Winter Wonderland

Our weather has taken an uptick the past couple days, which meant the start of a new holiday tradition: mini golfing! The kids had never been before, and they loved it.

I’ve also managed to get in a couple nice walks thanks to the cooperation of the weather:

1. “Stranded on a Sandbar” by Jimmy Buffett
2. “Argue” by Matchbox Twenty
3. “If I Could Give All My Love” by Counting Crows
4. “Bigger Than the Both of Us” by Jimmy Buffett
5. “Real World” by Matchbox Twenty
6. “Mrs. Rita” by Gin Blossoms
7. “Alison Road” by Gin Blossoms
8. “If You’re Gone” by Matchbox Twenty
9. “Unkind” by Tabitha’s Secret
10. “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5
11. “I’m the Cat” by Jackson Browne

1. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
2. “Heaven” by O.A.R.
3. “Love and Luck” by Jimmy Buffett
4. “Everything Will Change” by Gavin DeGraw
5. “It’s Not Right For You” by The Script
6. “Why Should I Cry For You” by Sting
7. “Rest Stop” by Matchbox Twenty
8. “Human” by The Killers
9. “All the Right Moves” by OneRepublic
10. “Luck” by American Authors

Yes, I know, a marked lack of holiday tunes. But for some reason “the cloud” won’t let me download my Andy Williams, and I never did upload my Bing Crosby or Jimmy Buffett’s Christmas Island. So the only Christmas song on my iPod is Rob Thomas’ “New York Christmas.” Which it played the other day in the car but otherwise has been MIA in rotation.

I do think it’s funny that I had “Fortunate Son” stuck in my head, and that was the first song my iPod pulled up today.

And my hawk friend joined me again today on my walk, too. I see him pretty regularly now. I take pictures, but WordPress is not letting me upload any for some reason, so I can’t share. Such a pain, and I’m not at all tech savvy, so . . . (I do also put them on Facebook, if you friend me there. Look me up as Amanda Langlinais Pepper. It’s a personal page, not an author page; I had an author page but couldn’t keep up with it, so I stick to this and Twitter for that stuff.)

Anyway, we’ve entered that Winter Wonder-wasteland in which one ceases to receive any email that isn’t the virtual version of a sales flyer. Sigh. I hope this doesn’t mean a cascade of rejections after New Year’s! In the meantime, I’ll try to enjoy the holiday break, even though I’m itching for [good] news.

Weekly Stats

I had a somewhat better week than the past couple. No outright rejections this week, though I also have not had that magical offer I’m seeking. But! There has been progress on a number of fronts.

1. The agent who favorited my #pitmad tweet from last week requested my full manuscript.

2. There was a similar exercise on Twitter called #PitchMAS, and even though I hadn’t planned to be pitching, I got a couple more partial requests from it.

3. A producer requested to read 20 August.

4. I applied for an unpaid internship with a literary agent—I think it would be a great learning experience, and also a lot of fun—and she’s sent me a manuscript to evaluate as part of her screening process. Hey, even if I don’t get the job, it’s nice to be considered. And I’m enjoying the feeling of having options. Of not being stuck with just one project or outlet or possible path to . . . Wherever I’m headed.

Of course all this means I’m a tad behind on my word count for Changers. But it’s very exciting to be in demand.

Random Notes

I hope everyone [in the U.S.] had a nice Thanksgiving Holiday. Ours was good, with family visiting (so at least we weren’t driving or flying anywhere). I even got in a nice Thanksgiving Day walk:

1. “Sister Golden Hair” by America
2. “Love Is the Seventh Wave” by Sting
3. “Hands Are Tied” by Gin Blossoms
4. “Falling Farther In” by October Project
5. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon
6. “Natural” by Rob Thomas
7. “Not Over You” by Gavin DeGraw
8. “The Burn” by Matchbox Twenty
9. “Never Seen Anything ‘Quite Like You'” by The Script
10. “Disease” by Matchbox Twenty
11. “Here Comes Horses” by Tabitha’s Secret

As for submission stats for the week, well, I received 4 rejections, 1 request, and continued some e-mail correspondence with one agent who has been giving me great (read: useful) feedback on making the manuscript a bit stronger. Progress.

#PitMad is coming on Thursday, too, over on Twitter. So fellow writers looking for agents should plan to participate. Rules can be found here.

Hashtags

There is a hashtag on Twitter (used to be all the hashtags were on Twitter, but they seem to be expanding): #MSWL. It stands for “manuscript wish list” and is ostensibly for literary agents to tweet what kinds of books they’d like to see cross their desks. You know, like, “Hamlet but with girls and a happier ending” or whatever (I’m just making something up for an example).

The thing is, instead of using this hashtag to find agents, writers have started using #MSWL to pitch their manuscripts. Now, some might be making an honest mistake (I did early on as well), but a few are persistent “violators.” They’ve been told #MSWL isn’t for them to promote themselves, but they keep doing it anyway.

But this post isn’t really about shaming anyone. It’s actually just that this phenomenon got me thinking about hashtags and their uses. You’ll notice I put “violators” in quotes. That’s because there aren’t really any rules to using hashtags. I mean, there may be understandings, but there is no way to enforce a specific use of any tag or label. Public shaming is about as far as one can go. It’s usually effective. But not always.

So. You’ve created a hashtag for a specific use. Then it gets co-opted by people who turn it around and use it another way. What, really, are your options?

Until there’s a way to privatize these things—can you imagine? needing permission to use a hashtag? being fined for misuse of one?—social media frequenters will simply have to put up with those who refuse to follow the rules. After all, some of them are excited by the fact you keep calling them out. In their minds public shaming is still publicity.

We’re relying on a honor system here. But some people have no honor. Just as in the real world we encourage people to throw their trash in bins, you’re still going to find the occasional scrap of litter in the grass. We get angry, maybe, but on the whole we’ve come to ignore it. Assholes, we think. Even as we step around the mess.

The Waiting . . . + Tuesday Tunes

So yesterday was a whirlwind of excitement, what with the final cut of Adverse Possession and the new audiobook version of my short story.

But I’m still toiling away at trying to get agents and publishers interested in Peter, too. On the up side, I haven’t had any more rejections. On the down side, I haven’t had any more requests for the manuscript, either. All in all, it’s pretty quiet out there.

And not to hit the Twitter button too hard—really, I should just do myself a favor and stay away from Twitter entirely—but all these agents say they’re looking for manuscripts. But then they don’t answer. And I’m pretty disheartened when I see an agent I submitted to tweeting that they just requested eight manuscripts via queries but I haven’t heard anything. (Of course, I don’t know how long ago those queries were sent and whether she just hasn’t gotten to mine yet.)

One agent in particular I had high hopes for. But I waited the 8 weeks (actually, I waited 10) and no response. So I sent a follow-up e-mail. That was 3 weeks ago. I know their agency has a policy of responding, whether it’s a yes or a no, so . . . Actually, I know a couple of the other agents in the agency, but neither represents my particular genre, so I’d gone with the guy I thought was the best fit for my novel. But he’s off on Twitter going on about television shows and concerts and first dates.

One of the senior agents, with whom I happen to have a connection, gave me a different e-mail address for this guy and told me to nudge him again. And she supposedly also nudged from her end as well. That was yesterday. It’s now 5:00 in NY, and I still haven’t heard anything.

At least she told me I could try someone else in the agency if it comes to that.

Anyway, this morning the weather was somewhat cooler. But I had an appointment so also had to curb my walk a little:

1. “Get In Line” by Barenaked Ladies
2. “Honey, Let Me Sing You a Song” by Matt Hires
3. “Brighter Than the Sun” by Colbie Caillat
4. “Candy” by Gavin DeGraw
5. “Put Your Hands Up” by Matchbox Twenty
6. “American Girls” by Counting Crows
7. “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” by Sting

“Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty was just starting as I got home, but I like ending it with Sting. A hopeful note.

Agents on Twitter

Every time I send out a query, if the agent has a Twitter account I add him or her to a list so I can follow them. Sometimes this gives me a sense of how long it’s taking them to get through their queries; for example, now and then an agent will tweet: “I’m through all queries sent before 9/1” or something like that. Gives me an idea of where I am in the queue. Too, following these agents can give me an idea of whether or not my manuscript is something they’ll truly like. Many might say “literary fiction” on their sites, but if they tweet about books they’ve enjoyed or are enjoying, I can sense where I fall on their personal spectrum.

But I have to say . . . Sometimes agents on Twitter give me the notion they aren’t reading much of anything at all.

Wait! If you happen to be an agent, don’t storm off yet. Just hear me out. So many agents tweet about being out at the bar, or partying over the weekend, or attending Comic Con . . . And there are only so many hours in a day, a week, a month. If these agents are out doing all this stuff, when are they reading queries? ARE they reading queries?

Now, I know Twitter is not all of life in one place. Twitter is very small snapshots of things happening. So my sincere hope (and assumption) is that these agents are reading and responding to queries if/when they are absent from Twitter. (Some are more absent than others, though, so if there are no breaks in their tweets . . .)

Then again, some of those absences must be devoted to sleeping, right? Hmm.

And of course I know and acknowledge that agents, like anyone else, have the right to go have fun. So if they’re tweeting about concerts and whatnot, well, it’s only fair they get out sometimes.

It’s only when an agent seems to be out all the time that I start to wonder. And there are a couple of those.

Anyway, this is just an observation on my part. Authors are warned to watch what they post lest it besmirch their image. Accordingly, maybe agents should consider whether all their tweets are making them look flaky. As an author actively submitting queries, I want to believe these agents are hard at work and seriously considering each submission, but thanks to social media the privacy walls have fallen and that mystique agents once held is evaporating. It’s nice to see they’re just people, but it’s less exciting to see that though they spout a lot about being buried in queries, sometimes they don’t seem to be doing much to dig themselves out. How can I believe, “I get hundreds of queries a month, and it’s really hard work,” when your Twitter feed shows me you’re mostly hanging out with your friends, going to bars and restaurants and concerts and movies and comic conventions and the beach? It makes me feel you don’t respect my time and effort as an author and also makes me lose some respect for you as a potential agent.

I’m sure Twitter skews the view. I’m sure many if not all of these agents really do work as hard as they seem to play. But with no other data to go on—with Twitter as my only window into the agents’ worlds—it’s somewhat disheartening.

So I was trying to piece together this Ed Champion thing, mostly based on my Twitter feed. But (as I stated on Twitter), it’s a bit like surveying the aftermath of an A-bomb and trying to figure out what had been there before everything went to hell.

Best I can tell, Ed Champion—of whom I’d never heard until all this happened, which probably just goes to show how outside publishing politics I am—is/was best known as a kind of cranky book reviewer (or hater, as the case may be). And then . . . Something happened and he ended up publicly blackmailing a female writer on Twitter. Seriously.

I’ve yet to put together the steps that led from “cranky sourpuss” to “extortionist,” but words like “misogyny” are being tossed around. Champion evidently doesn’t like women writers? Or women in general?

That’s fine, actually. He has the right to hate every book and writer in the world if it makes him feel better about himself. And he has the right to voice his opinion. Just like everyone else has the right to ignore him. Or hate him in turn.

It’s the blackmail that’s disturbing. As I’ve said, I haven’t pieced together the entire story, but it seems Champion threatened to tweet the name of a photographer who had taken nude pictures of a female writer . . . I just can’t quite wrap my brain around what prompts a person to go from A to Z that way. The leap from, “I don’t like this book and/or writer” to “I’m going to blackmail you” is bizarre to me.

But really, what I meant to write about it that after I tweeted about trying to understand what had happened, someone responded with a boast about having given over 500 one-star reviews on Amazon. This guy was really proud of the fact that he’d done this, and was apparently annoyed that Champion was getting all the credit as “most hated man.” Um . . . I don’t think it takes any special talent or skill to give one-star reviews, or to hate books and writing. It does take a lot of free time, I suppose. And that’s assuming this person actually read the books in question and wrote coherent reviews (I didn’t bother to check).

The reviewing system is fucked up. I think we all know that. Anyone can review something, and many reviews are not legitimate. Instead they are written out of hate, or spite, or jealousy. Or they’re written to manipulate the system and send certain books up and down the lists. Bottom line: readers can no longer rely on reviews to guide them toward good books and away from bad ones. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s better to select books based on personal taste and preference rather than the number of stars next to its title. After all, when you walk into a bookstore (do you ever any more?), aside from the Recommendations shelf, there are not reviews posted next to every book. Instead you browse, picking this or that up, until you find something that suits your taste.

Or maybe you go looking for a book a friend recommends. Word of mouth is not the same as random reviews, by the way. A friend knows what you may or may not like. The best collective reviews can do is tell you what the collective hive mind of the masses most enjoys. Or doesn’t, as the case may be.

Better, perhaps, to find something you like—a few things, really—and extrapolate from there. That is, find other things in the same vein. Of course, if you’re like me and like a lot of different things, that can be trickier.

Sometimes—I’ve noticed this with film reviewers anyway—you find a reviewer who shares your tastes and come to trust him or her when s/he issues a proclamation regarding the latest blockbuster or indie rom-com. Is it possible to find a book reviewer whose palate matches yours?

And then, as with food, it also depend on what you’re “in the mood for.” A book you can’t enjoy now may be something you do enjoy later.

I don’t have an answer for fixing the reviews problem. What we have doesn’t work, but then there come the screams of not censoring anyone, and the difficulties of sussing out which reviews are legitimate and what the criteria should be. Like with Ed Champion—one can’t argue that he shouldn’t be allowed to blog his opinions about books and writers, however awful he is. We aren’t required to listen to him if we don’t want to. Issuing threats and blackmailing, however, was crossing a line. We can agree on that, I think. But where are the lines for reviewers? How do we figure out who to listen to? There’s a lot of noise online, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to separate the worthwhile from the discordant jangle.

Things We’re Sick Of

So in my last newsletter (and if you haven’t subscribed, you missed out, but you don’t have to—just sign up on the sidebar at the right) I listed a few things we all seem to be tired of:

1. Dystopian YA novels. (And the dystopian YA movies they spawn.)
2. Superhero movies. We may love some of them, but they’re all starting to look alike. They’re the fast food of film, and we’re starting to be hungry for a real meal.
3. Authors promoting other authors. It’s great that we want to help each other out, but it’s like preaching to the choir. And does having 20 blogs all reveal your cover on the same day really get you anything? Except people who are sick of seeing it after the fourth or fifth time?

Then I asked people to e-mail me what they’re sick of. The answers included:

1. Football. Even though the season has only just started! Well, and with all the bad news the NFL has been generating . . .
2. Click bait Facebook posts. You know the ones. They all end with “. . . and what happened next will amaze you!” (Or, alternatively, bring you to tears—but what’s bringing us to tears are all these damn posts.)
3. Quizzes on Facebook. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for these things. Guilty as charged.
4. Facebook in general. Because so much of it has become ads, and the rest of it are quizzes and click bait. No one has anything interesting to say.

Honestly, I think we’ve come to a place where social media is all advertising and no content. And the advertisers are trying to make their ads look like content. That’s the latest thing. But—and I’ve said it before—the Internet has become a lot of people shouting and very few listening. It’s kind of depressing.

So, for those of you who didn’t get my newsletter or else didn’t e-mail: What are you sick of?

Instagram

So I’m finally going to try Instagram. But because my name was taken*, I’m using Peter’s name for the account. Yes, that’s right, one of my fictional characters has an Instagram account. It will probably consist largely of photos from my gardens because I am in love with all my flowers. I think Peter would approve.

*I mean various forms of “M Pepper” were taken. I didn’t try “Langlinais” because no one can ever spell it. In any case, if you do want to follow me (us?) on Instagram, the button is on the sidebar.

SFWC: Building a Web Presence

This session was run by Karma Bennett, Francis Caballo, and Anne Hill. I was hoping to learn some new stuff, but a lot of what they said seemed like common sense to me. Maybe this session was really aimed at older authors, people still trying to wrap their brains around all the newfangled technology and social media.

The first thing they said was basic encouragement: Believe you have a story worth telling, but don’t think you know everything. Be open to new information and to learning new things. Social media is meant to cultivate friendships and help you stay connected.

I don’t know if I entirely agree with that sentiment, since to me social media mostly seems like a lot of people standing in a room and each one is shouting, hoping to be heard over the others. But that’s the cynic in me talking. Certainly I have made a number of great online friends. And we’ve helped each other with our writing and in promoting each other’s work. It can be done.

The next thing the ladies told us was that if there is some kind of emergency that is going to take you offline for any length of time—if you’re going to be absent from your blog and Twitter and Facebook feeds—try to let your followers know. Because if they check your site every day, or even a couple times a week, and it seems abandoned, they’ll probably stop coming altogether. But if they know it’s only temporary, they’ll come back when you do.

And then they gave the usual spiel about how you shouldn’t only use your blog, or Twitter, or whatever social media you choose, to market and promote your work. In order to get people to read your blog or pay attention to your tweets (and maybe retweet them), you should “add value.” That’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but it means you should have useful and interesting content on your site(s). They suggested that you only ever have about 20% personal stuff (and that includes stuff about your book) and the remaining 80% should be other content, which can include you promoting others’ works or whatever.

They all said Twitter was the best for marketing, though.

Facebook pages were badmouthed all weekend because Facebook makes it so difficult to reach fans. The algorithms are problematic; most of the people who have liked your page won’t see your posts unless they visit your page directly. This is because Facebook wants you to pay to advertise and to “boost” your posts.

It was suggested you post at least four times a day on Twitter, spaced widely apart so as to grab the most eyes. The “life” of a tweet is a mere two hours. So if you tweet something on Monday morning, consider tweeting it again come Wednesday afternoon and Friday evening. Space it out and cover a lot of various time slots. Else your tweet will just be lost.

That said, of course don’t just tweet the same thing(s) over and over. You need fresh content on a regular basis. For fiction writers it was suggested you blog or tweet about: other books, content related to whatever kind of writing you do (romance, sci-fi, whatever), pictures (but be sure to cite sources), whatever inspires your writing, what your writing process is, your characters’ backstories. You can probably think of more, but these are places to start.

Finally, be natural. Act like yourself. Don’t introduce yourself online and immediately try to sell your book. Would you walk up to someone new and say, “Hi, I’m So-and-So, buy my book!”? I hope not. Instead, get to know people. Interact. Leave regular blog comments so people start to recognize you online. Help others promote their work so when you’re ready they’ll be more likely to help you in return.

While this is stuff a lot of us may know already, I hope I’ve still “added value” to my site by sharing it—and the whole of the conference—with you!