Saturday, March 31, 2007
Ask The Author #2 - The first step to publishing.


Hi Pat,


I have just finished the first draft of my first novel and have a short story that will see print in the Dragonmount anthology for 2006.

Now I have to do the agent thing, and not only would I not know a query letter if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. I dont really know what I should do now. I mean what is the thing that will help me get to the next step. (Feeling very green and newbie at the moment.)

I mean I will have my name in print I want to use that to get to the next step.

Any advice would be welcome.

Thanks for your time.

Karl.


Honestly Karl, my advice is to work on the book before you even start hunting for an agent.

I know that's not what you want to hear. But it's the best advice I can give you.

Now believe me. I understand how you feel. You don't want to wait, revise, tinker, and edit. You've finally finished your huge project. You feel awesome. You've worked for months or years to get to this point. It's finally done. Now you can sell it and get rich and famous. Or you can at least take the first step toward becoming moderately less poor and obscure.

I know that's how you feel because that's how I felt back in 1999 when I "finished" my trilogy.

I say "finished" because it wasn't. My story had an ending, sure. I'd written the trilogy all the way through. But was it finished? Good lord, no. Nowhere close.

Let's approach this from another angle. Let's say your query letter catches someone's attention. If you're lucky, the prospective agent will want to see the first 30 pages of your book. When they read those pages are they going to say, "WOW, this is awesome! I can sell this for sure!" or are they going to say, "Hmmmm, it looks pretty rough."

I'm guessing if you just finished the first draft, it's going to be the latter.

At that point the agent either has the option of putting in a ton of time and effort into you and your rough manuscript. OR they can toss it aside and read one of the dozens still sitting on the slushpile, hoping for something that's clean, tight, polished-up, and ready to sell right now.

Which option do you think they're more likely to pick?

It's my belief that you should never show your work to anyone in the publishing world until it shines like a diamond. Rough drafts don't shine, as a rule. Mine certainly didn't. That's why I was rejected for years and years.

I'm actually glad the book was rejected during those years. Sure it was frustrating, but it forced me to go back, improve the story, and improve myself as a writer. I learned things about plot and character, about structure and brevity, about scene and story.

If that early version had made it into print, you wouldn't be reading my blog right now. That early version of the book wouldn't have recieved gushy reviews and author quotes. The publisher wouldn't have ponied up money for this cool website. If that early version had been bought, it would have been read by a handful of people, then probably quickly remaindered and forgotten.

But I was lucky, and I got seven extra years to work on my story. My book is worlds better now, and, as a result, people are really enjoying it.

You say you want to take things to the next step, Karl. Here's the next step. Revision. The first step is the draft. The second step is the revision. The third and fourth steps might be revision too.

Am I saying you should spend ten years working on your novel? No. Of course not. I'm just saying that first you need to work on your craft as a writer, THEN you should focus on your product, LAST comes the selling of it. Leave that for later.

But when it comes time to get that agent, Karl. Tap me. I can give you some pointers. I spent two years doing it wrong, I can help you avoid my mistakes.

pat

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Monday, March 26, 2007
My Misspent Youth.
So a couple days ago, I come home, open the door, and find this waiting for me:



My first thought is that I might have blacked out and overdone it on Amazon again. But when I looked closer I realized what was really going on:








My book. My baby.

My next thought was that these might be my author copies. But there was WAY too many for that. Then I remembered that a couple weeks ago, one of the PR people at Penguin told me that a bookstore owner had read the advance copy of the book and really loved it. He wanted to buy a hundred copies for his store, and was wondering if I would sign them for him.

I said, "sure, no problem," then pretty much forgot about it.

Carrying all the books inside really made me realize that 100 books is, to put it delicately, a whole shitload. And this is just for one store....

So anyway, I pulled out a book and decided to get started. I figured this was going to take me a while, unpacking, signing, then repacking the books to ship back out.

But before I even opened the first book, I was paralyzed with performance anxiety. Seriously. I held the pen and thought, "What if my signature doesn't look... well... authory enough?"

You know that phase you go through when you're in middle school, where you practice your signature so you're ready for when you become a rock star and have to sign autographs all the time? I know most of my peer group went through this somewhere between the ages of 11 and 16. One of my friends actually developed an entire variant style of cursive writing that he's used ever since. It was, and still is, totally cool looking.

Anyway, I never went through that phase. I wanted to be a rock star. But I suspected I didn't have the right sort of hair. I also had the penmanship of a demented monkey. Plus, I was lazy and had no musical talent to speak of.

Instead I wasted my time reading books, talking to girls, and doing my physics homework. As I looked down at the hundred books I was supposed to sign, I mourned my misspent youth.

So I sat down and signed my name a couple times. Its one of those things that's easy if you're not thinking about it, and hard when you're concentrating too much. I suddenly became very aware of the fact that the O leading into the T and the H is kinda hard to do quickly. If you rush it, you get tripped up and your H gets tangled up with the F.

That's right. Laugh it up. It's a hard name to sign, especially when you're obsessing, and nervous, and you have, at best, the penmanship of a third grader.

Anyway, I toughed it out and did my best. I still think my signature looks a little goofy, and there are a few of them where the H looks like it's getting freaky with the F, and the F might not be entirely cool with it. But still, given the fact that I started this whole process with a significant handicap, I think I did pretty well.

I just finished the last one, repacked the boxes, and got them ready to send out.

So before I go to bed, I'd like to give you aspiring writers out there some advice. Learn from my mistakes. Practice your signature now.

pat

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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Ask The Author #1: Agents

Hey Pat,


What's the deal with having an agent? I know an editor edits you, but I'm fuzzy on agents.

More specificially, I suppose, I'm wondering if you have one, or if you just deal directly with your publisher?

Emmie.


I do have an agent, Emmie, but I also deal directly with the publishers.

The agent's main job is finding the right publisher for your book and working out the financial details.

But there's more to it than just bargaining. The agent is also your navigator. Your trusty native guide in a strange land. Their job is to know the publishing landscape. They know who is looking for what, how much they're willing to pay, how good the editors are, how good the marketing is, etc etc etc.

Once the agent finds you a publisher, then you start a new relationship with the editor there. The editor's main job is to work with you on your book. But they also act as your liaison with the publisher, that includes sales, marketing.

But sometimes an agent will help with the marketing too, helping you get author blurbs, etc. It's not like your agent doesn't care about you anymore, they still want you to sell as many copies as possible. The more money you make, the more they make. The better your current book sells, the more they can sell your next book for.

My agent gives me advice on editing my novel. I trust him because he knows the genre and because he's given me good advice in the past. But that's MY agent. Your agent might be a shark when it comes to bargaining, but know precisely dick about how to tell a story.

Honestly, each editor and agent is different. Some work well together, some don't. Some will go to bat for you, some won't. It's a strange, chaotic thing, and it entirely depends on the individual people you're talking about.

This I will say. I'm glad I got an agent first. Not only did he help me get my first offer, he also gave me advice so felt comfortable turning that first offer down. (And that was a little hard, I tell you.) I'm much happier where I am now (with Daw) than I would have been with that other publisher.

Also, it's good to remember is that:

1) Your agent bargains for a living, so no matter how much of a dealmaker you are, they're probably better. They'll more than make up for the 15 percent they take out of your advance. Don't begrudge them their cut.

2) By handling the money end of your business, the agent also helps keep your relationship with your editor friendly. Your agent is a pushy dick on your behalf, so you can come in later and just talk about the book.

Think how awful it would have to be to go in to negotiations hoping for a $10,000 advance, only to have the editor argue you down to half that. So you sign a contract for $5,000 and spend the next six months working with them, editing, promoting, all the while you're seething about the fact that they screwed you out of the money you thought you were worth.

Just as bad, what if you pushed your editor up to $12,000 and then they carried a grudge against you? What if they decided to skimp on your promotion budget because of that? That's not a good foundation for an editor/writer relationship.

All in all I really recommend getting an agent. But make sure you get a good one. Tim Powers once said to me, "Who you pick for an agent is just as important as who you decide to marry."

It's really true. That person will be representing you to the entire publishing world. If they're like my wonderful agent, they'll make you look good. But if you get a bad agent, you'll look like an idiot by association.

The worst part is that it's really hard for a new author to tell if their agent is bad. If your publisher screws up, your agent will tell you. If your publicist screws up, your agent will tell you. But if your agent screws up.... well.... they probably aren't going to be very forthcoming about that...

So do some research before settling on an agent. It's exciting to get your first offer, but remember, this is going to be a long term relationship. A first kiss is exciting, but you don't necessarily want to get married because of it.

There are a couple good websites out there with advice about picking agents and editors. So I won't repeat what they say, I'll just point you in their direction.

Writers beware.

Editors and predators.


Pat

P.S. While I was writing this, my agent sent me the following e-mail:

"This is your last week as an unpublished author!!!!!! Congrats!!!!"

This reminds me of another important role that agents play. They help dispose of unwanted exclamation points.

I kid. What I really mean to say is that in the best of situations, your agent ends up being more than just a colleague or a co-worker. They make pretty good friends too.

Alright. I'm off to celebrate my final Saturday night of nobody status by eating a microwave burrito and watching some Anime.

Later.

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Monday, March 19, 2007
Author Q & A?
Over this last week a few people contacted me through webpage, asking questions. Most of them are aspiring authors or people curious about the whole writing/publishing process.

I was starting to reply to them individually, but then I thought, "What if other folks are interested in a little writing advice too?"

You see, I remember all too well what it was like growing up in the middle of nowhere, without any real writer friends or anyone I could turn to with questions about the publishing world.

So what do y'all think? Should we do an "ask the author" type thing here? I'm not an authority on this stuff by any means, but I've had a real crash course on how the publishing world works lately. Plus I've been writing these books for a decade or so. I hope I've learned a trick or two along the way.

Let me know what you think of this idea in the comments below. If it sounds interesting to at least a few people, we'll give it a try.

pat

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posted by Pat at 11 Comments



Saturday, March 17, 2007
On Becoming a Review Connoisseur....
I love talking about writing. I love talking about books I like and what makes them work. Alternately, I like talking about books I hate and what makes them suck.

So it goes without saying that I love talking about my own book, too. When people read my book and want to ask me questions, it's fun answering them. I'm proud as a new mother talking about her baby.

But there is one question I do not love. One question that I've never really been able to answer.

It usually comes up in a casual conversation that goes something like this:

Me: So what do you do?

Them: Oh, I'm getting my PHD in advanced beverage management. What about you?

Me: I teach and work on my novel.

Them: You're writing a novel? Wow. What's it about?

At this point the conversation can take two different paths. Most people really don't care about the novel. They're just making a polite social noise. So I say, "Oh, it's about a lot of things," and the conversation moves along to another topic.

But some people are really interested. They ask follow-up questions, gently encouraging me to talk until eventually I break down and try to explain it. Because, ultimately, and I WANT to tell them what the book is about, I just suck at it.

Them: What's it about?

Me: It's... well, it's kind of the story of a man's life. An exceptional man. It's sort of like a behind-the-scenes look at the myth of the hero. As the story progresses you see the truth of this guy's life is really different than the legends that have grown up around him over the years.

Them: Oh, I –

Me: But it's more than that. It's a mystery. The story centers around his attempt to uncover the hidden truths of his world. It's about what it means to be human. It's a love story, too. It's a story about stories. About how everyone tells stories, but at the same time stories shape our lives.

Them: Um, Okay, I guess that –

Me: It's about adventure! It's about a world so real you can touch it. About love, loss and betrayal! Truth! Beauty! It's like a thousand angels singing in your head! It's a three-day orgasm with super-size fries and a footrub. It's.... it's....

Them: [backing slowly away.] I'm just going to go hide behind something if that's alright with you....

What makes it hard is that I'm trying to be honest. If I just lied to these people about my book, it would be easy:

Then: So what's your book about?

Me: It's The Princess Bride meets Fight Club, with a little bit of Pirates of the Caribbean sprinkled over the top.

Them: Sweet!. [Leaves at a sprint to go buy the book.]

It's probably this particular deficiency that caused me to get endlessly rejected back when I was writing query letters to agents.

What's the point of all this? The point is that my particular handicap has helped me really appreciate the art of the review.

In the last month or so, my book has been getting reviewed. It's a new experience, having strangers read my book, then publishing their comments up for the world to see.

I've never read reviews before. The most I want to know about a book or movie is if it's good or not. No details. When I read a book or watch a movie, I want to experience it uncluttered with any previous knowledge or expectations.

So this last month has been an eye opener for me, because the reviews have been rolling in, and I'm curious what people have to say about my baby. Er, I mean my book.

My newly formed opinions of a review is this: a bad review summarizes a story, like a third grader's book report. A good review delves deeper, they not only tell you why it a book tickled their fancy or left them cold, a good review shows you what a story is about, what lies at the heart of it.

And, since that's something I've always had a hard time expressing, it's really interesting watching other people do it. I know the book better than they do, of course, but they're better at describing these things. Sometimes I read a review and think, "Yes! that's it! Why couldn't I have said that?"

Sometimes I read one and think, "Huh, I'd never considered that before, but I guess that is sort of a central theme...."

And, of course, there are a few where I read them and think: "The hell?!?" Luckily, these have been few and far between.

Anyway, here's a few reviews that I read just today, that led to this rambly musing.

One's from Locus, which is one of the high-mucky-muck sci-fi/fantasy magazines out there.

And this one is from a smaller, independent reviewer on a website called Flames Rising.

In some ways I'm jealous of these people who get to read by book for the first time. They get to see the book from the outside. That's something I'll never be able to do.

Later,

pat

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Thursday, March 15, 2007
Losing My Anonymity...
This past weekend I drove down to Madison to catch a reading/signing by Tad Williams. While we've e-mailed back and forth a little, I've never actually met him. And despite the fact that he's a seasoned pro and I'm a wet-behind the ears newbie, we're the literary equivalent of cousins: we both have the same editor and agent.

Because of this, I've heard a lot of stories about Tad over the last year or so, many of which have ended with comments like, "You'd really like Tad. The two of you are a lot alike."

So part of the reason I was coming down was to see the guy I'd heard so much about. Another large chunk was pure fannishness. I read Memory Sorrow and Thorn years ago. The size of his books and the scope of his story gave me hope that my own huge fantasy novels might actually be publishable some day.

Lastly, I was there to do reconnaissance. I've got readings and signings of my own coming up when my book hits the shelves in a couple weeks. I wanted to see how a pro handles it.

Because I was driving down from Stevens Point, I ended up getting in a little late. So I just sat on the floor off in the back corner of the room beside a cart full of folding chairs. Believe it or not, this is actually my happy place. I like being in the back corner of classrooms and restaurants because sitting with people behind me makes me profoundly uneasy. I'm a lurker by nature.

I watch Tad do his thing. He's got a great stage presence. He finishes his reading and starts into his Q & A. This is even better. He's quick on his feet, funny and clever. The group loves him.

Then somebody says, "Assume we've already read all of your books and we're looking for something new to read. What do you recommend?"

Tad says, "Well, it seems a little odd to mention it because he's here right now, and I might be accused of log-rolling, but I recently read a great debut fantasy by Patrick Rothfuss. That's spelled R-O-T-H-F-U-S-S. It's called...." he paused and cupped his hand to his ear dramatically.

I was caught flat-footed, but can know enough to take a cue when it's handed to me. "The Name of the Wind," I said from where I sat tucked away in the corner of the room. A few people turned to look, but most of them couldn't see me as I was sitting on the floor, partially tucked behind the cart of folding chairs. I wondered what they thought of the voice coming from nowhere to supply the title of the book. Was it an unseen employee? A high tech customer service device? Some helpful totemistic bookstore spirit?

Tad went back to answering questions, and I sat feeling odd and unsettled. Part of this was that I was flattered he thought enough of the book to mention it. But what really threw me off my stride was the fact that he recognized me. I'm not used to being recognized. I'm pretty comfortable in my anonymity.

After the Q&A, a youngish guy walked up to me and said, "You're Patrick Rothfuss, aren't you?" I admitted I was, and we had a pleasant round of what I fondly think of as 'geek talk.' We chatted about what books we like, what games we play, what comics are worth reading. It was nice. I like geek talk.

Still, it's odd having someone come up to me and know me just because they heard about my book.

It's not a bad thing, just a new thing. It's going to take some getting used to.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007
Still under construction....
Hello all, welcome to the website.

The good news is that we're finally live and we've got some stuff here that you can wander aound and look at. The bad news is that we're still working some of the bugs out.

We'll be adding more content here in the weeks and months to come, so if there's something you'd like to see on the page, you have a golden opportunity to make your opinion heard. Just leave a comment with your suggestion and I'll see if there's a way to make it happen.

pat

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