Like most writers, I understand, it took a long time for me to find a publisher who was willing to accept one of my submissions. Many won’t even look at submissions from unknown writers and a good many note that they are not presently considering new material. I did get offers, but they were patently phony. Agents and publishers alike who were willing to talk to me wanted money. Luckily, thanks to sites like Writer Beware, I was savvy enough not to spend money I didn’t have to spend. So I was really thrilled when I received my first acceptance letter. A real publisher had read part of my novel, asked for the rest and she wrote back that the rest did not disappoint her. Still living in the Dark Ages, I packed up my 80,000 word manuscript and shipped it off at no mean expense and trouble to Canada. Eventually it came back, refused by the publisher. When I wrote to ask what happened, I received an apology. The publisher assumed I knew they only dealt with electronic submissions. Okay, lesson learned. I was happy at first with being a Published Author and, although I approved the cover, I eventually came to hate it. The lack of communication that began with the paper manuscript continued. Somehow, my publisher and I continued to have little misunderstandings. Then a second manuscript, initially approved, somehow got lost. When I submitted it again, she rejected it because she had just acquired two “Cozies”. This while my novel was a police procedural! Eventually we parted in friendly fashion with my rights reverting to me. At about that same time I submitted another novel to a different publisher who accepted it. Wow! Two acceptances at almost exactly the same time, this after years of rejection. This publisher appeared to be great and even created a really neat and appropriate cover for the book. We didn’t always agree of course. She insisted that I not use contractions in narrative. In dialog okay, but not in narrative. Being new and glad to find a publisher, I tried to go along, but eventually when I pointed out that many authors use contractions in narrative, she appeared shocked and said it had only been a suggestion. After all, I was the author. Okay, but that came a little late. Unfortunately the books began falling apart the minute people got their hands on them. The publisher did offer to replace them, and eventually she assured me the problem had been fixed. However, from there things only went downhill for her and before long, she had to go out of business. She did return my rights. Another publisher accepted a novel and she appeared to be really professional. Even assigned an editor to work with me to make my novel as perfect as possible. Unfortunately, along the way she evidently discovered that there’s a lot more money in erotic novels than in mainstream, and by the time my novel was published, there it lay, a somewhat noir, but mainstream novel tucked in among steamy erotic novels featuring nudes on the covers and positioned in a way that no one would ever notice it. She returned my rights too, and we parted company in a friendly fashion. I found another publisher. She was very cooperative and helpful and published two of my mysteries. They came out with good covers and looked good and the books didn’t fall apart, but soon she fell ill and eventually had to sell to another person who apparently knew little about the publishing business. My relationship with the new owner was spotty at best and eventually I got my rights back. Finally, at long long last my work landed on the desk of my current editor. We hit it off immediately and we’ve continued to have a good relationship ever since. She has published all these other novels from before along with new ones. At the present time I have ten novels with her and two more are being edited even as I write. She answers my dumb questions, offers suggestions, is very helpful and cooperative in putting together great cover art, and I’m currently working on another novel which I hope she’ll like as well. From this little jeremiad, as you may surmise, finding a publisher is hard enough for anyone of course, but being able to find one with whom you’ll have a great relationship borders on being a miracle. I’m really thankful that I fell into the good graces of my current publisher. I hesitate to mention names because I don’t want her overwhelmed by writers who are looking for the same relationship I have. I’m sure she isn’t right for everyone, and that’s probably as it should be. But out there somewhere, I’m equally sure there’s a publisher who’s just right for you. If you don’t hit it off with the first one…or two, keep looking. You just have to keep looking. Just had a great idea for a new web business: Match Writer and Publisher.com “Find your Muse’s match for you.” Boy, I may be onto something here. Excuse me. I’ll finish this later.
When you get a chance, go to http://askdavid.com for interesting and helpful reviews of good books you may not have heard about. You can see some of mine too for an added bonus.
Ivy D. Truitt was kind enough to publish this guest blog on Manic Readers http://www.manicreaders.com and I’m adding it here today. (With of course, a few subtle changes. Like most writers, I can’t even write a grocery list without several revisions and I’m still never satisfied).
I’d like to submit a few syllables on the subject of using real events and/or people in fiction as opposed to creating everything out of thin air.
Just recently I read a blog that discussed this subject and it reminded me that not too many years ago I was having difficulty with this very thing.
For a long time I had it in my dense little head that fiction, by definition, should be fiction. I strove for that to no avail. Sometimes I realized I was “borrowing” from remembered events and/or characters, etc., and worried that I might be cheating.
Eventually, reading other writers, and reading about other writers, I learned that most, if not all of them, habitually mine their memories for real-life events and people, not only to inspire them, but to give their work color and texture. Someone said of Roald Dahl to be careful what you say around him because it’ll turn up in his next book.
There is the roman à clef of course, and we know some novels are actually thinly disguised autobiographies. But most novels don’t really fall into that category — however, I think that, if a novel is properly written, the reader has an excuse for believing the work actually to be autobiographical “because it’s so real. A person couldn’t just make this stuff up.”
When I was young and innocent I discovered Raymond Chandler’s famous detective Philip Marlowe. I was entranced and, in my mind Philip Marlowe was really Raymond Chandler using a fictitious name. I imagined him to be a robust fellow about thirty years old with plenty of attitude. When I found out Mr. Chandler was in reality a rather dignified pipe-smoking university educated sixty-something year-old gentleman, and the only iron he ever packed was probably a nine-iron, I felt really deceived. Okay, I got over that. The man was writing fiction. But his locales, his characters, all were so real that it read like fact. Real places, real people. And of course that’s what fiction should do: read as a believable factual account.
In a movie or on TV, if we catch a glimpse of a mike or even its shadow, we’re jerked right out of “reality” into the realization that we’re watching a movie. If we’re reading a novel and the bad guy puts a silencer on his revolver, same thing. We know people don’t use silencers on revolvers. Every aspect from locale to characters to all the little incidentals that enter into the story have to be accurate and believable. As the author, you’re God. This is a world you’ve created and you’re supposed to know everything, at least about the story you’re telling.
I’m often inspired by real events. Maybe I see that an employee of a convenience store was killed. A robbery gone bad? Normally that’s pretty straight forward. But what if robbery wasn’t the motive, but revenge, or the work of a religious fanatic, a jealous lover, a case of mistaken identity, a stray bullet from the street, and so on. That could be the start of a book right there. In short, my favorite tool in writing is: “What If?”
I can’t help including little habits I’ve seen in real characters. In one book I’ve got a guy who says “basically” in almost every sentence. That came from a man I worked for as a kid. There are people who constantly belch at ‘leventy-five decibels. People who constantly wink or blink or yawn a great deal. There are people who turn everything a person says into a double-entendre in some way or another, people who constantly fiddle with their hair. Women who flirt to cover their insecurities and men who talk tough to hide theirs….
Sometimes, like Raymond Chandler, I name a real city with real street names and locales, and sometimes I make the city up, or simply don’t mention it by name, but, I still use a real background from somewhere in my memory, be it a house, a bedroom, a store or a train. I find I can give the entire scene a lot more realism if I clearly see the surroundings myself. Any names are of course changed to protect the innocent — or guilty — as the case may be. In my latest effort, The Sand Bluff Murders, I use both. Sand Bluff is a tiny town that was bypassed by the freeway I-5 in California. The town is fictitious, but in describing it, I have plenty of tiny towns to draw upon. And at the same time, real towns like Redding, Sacramento, Beverly Hills and San Francisco enter into the tale.
Recycling isn’t a new idea at all. How many times has Cinderella been recycled over the years and continues to be recycled today? People used to laugh at “Mr. Television” Milton Berle because of the running joke that he stole all his material. The truth is that comedians constantly recycle the same old jokes over and over; they just make a little change here, a little change there, and bingo! a new joke.
Only the other day I caught myself doing the same thing. My wife and I were talking about genealogy and I said I thought I might have a little Pawnee in my blood. She asked why and I said because my grandmother used to tell me stories about all the wonderful experiences she had with the Indians when she came across in a covered wagon. That literally popped out of my mouth. I thought, where did that come from? But then I remembered. Once — many years ago — on a game show, Peter Marshall suggested Priscilla Mullins and John Alden had some six million descendents in the United States. Immediately the late Paul Lynde burst out: “Wow! Priscilla really did come across on the Mayflower.”
I’d better stop while I’m ahead, but let me just repeat, a writer shouldn’t hesitate to use real-life experiences and real people in books or stories. A little change here and a little change there and nobody can prove a thing.
If you find anything in these comments that may help, you’ll make my day. Good reading and good writing!