Monthly Archives: May 2012

Breadcrumbs…

Most sites giving advice to writers suggest that an author check out a publisher or agent before submitting to them. From Preditors and Editors and the Absolute Write Water Cooler (that’s the link describing us) to Writer’s Beware (the link is to my guest blog on fee-charging agents), there are several places an author can go to check out a publisher before submitting a manuscript. I routinely suggest to authors that they check out Divertir Publishing before they sign a contract with us, and have gone so far as to set up meetings between our current authors and potential authors so the potential authors could ask questions before signing. Why would I do this? Two reasons: first, I want the authors that sign with us to be completely comfortable with the decision.

Second, it’s because I’ve checked you out…

In web programming, the term “breadcrumbs” is used to describe the trail one blazes as they navigate a web site; simply clicking on one of the breadcrumbs on a web page allows you to go to a previously visited page. It may shock you to hear this, but you leave “breadcrumbs” all over the internet. A search on Facebook with your email address will show me your Facebook page. A Google search for your name will often turn up everything from your author site and blog to your deviantArt and Story Write pages (where we discovered Verena Sandford, who is one of my favorite short story authors and who was featured in our first and second short story collections).

So what exactly am I looking for as I follow your breadcrumbs? I’m looking to see how serious and professional you are as a writer. Have you written an entertaining blog on why strippers shouldn’t eat curry, or is your blog a rant about how publishers deserve a special place in Hell? Does you blog offer interesting insight into controversial topics, or does it discuss how much you drank at the last keg party? Are there samples of your writing online that show me how creative you are and that might give me more insight into you as a writer?

Breadcrumbs are interesting, in that they can hang around for a long time. Here is a conversation I had with with Jane Smith (who writes the blog “How Publishing Really Works”) from February 2010. In hindsight, I will admit that some of my views on publishing back then were naïve. By the same token, I do owe her an email to point out that we were featured in the article “Keys to Cracking 10 Top Markets” by Adria Haley in the September 2011 edition of Writer’s Digest – thus her prediction of our doom before we started was premature.

What is the reason for  pointing out this last exchange with Jane Smith? It’s that the things we post on the web can stay there for a very long time, and eventually someone will have a reason to follow your breadcrumb. You should always try to make sure they create a positive impression for those who make the effort…

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What’s in a name…

My wife had always loved the name Samantha, in part because “Sami” would be the girl’s nickname – complete with an i at the end. So when our daughter was born we named her Samantha Lynn. We always call her Sami, and always spelled it with an i. When Sami was three she had learned to spell her name – complete with the i at the end. She was so proud she was telling everyone we met. At a restaurant one night she was telling the server, who responded, “Hey, I’m Sammy too. I spell it with a y because I liked to have a squiggle at the end.”

On that night, Samantha decided a squiggle at the end of her name sounded too cool for words, and Sami was no more. She became Sammy, complete with her squiggle, and there was nothing the original authors of her epic tale could do about it.

Character names are very important in novels because they are often the first glimpse a reader gets of a character. First impressions really are everything. A southern belle with a Chinese name or an action heroine named Gertrude will seem out of place unless the author takes the time to explain why the character has an atypical name for the setting. An alien or magical being with a complex name will become a distraction to a reader unless, like Samantha, the character is given a nickname. If a reader finds a character’s name to be a distraction each time they encounter the it, either because they wonder where the name came from or skip over it because they can’t pronounce it, there is a good possibility they will enjoy the book less.

A lot of thought went into selecting the name for our publishing company. I wanted a name that was unique (so it would be remembered) yet sophisticated – Bootlegged Whipped Cream Press would have certainly been unique, but would people have taken it seriously? At the time, I also wanted to focus on publishing social and political commentary. Divertir is French for “to amuse and entertain,” so it was a perfect fit. Even as we moved away from our original plans by publishing new-author fiction, because our goal is still to produce books that amuse, entertain, inform, and maybe even inspire, the name is still a good fit.

This is not to say you can’t have some fun with character names. Sarah can become Sadie as she starts a new adventure in life (or death), and the self-important Jonathan can become irritated when your sympathetic antagonist calls him Johnny as a way of emphasizing the fact that Jonathan has a bit of an ego. But the names of your characters deserve as much thought as the names of your own children, because they are your children and the names you give them will follow them forever – even when they decide to spell them differently.

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Postage Due…

This week, I could continue to rant about the nasty emails we sometimes get in response to rejection letters, like the one yesterday that suggested the author should put a part of his anatomy up a part of mine because I failed to see his genius (I wish I was making this up). Instead I want to rant about something else: the Post Office. Our submissions guidelines state that we only accept electronic submissions, but a few times a week we receive queries to the P.O. Box. Because I understand that authors do not always get our contact information from our website, I do try to answer queries we receive via the mail. That is, unless they come postage due…

Truth be told, I suspect this is usually not an author’s fault. The woman at our post office weighs every package that comes in, even the ones where the postage has been printed by another branch. If the package is even slightly overweight, I get a yellow slip telling me I can rescue the package for a small fee. I once asked, given the postage had been printed by another branch (and thus the package must have been weighed), whether the package was really overweight. I watched the package as the woman dropped it on the scale from eight inches in the air. It bounced twice before settling on the scale, which promptly displayed the package was two-tenths of an ounce overweight. Busted…

It has gotten to the point that I receive so much mail postage due to the P.O. Box that I have taken to having it returned to the sender. I’m hoping that enough people will complain that there was, in fact, enough postage on the envelope that eventually the Post Master will do something about it.

This is one of the reasons we recommend electronic submissions. Think for a moment what needs to happen if a query is sent using the US Mail. First, you need to make sure there is enough postage on the envelope so that it won’t come postage due. Let’s say that, for an average query, the cost is around $3.00 for postage (I’ve had some full manuscripts come with as much as $8.00 of postage on them). I often send queries to anywhere between 2-5 people for review. Thus, I need to have 2-5 copies of the query photocopied and then incur the additional $3.00 per package to send them out for review. Thus, just for me to review your query is going to cost all parties concerned $10-$20. I suppose I could scan the query and create a PDF to mail out for review, but that takes time which could be spent on other things.

I often get asked what authors can do to stand out during the query process. This is unfortunately one place where authors stand out in the wrong way. When I receive a query that requires a large amount of handling to send it out for review, the truth is that I’m much more critical of that query because of the cost both in time and money. When I receive a query that is a scanned PDF of a typewritten manuscript, the first thought that goes through my head is “transcription costs.” The best way to make a good first impression is to follow our submissions guidelines and send your query electronically as an RTF file. If nothing else, you’ll be assured it won’t be returned postage due…

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