Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rejections 13, 14, and 15

The last two months since the Book Expo have really gone by in a blur. The writing publishing process continues to amaze and educate me. I have commented in previous blogs that seeking out and being rejected by agents forces a writer to truly evaluate the readiness of their project. I have believed my book to be "finished" at least five times over the past two years only to learn that this could not be farther from the truth.

A few people have read my book during it's various phases of completion. The last two were Anita Diggs, a manuscript editor, and my good friend - fellow scribe Stephanie Casher. Anita reviewed the book in May and Stephanie reviewed it in June. I have already commented on Anita's review in a prior blog. In this blog I wanted to comment on Stephanie's review and how much each review in their own ways have opened my eyes to the issues in my story and the possibilities that have opened.

Stephanie, in addition to reading the book, also took it upon herself to edit as well (she's the best!). She really went above and beyond the call of duty and I am forever in her debt. What Stephanie's and Anita's reviews have in common is regarding the antagonist of my story. Both of them mention the fact that his actions throughout the story were difficult to believe.

As the writer, I really had a hard time hearing this critique because I felt my villain was perfectly crafted, 3 dimensional, and despicable. Then I realized that they agreed with me. The problem was motivational. The reader didn't buy his motivations.

During the writer's conference, I had the opportunity to attend three workshops that have helped me understand this issue much better - Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can't Put Down, and Revising a Novel They Can't Put Down.

In Fire in Fiction, superagent Donald Maas discussed overcoming reader barriers in science-based or supernatural thrillers. He mentioned the need for the writer to overcome reader resistance in a slow, sure, patient manner. He also described strategies to make settings "live" through the characters who inhabit them. Then he discussed "voice". Writer's hear this all the time, how an author has a unique voice. Voice is nothing more than how you speak through your characters. Do you use short punchy sentences, long compound sentences, or a combination of the two. Does this voice work with the type of story you are telling?

Donald Maas was one of my early rejections and he rejected the novel at that time because he didn't get into my characters and he thought my sentences were too long. My voice didn't match the tone of a page-turning thriller.

In PNTCPD, writer James Scott Bell described the LOCK system for plotting a novel.

O - Objective
C - Confrontation
K - Knock-Out

He had a lot of useful advice such as, "A plot is two dogs and one bone." I love that! He described the three types of lead characters: The positive lead (hero), the negative lead (attractive through power), and the anti-hero (has his own moral code). His number 1 rule for lead characters is NO WIMPS!

In terms of OBJECTIVE, the lead must want something badly, something that is essential to his/her well being. There are 2 kinds of objectives - to get something or to get away from something.

Confrontation drives the plot and here is where we get into what I needed to learn. The opposition character has to be stronger than the lead and three dimensional, meaning, justified in their actions and sympathetic (at least to themselves). He also speaks of confrontation as the adhesive of the story which explains why these two opponents must fight until the end.

The knock-out is the big finish and there are 5 types: The lead wins, the lead loses, the lead wins but loses, the lead loses but wins, or an ambiguous ending.

My takeaway from James linked to Anita and Stephanie's critiques. I needed to amp up my confrontation!

In RNTCPD, James described the types of problems writers encounter as they revise their stories. You've got the slow opening, flat lead, or weak opposition. Here I encountered that my novel suffered from slow opening.

With each rejection, my novel gets stronger and better. I will leave you with my very first query letter for my novel written back in 2006 and my current query letter. You tell me which book you want to read!

Query 2006:

“You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” Malcolm X once said this about America and this insight forms the backbone of my novel One Blood. This novel was written in the tradition of such seminal polarizing works as Native Son, Invisible Man, and Beloved. Although we have progressed as a society since Malcolm X spoke and Wright, Ellison, and Morrison wrote their master works; racism, lies, greed, and murder still persist in this country. America is a broken home, disrupted by division and paralyzed by ignorance. America needs to wake up and move from denial to acceptance to solutions. Publishing my novel One Blood is a definite part of that solution. But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. One Blood (163,000 words) tastes like a well paced supernatural suspense novel that will appeal to fans of contemporary bestselling authors like Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and Tananarive Due because it contains the best elements of suspense, mystery, horror, and drama.

With its rich tapestry, complex history, and natural vulnerability (as evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), the tragically beautiful state of Louisiana forms the perfect backdrop for this suspenseful tale of Revenge, Revelation and Revolution. It has been said that life often presents us with a choice of evils, rather than of goods. One Blood presents the reader with two men who are products of two very different environments. The first man is an impoverished African-American orphan turned gang banger (Lincoln Baker) sent to prison for life without parole at the age of seventeen after a brutal gang war dubbed The Simmons Park Massacre in which his best friend Kristopher, son of a racist Louisiana Senator, is killed in the crossfire. Over the course of the next ten years locked up inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Lincoln discovers a family he never knew existed and learns that one man is responsible for his father’s death, his mother’s exile, and all of his life’s suffering—the ex-Senator and now current Governor of Louisiana (Randy Richard). Randy Richard has yet to overcome two significant tragedies. In addition to his only son’s murder at the hands of gangs, his father, a Grand Wizard of Louisiana’s most violent chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, was brutally murdered by a group of black militants. Ten years after his son’s violent demise, his teenage daughter is kidnapped and the ransom calls for the immediate release of Lincoln Baker. On the morning of Lincoln’s release, an explosive cocktail of racism, vengeance, serendipity, fate, and truth detonates throughout Louisiana. The tremors are devastating for a diverse cast of characters all linked by the Simmons Park Massacre. When the dust settles, the ending is as unexpected as it is illuminating.

Growing up in Lake Charles, LA, I had the opportunity to witness former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke’s meteoric rise to political power and observe how he almost became Governor. I always wondered what would have happened had he won the office, and Bad Blood is in large part a result of my curiosity. It allowed me to examine and combine American/Louisiana history, politics, prison, and psychology into a blender and produce a novel that is sure to provoke controversy, discussion, and even a bit of fear. I certainly appreciate your time and eagerly welcome your expert opinion, or a request to submit my entire manuscript.

Sincerely yours,

Qwantu Amaru

Query 2008:

The tale of the Curse of the Weeping Cypress has been preserved for over two hundred years – passed down through the generations. It all began in 1802. Luc Lafitte, the founder of Lake City, LA, lynched a slave – Isaac, who impregnated his daughter Melinda. But, Isaac was Luc`s illegitimate son. Before hanging to his death, Isaac cursed his father and all future generations of Lafitte`s who live on their forbearers land. Seven days after Issac’s death, Luc Lafitte kills himself at the base of the same tree where Isaac was hung – The Weeping Cypress.

Four generations later, Randy Lafitte goes to a fortune teller on his eighteenth birthday. The psychic tells him he has seven days to live unless he sacrifices a member of his own family. Seven days later, Randy`s father Joseph, an oil tycoon and covert grand wizard of the KKK, is lynched in New Orleans. Believing the curse to be broken, Randy takes over his father’s empire, starts a family of his own and begins his ascension into Louisiana politics.

But the curse lives on to perturb Randy`s son, Kristopher. Kristopher sacrifices his own life seven days after turning eighteen. He dies in the middle of gang crossfire, killed at the hands of his only black friend – Lincoln Baker.

Ten years after Kristopher’s death, Lincoln, now a lifer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, decides to take his final crack at freedom by orchestrating the kidnapping of Randy Lafitte`s teenage daughter in order to force a pardon. When Randy, (in his second term as Louisiana`s Governor), learns his daughter, Karen, has been kidnapped (and on her eighteenth birthday no less), he understands the only way to save Karen from the curse is to take his own life in seven days. Then Randy discovers that Lincoln is more than his son`s killer – he is actually Randy`s illegitimate son – his blood. If Lincoln dies on the seventh day, both he and Karen will live.

Seven days after Karen’s kidnapping an explosive cocktail of hatred, vengeance, serendipity, fate, truth, and redemption detonates throughout Louisiana. Randy will stop at nothing to end Lincoln’s life before day’s end, not realizing that Lincoln is the only person who can end the curse for good.

"Oh, great reviews are the worst. They mislead you more than the bad ones, because they only fuel your ego. Then you only want another one, like potato chips or something, and the best thing you get is fat and bloated. I'd rather just refuse, thanks."

-Chazz Palminteri

Friday, July 11, 2008

Back in the Game - Part 3 of 3

After the Writer`s conference it was time for me to relax. So I went to the Lakers game six playoff game versus the Spurs (they won). I took a trip to Malibu and ate a bucket of seafood on the beach. I partied with my best friend Steve. Good times were had by all.

On Sunday morning I boarded a plane to Charlotte, NC. My parents live in South Carolina and I had planned a surprise visit. Needless to say my folks were thrilled. My Mom made my favorite foods - cabbage and sausage, cornbread, and potato salad. We went to the movies to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (great movie!). The best part of my visit happened on Tuesday night, June 3rd, 2008.

As my parents and I watched, Barack Obama effectively clinched the democratic presidential nomination. It was an emotional moment. My parents had lived through the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the beginnings of affirmative action, and the ascension of Barack Obama. As I watched Obama's acceptance speech, I was filled with pride and a bit of fear as well. Any body who has seen the zeitgeist ( knows why I might be scared for Barack. But we focused on the positive. The amazing. The inprobable. The inevitable. Change.

I shared a poem I had written on the subject of Barack with my folks:


The restless are resting less
Because there is less assurance
Yet increased uncertainty
These are dark days
But sun rays travel light years to illuminate the way
So who are we to lie idling by
Letting time pass us by
What will it take to make us try
Harder tomorrow than we did today
Will it take more calamities
More Darfur's
More slain Iraqui's and Afghani's
Higher death counts of our troops
Higher amounts of toxins in our food
In our air
Why don't we care about any of these things?
Why do we put so much value on diamond rings
While everyday we divorce from nature
Is it our basic nature to destroy
Or can we employ our strengths to create
What are we waiting for
We don't have to be restless anymore
Just like we don't need wings to soar
We just need to sweat
We need to get behind a common cause
If we can applaud our sports teams
Can we also collectively dream
Of a world community
Where only necessary resources are divided
Can we decide it's time to stop laying blame
Shouldn't we be so ashamed of the state of our home
That we hone in on each problem
And then take the necessary actions to solve them
This moment is not about the them's and they's
Nor is it about the concerns that mask our way
It's about making history
And to make history we have to create a new majority
A new society built on the solid bricks of change
A new golden age where people are no longer afraid
A world where games are not played with people's lives
A place where survival does not rival education
A nation of people chasing self actualization
Now is not the time for patience
Now is the time of freedom
Now is the time to get the job done
Now is the time for one nation
Now is the moment we've waited for a lifetime
But we can't allow anymore time to slip away
We must embrace positive change for our children's sake
Let us take on this new challenge
Let us all join hands
We must change the world
And together, yes we can

The next morning I boarded a plane from Charlotte to Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee holds a very special place in my heart. I spent five wonderful years there during college and grad school. There I became a man. There I developed into an accomplished spoken word artist. There I grew up.

I was back in town after a four year hiatus to attend the 16th Annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam being hosted by my very own Black on Black Rhyme family. Black on black rhyme is a poetry collective that has been going strong since 1998.

Black On Black Rhyme consists of over 35 dynamic poets, lyricists, songwriters, DJs and artists. Much like a large family, members maintain an ever open line of communication with one another which is essential to the maintenance of their creative essence and constant exchange of energies. Being in a room full of these poet artists has been described as "electric", as each one is as diverse as the many origins they hail from. From as far away as Nigeria, West Africa, to exotic Trinidad on the Caribbean Islands, to the busy streets of Washinton DC, New York City, Minneapolis, Minnesota and of course, “the Dirty South”, Florida. Each and every one of these poet artists bring their own unique style and flavor, and while some members hold down Federal Government positions, others are full-time college students, one is even a college professor, but all are Family.

The Southern Fried Poetry Slam is the premier showcase for poets from all over looking for their entry pass to the National Poetry slam. More than 200 poets and 40teams embarked to Tallahassee looking for fellowship and a shot at glory.
In both the early rounds and the final competition, individual poets and teams squared off to compete. The audience acted as judge. I was participating in the slam as a volunteer although I did get to spit one poem.

A slam is part spoken-word performance, part storytelling session, part improvisational theater and part motivational speech. Poets competing in the Southern Fried Poetry Slam brought their best. There were other exciting events going on as well: a youth slam, a haiku slam, a beauty vs. brawn competition, an erotica open mic, among many.

I was very proud of my poetry troupe for the organization of the event. Everything went off without a hitch and the poetry was off the chain. In the end the team competition was won by The Minoriteam from Tampa. The indie champ was Big Mike (he was original and hilarious!)

On Saturday afternoon, I boarded yet another plane and headed back to Sao Paulo. I was juiced like I had been pumped full of Growth Hormone. And in a way I had been. My mind had grown in different directions on this trip. I had been surrounded by passionate artists, some of whom live off of spoken word. I had been reinfected by their spirit!

As I closed my eyes for some well-deserved shut-eye, I knew that this trip had changed me for the better! I had traveled from coast to coast and had seen some of the best people that America has to offer. God, I miss home...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Back in the Game - Part 2 of 3

It was deja vu, all over again...

I woke up in my Westin Heavenly Bed™ at around quarter of 8 am. I usually take at least four or five snooze buttons to emerge from slumber, but not on this day. On this day I bound from the bed, ran through the shower, and was dressed in minutes - the euphoria never leaving me.

See I was headed to the Book Expo America writer's conference and I was ready to face the fifty or so agents who had "volunteered" to participate in the annual pitch slam.

A pitch slam is where the author has exactly three minutes to convey the key elements of their story, tell a bit about themselves and answer any questions the agent may have - all in the hopes of getting the green light to contact them post event. Why is this so important? Well in previous blogs I have detailed just how difficult the business of publishing can be. Being a literary agent is like being bombarded by junkmail - loads and loads of junk mail that you are obligated to sift through - all in the hopes that you may have won the Publisher's Clearinghouse.

Participating in a pitch slam is like the junk mailer (writer) getting face to face time with you (agent). The likelyhood of you (agent) throwing said piece of mail out diminishes once you have seen the living breathing organism (writer) that put their blood sweat and tears into said mailing. Or so you might think.

The one thing I have learned so far throughout this whole process, is that literary agents are tough. They don't really give a damn about throwing away junk mail - be it in person - through e-mail - or snail mail. They are ancient gunslingers whose bullets are NO's, blowing holes through the hopes and dreams of writers like myself.

So obviously as a writer you have to really prepare for this once a year opportunity to get shot down to your face.

How did I prepare, you ask? Well, having already participated in the 2007 pitch slam in NY gave me a heads up on the competition, plus I had great support from fellow writer-in-arms Stephanie Casher ( - read her blog!). It's really all about putting your mind in a positive space and being open to hearing criticsm.

In 2007 I pitched 5 agents and 4 of the 5 requested pages from me (The DREAM). Then those 4 proceeded to summarily reject my work for every reason from my sentences being too long, to lack of identification with the characters, to no explanation whatsoever. And I was excited about the opportunity to relive this, you ask? Am I mad?

No. Yes. Maybe.

Look, I would rather take the chance at being shot down to my face, once a year, than to suffer through mailing query after query to agents who don't know me from Adam. At least live I could make the agent feel my energy and zeal and attempt to make some sort of connection. But I still felt like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happiness - working up my client list.

So after drinking my grande chai latte from Starbucks in the convention center atrium, I ascended the escalator into WRITER WORLD.

Let me be the first to tell you - writer's are some interesting folks. Most of us stick out like a porcupine's thorns. The caffeine induced lively eyes and jitters. The fashion sense of a color blind private eye. Computer screen induced ocular corrective devices. The disturbing habit of conversing with the people in your head. You've seen us. We are the fiction writers.

Then there are those perfectly coifed, gym toned, well-dressed (and even more well spoken), confidence oozing individuals who are of the non-fiction sect - of the self help variety.

Throw us into a giant conference room together with six hours and counting until the pitch slam and you could tranquilize North Korea with all the anxiety medication working that room.

I had the opporunity to participate in a number of interesting workshops during the day as well with titles like: Fire in Fiction, Plotting a Novel They Can't Put Down, Revising Said Novel, and the keynote speech on the elements of all great stories. It can't be said enough that writer's must do two things to be successful. They must read incessantly and they must have a relentless dedication to improving their craft. I will provide some of the tips I learned in another blog, but I definitely got something out of the workshops.

So after a morning workshops, an excellent plated lunch (with cheescake for dessert!), and one workshop in the afternoon, it was finally time for the pitch slam.

Here's how it works. Each writer received a conference booklet upon registration. Within this booklet, amongst other useful information, was a list of each agent, their background, and their respective interests - fiction, non-fiction, and/or screenplays. With more than 50 agents in attendance, it was up to the writer to sift through the list and prioritize the 5 or 6 agents who represented the writer's respective genres. Hopefully the writer also did some research prior to the conference - googled each agent, read their blogs, tried to find out their track record - in order to be even more precise in agent selection.

I cannot stress this point enough. As a writer, choosing your agent is like choosing a midwife. Would you trust just anyone to shepherd your baby into the world?

So after providing the ground rules, the meeting organizer provided a list of room numbers and names of each agent. Up until this point, none of the writers had any idea where their respective agent choices would be located, so imagine 400 so coffee crazed scribes trying to get their hands on that list.

To make a long story just a little bit longer, I managed to pitch 7 agents during the 2 hours alotted for the pitch slam. All 7 agents requested pages (The DREAM!). I was exhausted and elated. Stephanie did very well also.

We went to this place to celebrate. I drank a cayenne pepper laced martini that nearly burnt my mouth off. The Celtics beat the Pistons. All was right with the world.

Little did I know that a month later I would be re-writing my entire novel...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Back in the Game - Part 1 of 3

In the words of Kanye West, "Feels good to be home, Baby!"

I recently embarked on a whirlwind two week trip back to the US. It's amazing how your life can gain perspective in such a short window of time, but when you surround yourself with people who love and challenge you, growth can only come as a result of your interactions. The trip began with a 16 hour flight from Sao Paulo to L.A. by way of Houston.

I landed around 10 a.m. at LAX and proceeded to Avis where I learned I would be receiving an upgrade to a Cadillac CTS.

So here's how I was rolling in the city of angels, looking like a big dog, feeling like I had already arrived!

I used Starwood points to reserve a room for two days at the Westin Pasadena - nice place.

Upon checking in, I immediately began running through my volumes of poetry, trying to decide which poem I would rip later that evening at Da Poetri Lounge in Hollywood. I have been performing spoken word poetry since 2001 when I joined the black on black rhyme family in Tallahassee, FL, while in college. After deciding on an older piece of mine, entitled Workshit, I headed to lunch with one of my best friends in the world. He worked right down the street from my hotel, so I dropped by his job and scooped him up.

After reconnecting and making plans to attend the Lakers vs. Spurs game six matchup later in the week, I finally was able to get some z's.

I awoke some four hours later feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. I got in the CTS and put my location into the GPS (I love those by the way!) and headed out.

My good friend and fellow Kindred spirit in writing, Stephanie Casher met me at the venue and we headed in.

Here's how it works: if you are a poet and want to get your chance to shine, you have to get your name on the list - usually a wrinkled ripped out notebook page. I was the last person in line, so it was not looking good. The last time I was in L.A., a few months ago, I missed the list, but luckily got to perform anyway. This time I got my name down and then the waiting began.

The poets brought their A-game that night. I thoroughly enjoyed most of what I heard, especially Marc Marcel's piece about whether Jesus would even be a Christian were he alive today. Just brilliant stuff.

I went up after the intermission and did my thing. Here's the poem for the curious:

work shit

my brains fried
tired of this computer screen
this working waking dream makes me want to scream
i need a new screen saver
better yet a screen savior
white collar labor is my excuse for bad behavior
can’t see the forest for the trees
i have no clue why the caged bird sings
maybe he just likes his job
but i don’t like mine
will this day ever end
i can’t even fake a grin when these silly ass corporate cretins
come knocking on my office door
they probably think i’m a bore
but to me there’s just so much more to live for
than working forty or ninety hours a week
putting money down some white man’s jeans
i sometimes daydream that one day
i’ll be like that white man
driving a white luxury sedan
to a beach with white sands
demanding to speak to the white manager of the resort
because i need extra white towels
to wipe my ass with
i need to lay down on a great white king size bed
and wear white satin sheets on my head
while drinking white star champagne
i forget about my black pain and my black name
cuz i’m sinking my white fangs
into this white american pie
every day we got people tryin and dyin to live like this
because where i come from
my people live in slum-like conditions
and some like the conditions they live in
because a concrete jungle is still better than living in prison
isn’t it
interesting what people will put up with
things like racism and stereotypes
they gripe and complain but remain relatively calm
you’d probably need a bomb to light a fire under their asses
but then you’d just blow them off
like we do everyday
such as weather or gunshots or war
good god what are we fighting for
blacks don’t even fight for our own rights anymore
i thought we gave that up in the sixties like meat for lent
what is the relevance of my last statement
to the whole of this master work
we used to do our massas work
and now i’ve got my masters and i still work for the massa
ain’t shit changed
but now there’s more of it down the drain
clogging up the pipes
and ain’t enough drano in the world to break through it
bit by bit sanity’s slipping away
like sand in the ocean’s hand getting dragged out to sea
finally seeing that there’s nothing more to see
nothing more to believe in anymore
the poor are gonna die poor
and the rich are gonna choke to death on bits of caviar
because ain’t no heimleck for the homeless
and economic desperation got us all hopeless
pressed to make a dollar wherever and however we can
that’s why i’m stuck in this damn dead end job
that’s why niggas grab the gat and try to rob somebody
all for the love of money
and because i love makin money
and i got bills and shit
i shut up smile and take it
until it’s time to hit the showers and wash off the grime and dirt
from another miserable day at work
can’t wait to take off this soiled white collar shirt and monkey suit
in my pursuit of this white american fantasy
that’s giving me ulcers and hemorrhoids
but still not filling the void
there’s got to be more than this
just got to be something better than this

The audience was very receptive and I left the stage with the boyant feeling I always get after performing. Public speakig for me is torture before I speak and heaven while I'm doing it. A very interesting confluence of emotions.

So I finished up and we rolled out. I headed back to Pasadena to get some Z's because the next day was the Book Expo America wiriter's conference starting bright and early at 8:30 am...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Execution Can Always Improve

In the last entry, I mentioned that I was having a professional manuscript editor take a crack at my novel. After researching the editor in question and even having an interesting online run-in with her on her blog, I decided that she had the appropriate level of frankness to give it to me straight. What is that old addage, be careful what you wish for? I'm updating it to be careful what you pay for. So after paying her $2 per page and waiting five weeks, I finally have my feedback.

Needless to say, I am not overjoyed. I respect most of her comments regarding story flow and flashbacks (she is not a fan of these devices). What I strongly disagree with was the fact that she just didn't get it. But I think the fault may lie in the execution of the story.

She constantly referred to my story as a crime novel, when it is most definitely a supernatural suspense novel. I think the confusion began there and carried through. She kept wanting the book to be one thing that it refuses to be. I can understand that. But calling One Blood a crime novel is like calling Beloved a historical fiction novel. The genre cannot possibly encompass the size of this idea. Which is why I take pains to make the supernatural elements quite obvious in the context of the story. Which she takes pains to tell me to cut out from the fabric of the story.

So I am at an empass. She is the industry insider, and here I am, on the outside. Should I aquiesce, take her feedback to heart, and re-write the story? Or should I stick to my guns, take her more mechanistic comments, and leave the soul of the story intact?

One thing is clear, the whole Quentin Tarantino flashback/flashforward thing only works in movies. It just kills me that I have to dress up like everyone else to get into the party. But, such is life.

In any event, I am pleased with my decision to have a professional look over my work. It reaffirms the journey I still have ahead. But I'm not as far off as this individual may think. The elements of a great story are all there (maybe not in the ideal chronology), but there. I just need the right brave individual to give One Blood a real shot.

"I wrote for twelve years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn't all that important to me."

- Lisa Alther

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Rejections #11 and 12

I'm feeling quite hopeful although I received rejection number 12 today. The agent in question mentioned that I had a deft hand and that my story definitely had publishable potential. Her issue was having the time to dedicate to a new client. In the future though, I still expect to work with this agent, if not on this project, there are so many others.

Moments like these I turn to my booklist. I currently have 17 novels I need to complete, 6 screenplays, 1 poetry book, and 7 or so non-fiction books. This ever expanding list reminds me that I am meant to do this. I'm just waiting for someone to crack open that door an inch, then I'm going to throw it open. The publishing industry isn't ready for Qwantu Amaru yet, but ready or not, here I come!

I made a decision recently to have my manuscript evaluated by Anita Diggs ( Anita has worked as a book editor for Random House, Time Warner Trade Publishing and Thunder’s Mouth Press. This was a major step for me as my entire manuscript has only been reviewed in its entirety by one other industry professional in 2006. I eagerly await her feedback on how I can sharpen the story even more.

For the time being, I'm focused on completing my second novel. It feels good to be writing again, not worried about the fate of One Blood. I will be atending the Book Expo America conference at the end of this month. Once there, I will soak up tips, network, and pitch agents. My time is coming and I am hungrier than ever.

"Dear to us are those who love us. . . but dearer are those who reject us as unworthy, for they add another life; they build a heaven before us whereof we had not dreamed, and thereby supply to us new powers out of the recesses of the spirit . . ."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rejections 8, 9, and 10

Well, I have finally hit the double digit rejection mark for One Blood, but I remain undeterred. This week I am going to post some advice from fellow writer, Sandra Lee Gould Ford,(pick up her book Faraday`s Popcorn Factory). She has been an inspiration and constant source of encouragement over the last few years.

There are some shady literary agents out there. Agents who are looking to take advantage of authors desperate to get published. Agents who will take your money, sell you a dream, and then hang you out to dry. I queried one such agent this week and received the following reply:

Dear Writer

Thank you for your email submission to BigScore Productions.

Due to the thousands of submissions we receive each year, your submission (a complete proposal) will now only be reviewed if you pay a small $50 Processing Fee. Otherwise your email will be unread and deleted.

Just as with almost all editors and agents today, BigScore does not have time to give careful consideration to unsolicited manuscripts. These have increased dramatically with the advent of the internet, the tightening of publishers’ lists, and the necessity of having to have an agent. Even many published writers are now faced with having to find representation to get their work seen.

We actively consider manuscripts that are referred to us by our own authors and editors we work with. This always leaves us wondering what potential bestsellers we may be missing in the many unsolicited manuscripts we receive. So we decided the best option would be to give you the writer the chance to know your work is being looked at.

The BigScore submission review “will not” be a manuscript critique. We will only respond with a short paragraph on why we want to further consider your work, at no additional cost to you, or why we are passing on your work. If we do accept you for representation, your work will be submitted to the best publishers. Please go to and learn about our successes if you have not done so already.

BigScore is not interested in looking at poetry, erotica, children’s books, or movie scripts.

To continue on with the $50 Processing Fee:

Put “$50 Processing Fee” in the in the subject line of a new email, your “email address” and “name of your work” in the body of the email, and send to
You will then receive an invoice from PayPal requesting payment with a major credit card.
Once payment is received we will ask you to resend your work (your complete proposal, not just an email query).

David A. Robie, Agent

BigScore Productions

So I sent this to Aunt Sandra and here was her reply:


I had some dealings with BigScore several years ago. Beyond the fact that quality agents never charge reading fees, my experience with BS leads me to advise absolute avoidance. There are web sites that assess agents for integrity and professionalism. When I checked, BS was not listed favorably. While not predatory, I found BS under handed and manipulative.

In your search for an agent, start with those who represent books like yours that were written by successful and respected authors. Take your time. Conduct a quality search. Check the web site for the American Association of Authors Representatives. Even their membership can do unethical things, but at least you can report member agent mis-behavior. BS, as I knew them, could not hope to join.

I'm surprised BS is still in business...

"Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work."
-James Lee Burke

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rejections # 6 and 7

E-mail queries are the best. Seriously. Under normal circumstances it might have taken me 3 times as long to collect as many NO's. But even well established writers like Jodi Piccoult and Stephen King were rejected numerous times before getting the call up into the big leagues. Not that I'm comparing myself to writers of their caliber, just using them for inspiration. Like how in high school, my friends and me of the end of the bench posse on the high school basketball team took solace in the fact that even Michael Jordan had been cut. I'm not sweating it.

This post is really all about passing on some good writerly advice passed on to me blog hand from super agent Anita Diggs. It's about story and character building and I'm passing it on because it is a good solid gut check.

Reposted from (2/16/08 post)

Here is a very simple formula that may help you in the future. Plan your novel before you start writng it. The plan should include the following:

1. Who is your main character?

2. What does your main character want? (World peace? Romance with a special coworker? A three bedroom duplex in a brownstone?)

3. Why can't your main character have it? (Not enough power? Too timid to ask for a date? Not enough money for the duplex?)

4. List eight things that your main character will do in the novel to get what he wants.

5. List seven ways that your main character gets knocked down while attempting to get what he wants.

6. The eighth attempt is the resolution of the novel. He either gets it or he doesn't but the journey has changed him along the way. He is not the same person as described in Step # 1.

Numbers four and five are what makes for great reading. It is STORY. Number six is the climax. If you've done a good job with numbers four and five, the reader is still anxiously turning the pages. Otherwise, don't worry about number six because the reader closed the book a long time ago.

As an agent, I should know the answers to Numbers 1-3 by the time I've finished your 25 page sample. I should know the answers to Numbers 1-6 by the time I've read your synopsis.

Pick up Gone With The Wind, The Lovely Bones, The Devil Wears Prada, The Godfather or Waiting to Exhale and read the first 25 pages. Then look at this formula again.

Thanks Anita...

“There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one's maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.”

-Buck Rodgers

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Rejections # 4 and 5

When I started writing my novel One Blood nearly 8 years ago, I had no idea how harrowing the process of publishing could be. But you will never hear me criticize this process because it really does force you to become a better writer.

Here's how this publishing business works. You write your novel and you want the world to read it, right? Well, first off you have to make sure it is as polished as absolutely possible. By polished, I mean that you have to clear up all the spelling, grammatical and syntax errors in your text and get rid of all the elements that take away from the action of the story. Your first revision should focus on these unnecessary elements and your second should focus on the grammatical, spelling, and syntax. I would also recommend a 3rd revision after you have let your group of insiders read over your text and throw stones at you.

So you've edited and revised until your product is ready for prime time? Now it's time to craft your query letter. The query letter is basically a 1 to 2 page "pitch" for your novel that includes a brief description of the story and characters, a description of you the author, and any publshing history you may have. Why is this letter important? Because in order to obtain representation in the form of a literary agent, you have to first convince them that your project is worth investigating. Literary agents are the brokers between you and your potential editor/publishing house. Most publishers do not accept unagented manuscripts, so either you self-publish, or you go through this process.

The literary agent receives anywhere from 150-200 queries per week from authors all of all genres. That's why it is important to revise your query letter for maximum impact. The idea is to hook the agent with your first paragraph. If they are interested, they will request a synopsis, pages of your manuscript, or even the whole thing. The synopsis is usually no more than 5 pages long and is basically an outline of your story, including the ending. What they will be looking for as they read your synopsis and novel is a fresh voice, pacing, polish, and payoff. They want to know that your book will sell because they don't get paid until you do.

So you wrote the novel, completed the query and synopsis, and convinced a literary agent to represent you. What now? Well now comes the really fun part. Your agent must find and convince an editor that your book is THE BOOK to buy and you are the next coming of Stephen King. And what are you doing during this process? Well hopefully you are writing your next novel and not bugging your agent as to when he or she will be hearing back from the editors. Editors are looking for the same things that the agents are, but they are more focused on the saleabilty factor of your novel. Why should an editor be concerned with saleability? Because the are going to have to sell your novel to the marketing and sales department, before your novel ever sees the light of day.

So your agent convinced an editor to read the manuscript and the editor loved it! That's great. Now, the editor will have to defend your novel in a meeting with other editors defending their projects and marketing and sales leaders challenging them every step of the way. All the editors have to agree on the projects for your novel to get pushed forward. And sales and marketing can reject the book at any time after that.

If sales and marketing are with you, then your book is put in the publishing rotation. The publishing industry is usually a year and a half ahead of you, so if for instance, the publisher purchases your book in March of 2008, your book probably won't see a Barnes and Nobles shelf until September of 2009, if that soon.

So now you understand that the key to this whole process is you having the most complete package possible to present to your prospective literary agent. If they don't think it is polished enough, or sellable, or original enough, they won't represent you. Publishers are looking for sure things. There still exists some risk taking (The Kite Runner for example) but more often than not, they are looking for guarantees.

And why is that, you ask? Because in the publishing model there is a certain level of shared risk between the publishing house and book sellers. Publishers accept 100% of all unsold books. So if Random House (publisher) produces 10,000 copies of your book, and after 4 months, only 1,000 have sold, Random House will accept back 9,000 copies. And you only get 4 months to move units, because the publishing business operates in seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter). They've got to make room for the next installment of new books. You have got to ensure that your book sells.

Hence the rejection notices.

"We keep going back, stronger, not weaker, because we will not allow rejection to beat us down. It will only strengthen our resolve. To be successful there is no other way."
-Earl G. Graves