Category: opinion

Getting Your Toe in the Door

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”  ~Isaac Asimov

Recently I posted a review of a certain site I use to find freelance writing jobs.  One main concern of mine was the steep learning curve (that is, admittedly, not unique to the site) and that it is more geared toward established writers than a rookie like myself.  Today I looked past those concerns and submitted a few pitches in hopes of landing a new job.

Why would I do this?  The answer is simple, and for the same reason that writers trying to get published send out queries and manuscripts to anyone who will accept them.  Yes, it’s a game skewed in favor of the elite.  But how do you think the elite got there?

It’s a concept I’ve had to learn the hard way, especially now that I’m looking for a new job.  Finding a job in my area in my chosen field is more difficult than it should be.  Even though this is the right time of year to be looking (Season is about to kick in, when all of the tourists come to south Florida and throw money at hotels and restaurants), I reply to many job listings and receive few calls for interviews in return.  Some of the ads can be unreasonable (I need a cook with 4-7 years of experience, to work in my small kitchen and do his own dishes, for $8 an hour), some of the ads are minimal (Me need server!  You call now!), and some are downright fishy (I’m opening a bikini bar on the beach and need servers!  Send me pictures of you in a bikini to be considered!  Oh, you want the name of the bar?  Uhhh…)  Navigating the job listings is like walking through a minefield, except you kind of hope one of them will go off.  But that’s for another post.

Yes, I’m going to be turned down.  A lot.  I accept this.  And I’m not just talking about my recent pitches or my attempts to land a new job.  The same applies to the short story that’s currently making the rounds.  It will apply when I send a query letter for a finished novel.  But the thing to remember is this:  The worst answer you will hear is no.

I’ll repeat that:  The worst answer you can hear is “no.”  And odds are it won’t even be a rude “no.”  The rejections I’ve received for Swamp Gas so far were form letters, but politely worded.  Nobody is going to mock you for submitting your story.  (You wouldn’t want someone like that representing you anyway.)  You’ll get a thank you for submitting and an apology that it doesn’t fit.

Granted, you’ll also get a lot of non-answers.  Instead of a definitive answer you’ll just get silence.  Those sometimes sting more than hearing “no,” but keep in mind that, for whatever reason, this person couldn’t put up the effort to send a quick email or phone call.  Why go through the effort to stress over them?  Focus your attention on someone who appreciates your awesomeness.

It’s only by going through all of these “no” answers that I will achieve some forward motion, because the more exposure I get, the more likely I am to be noticed by someone who will say “yes.”

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Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

I’ve decided to return to my book-reading resolution.  While it’s unlikely that I’ll make my 50 book mark by the end of the year, that should not stop me.  Last night I crossed book #20 off of my list, and that’s a number to brag about.

But I also believe that books are not conquests.  You don’t read a book for the sake of reading it and moving on to the next one.  You read a book because you want to experience the story.  Maybe you want to peek inside a writer’s head for a while, maybe you want to escape what’s in your own mind temporarily.  The reasons for reading a book are just as personal as a writer’s reasons for writing one in the first place.

But that’s for another post.

Last night I finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews of his work, I’d hesitated picking up a book of his until now.  Why?  Maybe I’m just stubborn.  I don’t like people telling me what I should read.  Perhaps it’s an extension of the ideas mentioned above.  My reasons for reading are personal and someone else shouldn’t interfere with it.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad I finally read this one.

Be warned, there may be minor spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book.  I’ll keep them to a minimum, though.

My first impression upon reading this book and being introduced to all of the godly characters was “I need to do some research!  These gods are interesting.”  And that’s no joke.  I adored the writing style in this book too.  The book had a darker, more serious overtone which contrasted with scenes full of, well, Gods and dwarves and pixies.  Given the tone, I expected more death and bloodshed (and fewer resurrections) in the ending.  The loose ends did get tied up nice and neatly by the end, but the execution was well done.

Toward the middle of the story, Shadow is dumped in a small town called Lakeside presumably to lay low while Mr. Wednesday does much of the dirty work.  (While at first this seems like a cop-out, this subplot proves have more significance later on, so that was interesting.)  The townspeople take an immediate liking to Shadow, this stranger who wandered in on a bus the night before and has no idea how to live in sub-zero temperatures.  The police chief gives him a tour of the town and helps him buy things because he has nothing better to do.  I was left amazed, thinking, “Is this how small towns really operate out in the Midwest?  Maybe I’ve been living in the wrong towns all my life!”  But alas, even the frozen utopia of Lakeside had some dark secrets to it.

This is definitely a candidate for re-reading in the future.  There were quite a few intricate details that were missed by me in the first go through of the story.  I suppose it didn’t help that I took a break halfway through to focus on writing and editing.

The next book I’ll read will be Nadine Ducca’s Serving Time.

Review of Scripted.com

(Note:  This will be cross-posted to my other blog, The Bitter Baker.)

As previously mentioned, one of my resolutions for 2012 (and 2013) was to take on more freelance writing jobs.  I’ve had some success with this.  While I was able to find and produce some work, it was not exactly at the level that I was hoping for.

Being completely unfamiliar with the freelance world and unsure of where to start, I stumbled across Scripted.com and thought I found gold.  Unfortunately I found more hassle than I bargained for.

The site has an approval process in order to get in and I’m wary of privacy/trade secret regulations.  So I won’t be posting any screenshots to illustrate.  Can’t be too careful.

Bear in mind:  I have been a member for some time and the site has gone through major renovations since my induction.  But I made the cut with almost no experience under my belt, so their process isn’t that rigorous.  If I can get in, you likely can too.

Once you’re accepted as a writer, you’ll have access to the rest of the interface.  (There is a separate interface for buyers, who use a different part of the site to log in.  I have not worked with this side personally.)  There are further steps you need to take in order to start claiming jobs, including filling out a profile, posting a W-9 to the site for tax purposes (US writers only), and applying for certain “specialties” in order to accept jobs in a certain field.  The latter step will ensure that you will wait at least a few days before taking any jobs, due to the time your application takes to be accepted or denied.

This comes to my first complaint:  The turnaround time for the Scripted staff is slow.  Not just for applying to specialties.  Once you are able to take a job, finish it and submit it, you can count on waiting at least a week for the content manager to look at your piece and send it back for edits before the buyer even sees it.  On a few occasions in the past, staff members would email you directly to let you know about certain big jobs you could take.  I would respond immediately for more information, only to wait hours for the staff member to reply and tell me the position was already filled.

Let’s say you made it on the site, filled out your profile and gave them all the necessary information.  You even applied for a specialty in Publishing/Journalism and were accepted.  Awesome!  Now you can start taking jobs.  Nine times out of ten, unfortunately, you won’t see one available to you.  And when you do, it won’t be available for at least two days.  What gives?  According to Scripted this has to do with your “writing score,” an arbitrary number assigned to you based on the writing sample you gave when you applied and can be adjusted based on the quality of previous jobs you’ve filled.  Those with higher scores are given first priority at new jobs, and you’ll find that many of the jobs will go away quickly.  This makes it very difficult for new writers to move up – how are you going to improve your score if you can’t get any jobs?

Another option for new writers, and one where I’ve had most success, is with Pitches.  Buyers not looking for any specific topic will post a general idea in the Pitches section and writers will pitch their own ideas to write about.  If the buyer likes your pitch, congrats!  You’ve got yourself a job.  This is a popular avenue for blogs to find new content to post, because it will give them greater variety.  Unfortunately, the minimal information required of buyers to make posts in this section gives it a Craigslist feel, and the “ads” will be as vague and unprofessional as possible.  There seems to be very little quality control on part of the staff in this section, too.  More than once I’ve seen ads written in Korean, ads that said only “this is a joke/test, please don’t pitch to me,” or double postings.  (At the time of this writing, all of the aforementioned ads are still up.)  It wasn’t as much of a problem in the past, but now navigating this section feels like navigating through a minefield.

I’m not going to pretend that finding jobs in the freelance world is easy, especially for a beginner.  But these are obstacles that are unnecessary and could  be done away with on part of the staff, but for whatever reason this did not happen.

So while Scripted.com is a good idea in theory, the execution seems to be lacking and the quality slipping.  Because of the learning curve, I would not recommend this to beginning writers.  If you are more established and skilled in the field, this may be of more use to you.

Plot Dot Test

I found this in a recent post on the Adventures in Agentland blog.  A plot dot test is supposed to be a way of determining where in your plot action is lagging.

To start, you either need a finished manuscript or detailed outline.
It goes like this:  Take a sheet of paper, and all along the top write a line of numbers corresponding with the number of chapters in your story.  For each chapter, place a dot somewhere below that number.  The idea is to make a bar graph for your story, with the x axis being your story chapters and the y axis being the amount of action in a given chapter.

If my math-heavy explanation is too confusing, here is an example.  This is the plot line I created from Jasper City:


There were a few errors when graphing, hence the crossed-out dots.  Other than that, that’s how I feel the plot flows.

Judging by this graph there are areas where I could probably ramp up the action.  It does look rather slow, but looking at the outline itself I would disagree.  It’s an interesting test but I feel there is a wide margin of error to take into account as we’re measuring something that can’t really be quantified.

What do you think?

Name Changes and Regime Changes

It seems I’ve been struggling to find an identity for myself lately as a writer.  This may or may not stem from the fact that I have written or edited little in the past few months, a fact that I intend to remedy.  In the past I changed my pen name of choice from Proctor to Rhodes, but now the name Kay feels wrong to me, like something old and dusty in my childhood that I should have thrown away years ago and have little attachment to anyway.

A little explanation:  the first name I chose for myself was Kay Proctor.  Proctor came from the last name of a maternal ancestor of mine who first came to the US from England.  (It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had misread the handwriting in what exists of our family records, and the name should have been Procter.  But the name stuck by then, and I felt little reason to change it.  After a while Proctor/er felt stale and I abandoned it in favor of a name that had more excitement to it.  Kay derived from a nickname I insisted on calling myself when I was a moody teenager to set myself apart from the many Christines and Christinas I knew, and I’ve long outgrown the shunning of my birth name.

The name I have in mind now is closer to my legal name with the same surname of Rhodes.  I won’t be using it yet, at least not until I keep kicking at it and feel sure it will stick.

Now that that’s out of the way, there is something else I’ve been wanting to say in line with current events in popular entertainment.  I’m speaking of the show Game of Thrones.  These thoughts below WILL contain spoilers if you have not seen the latest episode “Rains of Castamere,” so proceed with caution.

I’d recently finished reading the books and knew about the Red Wedding before this episode aired.  I’m not too proud to admit that I was among the book-readers who sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation, smirking at what the reactions will be of those who would be blindsided by the event.  I was still shocked and shaking when the credits rolled, because even though I’d braced myself for what happened I was not prepared for the execution (har) of the carnage on-screen.

There are many in the camp, including book-readers who made their opinions clear long ago, that believes the Red Wedding was unnecessary brutality that came out of left field, and the Stark rebellion could have been put down by other means.  There are suspicions that George R. R. Martin made up the Red Wedding as an attempt to be and edgier author and kill off main characters as violently as possible.  I disagree.

Ever since Robb took another woman as his bride, there were subtle hints that foreshadowed a brutal confrontation between the Starks and Freys.  In the books, you see the beginning of the fallout before you meet Robb’s wife:  The Freys in the northern rebellion angrily pack up and leave, and Elmar Frey who once bragged about his bring promised to a princess now mourns the fact that the agreement is nullified.  “The Rains of Castamere” as a song is introduced prior to the Red Wedding, and in the previous episode Cersei explains to Margaery the true meaning of the song.

Though Cersei turns her recollection of the story into a thinly-veiled threat against Margaery, this is the major hint that something will go horribly wrong.  The song describes a family that rebels against the Lannisters and is promptly slaughtered.  Which noble family is in rebellion against the Lannisters at this very moment?  And what is the title of the following episode?

The last words Robb Stark heard were, “The Lannisters send their regards.”  (Actually “Jaime Lannister sends his regards,” according to the books.)

In later chapters of the books (and hinted in the preview for the season finale,) it is revealed that Tywin has been plotting out this wedding slaughter all along.  The Freys and Boltons became his allies who carried out the necessary tasks for Tywin’s plan to come into fruition.  The Freys felt wronged because Robb Stark went back on the terms of their alliance, and the Boltons were rivals of the Starks from the beginning.  When Roose saw an opportunity for advancement, he took it.

Conclusion:  The Red Wedding was not a crime of passion or a senseless act of violence, but instead a coldly calculated maneuver to remove one more rebellious king from the equation.  The violence following Lord Edmure’s wedding feast was necessary for the completion of Tywin’s plan.  Robb Stark was just unlucky enough to give the Freys a motive to switch sides.

It can be dangerous to become attached to fictional characters.  (This is especially true if you’re reading a book by someone like George R. R. Martin.)  In a well-executed story the protagonist is not the clean-cut example of good pitted against a great evil.  There is no such thing as a hero.  In our world, those assumed to be “good guys” can fail when pitted against a stronger enemy, or become the enemy in the end.  Fiction can benefit from this quality and feel more “real” to the reader, no matter how much it hurts.

On Libraries

Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s most recent post made me think of public libraries and their fate. It’s something that I’ve thought about before in passing but never gave any serious consideration.

I’ve accepted the very real possibility that one day, the library (as a physical building filled with books to be borrowed at will) can and will cease to exist. I consider this a very probable event that will happen at some point in the future, even if it isn’t in my lifetime or that of the generation after me, though I hesitate to consider anything in the future to be certain. If we could accurately predict such things, we would very likely be flying to Mars on summer vacations with our jetpacks as early as next year.

The real question is this: What will come after the public library? Thanks to the internet and piracy within, it’s reasonable to expect that any and every bit of media will be available for free in some deep, dark corner of the cloud. Publishing companies can go the route of the music and movie industries, and sue everyone and their mother over every title still nailed down by copyright laws, or maybe we will see the rise of the electronic library.

We already have the e-readers and online stores for them, giving access to lots of recent and older titles. We already have ways to rent movies and games online (the Playstation Network and iTunes stores come to mind) Why not for books?

Of course, there would still have to be money in some form changing hands. To have patrons pay for each book borrowed would defeat the purpose, but I wouldn’t object too much to paying a one-time fee to download the service’s software. Perhaps a subscription service if it’s reasonably low. Maybe every book file would come with some ads if the service wishes to remain free for all. Maybe services will be limited to endless donation drives.

Would there still be a limit to how many books can be “borrowed” at once? Again, if it’s within reason I wouldn’t mind as much. The problem with subscription fees and borrowing limits lies when the software developers try to find a definition for “reasonable.” However, I’m not about to set rules for services that don’t exist yet.

The fact that all of this would exist on the internet likely eliminates the “local” factor. Even if city governments are among the first to jump on a service like this (though I have yet to see a government succeed in being innovative in any field, it would certainly save a lot of money on land development), I can see someone setting up their own service not based in any physical location and others following suit if the local e-libraries have just the slightest of problems.

Will there be competition between services? Almost certainly, even if there is nothing stopping one from joining more than one library community.

Will there be opportunities for social networking? “Your book has also been borrowed by John Smith and Bob Hammoth. Find others in your area.” I can see at least one cloud-based service (not set up by local governments) having a feature like this.

Will Google try to dominate this market? Or will we have another King of the Internet by this time?