If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.
So, how has July been treating you? Whether it’s summer or winter for you, I hope you are making the most of the season. Today we are taking a road trip all the way to Montana in the convertible of your choice. You’ll be driving, and I’ll just be talking your ear off.
Before we get out on the open road, let’s pick up some snacks at the Writing Break cafe.
First off, we are in the strike zone. Members of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild are on strike, and a UPS strike looms on the horizon.
As for the writers’ strike, artificial intelligence is present and accounted for. In addition to more money, writers want to be able to use AI without losing their writing credits, but the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers say they will not grant screen credits to work generated by AI.
A few weeks ago I told you about the buyout program at Penguin Random House. This program was meant to encourage senior employees out the door, and some employees have agreed to be bought out. Regardless, the layoffs have begun. We predicted this next step, didn’t we?
The layoffs are reportedly affecting employees in the United States and the United Kingdom, and they are expected to impact several departments, including editorial, sales, and marketing.
Two copyright lawsuits have been filed against OpenAI alleging that ChatGPT infringed on the copyrights of authors and internet users, and the company has refused to provide access to the software. This could make it difficult for the plaintiffs to prove their case.
It has not yet been ruled upon that training a large language model on copyrighted works constitutes copyright infringement. If the lawsuits are successful, it could slow down the development of large language models and limit their potential applications. I’ll keep an eye on these lawsuits for you, but I don’t expect a resolution anytime soon.
Spam books have been published on Amazon for many years. These are books that are often filled with nonsensical text and given a nonsensical title, such as Urgent Character Name. No, really.
Theoretically, Amazon has a way of spotting these books and removing them. Scammers whose spam books do no t get removed by Amazon generate income from automated clicks and reads. Recently, these books have been infiltrating category bestseller lists on Amazon. In June one author took a look at the Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Romance eBook category and found that out of the top 100 books, a mere 19 of them were real books.
Links to all of these stories can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com. For today’s overthinking segment, I’m going to discuss . . . or maybe rant is a better word. OK, I’m going to rant about careless traditional publishing.
As you know if you’ve been listening to this podcast, I will be taking a trip to London later this year. In preparation, I did what any good bibliophile would do and paid a visit to the library where I checked out contemporary fiction set in London. While English literature was my major in college, I spent a lot of it reading Medieval British Literature, and I get the notion that Britain has changed a lot since then.
One of the books I picked up was written by a US-based author and published by a major US-based publisher. And they got it so wrong. Don’t bother checking my Goodreads page for the book because I did not add it to my reading list. I’m not going to discuss plot or characters here. I’m going to discuss an entire team of people forgetting that the book was set in London.
For example, supposedly British characters said grade school rather than primary school. Maybe it was just an oversight. OK, how about bangs instead of fringe? Sidewalk instead of pavement or footpath. Closet instead of wardrobe. Slacks instead of trousers. Cell phone instead of mobile. Grilled cheese instead of cheese on toast. Eggplant instead of aubergine. Realtor instead of estate agent. And termites instead of woodworms
That last one is particularly amusing as termites don’t even live in the UK.
If a British author wrote a book set in the United States and had a born and bred New Yorker order aubergine parmesan instead of eggplant parmesan, it wouldn’t make it past the editors.
However, I’m not sure about this particular group of editors, as they also allowed daffodils to bloom in the fall even though this does not happen with any type of daffodil anywhere on the planet. Greenhouses excluded, of course.
Why was this extreme level of carelessness allowed? This author is a New York Times bestselling author. I imagine that if you told her about these discrepancies, she would have readily agreed to have a sensitivity reader or fact checker make the necessary changes.
The author and her publishing team failed the audience. What’s more, the publishing team did a disservice to the author by not checking any of these things. The author should have admitted that she was not well acquainted with all things UK, but either way it’s noticeable once you start reading it. There is a line of people who should have caught on to the author’s shortcomings, including her literary agent, acquisitions editor, developmental editor, fact checker, sensitivity reader, copy editor, and proofreader.
Instead, it appears as though everyone who worked on the book thinks there is little to no difference between being a lifelong UK resident and a lifelong US resident.
One creative person to whom I attempted to rant about this asked me, does it matter? If people continue to do this time and time again, will it eventually stop mattering?
Even if a lot of readers didn’t notice or didn’t care, I would say that, yes, it absolutely matters.
It is doubtful that the entire team is ignorant to the fact that there are differences between American English and British English. And I don’t think the author or the publishing team set out to insult readers. Instead, it seems that no one cared enough about this book to do it justice. Readers deserve better, and this author deserved better.
Thank you for listening to all of that. Now that that’s out of my system, let’s chase down an independent bookstore and pull them over.
St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore and Textual Apothecary is a bookstore operating out of Tobacco Valley, which is located in the northwest corner of Montana. This white van travels the area selling used books, greeting cards, and postcards from around the world.
“Westerns? Biographies? Romance? Art? St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore has them all. You will probably find this traveling bookstore at the Eureka Farmers Market but it also takes to highways and back roads to bring reading pleasure to fans near and far.
Which brings up the idea of a textual apothecary. Because reading isn’t just for fun but can also be medicinal. Surely you have experienced the perfect book for easing a headache or helping with a cold. So for those of you who appreciate the wonder and therapeutic effects of reading words on a printed page, watch for this bookstore full of unusual used books to pull into a parking lot near you.”
How about we step inside and see what we find?
Tying in nicely with today’s road trip theme is the middle grade book Freakshow Summer, written by Anthony Bartley, who is an 8th grade history teacher in New Mexico, and illustrated by Ian Bristow, who is also a musician.“In:
Among the freaks and misfits of Oliver Neil’s Marvelous Carnival, thirteen-year-old Manny Dobra longs to find his place. Orphaned as a baby he’s been raised by the bearded woman, the alligator man, and the Leprechaun Family. Manny is a skilled artist, but he lives in the shadow of his deceased father’s own talent. A new summer of promise is soon spoiled by the arrival of Ron the bully and the Oldies – the Order of the Lions’ Den – hellbent on wiping out all carnivals. Manny realizes that what he finds lovely and ordinary is considered grotesque and abominable to the outside world. With the help of his friends Nickel, Margot, and Penny, Manny begins to traverse the tricky road of life, finding his footing in a world of human curiosities, both the beautiful and the ugly.”
Freakshow Summer is available in ebook and paperback formats, and the suggested reading age is 9 to 12.
I guess it’s time to head home. Let’s make a pit stop for ice cream or hot chocolate, whatever the weather in your area calls for. Then we’ll spend the rest of the drive home scheming ways to capture a literary agent’s attention that don't involve acts of violence or indecent exposure.
We’ve talked this season, and since the inception of this show, about the challenges of landing a literary agent. Today I’m offering 7 practical and actionable tips to help you land an agent. Please note that I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this list.
Understand that you will be contacting a lot of agents. I have met many authors who understand that they are likely to be rejected early and often, yet once two rejections come in, they’re ready to give up the search entirely, change careers, and maybe even their names. Rejection hurts, and you will be hurt. But that’s not the tip here. The real tip is that you need some kind of spreadsheet that will keep all your queries organized. Google Sheets or Excel would work just fine, but you can also get fancy with a program like Query Tracker, which also has a built-in database of literary agents. Check the show notes for a link to Query Tracker.
Query new agents interested in books like yours. While landing an experienced literary agent is undoubtedly a boon to your career, that doesn’t mean you should completely overlook new agents. This is why I make sure to let you know when I hear of a new literary agency. If your dream agents are not taking the bait, shift your focus onto new agents with a publishing background–many of them used to be editors, the poor souls–and make sure they are seeking manuscripts in your genre.
Have an active online presence. We’ve talked about this before, and it is something that is going to remain important for a long time. I recommend having an author website, one or two social media accounts, and one classy photo of yourself to tie them all together. In addition to connecting with potential readers, you should also connect with fellow writers. Contemporary writers have a fount of knowledge about today’s publishing industry, and I have found that many are eager to make friends with other writers.
Craft your query letter with care. There are a vast amount of free query letter templates and examples online. So many. Look at examples that fit your genre, and take your time writing a few different ones. Then you can ask your fellow writers which they think is the best one. You can also hire a professional to write or critique your letter for you. Again, make sure this person has publishing experience. You can also try submitting to Query Shark’s blog and see if your letter is selected for a free critique, which is published on their website, or you can pay them $100 for private feedback. The free critique takes 90 days, and there is no guarantee you will be selected. The paid critique takes five to six weeks. Check the show notes for links to their blog and their rates. The blog is also useful in that it lets you see the feedback other writers received on their query letters. But Query Shark is not your only option, and many professionals will provide feedback in a shorter time frame.
When you do get a nibble on the line from a literary agent, be prompt and professional with your response. Once you get an offer from a literary agent, consider reaching out to other agents to see if they’re interested in you now that someone else is interested. This might help you land your dream agent.
Let people critique your book. I would start with those writing friends you made and then hire a professional editor. If I’m booked, you can search the Editorial Freelancers Association’s directory for other editors. Check the show notes for a link to their site.
This is really the top tip in the list. I think the best way to land a literary agent is to write a good book. I know, it’s revolutionary thinking. But I have met some writers who do not want to revise anything until after they land an agent. They think the agent or even the publishing house will tell them everything that needs to be fixed and that’ll be the entirety of the revision process. The flaw in that plan is that until you prove to them that you are a good writer, they’re not going to want to spend a minute with you.
Next week we are discussing a new bestseller list and the revamping of an old one. Until then, thank you for listening, and I hope you tell at least one writer friend about me this week. As always, remember, you deserved this break.
If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at email@example.com.
Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.
Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.