by bear on the itinerary, so I'm assuming it won't happen).

I think that's sometimes just what you have to do. Acknowledge that sometimes, things suck. But try and keep in mind that things get better.

Unless it's your characters and you're controlling their lives. In that case, torture the crap out of them and then burn the bridges. Eventually they get a happy ending, but make them work for it.

And cross your fingers that who ever is writing your plot is more generous than you are.

So I'm off to go hang out with some fun people I don't see often enough and distract myself from the other crap.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and if it's not great, there are probably great things coming.

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