Friday, November 28, 2014

Personal Digest Saturday: November 22 – November 28

Life news this week: 
  • Pretty eventful week! It's too bad I feel like total crap all the time. Guess it's time for the doctor again.
  • Saturday I spent editing a video, working on a new webcomic for So You Write, and talking to my mom and my friend Sarah on the phone. Also spent a bunch of time submitting short stories to magazines and finishing my newest one. Hooray, it now has an ending.
  • Sunday was very productive, but mostly the stuff I accomplished isn't very interesting. I chatted to a writer friend helping out with stuff, picked up some clutter, did some karaoke, and saw my mom briefly.
  • Monday an article about asexuality popped up in the Washington Post, and I was quoted in it, with a little plug for my book. Nice.
  • Tuesday I had to get up early ("early" being like 9 AM) for a photo shoot. They're doing an article about me for Maclean's, and they wanted their own pictures I guess. We did most of the shooting inside my apartment and a couple outside. I took some photos at my drafting table, hanging around on my couch, standing outside with a parasol, and . . . sitting inside my bookcase. Haha.
  • Wednesday was a weird Jeauxless Wednesday. One of my videos was featured on Everyday Feminism, which is cool. The latter half of the day was super depressing because of the Ferguson stuff. I talked to my mom on the phone and spent the evening mostly just reading horrible things in the news.
  • Thursday was of course Thanksgiving and my mom picked me and Jeaux up to go to Jeaux's family's house. I made pumpkin muffins to contribute and my mom made yummy croissants. I actually only had one helping of food because I'm weird.
  • And Friday I had the day off so I spent it packing and working on comics. I'm going to Disney World! My friends Meggie and Victor are going with me so they are coming over tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow, and I'll include whatever happens Friday night as part of my blog extravaganza next week.
New reviews of my book:
        • Bibliotropic: Ria posted a thorough, personal review of the book on her book review site. She reposted versions of that review on Amazon (five stars, with title "This book gave me the words I was lacking to fully express myself, and answered questions I wasn't sure how to ask.") and Goodreads (five stars).

                Places featured:
                  Reading progress:
                  • Didn't finish any books this week. ;( Too busy!  But I'm still currently reading Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen.

                  New singing performances:

                  Here I'm singing "Now I Can Die" by Nina Gordon. (I randomly decided to change the genders discussed in the song so I could make it about two ladies. I don't know why.)

                  New drawings:

                  Webcomic Negative One Issue 0498: "Some Epic Plan."

                  New videos:

                  My video on querying mistakes might help some of y'all who are approaching agents. :)

                  New photos:  

                  Pumpkin muffins I made for Thanksgiving!

                  Social media counts:
                  YouTube subscribers: 4,103 for swankivy (28 new this week), 407 for JulieSondra (3 new). Twitter followers: 589 for swankivy (3 new), 796 for JulieSondra (9 new). Facebook: 273 friends (no change) and 153 followers (2 new) for swankivy, 495 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 87 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,697 (1 new).

                  Wednesday, November 26, 2014

                  Why don't they just

                  Content warnings and trigger warnings apply for various types of apologism and mention of violent content. Including murder, sexual assault, racism, sexism, rape culture, victim-blaming, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and pretty much everything you can think of.

                  In the aftermath of another human rights tragedy, I've been seeing plenty of ugliness floating around the Internet, and some of it sounds like this:

                  "If he had been a law-abiding citizen, he wouldn't have gotten shot."

                  In other words, people who experience unfortunate and deadly events in their lives did something to deserve it, or at least should have/could have done something to prevent it.

                  This is echoingly, maddeningly, horrendously false, for two reasons:


                  So many people are bringing up actual or perceived wrongdoings on the part of citizens who were murdered or disproportionately punished--sometimes even if they were literally just in the wrong place at the wrong time--asking why THEY didn't do something somehow to avoid terrible things befalling them. Instead of asking why the people who hurt them did so, or why the system allows such crimes to be excused under the assumption that the victims had a hand in causing their misfortune, or why we generally don't admit that our society isn't "fair" . . . we look at the victims and push some of the blame on them so we can go on believing it can't or won't happen to us.

                  So much is put into what other people should "just" do to avoid these problems that we aren't considering how outrageous it is to categorize those actions as simple. It's never "just" anything. The problem isn't caused by people not doing enough to avoid being victimized. The problem is caused by people victimizing others.

                  Why don't homeless people "just" get jobs and stop being so lazy? I dunno, have you asked each homeless person what downward spiral and lack of safety net their lives have involved? Medical problems often cause debt and inability to work. If this has happened to you, maybe you lived with a family member or friend until you could get on your feet again. Ever think about what happens to people who don't have anyone to go to? There are hundreds of disrupting events that can cause a person to lose their home and be unable to pull themselves out of it. But we love assuming it's laziness and entitlement that's caused that person's unfortunate circumstances so we can convince ourselves they could "just get a job" and we don't have to examine, for instance, why an unpreventable medical event can bankrupt a person who wasn't doing anything wrong and ruin their life.

                  Why don't black people in urban areas "just" be more law-abiding? Well, even when they haven't committed a crime, they'll be treated like they have. It's not a persecution complex, a preposterous "race card," or a paranoid misconception that causes black people to declare that they find themselves suspected of and accused of crimes more often. They're not making it up when they tell you they get followed around stores, accused of not actually being the rightful owner of their property, and suspected of having a weapon or "thuggish" intentions no matter what they're actually doing. And if they actually do commit a petty crime or actually are aggressive when confronted for something they didn't do, that's used as proof that they're animals, uncontrolled miscreants, and better off dead anyway (if that's what happened as a result of someone's profiling them).

                  What happens to suburban white teenagers who get caught shoplifting? They probably call your mom. They don't use this incident to paint you as an unrepentant thug who probably deserved the unnecessary force used against you. They quickly parrot phrases like "You make silly mistakes when you're young!" But black kids never get to just be young or make any silly mistakes, and this is especially important to recognize because even when they don't make those mistakes they can end up dead should someone in power decide they were probably thinking about it or "looked like" they were about to do it. Not to mention that when white people break the law--see the majority of serial killers and mass shooters--they're generally captured and given access to due process. When they do die in these incidents, it's almost always because they killed themselves. Black people who have not committed a crime are targeted by people who think there's a chance they might have crime on the brain and treated worse than white people who are known to have committed massive, unforgivable, violent crimes in front of many witnesses, and yet if excessive force is used against a black person, it's because there was some arbitrary/tiny thing someone else decides they should have "just" done.

                  Why don't women "just" wear less revealing clothing?

                  Why don't gay people "just" not talk about their orientation?

                  Why don't trans people "just" deal with it gracefully if someone misgenders them?

                  Why don't poor people "just" do something more lucrative?

                  Why don't people of color in low-income areas "just" worry more about the crimes they're committing against each other instead of focusing on systematic inequality that put them there?

                  Why don't activists "just" grow a thicker skin if they're so bothered by the death threats?

                  Why don't abused people "just" leave their partners?

                  Why don't bullied and harassed people "just" learn to be less sensitive?

                  The biggest problem here is that people in these groups who are airing their grievances and pushing for social change are being told they need to stop becoming victims (or stop minding it so damn much when they are). They're being told they can control whether they become victims by taking active steps to avoid victimhood, and they're being told that they should. That the changes are simple, and controllable by the sufferer, and ultimately, that they do not deserve sympathy, services, justice, due process, or attention if they will not change their own behavior.

                  Ignoring, of course, the fact that some of those changes are impossible, or require a person to have fewer freedoms and rights, or don't actually fix the problem (e.g., women dressing more modestly doesn't stop them from experiencing sexual assault).

                  Imagine if a rich person got mugged and the police told them, "This wouldn't be a problem if you people would stop having money" or "If you didn't want your wallet stolen, you shouldn't have carried any cash" or "What did you think was going to happen if you went outside dressed in designer clothes?" But we don't blame the rich person (or, usually, any person) for having money to take or looking like a potential victim in a mugging. We pretty much across the board blame the mugger. (We don't ask why the mugger is desperate enough for money to forcibly take it from people, either. We assume the mugger is just a Bad Person.)

                  So what's my solution, you ask, if I'm going to whine about what doesn't work?

                  Hold people accountable for making other people victims.

                  It's not a case of "there was racism." There are RACIST PEOPLE committing RACIST ACTS and saying RACIST THINGS, and racism comes from them and the systems they work inside of (consciously or unconsciously). Racism isn't wind. It isn't something floating by in the air that you can get blasted by or stumble over. It is only EVER there because someone is making it. There's not just racist wind. Someone is farting it.

                  So we as a society need to stop asking why victims didn't "just" do something they perceive would have prevented them from suffering--and start making it unacceptable for perpetrators to exploit someone else's weakness or unfortunate situation. This should not be a world that's only safe for people who obey rules set up by someone who isn't them and doesn't understand them. A white person can blatantly display an assault weapon in an open carry state, but someone only has to decide a black person might have a hidden gun to justify using deadly force, and then instead of blaming the person who used deadly force for making an assumption, they remind the black person that it's perfectly normal to presume they're violent. A rapist isn't so much blamed for committing a rape as the rapist's victim is blamed for behaving "irresponsibly" with drink, wearing the wrong thing, trusting the wrong person, or not communicating clearly enough about their desires--and then when people decide they want the rapist to be exonerated, they drag out the victim's supposed "slutty" behavior and lean on how the notoriously unreliable and hysterical the victim probably is, combined with how they clearly want to ruin the accused rapist's life.

                  A gay person shouldn't have been so out about their orientation and made people uncomfortable, even though straight people get to mention their partners and blatantly engage in couple-centric behavior without making anyone uncomfortable; it's their own fault if they are targeted for harassment and violence, because they could have just stayed in the closet about such a private thing. A mentally ill person shouldn't have disclosed their status if they wanted people to trust them; it's totally fine to ignore their wishes or violate their boundaries if they're in a public space, because the rest of us can't be expected to accommodate them. A trans woman shouldn't make other people deal with her presence in their restrooms--it's her fault if she gets assaulted. A person who doesn't speak English should have learned the language if they wanted access to services and awareness of rights, so they don't deserve equal treatment if they didn't have the English language skills to demand it.

                  The only people who deserve respect and right to life/liberty/happiness, according to this narrative, are the people who are in power or have the ability to look enough like people in power. If you look like the people who hold the reins, there are no "extra" expectations before you're allowed to walk unmolested in this world. For instance, there's been some talk about women in male-dominated fields being "too sensitive" if they "let" various things like sexist policies, sexual harassment, consistent discouragement, lack of respect, greater difficulty in being trusted, often lower pay, and daily experience as a minority in the workplace "get to them" and push them out of the field. How weak they must be, some cry. They don't deserve to be there if they can't "deal with" this oppressive experience that the men in that field don't have to tolerate at all. They are to blame for not handling it right, rather than having any conversation at all about the people creating that environment. It's not just there like furniture. People. Are. Actively. Making. It. That. Way. So we need to stop excusing them, stop asking the people experiencing oppression and aggression to tolerate it differently and making themselves into victims, and stop pretending the issues raised by marginalized people are imaginary.

                  Instead of asking victims to stop making it so easy to hurt them, we need to ask people to stop hurting them and spinning it as the natural result of them existing while being so hurtable. Perpetrators of violence and upholders of prejudice are not blameless chess pieces being moved by victims provoking them to commit those atrocities. Do not ask what the suffering person could have or should have done differently when the problem would not exist if people in power stopped coding them as deserving it.

                  Monday, November 24, 2014

                  I guess it's done

                  I'm at the "I guess it's done" stage after finishing my short story--the one I started last week and got stuck on the ending.

                  I'm not sure what I expected. Usually I come up with some kind of idea and character, and I start writing about the characters and let them do their thing, and they figure out how to end it. I just kind of trust them and usually end up surprised by how well it fits.

                  So this time I created a character who didn't do that for me. But what did I think was going to happen after the way I wrote him? The guy is ignorant, insecure, selfish, and passive, so I don't know why I thought he'd be better at carrying a story than he was at living his life. I kind of had no choice but to just let his flailing be the story, and ended it with him cementing his denial and choosing to believe fantasies that make his life more comfortable.

                  Because of this, the story feels like it doesn't have much of a message except "hello, I'm a mediocre fortyish guy and I pretend to understand things I don't understand and am satisfied with thinking I outsmarted the world that is out to confuse and lie to me, even though I demonstrably have outsmarted no one in my entire life." But I guess I can't always write about the most interesting person in the room, or the most talented, or the most competent, or the most "moral." It's a challenge, I suppose, to make an interesting story about someone you probably don't want to read about.

                  Oh well. At least the story contains gay astronauts.

                  My science fiction short story, "Everyone's Gay in Space," is complete at 6,600 words. VoilĂ .

                  Saturday, November 22, 2014

                  Personal Digest Saturday: November 15 – November 21

                  Life news this week: 
                  • Not sure what's going on with my health but I'm feeling gross all the time. It seems to be resulting in me not getting very much done. Which is still more than most people do, haha, but . . . you know.
                  • Started a new short story, but got stumped by the ending and haven't completed it. I think I'm close to figuring out how it ends, but it will require some annoying rewriting. It's kinda exciting though because I'm going to be submitting it to a magazine that has put out a submissions call for science fiction stories by queer authors.
                  • Talked to my sister P on the phone on Sunday and made some tentative plans for the baby's first birthday, which will happen when they are all visiting us in December. AGGHHH! And now Ash is eleven months old, and has learned to cuddle. ♥
                  • Still going back and forth with that magazine that wants to come take pictures of me to illustrate their article. I think they're just going to take pictures of me in my apartment now.
                  • I won $500 in a sweepstakes. !!!! You know how you think nobody ever actually wins those things? This time it was me. That's good because I already committed to a vacation and if I hadn't won the money I would have had to dig it out of my savings account probably because I'm broke from a couple necessary things and lending money to a friend.
                  • Jeaux and I ate at Moe's. I had a Joey Junior burrito with tofu. He gets onions on his burritos and they make me want to smack him. We went back to my place and watched Korra and talked about books. He tried to help me think of how to end my story.
                  • I didn't do much productive stuff this week--just some editing for a friend, a little e-mail, some blogging, some video-making, and some writing. I don't know why I'm such a poop.
                  • Next week, I'm going to be getting ready for Disney World. Hopefully I will feel good while vacationing.
                  New reviews of my book:
                      • excellent book: Five-star Amazon review by dave eastwood. (It's not actually new, but I just found out the UK site has a separate review site from the US Amazon site, so I've never posted this one before!)
                      • Asexuality In a Sexual World: Additional content in the author's review of Part 2.

                            Places featured:
                            • ReviewFix interviewed me about my book. Some of the content is about asexuality and some of it is about the process of writing the book.
                            • The Asexual Agenda linked me for the above interview and also linked to the Good article I was in last week.
                            Reading progress:

                            New singing performances:

                            Here I'm singing "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton.

                            New drawings:

                            Webcomic Negative One Issue 0497: "Quite an Ordeal."

                            New videos:

                            In Letters to an Asexual #22, I talk about in-fighting in the asexual community and feature one sad example of someone in our own community trying to invalidate other asexual people as not being asexual enough.

                            New photos:  

                            Nothing interesting, I just have my haircut comparison photos to show you this time.

                            Back: 2/15/14
                            Back: 11/15/14
                            Front: 2/15/14
                            Front: 11/15/14

                            Social media counts:
                            YouTube subscribers: 4,075 for swankivy (22 new this week), 404 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 586 for swankivy (no change), 787 for JulieSondra (4 new). Facebook: 273 friends (1 new) and 151 followers (1 new) for swankivy, 494 likes for JulieSondra (no change), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 87 likes for So You Write (2 new). Tumblr followers: 1,696 (7 new).

                            Thursday, November 20, 2014


                            Some people who have been well represented and unquestioningly included in "majority culture" all their lives are starting to feel attacked by the push for diversity. Suddenly, it's not okay to just surround yourself in the workplace by people who are similar to you, or to write the stories that include people like you without including anyone else, or to basically do anything in your life without thinking about whether you've alienated someone from another group. Some of them feel it means they're being called worthless, or that they're bad for being typical and very similar to "the standard," or that people pushing for more diversity believe they have no problems and have easy lives because of their privilege. They feel compelled to both downplay the importance of diversity since the problems are invisible to them AND emphasize aspects of their lives that aren't perfect to share in the rallying cry of "I'm downtrodden too!"

                            In other words, instead of realizing that diversity is about other people, they still think it's about them. About shaming them, erasing them, taking away from them something that was theirs. They don't want to be asked to question why they think their spaces are only theirs, and they don't want to examine why a culture that privileges them is still hurting them (and hurting other people more).

                            To justify their position, some of them are taking potshots at movements that seek to increase diversity--including in fiction--and they downplay the involvement of people whose race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, creed, ability/illness status, or class is different from theirs by claiming these folks are tokens, PC pleasers, Affirmative Action beneficiaries, or evidence of someone "playing the diversity card." It's the assumption that there is no authentic way for those people to participate that is the problem here. Their mere existence in a space is automatically politicized and thought to mean something. If you can't see their presence in your books, your entertainment, your workplace, or your everyday life as anything but a political statement or a quota filled, you still aren't seeing them as people. You're still seeing them as someone who can only be there by taking a slot away from someone you think is more deserving--someone you automatically assume deserves it because they're more like you. Someone whose competence and presence you wouldn't question. Someone you wouldn't accuse of getting a position because she was attractive, or being included because they needed an Asian person to diversify the cast, or being put on the roster because someone wants to be able to point at that person as evidence that they DO hire "their kind."

                            I can think of three major reasons why diversifying workplaces and media is very important, none of which have anything to do with punishing, erasing, or stealing fire from "majority" culture.

                            1. Representation is inspiration for the next generation. If you don't see people like you doing a thing, you often grow up thinking it isn't for you. My little sister, writing from a journal prompt in elementary school about what she wanted to be when she grew up, said she thought she might like to be President. It was a hopeful entry about becoming a world leader, and then it ended with some startling awareness: an admission that this probably wouldn't be possible because she is a girl and also Jewish, and none of the presidents have been girls or Jewish. I'm sure nobody ever told my sister she couldn't be President because of these things. Nevertheless, she "knew" the cards were stacked against her if she wanted to be President. And she knew this in elementary school.

                            Nobody even has to specifically TELL you that people like you don't do that; you figure it out, and you figure it out young. Add to that the fact that sometimes people DO tell you--and the fact that entering those fields against all the adversity leads to people doubting your competence implicitly and explicitly, resulting in an exhausting, demoralizing daily battle against microaggressions that more "traditional" practitioners of that field don't have to face--and the cards are stacked heavily against you succeeding or being happy in those fields. But when you see someone on a TV show, in a book, or holding a position, you get the idea that people of your description can and do do that thing. It might mean more than you think for someone who never sees people like them doing what they'd like to do. It also has the lovely little side effect of everybody else getting the idea that said people can do that thing--getting used to seeing them there and not processing them as exceptions or tokens.

                            2. Leveling the playing field. Some people think this means we need to make it "easier" for people who aren't as qualified to get these positions, and that this leads to less competence in favor of more diversity, or that we're demonizing people with advantages if we say disadvantaged people should get a leg up. Well, no. Look at it this way: I'm 4'11" tall. If I enter a contest to see how high I can jump, it wouldn't make much sense to grade me on the highest target I can touch if some of my opponents could literally walk over and touch those targets without jumping. Does that mean they're better jumpers? No, it means they're taller in the first place. If I can jump two feet off the ground, that's two fifths of my body. If someone else can jump two feet off the ground, that's less effort for them, but it gets their hand at the end of their longer body much higher. I have to somehow make up the distance just to equal them, which means I actually have to be a better jumper to be seen as equal. Some people who don't have to jump at all are getting the "best jumper" medals, and then they turn around and ask me why I, a short person, would bother to enter a contest that's "for" taller people. (I thought it was for jumpers, but hey, why would I enter the field if it was so stacked against me, right? Why am I even here? It's not that the contest might be grading jumping ability unfairly; it's that I should have understood that I can't hope to compete.)

                            So, when the critics solemnly intone that they still need people to be able to jump and touch the target regardless of it being harder for some of us, they insist that asking for accommodations would require us to lower the target and decrease expectations, resulting in overall less competence just so we can say we gave people a chance. We're not asking you to lower the target, though. We're asking you to give the shorter people access to platform shoes, stools, or trampolines if that's what we need. Whining about how that's cheating makes no sense, because we're probably already jumping farther proportionately than you are, but all you can see is that I have a stool and you don't, and you perceive that you should have a stool too or nobody should because that is fair. Well, what's "fair" about me living in a world that expects me to touch the same target tall people do but I was born with very short legs? Why is that "unfairness" something you don't want to worry about?

                            When I was born, my parents weren't rich, but they had the resources--time and money–wise, most of the time--to help me develop a love for reading. They read to me, and other relatives read to me. I entered kindergarten so far ahead of my classmates in reading that they didn't even bother to put me in a reading group and sent me to the computer lab with the fifth graders during reading time. When I was in college, I tutored a little boy who was seven and still having a lot of trouble with basic reading. He lived with his little sister and single mother in government housing. His mom worked all the time and had very little time to spend with him on anything schoolwork-related, and she certainly didn't have time or energy to read to/with him often. I bought some paperback books to use during the tutoring and when I let him have one he said "I can HAVE it? I don't have any books at home." He felt incredibly fortunate to own a book. I had probably a hundred at his age.

                            We learned to read in very different environments. I was always ahead of the game and expected to excel, and I had resources to push me even farther because my achievements suggested I'd "earned" it. The boy I tutored was sitting there at the beginning of his life already being regarded as remedial. If he ever did "catch up," he probably spent his whole youth being expected to try harder just to achieve that baseline, even though he had fewer resources and fewer people who thought he was worth the investment because he wasn't a huge achiever. And yet, if he ever did get up to average, people would not treat it like the overcoming of adversity it was; they'd just treat it like it was expected, and continue to give opportunities to people who'd gotten objectively farther--attributing it to talent, hard work, creativity, responsibility--and reminding less advantaged people that really, their failure to achieve is just laziness, inherent mediocrity, lack of initiative, and unreliability. What can fix this? Well, sometimes, extending an advantage to people in this situation. Like a scholarship. Or a special opportunity designed to help someone in poverty or from a traditionally less represented demographic. We shouldn't be saying we only want people who came from backgrounds that don't as often lead to success if they overcame waaaaaay more than the rest of us to get on what's perceived to be even ground.

                            It's not always perfect, but we need to pull away from assuming the world is a meritocracy. People in the majority culture set the goalposts, and they (without necessarily realizing it) rig the game to be more easily won by people from their backgrounds. We're asking for several routes to the goal to be established, assistance being offered to those who need it to get to the goal, and different forms of success to be acknowledged. Not to mention we really want people from the majority groups to stop regarding disadvantaged and "diverse" folks as having only "made it" because someone wanted to check a diversity box. Imagine overcoming all that nonsense and expecting to finally be equal only to be told you must have gotten in on the diversity card.

                            3. People from "diverse" populations bring valuable perspectives. So, some folks like to frame "diversity" as simply an issue of offering space to less represented people for the benefit of those people, but what they don't often realize is how vital it is to everyone to have a variety of backgrounds. An example: If you have a medical product and you only test it on one gender and one ethnic background, you can't conclude at the end of the test that it's safe for everyone just because it worked appropriately on your experimental group. There is a dangerous tendency to generalize the straight white cisgender able-bodied man as "standard," and it's dangerous in way more contexts than stuff like medical tests. When we take that perspective and present it as the baseline experience, everything else is compared to it and viewed as a deviation. Issues that primarily affect men become news; issues that primarily affect women are "women's issues" (and perceived to need a corner column on page ten because they're a special interest group). Transgender women of color experience violence at a much, much higher rate than the overall female population, but it's still primarily white cis women's experience of violent crime being circulated as "the" statistics. We need people from diverse backgrounds in spaces with people from less diversified backgrounds--people who are used to living, working, and being around people just like them--partly because if we don't create those interactions, the overall experience of being a person in this world is misrepresented by the people who are making and spreading our news.

                            Also, people who have been treated differently from the "standard" throughout their lives, have different lived experiences, and have inherently different perspectives can disrupt echo chambers in a positive way. Too many people who think alike working together on a project can limit its effectiveness, even if we're not talking about making it applicable and effective for everyone who might be affected by it. Including diverse voices on your panels, in your decision-making groups, in your management, on your creative teams, and as your leaders will not only make more accessible and inclusive worlds for us to live in, but will improve creativity and broaden horizons.

                            Ask not why you should push for diversity in your field and in your life; ask whether you can afford not to!

                            Tuesday, November 18, 2014

                            Struggling with a short story

                            While looking for a new place to send an older short story, I came across a submissions call that I would love to submit to. But drat, I didn't have a short story that would be appropriate.

                            They're looking for science fiction written by queer authors. Their submission guidelines specify that their definition of queer includes asexual people, and that it's the identity of the author--not the content of the story--that qualifies them to submit for the special issue. I don't actually write a lot of straight-up science fiction that doesn't lean fantasy, and I don't normally write stories deliberately for specific markets (though the one time I did, it ended well). But I thought about whether I had any science fiction–ish ideas, picked one of my half-formed ones, and started writing it.

                            Banged out 3,000 words in a couple hours. Loved it. Banged out another 2,000 words the next day. Got to the end and reread it and didn't love the beginning as much. Fiddled with another 500 words yesterday. Still can't quite figure out how to end it. And now I kinda hate the whole thing and think it's nowhere near as clever, interesting, or worthwhile as I thought.

                            I hate when that happens.

                            The beginning: Mostly setup for how the protagonist got in the situation he's in, retold unconventionally, framed in a way I convinced myself was humorous. It probably isn't as funny as I think.

                            The middle: Mostly a straightforward conversation between the protagonist and the other focus character of the story, which is the meeting that the beginning of the story prepared us for. Most of it features the protagonist being awkward and the other character wiping the floor with him. And it's also kind of preachy.

                            The ending: I don't know, because the protagonist didn't like the middle of the story and now he wants to pretend it didn't happen, and I'm not sure where to go with that. Usually characters are changed by significant events in their lives, and they move forward somehow transformed, and that's the exact kind of thing I usually write about. But since this character doesn't really seem to be interested in processing what went on, now I have to figure out what happens if he just rejects the whole thing out of hand.

                            Usually my characters figure this stuff out for themselves. I'm writing a rather unsympathetic character, and he says and does a lot of things I disagree with, so I decided to write him in third person--not just to avoid the discomfort I would probably have to deal with in thinking his thoughts for him in first person, but because it's easier to make the narration critical of offensive characters if the storytelling isn't tied to their perspective. I'm afraid his terrible ideas would be too convincing if I flung them around the story in first person, so I'm maintaining the distance so readers will clearly see the story itself doesn't condone its protagonist's actions. However, I think maybe that distance has diminished my ability to make my characters solve their own problems convincingly.

                            So I don't know where this is going to go. But I think I might decide to title it "Everyone's Gay in Space."

                            Monday, November 17, 2014

                            No longer yours

                            This is far from a new idea--I've seen it expressed several times--but now I'm experiencing it myself and I'm going to reflect on it.

                            When you write a book, get it published, and release it into the wild, it becomes no longer yours.

                            That may sound like an obvious statement, but the nuances are a little more complex. You know when your work is published that people you don't know and will never meet are now hearing your words in their heads. You know you've made them think about things they wouldn't have thought if you hadn't thought them first and written them down. You know your work gets its wings and flies to places you've never been, carrying ideas in its wake, spreading messages far and wide.

                            But what's really interesting about it is seeing people treating it like it's . . . well, something other than your weird little baby. Reacting to it like it's public property--because it is. Reviewing it positively and discussing its potential influence on academic matters. Posting quotes from it that they found inspirational and getting hundreds of people to share them with others. Getting excited because their copy arrived and taking pictures of it to blog and tweet. Seeing it criticized and seeing others get my back. Recommending it to people to help understand themselves and each other. Telling personal stories about why my book is important to them.

                            It's mine, but it's not just mine anymore.

                            The book has become part of the conversation. Part of the world. Part of the fabric of existence as we go on from here. It's something others can access to inform their lives, and it's something that is now being casually recommended to strangers by other strangers so they can understand an experience we've all had. These people have oftentimes paid money for the privilege of letting me "talk" to them for an appreciable length of time. My words were taken seriously, digested, enjoyed, passed on. They are being read now. They will continue to be in the future.

                            And for many of the people who read it, who I am as a person isn't actually important. So many readers absorb the content of a book without even thinking about the person who wrote it, without thinking about why they wrote it, without trying to connect to that person (even though they've done so in a pretty intimate way if you ask us). The way they think of us sometimes, if they don't know us in person or online, is just as content generators--a disembodied set of words and opinions that made a thing and sold the thing.

                            I like that.

                            No, not because I like being dehumanized or separated from my content, or because I don't like when people DO try to connect personally (because I do like that), but because now they don't have to know me to hear my words. They don't have to be part of my world for me to be part of theirs.

                            It's a good feeling.

                            Saturday, November 15, 2014

                            Personal Digest Saturday: November 8 – November 14

                            Life news this week: 
                            • Mostly spent the weekend helping writer friends--read the beginning of a friend's book to help with agent querying, getting excited about a third request for my alternate from Pitch Wars, and giving perspectives on submission.
                            • I also did some submissions of short stories to magazines, and some revisions to some book descriptions on my site. And I wrote up a transcript for one of my videos that I hadn't gotten around to subtitling yet, but it wouldn't sync, so I might have to code it manually. :/
                            • On Tuesday my mom came over for Chinese food and her favorite homemade Parmesan biscuits. It got started much later than we intended because of Attack of Nap, but at least we got to see each other. ;)
                            • I ate at Applebee's with Jeaux this week. Then we went to my place and chatted and watched the newest Legend of Korra episode and saw that ridiculous Too Many Cooks thing everyone was talking about. It was wild.
                            • Had dinner with Dad at Macaroni Grill on Friday. We got to catch up on our respective activities and eat too much food.
                            • After the comic was done, I started writing a new short story, but it's not done yet. I've got about 1800 words of it done.
                            • I had some media stuff this week: An article about asexuality popped up in Marie Claire UK featuring me and some other asexual people; I am in the process of organizing a photo shoot for a future piece with Maclean's; and I had a phone chat with a Washington Post writer who's reviewing my book.
                            New reviews of my book:

                                      Places featured:
                                      • Marie Claire UK: Link goes to my blog with some discussion of the text I'm in, but if you're not in the UK, you can't get the physical magazine, and there's no free online version. You can buy a digital issue of December 2014 here.
                                      • Good Magazine: This article discusses asexuality, leaning on my book to explore nuances. Though it incorrectly reports that I "first explored [my] identity through AVEN." Not sure where they got that since I have been blogging about it since 1998, first got interviewed on it in 2005, created my YouTube series in 2009, and gave several more major interviews before finally joining AVEN in 2010.
                                      • Dan Koboldt: Fellow Pitch Wars mentor Dan mentioned me a couple times in his writeup discussing what he learned as a mentor.
                                      Reading progress:

                                      New singing performances:

                                      Here I'm singing "Gloomy Sunday" by Billie Holiday. This song may be a bit disturbing for sensitive viewers.

                                      New drawings:

                                      Webcomic Negative One Issue 0496: "The Way We Play."

                                      New videos:

                                      None this week.

                                      New photos: 

                                      A morning with well-deserved coffee.

                                      Social media counts:
                                      YouTube subscribers: 4,053 for swankivy (26 new this week), 402 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 586 for swankivy (6 new), 783 for JulieSondra (13 new). Facebook: 272 friends (no change) and 149 followers (no change) for swankivy, 494 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 48 likes for Negative One (no change), 85 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,686 (13 new).

                                      Wednesday, November 12, 2014

                                      While you wait

                                      I've had three writers in my social circle pull the trigger on communications with agents within the last week--two of them for the first time. Along the way there have been a ton of tiny questions, and it's not always easy to dig up the answers online. And even though these folks haven't gotten to the submission-to-publishers bit, they had a fair number of questions about that whole process too. So I thought I would cover some of the lesser-discussed finer points of these experiences--both what to expect and what to do.

                                      While In the Query Trenches:
                                      • "How many agents should I query at once?" There's not really a "right" number of agents to query at once. Sometimes you've been holding a candle for one, and you want to approach that one first. Sometimes you want to send ten at a time. There's no inherently wrong number of queries to send, but from what I've heard, it's fine to send queries to a few at a time, and make sure to personalize each. Some like to keep their query rounds small because they want to learn from any rejections. Querying teaches you a lot more about querying than you might think, especially if the agents give feedback on why they're passing.

                                      • "How long is an average response time?" The wait time is variable. And I mean it's incredibly variable. You might have an agent answer within minutes to ask for your full manuscript (happened to me). You might have an agent answer a year later to send you a form rejection (also happened to me). Some of the bigger agents have assistants or interns who may be scanning and sending rejections to what they know the agent won't go for. Some agents take longer with the ones they want to consider but reject quickly. If you want to get some idea of their current patterns, join Query Tracker, and consider plugging in your own data to help others.

                                      • "How do I respond if the agent wants to see part or all of my book?" Getting a full manuscript request is a big deal! A partial request is nice too. If you attach any material to an e-mail, it's a good idea to title the file something unique. Don't call it "Full_Manuscript.doc." A good file name would include your last name, the title, and what kind of document it is (Full Manuscript, 30 Pages, etc.). This isn't a huge deal because they can just rename it, but many agents will appreciate this. The body of your e-mail can just thank them for their interest and identify what you're including "per your request." Don't make these replying-to-requests e-mails chatty at all, and don't thank them more than once--just tell them you're looking forward to hearing from them and give them what they asked for.

                                      • "Oh god, why am I so nervous? Why is this the hardest letter I've ever written?" You may be surprised by how much courage it takes to hit send on those queries, and then how much you want to gnaw your own head off after you've sent it. Waiting for responses will seem nearly intolerable for some people, especially at the beginning. You do begin to tolerate it better if your querying goes on a while, but you hope you won't have to get used to how it feels in there. If it's at all possible, allow yourself to be ridiculous for a week or so; it's normal, and this is a much bigger deal than the people in your life who AREN'T doing it will understand--especially if you get a rejection and you have to deal with THAT. And then, if you need a distraction, do something constructive, either writing-related or otherwise satisfying, to take your mind off it.

                                      • "What if all I'm getting are rejections?" Well, the obvious answer is just keep trying, but sometimes that's not enough. If your query is good and you're sending it to agents who rep what you write, you should get a partial or full manuscript request here and there. Make sure you actually are sending it to agents who are interested in what you write and that your topic or age category isn't on their "don't" lists, and make sure your query has been through revisions not just from other people who like reading, but from people who know things about queries! Try Absolute Write for query advice, or Query Shark, or hit up a writer blogger friend. But also, especially if you're writing something that's popular or has been done before, zero in on what is different about your story--different and special enough that you've made it clear why you've written one of these again. Take a good look at your bio, too--it's better to say almost nothing than to be arrogant. Remove any promises you might be making about how well it will sell. Don't kiss the agent's ass. In general stop talking so much and just focus on THIS story--not other projects or what you want in an agent or anything else. If all you're getting are rejections and no interest, it really probably is you. Pleaaaaaaase deal with it constructively instead of hitting your head against a brick wall in the name of persistence. You'll be glad you did.

                                      • "What if I sent a partial or full manuscript a while ago but then I edited it and it's better now? Should I send them my updated version?" No, you don't need to inform agents of small changes in your manuscript if they already have your document. The only time you'll want to tell them you changed something is if they've already offered you representation and they're going to dig into the book with editorial changes; then of course they'll need the latest. You also shouldn't update agents who requested your material on the status of other agents' requests. Contact agents who are considering your material ONLY if you have an offer (or are withdrawing the manuscript from consideration for another reason, like you decided to small-pub or self-pub).

                                      • "How do I handle approaching remaining agents if one offers representation?" If you get an offer, contact anyone else who's considering your book and put something about the offer in the SUBJECT LINE so they will know it's time sensitive! Tell them you've been offered representation (you don't have to tell them which agent), and tell them you'd like to make your decision on who to sign with by X date (usually at least a week, sometimes longer if the agent indicates they'd need more time); they will respond by either stepping aside or rush-reading your manuscript to make a competing offer. This is a nice place to be in, especially if the first offer is one you'd very much like to take. The agent who offered you representation is unlikely to put a decision deadline on you; you can set that. Just tell the offering agent that you'll consider the offer and then do your other business. And don't feel that the agent who offered first "deserves" your book if you like a subsequent one better. They understand that it's business, and they sure send enough rejections that they know how to take them!

                                      • "What if an agent wants me to make changes to my book and try again?" You might get an R&R. That's a "revise and resubmit." Agents sometimes like your story but want it to be shorter or longer or have a different focus or change perspective, etc. An R&R is usually not a minor thing. If it was minor, they'd offer representation and mention the small suggestion. An R&R is normally a make-or-break comment (or more than one comment). They see potential in your book, but they don't think it will sell or don't think it's at its best the way you've written it, and they think if you took it in the direction they're suggesting, it would possibly be worth taking on. You need to decide, personally, if you share the agent's vision. If you don't want to write the book that way, you do not have to agree to the R&R--especially since the agent may still reject it if you perform it, resubmit, and they don't like it or changed their mind. Sometimes calls that you think are going to be offer calls are actually R&R calls. It's a bit frustrating, but normally an agent will tell you in the e-mail, not spring it on you in a phone call.

                                      •  "If I get a rejection from an agent, should I reply?" Most agents don't really want you to reply to rejections off a query. Even though most communication etiquette would say that you should acknowledge even negative replies, it really isn't necessary, especially if the rejection is a form letter. "Thank you anyway" e-mails are just extra things the agent has to open and delete, though if it really bothers you not to thank them, it will not hurt anyone. If an agent offers any kind of specific feedback on a partial or full rejection--and I mean comments that are clearly reactions to your material, not "slow pace" or "too much telling, not enough showing" or "not for me"--then it's best to acknowledge with a short thank-you for their time and attention. (But please don't argue with them.) If they offer more robust discussion along the lines of offering a revision request, it's appropriate to turn it into a conversation about where you go from here--just follow their lead!

                                      • "What if I get an offer from an agent I don't want to represent me?" Don't query agents you don't want to represent you. Do your homework. If they request your material and you haven't done much homework on them, do more homework at that point. (Look them up on the Bewares Forum at Absolute Write forums and at Preditors & Editors, and see how they behave on social media, and look for clients and recent sales.) Don't send your material to someone you wouldn't sign with--especially if you're under the impression that any agent's offer will be a good bargaining chip to make other agents read faster or offer. Sometimes you query one agent and someone else at the agency replies, so if that's the agent you don't want, ask whether their request means the other is passing, or (if it's unclear) whether they're a junior agent or assistant for the person you did query. In some cases, new agents try out their wings by signing clients with the senior agents until they're ready to have their own sales. Read this on taking a chance on a new agent to weigh the pros and cons. 

                                      • "When can I list them as my agent on my blog and in my Twitter profile and stuff? I'm dying to tell everyone!" You're free to do that after you've signed the contract and returned it. I don't recommend publicly claiming them as your agent until you have a signed document. It's fine to announce it afterwards, even if it will be a while before you can go on submission.

                                      • "What if they seem interested but they refer me to an editor I have to pay for or promise representation for a 'reading fee'?" RUN. Not kidding. That's a scam. It's okay if you got tricked up to this point, but don't fall for it. Agents don't charge money to sign with them, and they don't suggest representation is contingent upon you paying for editing from this particular editor (with whom they are surely in cahoots). Watch my video about how to spot publishing scams if you need more info on this.

                                      • "Wait, I don't pay them? This is free?" You probably know this if you're here, but that's right--representation from a legitimate agent does not cost money, and the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) specifies as much in the ethics code. And that may sound like the most peculiar thing in the universe--until you understand that agents are paid 15% of what you earn if they sell your book. Now you may have some understanding of why they can be so picky! They're doing all this legwork of looking for markets and pitching your book and negotiating the contract because if they're successful, they will make 15% of everything you earn for the rest of the book's published life. And if they don't sell it . . . they did that whole thing for free. So the agent/client relationship is odd, because even though they work for you as an employee of sorts, they get to choose who they offer their services to, and only offer said services to those whose books will probably sell (in their estimation).

                                      • "What's it mean if the agent wants to call me??" You may have heard this thing about an agent call. Yes, they call you--they usually e-mail and ask when's a good time. They don't actually always ask first, though I think they usually do. My second call with an agent--my fiction agent, Michelle--was not scheduled; she called to offer representation and left a message on my voice mail. Then the e-mail came after she hadn't reached me. You'll want a list of questions to ask them, and I do recommend actually having the list in front of you when you talk so you don't forget any. Here are some questions to consider.

                                      • "Can I talk about my agent search online?" Social media: During your agent search, be subtle about what you discuss on blogs, on Twitter, or anywhere on the Internet. Even if you think it can't be traced back to you. If you say anything specific, sometimes they can tell who's talking about them. There's nothing wrong with identifying yourself as a querying author or identifying your project on your site/blog as pursuing representation. There's nothing wrong with announcing that you have begun your agent search, nor is there anything wrong with discussing how you feel about it to some degree. What you don't want to do is announce who you're querying simultaneously, post your rejections as they happen, or announce on Twitter that @agent requested your chapters/full. It's also a bad idea to post your rejection letters or your request letters; these are things that are shareable after the fact sometimes (as long as it's in good taste), but unless an agent turns out to be a schmagent and you think they're actually doing something underhanded, you shouldn't disclose their private communications with you. There are exceptions, like if you'd like to post results in the comments of Query Tracker, but I recommend not using a handle that's attached to your writing name and not putting your book title in the comments. The reason for this is that you don't want agents to Google you and find out you've been querying with no success for this book for three years, or that you currently have queries out with fifteen other agents, or any evidence of you blowing off steam on your blog about how much of a jerk some agent is. Agents do Google you. They seriously do.

                                      • "What's your one piece of advice to an author newly querying agents?" Breathe, mostly. Don't obsess over what every long wait or "not for me" rejection means. You do need to be able to change what you're doing if it's not succeeding, but you'll be fine if you don't get signed immediately. Now that you're doing this, you're going to see success stories everywhere that are going to make you feel like the runt of the litter; you're going to see the offers that happened in a weekend followed by multiple agents jockeying to get this client, and you're going to feel like you'd be grateful to even get a partial request. The silence can be petrifying. So breathe. Keep sending out queries if you get rejections so you continue to have hope, keep good records, and keep your heart in your chest. You're allowed to flip out, but don't forget to breathe. Escape into writing or distractions or something else productive if you need to.
                                      While On Submission: 

                                      So you get an agent, firm up your submission materials, get your list of editors, and give your agent the go-ahead to pitch. It's an incredible feeling--to know that your book's query, much like the one you sent to your agent, is landing in the hands of someone who might decide to publish you! But what you might not know is that this can often be one of the most heartbreaking parts of the journey, because it's rare that a book sells quickly and painlessly or gets scooped up by one of the first editors who sees it. Here are some things people might not be telling you.

                                      • "What if it doesn't sell?" It might not sell. Terrifying, but true. Many authors' first books don't sell even if the agent thought it was good enough. Getting an agent is no guarantee, and furthermore, some agents aren't interested in selling the book if it's to a smallish publisher, so if you strike out with the big ones, they might not keep trying. You should know going into submission whether your vision of the submission process matches the agent's. You don't want to find out after one round of rejections from New York that your agent wants to leave you on your own to pursue smaller publishers if you were hoping to go that route.

                                      • "Should I research my editors? Should I chat them up on Twitter?" You may wish to research your editors. Read their interviews and all that; check out what they've bought in Publishers Marketplace; read books by their clients. But it's best not to engage those editors directly if they're considering your book. And I mean don't tweet at them or comment on their blogs asking for attention. If your paths cross, or you were already following them, etc., don't worry about it. You just don't want to make yourself too visible to them or make it seem like you're breathing down their neck. And if you don't really want to research them until or unless they're offering to buy your book, that's fine too--because knowing more about them or less about them isn't going to affect your book's reception at this stage. If you're a curious kitty, look them up. If it's better for your mental health that you don't see them as real people right now, ignore their existence.

                                      • "How should I behave online while on submission?" Sometimes editors might Google you, so make sure they are not going to find anything you wouldn't want them to find. This does NOT mean you can't be vulgar, controversial, outspoken, or silly. This DOES mean that if being vulgar, controversial, outspoken, or silly would contradict with the message or content of the book you're trying to sell, you may make the editor think you'd become a PR nightmare. Most of the time this is simply applicable with the sensitive issue of children's books. If you have NSFW content regularly on your blog under the name you're using to publish a MG adventure novel, that could be a problem--so separate that sort of content if you want to post it and divorce it from your writer name. The same rules for discussing agent representation apply to submissions when it comes to details; don't say who's considering the book or anything about being pissed about a rejection. Err on the side of caution if you're wondering whether something is the wrong kind of detail to post.

                                      • "I'm about to go on sub! How is it different from submitting to agents?" Except for the fact that you don't actually hit send or necessarily choose the recipients yourself, it's pretty similar. For me, submission hasn't been really any scarier or any easier than querying agents, but one way I like to describe it is that you still get pins and needles, but with publishers, the pins and needles are sharper.

                                      • "What if it does sell?" Best case scenario: It sells--you get an offer, and then other publishers your agent offered it to get to step up with competing offers. They do that and fight over you. This can happen. Sometimes when it's with the largest publishers, their "fight" over you is an auction. Sometimes a publisher steps in with a good deal that you want to take that will prevent it from going to auction (a pre-empt), and sometimes there's no official communication between the publishers but they argue terms through your agent. That last is what happened to me, and I got to decide (with my agent's help of course) which publisher would be best for my book. I was lucky in that I didn't have to do more than one round of submissions and I got a deal I am still happy with post-publication. However, I also have a book series that's on submission that wasn't quite as fortunate, and I have indeed had more than one round of submissions. The most I can tell you is that it's being considered by multiple publishers, and I am hoping for a best case scenario, but I'd be happy with what happens much more often: One publisher offers a deal and you take it.

                                      • "What information should my agent be sharing with me while on submission?" Usually they will simply give you a list of the editors they're querying and what imprints they're with, and will let you know the status--who's been queried and when, and if they answer, what they said. They may notify you if they're "nudging" an editor who's been silent too long. Some agents schedule check-ins and mail you regular status updates. Some just tell you when there's news. Most won't mind if you check in with THEM if you feel it's been too long without news, though pestering them daily is a bad idea. The agent generally will not be CCing you when they pitch to publishers, but they will usually share the editor's reactions, including rejections with feedback. You should keep track of these activities in your own document; if you ever have to leave your agent for some reason, you'll need a list of what editors have been approached going forward. (More on leaving later.)

                                      • "What do I do to stay calm while I'm on submission?" While you're on submission, find something to do or you WILL eat your own head. It is almost always long and arduous, especially if you start at the top (with the biggest publishers). Think about it. They're the biggest publishers in the world. They've been asked to look at your book. It may take them quite a while to even read your agent's letter, and even though I'd say about half the time publishers responded very quickly (within a few days) to my agent's letters (whether it was to reject or request), they always sat on the full manuscript for at least a month. There have been some that did not ever write back and did not respond to agent nudges. But here's the thing: long response times are what you should expect--and really, what you should want--from these editors. Their primary work is for the people whose books they've already bought. You want that attention for yours if you get a deal, too.

                                      • "Why does it take so long?" Besides the fact that you've just joined the end of a line that's probably pretty long, and besides the fact that they have loyalty to their existing authors more than to their potential authors, it can take a long time because editors rarely decide alone. If they read the book and they personally think it's a possibility for their imprint, they will usually have to get other readers at their imprint to agree, and they will usually have to take it to acquisitions--a meeting where they start to get serious about the business end of your book deal. You may get to acquisitions and still not get a deal. That happened to me too with the book that sold--one of the publishers that seemed very interested and reported taking my book to a meeting ultimately decided against offering me a book deal. It can be crushing, because "an editor liked it and they're asking their company if they can make it official" sounds pretty damn close, but it isn't as close as you think. It's also a lot nicer to hear than a rejection, though. Ha.

                                      • "What the heck's this 'Big Five' and why do I care? What's an imprint?" Sometimes I forget that I'm speaking in publishing jargon when I talk about these things, but I've been asked this recently and I'll just lay it out. The "Big Five" are the five publishing conglomerates that control most of publishing. The parent companies are Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Random House. (They used to be the Big Six until Penguin and Random House merged.) Some well-known companies, like Scholastic, Hyperion, and McGraw-Hill are not "Big Five," but are quite large too. Imprints are the divisions within each publisher, and they are often divided by specialty--each house may have its imprint that publishes for children versus adults, or by genre, or distinguishes between fiction or nonfiction. Many of the publishers you have heard of by their imprint name belong to one of these companies--Del Rey is Random House; Pocket is Simon & Schuster; St. Martin's is Macmillan; Little, Brown is Hachette. And why do you care? Because your agent generally isn't going to want your manuscript out to imprints that belong to the same parent company, since it's counterproductive for them to fight over you. You can, however, pitch one imprint of a Big Five publisher after another one has stopped responding or said no.

                                      • "What should I do next if my book doesn't sell?" Got me. Cry, probably. And write another one. In fact, write another one while you wait, regardless of whether it sells. It's not uncommon for your agent to sell your second book even if they can't sell your first, and then--because many publishers do offer multiple-book deals even if your sold book isn't a series--the first book might get picked up by them anyway. If you're satisfied with how your agent has handled your submissions even if it didn't sell, consider offering them the next one. And yes, sometimes they won't like it (oh horrors), and then it IS allowed and possible for you to pursue separate representation. I did that, but not because of anyone not liking a book--my nonfiction book was a genre my first agent didn't represent, so I got another agent who did. If you decide to STOP submitting--the options get too small for your liking, or you decide to wait for another market climate, or you decide to self-publish--those are options too. But consider just writing a different title and trying that. Chances are you'll improve with every book. Your next one might be ready and you may realize your first one was not.

                                      • "What if they praise my book and then tell me they can't take it for their list?" Chances are they probably actually really liked it, and still think it won't sell well enough to justify taking you on. I don't really know why in all cases, of course, but the hard truth is this: You're the artist, and the publisher is the business. Yes, they love good books too. Just about everyone in publishing is a dippy book nerd who got into this because they love reading. But when you're turning to an actual organization that's designed to make a buyable product out of your stuff, they do have to think in realistic terms, like WILL IT SELL. If they think it won't, that's their answer. There's probably not a secret code embedded in there when they say "I like your book but I'm not going to buy it." Every new author's a risk. When you ask them to take on your product, they stand a chance of losing money, and it's not wrong of them to take the surer thing (based on some factors that rely on experience you do not have). They are probably not a bunch of philistines who don't know real art when they see it. They're just worried about if they can sell it. You're pursuing a mainstream deal so you can get them to do the selling part. If you don't want saleability to figure into your journey, you may be better off on your own.

                                      • "What if a publisher wants to change my title?" Then they'll tell you. And if they say they want to change it, they probably will. Titles are notoriously variable; many books that sell as one title are published as another, and I recommend not getting too attached to your title, because it's a key marketing device and those types of things--along with the cover--are in the hands of the marketers, whose job it is to sell your book. They have more experience than you do. And they probably won't bring up a desired title change until the editing process has begun, after you sign a publishing contract. This shouldn't be a deal-breaker for you. And for full disclosure purposes, yes, my title was changed. I sold my book as So You Think You're Asexual: An Introduction to the Invisible Orientation. The publisher changed it to The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality. Their title is way better. I thought I was being funny and cute, but had overlooked how the title would suggest it was only for asexual people or people who were questioning whether they were.

                                      • "How do agents pitch the book to publishers?" This varies. I think MOST agents simply send a proposal package of sorts--sometimes just a query letter, and maybe a synopsis or marketing stuff. Then the publisher replies to your agent saying "oh that sounds boss," and your agent sends the incredibly boss book, and then the agent tells you you got a request, and you go eat a sandwich or crawl under your desk and die. But some agents prefer to call the editors, especially if they've worked with them before and/or already know them, and some agents might even take networking opportunities in person at conferences or events. They may occasionally be present at meetings WITH the publishers, though this is changing as the necessity of being in New York has lessened for American publishing. You don't actually talk directly to the editor during the pitch phase. I didn't get introduced to my editor until I signed a contract, and I've actually never spoken to her on the phone or met her.

                                      • "But everyone I know has gotten a book deal in way less time and UGH!" I'm sorry. This is the worst thing about being on submission--feeling like it's your turn and then finding out it isn't. It happens with every rejection. You wonder why yours isn't for them but someone you know is blissfully signing their contract and is soon to be good-naturedly complaining about edits and deadlines and LOL what pen should I use to sign my books, it's so hard! Well, first, take a step back and remember that you're happy for your friends and acquaintances, and the only reason it's hard to watch is that you want it too. Concentrate on that. Think about how you would feel if your friends were focusing more on their own sadness than on congratulating you. But don't be ashamed of being jealous and frustrated. Just separate it from your feelings for them, and focus more on how much you want it rather than resenting them for having it. It can be really hard if, say--an example from my life--an editor who requested your book ignored yours and then you read a story of another author getting snatched up by the same editor after her manuscript had been there seven days. What, you waited months with no reply and this author got a six-figure book deal? And you can't even get a letter that says no thanks? Yeah, it's hard to take. But there is always a chance that you've written a good book that nobody wants to try to sell at this moment, and you can't fall apart now. Remember why you love writing, and write the next one. You really could be almost there, and you'll never know if you don't keep putting yourself in a position to receive that yes. Also, keep in mind you see these amazing stories and they catch headlines BECAUSE they are unusual. A long submission time with a modest offer is much more common.

                                      • "Can my agent dump me??" Actually, yeah. And you can dump your agent. Usually "dump" isn't what happens; you'll have a professional disagreement (like, they want to put your book on hold until the market improves and you want to keep going, or they run out of options and think the only possibility is a digital deal while you don't want to go that route), or the agent will switch agencies and you don't want to go with them, or the agent leaves the business entirely, or they like one of your books but don't seem to like any of your subsequent ones. So you split up. It happens. And it's happened to a ton of people I personally know--sometimes because they wanted it to, and sometimes because of unavoidable circumstances. But now that you know how to get an agent since you've done it once, you're probably going to have an easy time getting another. Just keep in mind that you shouldn't be in a rush to leave your agent if the sale didn't happen fast enough, because once a book has been rejected by enough top editors, a new agent may not want to bother with you if they can't hit those editors. (You can't re-query an editor for the same project unless they've explicitly requested an R&R.)

                                      • "How important is luck?" You don't want to hear this, but VERY. I'm not kidding. You've read some bad books, right? Published ones? Published-by-big-houses ones, right? Somebody thought they were great. And that somebody may have made it possible for a mediocre writer to become a bestseller, too--possibly knowing it wasn't a great book so much as a book with the potential to be popular. In general, yes, you usually have to be pretty dang good to get published, but that is not ALL that needs to work for you. If you ever want to hear about the serendipitous things that happened to certain VERY popular authors, look up the publication journeys of J.K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini. The former's publisher literally threw her book in a trash can before being influenced into publishing it by an eight-year-old. The latter's publisher offered after the author self-published his book and got "discovered" by a popular author who bought the self-pubbed version for his son on a road trip and then recommended it to his editor after his son liked it without reading it himself. We don't know if they'd have been completely obscure had these events not happened, because they happened. We can laugh about them now--I'm sure the authors do--but if that hadn't happened, their roads to publication would have been very different, if they even existed. Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time. It isn't fair. Neither is this business. So the more times you write a book, the more chances you'll have to hit someone's sweet spot. If the first one doesn't hit.

                                      • "Hey wait, what about those of us who are submitting to publishers without an agent?" I don't know much about that, but I do know there are plenty of publishers that accept manuscripts directly from authors. What about y'all? Well, all I can say is you're more likely to wait a little longer than agented authors for a response, and you're more likely to get a smaller advance and to be offered less favorable terms. That's not to say they're ripping you off; it's just that they can offer you whatever they want, and if you don't have an agent to argue with them about negotiable contract items, you'll probably just end up not knowing any better and signing a contract that's not as good for you as a similar one offered to your agented counterpart. You may wish to have a professional who specializes in pub law read your contract, and yes, that consulting will cost you money. It's worth it.

                                      • "What can I expect in terms of an advance?" Not much, haha. Nah, but really, some people get a very nice advance. Some people don't get one at all, even from decent-sized publishers. Don't worry too much about your advance. It's one check. Your percentages for how much you earn on each copy are much more important than your advance. You also have to earn out that advance before those percentages start counting toward what you made. Remember, you may also make some cash from other rights selling--my audio rights sold well after my book itself sold to the publisher.

                                      • "What's the one piece of advice you'd give to someone newly on submission?" Don't compare yourself to others. You're going to panic if you do. Oh god, my book's not going to sell at auction--it would have by now! Oh god, my book is getting passed over by the editors--what if it's not good enough! Oh god, my book's been on submission too long--people who are GOING to get book deals would have gotten one by now! Well, here's something you need to hear. Most people will never write a novel. Then most of the people who write a novel are never going to find representation for it. You've already done something really unusual, and nearly everyone who's been through it will tell you there is no actual "usual." Now that you've bucked the system as long as you have and figured you're going to be an exception, why would you stop now? And if you got this far but this is where it stops for you, you can still use lessons you were uniquely privileged to learn so you can move forward to possibly succeed next time. Tell stories. Keep telling them. That's why you're really here, and if marketing trends and bad luck and specialized opinions get in the way of your story selling, you still need to keep telling stories. So be a writer. Enjoy being a writer. Let yourself be a little anxious and weird about this, but don't forget to be a writer. Take care of your mental health, clue your friends and family in on what you're going through to the best of your ability, don't isolate yourself if you usually need people around you, and keep writing.
                                      So? What do you still want to ask me about submitting your work to agents or publishers? Comment if you like, and if I think it's a common question I can answer, I'll work it into the post. Please refrain from asking me to disclose specific information about the submission process I'm currently engaged in, though!

                                      And good luck to all of you who are putting your hearts and souls out there in an electronic envelope and waiting for someone to share the love. I've been there and am there, and love you all.