More #GUTGAA–with analysis this time

I have entered yet another pitch contest in #GUTGAA, this time the small press pitch contest. The only difference is that instead of agents being the ultimate judges (as in the agent pitch contest earlier), this time it’s small press… people. Editors? Talent scouts? I don’t actually know their titles. (But I’m sure they’re awesome. One of them has even voted for my entry so far!)

I decided to enter Blackout this time instead of City of Magi for a lot of the reasons I mentioned in earlier posts. Though I think City of Magi is my best work, Blackout is “pitchier.” I know I sound like a TV Singing show judge, but what I mean by that is that it’s an easier pitch to an agent. Blackout is Urban Fantasy with a religious mythological theme. It’s short (kind of—more on that later). It’s more modern, and it’s a lot more like stuff that’s getting a lot of press today.

Before I go further, I’d like to try and absolve myself: I don’t intend anything I say as an insult, though if you read it with the right voice in your head, it certainly can sound that way. You see, one thing this contest has taught me is that I understand very, very little about the modern female mass-lit consumer. And there are so, so many of them. I pitched Blackout in this contest because I specifically think it appeals more to women—not in its actual content (the female characters are much better developed and stronger overall in City of Magi), but in its pitch, and that’s largely because I hit all the checkboxes. Urban Fantsasy. Under a hundred thousand words. Protagonist is a mid-to-low income teacher. Part of the struggle is how the events of the plot affect his love life.

Now, my analysis here (pitch to women, because they’re the consumers) is not based simply on a hunch. In fact, I did a little compiling of the data. There were thirty-two entries in the adult literature category. One of them was a nonfiction analysis of humor essay that really didn’t fit in, so for the below data, consider that one as having been set aside. Hence, there were thirty-one entries.

Of those thirty-one, no fewer than 20 were what I would call (and again, not as an insult) “chick lit.” I mean this in the same vein as “chick flicks,” which, to my knowledge is not used in a derogatory manner except by people who hate romcoms. Chick flicks tend to do very well in the cinema, and I have no doubt (particularly now) that chick lit does just as well at the bookstore. I classified an entry as chick lit if it met one of the following categories:

  1. Its stated genre was “Romance,” “Romantic Comedy,” “Paranormal Romance,” or “Women’s Fiction” (and if you don’t want your book to be called chick lit, but you market it as women’s fiction… c’mon… really?)
  2. The first two sentences established the protagonist as a plucky, determined woman trying to right her life when everything gets complicated, and she has to deal with the sullen but handsome detective snooping around her… you get the picture. If it took me all of five seconds to say “Ahhh… this book is aimed at women,” then I lumped it in there. If I had any hesitation, I didn’t include it.

Of the entries mentioned, 12 were assigned to chick lit by their self-professed genres, and 8 were my own intuition. You’re welcome to do your own analysis (or try to guess which 8 that were not automatically assigned I thought were clearly for women) by seeing the whole list at Tara Tyler’s blog. Two thirds of the entries sounds a bit high for just chance. There’s a lot of it out there. By comparison, just 8 of the others were fantasy or urban fantasy, so if you add the three paranormal romances you’d be up to 11 out of 31 entries as fantasy. Six were mainstream or literary fiction (one of which I counted as chick lit), two were genuine hard science fiction, two were thrillers, and two were historical fiction. There is some double counting in there, so the numbers don’t add up to 31, but that gives you a sense of the breakdown. There’s some fantasy going on, but holy Mary mother of Jesus is there a metric ton of chick lit.

Now, I suspect some of this is just the nature of the contest I entered, the people who knew Deanna Barnhart (who I can’t thank enough for putting this together) or followed her blog, and in that way it may be skewed toward this audience. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s less skewed than it looks. Maybe that’s the shape of the modern reading market, and because I’m not a part of that audience, I didn’t know how significant it was.

Something else that really blew my mind was the length of the entries. Now, there was one monster at 240K, which is actually shorter than the non-split version of City of Magi, but if you throw out that entry and the essay, the average length of all entries was 82,456 words. That puts me on the long end with what I felt was my “short” book at approximately 99,000 words. Pouring through comments from the agent competition and the small press competition, there appears to be consensus that books should only ever be up to 90K or so in length. 100K was just excessive, and the absolute max publishable length (from one comment) was 150K.

I have to admit, this all leaves me speechless. I had researched this before, and I thought the target was 120K on submission (to hit something like 400 pages). This is particularly true given that the first thing any good editor is going to do is look for what she can cut out of the book. They want to trim the fat and they don’t do that by asking for longer descriptions. A 120K manuscript can easily become a 95K published book in the hands of a particularly vicious (and I mean that in a good way) editor. How long does a submitted 80K manuscript end up? I can’t imagine paying for a 70K book. I have literally never read a book that short, and I would assume something of that size was intended for a younger audience. Is this the face of chick lit? Am I missing the audience or am I looking at a completely different crowd from where I usually am, at least in fiction today?

In reverse order, the last books I have read are:

  1. The entire Game of Thrones series (these are all massive)
  2. The entire Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series (~600 pages each)
  3. The Hunger Games (~100K words, the rest of the series was a little shorter)
  4. Spell Bound by Kelley Armstrong (350ish pages, so approximately 100K)
  5. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (333 pages, so approximately 95K)

 

I never read books that are shorter than 90K, it would seem. It isn’t at all the case that I think you need that kind of length to be complete or to be interesting. I don’t doubt that great stories can be told in 50,000 words or less. I’m just stunned by the view that you can’t be longer than 90K if you want to get published as a first time author, or that books longer than 150K are “out of style” as one commenter in the agent contest mentioned. Out of style? Did people never pick up any of the Harry Potter books? The first Harry Potter was 77K, but the last four were all close to 200K, and I enjoyed them all. Is Game of Thrones (first book, 284K, and that was the shortest one) not the most popular work of fantasy in the world right now? If I go back further in my reading queue, you’ll find Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind (259,000) and A Wise Man’s Fear (399,000), both of which are insanely awesome and very long.

Again, I don’t think you need length, but I have a hard time seeing people get turned off by it.


UPDATE: With three out of four judges voting for Blackout, I moved on to the finalist round! Thanks to all the judges and congratulations to all the other finalists.


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Back in the Saddle

February 8, 2012 5:15 pm by MRM in News, Projects

I’ve been radio silent for far too long, and mostly it has to do with juggling a million projects at once, including an exciting new one that I’ll post excerpts from shortly. The projects of note are:

1. Those Who Die Young – Issue 4: Obviously. Barring a disaster, this will be published next week and I’ll have cover art up and ready for you later this week. Some of my more loyal readers might notice a title change. At the end of Issue 3, I declared (in the preview section) that Issue 4 would be entitled “Bloody Mess.” My wise editor thought that was horrible when she heard about it, and after much consideration, I think she’s right. I came up with the much cooler (and still applicable) new title, “Blood Money,” which we both agreed was a massive improvement.

2. TWDY – Issue 5: Next week will mark the first time in TWDY history I’ve published issue N without first completing issue N+1. I have written some of it and I know what happens, but I haven’t gotten a rough draft banged out yet.

3. Official Query Letter – City of Magi: I’m super excited about this one. City of Magi is complete, revised, and ready to be queried. There are two minor stumbling points to that, though. One is that to query, you need a query letter. I’ll post a little about that later, or perhaps just leave the interested reader to the eight million conflicting advice columns that already exist. The second is the submission package, which includes…

4. Synopsis – City of Magi: I’m still fumbling with this one, fighting to get it down to size. I didn’t end up reducing the size of City of Magi as much as I had hoped (final length, 273K words), but with a synopsis, your freedom is considerably restricted. This is very much a work in progress right now.

5. Joyriders – Issue 1: This is actually copy edited and almost ready to roll. I’ve had the cover art up for months now, and for some reason I just never judged this as ready for prime time. I suspect my focus on TWDY had something to do with that, and part of my reluctance is definitely that I won’t be able to push out issues of Joyriders like I have TWDY without sacrificing the latter, and I have a big emotional attachment to Lear and Erica, not to mention readers that actively bug me about publishing more. This could come out as soon as next month, but I’ll have to really consider whether I want to make a dangling commitment like that, particularly given…

6. A brand new book. I know, I know. Why? Well, this is something that I just got addicted to. The book is called Blackout, and it’s a supernatural thriller set in modern Philadelphia about a schoolteacher who gets periodically possessed by the angel of death to assassinate the members of a demonic cult threatening both the celestial and earthly worlds. The protagonist has no idea why he is being possessed, only that he keeps waking up over the bodies of people he has apparently killed.

I’ve been spectacularly hooked on Blackout of late, and it’s hard to deny the fun that this story is going to be to write. The difficulty is mostly in keeping my other projects moving, which I absolutely intend to do. My prioritization list reads something like

  1. City of Magi submission packet
  2. TWDY
  3. Blackout
  4. Joyriders

I just have to get my time spent on each to reflect this, as I’ve been succumbing to temptation to write Blackout more than anything else. I also have some crits that I owe my fellow writers. In all of this, one other commitment has been left in the cold: blogging. I’m trying not to do that, and to a certain extent I’m being pushed not to do that by virtue of my upcoming publications, but there are only so many hours in the day that I can spend writing. I’m still learning to juggle stories well. It is taking considerably longer than it took me to learn to juggle actual objects (I can do pins and spheroids, but no more than three).

February is going to be an interesting month, and I’ll do my best to get my work out into the real world instead of the confines of my Dropbox.


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No, I have not retired from blogging (and other news)

So… yeah, it’s been a while. Over a month, actually, which is impressive and disappointing, given that I started this blog with the intent of posting at least twice a month. If you look at the archive, I was pretty good about that. What happened? Well, November happened. November was the heart of my marathon season, during which I ran two half marathons and one full, so that took up a good bit of time. Also, November was holiday-tastic, with an extra family-related unexpected vacation to spare. It was also “Holy crap I wanted to get Trial and Error out on December first and there is so much editing to do” month. TNE took its time getting ready, but I’m really happy with the way it turned out. Issue 4, Bloody Mess, will hopefully be out in January, with Issue 5 in March. This comprises the last of what I’m calling “Volume 1” of Those Who Die Young, and while it by no means is the end of the story, it will mark the conclusion of a major story arc. I think of it as my season finale.

Curious things happened with my pricing in the month of November as well. In a run-up to the December release of Trial and Error, Shelter From the Storm and Bearers of Bad News were both dropped to $0.99, from their $2.99 height. I have previously addressed my decision to move to the $2.99 price point. It wasn’t one I made lightly, as I felt forced into making that particular choice by the bizarre cutoff value for a 70% revenue split as opposed to 35%. The latter is all you can select if you price your book outside of Amazon (and other booksellers’) predefined sweet zone of $2.99 – $9.99. I always thought the “natural” price of an issue was $1.99. Two bucks felt right for one episode of TWDY, much as it feels like a good price to pay for an hour-long serial television show to me. The problem was that, at $1.99, I get approximately $0.70 per sale, even on Smashwords. At $2.99, I get $2.00. The craziness is self-evident: by raising the price a dollar, I make more than a dollar more. I really hate that. I want to price it based on what I feel it ought to be worth, not a gimmicky formula agreed upon by the great brain-trust of all eBook sellers.

While I was thinking about that, it occurred to me that I’m not trying to do this to make money.  I really like writing, and I really want people to buy my stories. Why should price be a barrier? Hence, damn the formulae, I set Trial and Error to be $1.99. And I left the first two issues at $0.99. If you bought a copy at the higher price, feel free to email me—I absolutely will give you a code to get a free copy of the next or any future issue of your choice. I’m not trying to play the market or put higher numbers on early sales. As I said from the very beginning, writing TWDY is a tremendous joy, but it is also a tremendous experiment. Serial fiction is a strange thing to be toying with.

I did make one other change to my listings on Smashwords. I changed my settings for Shelter From the Storm and Bearers of Bad News to no longer say they have “adult” content. I’m not a big fan of the way that Smashwords filters it’s adult content, largely because they don’t have a sliding scale. It’s adult or it’s not. And although a hardened killer in Shelter does use the F-word when enraged, I don’t have graphic sex in the stories (I don’t actually have any sex in them yet, but I reserve the right for my characters to get laid). The criteria you’re supposed to use is whether or not it has material inappropriate for those under 18. Well… some parents wouldn’t want their kids to read a story that had even one curse word in it, and there is certainly violence in all three issues. TWDY isn’t appropriate for the Harry Potter target audience. However, if you go to Smashwords and turn off your adult filter, well, here are a few of the first things that pop up for me right now if I do so (without typing in any search words) : “Ms. Chanton’s Castle: Threesome in the Study,” “Locker Room Gangbang Quickie Series,” and “On The Floor: A Tish Adams Erotic Short Story – Episode #2.”

Actually, going there today had considerably less porn than usual. In any case, TWDY does not need to be cordoned off into the same section of the store as straight up sex stories (with all due respect to the authors of LRGQS, Tish Adams, and Ms. Chanton’s Castle"). No more “adult” setting for me. I wish they had a movie-style rating scale, so I could say that my books are somewhere near the PG-13/R border, depending on your sensitivities. Alas, it’s a binary scale, and I’m no longer rating myself as a 1.

In other news, I finally sent out the prequel short story to City of Magi to a short fiction magazine, so I’m quite excited about that. The book itself is still in revision, but I’m keeping a counter on how many chapters I have left to retouch. Right now I have 30 ready-to-query chapters and 33 left to go. Yes, it’s a really long book (250k words). I’m doing less slash-and-burn than I expected in the editing process. Of course I’m cutting out the unneeded parts, but I’m not axing entire chapters or characters like I feared I would have to do. I was careful on the characters I added and the scenes I wrote, and it’s something I can really stand behind.

There is one other minor commitment that has been keeping me from my blog, though that’s going to slough off as the days go on. Sadly, I was taken by the great geek apocalypse that is Skyrim. It is, hands down, the most addictive and enjoyable game that has ever been made, and it is a technical masterpiece to behold. I’m even more impressed that they created such an expansive game in this day and age and made it run well on low-powered machines like mine. My gaming/coding laptop didn’t used to be low-powered, but that was two years ago when I bought it. I’m hoping it has enough life left in it to comfortably play Mass Effect 3, and then it might be time for me to retire the old girl.

It’s a happy holiday season, and things are exciting in the writing world. I’ll keep you posted more often as things move along. During my holiday break, lots of stuff usually gets finished (City of Magi was completed in it last year).

Pick up Trial and Error on Kindle or Smashwords if you get a chance! It’s my favorite issue of TWDY so far, and it will only get better in February with Bloody Mess.


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