Oh, Publishing

I admit it. I woke up this morning without a clue what to blog about. So I went walking through the interwebs. Surely, I’d find something to inspire me. Right? Well, yes and no. I found one article that had me thinking, another that left me going “wut?” and a final one that reminded me why I made the decision to go indie. So, grab your coffee and let’s go.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know how much I respect Kris Rusch. She, along with Dean Wesley Smith, have done more to crack open the mysteries–and myths–surrounding traditional publishing than just about anyone. Kris’ “Business Musings” are a must read for anyone considering making writing their profession, whether you’re looking at going the trad or indie routes.

Kris has been doing a series of “Year in Review” posts. The most recent discusses copyright law. There are several things in the post that really stuck with me and they reinforce why here at MGC we always recommend getting an IP attorney to look over any contract before you sign it.

With few exceptions, literary agents do not use the services of lawyers to help negotiate a contract. Some of the larger agencies do, especially if they’re affiliated with other branches of the entertainment industry, but most of the time a traditional book contract is being negotiated by a person without a law degree whose knowledge of contract law is more haphazard than mine is.

What this has done with traditional publishing contracts is make them exceptionally inequitable. The contracts favor the publishers and, in some cases, actively harm the writers.

Read that again and print it out. Post it next to your computer monitor. Tape it to your mirror. Do not forget it. Then, if you are looking for an agent or happen to have one, ask them who vets a contract before they send it to you with the recommendation that you sign it. If they say anyone who doesn’t have “JD” after their name and how isn’t specializing in IP law, you might want to think twice before not only signing it but agreeing to let them negotiate anything for you going forward. That agent who has a fiduciary duty to you is NOT looking out for your best interests if they are accepting the contract without having an attorney make sure it isn’t harming you and your interests.

Don’t believe me, look at this example Kris points out. My blood ran cold when I read it and then I got angry. How many writers have signed similar contracts because their agents told them to or because the publisher assured them it was just boiler plate and they’d ignore the clause if asked?

Even contracts that have a good termination clause negate that clause in a different section (usually in the warranties). And within the last two or three years, some traditional book publishers have gotten smart and added a clause like this:

This contract represents the entire Agreement between the Publisher and the Writer. If any part of this Agreement is deemed unlawful or unenforceable, the rest of the Agreement shall remain in effect.

The contract clause is an attempt by publishers to avoid a contract being declared null and void due to one or more illegal or unenforceable clauses in it. Say bye-bye to the termination clause until this is challenged in court and, let’s face it, most traditionally published authors are aren’t willing to take a publisher to court because they are afraid they will be black listed.

And clauses like this are why you need someone looking out for your rights in contract negotiations. If your agent isn’t going to do it, why are you giving them a cut of your money?

Let’s take a sharp left turn into point of view. Ask any group of writers what the best point of view to write in is and you’ll get a number of different answers. Ask readers and you’ll get even more. Now you have this: an attempt to explain what “Deep POV” is.

I’ll admit right off the bat, I don’t think about POV this way. I write what the story wants when it comes to POV. That’s why there are a couple of short stories in one series (Nocturnal Lives) written in first person when the series itself–and the sequel series–are written in third person limited.

I’ll even admit I found myself scratching my head at times as I read the article, especially when it came to writing in present tense. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read many books where present tense has been effectively used that I’ve liked it. In those books, the use of present tense was off-putting because I felt like I was being “told” what happened instead of being “shown”. There was no deep connection with the character. I’m sure there must be good examples of present tense being used effectively, but I’ve found very few of them.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on “Deep POV” and what it is?

Finally, I came across an article from Publishers Weekly about the writers to watch this year. The first thing I noted as I scanned the article was how much emphasis was placed on not just “who” the writers were but “what” they were. Then I started reading the synopses of the books listed. If that wasn’t enough to turn me off most of them, comments from agents and/or editors were. Almost without exception, these are writers to watch because of message (whether in the book or in who or what the author is) and not because of an engaging plot that readers will still be talking about years from now or that will encourage them to buy the author’s next book.

Here’s what author Morgan Talty’s agent had to say about his collection of stories:

“I can’t believe this is a debut writer.” Thinking through the comparisons to older white writers such as Johnson, Larry Brown, Raymond Carver, and Alice Munro, she says the book stands on the shelf with her “all-time favorite collections,” but that “maybe the most important thing to say is that there aren’t really comp titles.”

She only compared him to “older white writers”? Does she do this to all her other clients, only look at how they compare to writers who share skin tone with them? WTF?!? How about asking if they wrote something that’s good, entertaining and that people will want to buy? Shouldn’t those be the first–and possibly only–questions an agent should ask?

But that’s not when I had to stop the impulse to wall my laptop. That came further up the article where another book is being discussed. I’ll not name the book, just give an excerpt of the description. You can find the title in the article. Here goes:

Lydia, the young woman at the center, is an artist and a vampire with a complicated relationship to food. She’d love to eat sushi, but all she can have is blood, which her Malaysian-English vampire mother prepares for her. When her mother moves in to a nursing home, Lydia begins exploring her late father’s Japanese heritage.

Now, I’ve read my fair share of books with vampires in them. Some vamps can’t eat or drink “normal” food because it will poison them. Others simply aren’t interested in anything other than blood. Then there are those who can eat and drink but it does nothing for them. They still need to drink blood. They eat because it is a way to hang onto one of the last vestiges of their humanity. I’ve even read books where a vamp, usually either newly turned or very old, pine for the chance to enjoy a good glass of wine or a special meal just one more time. So a vamp with a “complicated relationship to food” isn’t anything new.

What got me was the vampire mother moving into a nursing home. Wait! What?

That’s a new one and it makes no sense, especially without more explanation. Honestly, the short description makes it sound–to me at least–like the vampire aspect was added more to increase the potential reader base than as an essential plot point because otherwise it reads like so many other coming of age stories where the 20-something main character goes off to find herself and her heritage after the primary parent is no longer a constant in their life and they suddenly want to know everything about the absent parent.

There’s more fodder in there, but I’ll let you guys see for yourself.

As for me, 2022 is going to be busy. Books to write. Promotions to figure out and actually do. And, with that in mind, I need to get back to it. Until later!

21 comments

  1. Um… a Malaysian vampire is a penanggalan. A floating head with floating digestive tract and intestines. It’s a living human witch (I guess that explains the nursing home) who gains power from meditating in a vat of vinegar, and then ventures forth at night to eat childbirth blood and menstruation blood, as well as occasionally murdering young children or pregnant women by giving them a wasting disease from drinking their blood. Through the floor, from under the house on stilts. Always smelling like vinegar.

    So… um…. honestly, this is pretty gross territory for a “cute” book. Penanggalans are terrible.

      1. But that’s even STUPIDER. It’s England. She can eat blood pudding all day and all night. She can make friends with traditional Bantus and get free range, sustainably sourced blood. What the heck???

        1. Aren’t there a couple of stories where Jewish butchers are vampires, because they can get access to lots of blood?

          (More modern versions just make them Very Picky about fully draining corpses)

      1. I enjoy seeing monsters from other cultures be used, as well as rare monsters from European folklore, as long as they’re done accurately or the changes done work in the story.

        All the buzz you get of late about ‘good’ monsters of late, how I’d love to see someone do a Scottish Wulver or the Irish Faoladh (the healer/protective werewolves of Irish myth), just once. It’d make for a change of pace from the only other ‘good’ werewolves I can remember. The ones from, ugh, Twilight.

        1. There are a lot of good werewolves out there. I based “The Wolf and the Ward” on Bisclavret

        2. “I want a monster who is this, but this!”
          “That is a thus and such, or that and that, or a something or other with a slight twist; do any of those work instead of Hollywood Vampires But Different?”

          *********

          At this point, I’m happy with someone who writes good characters who are actually GOOD, instead of vaguely nice and rather stupid.

  2. I wish I could remember the name of the story but my pick Sad Puppies 2 year for short story was a 1st person, present tense. The main character was a ship AI (central computer on a warship). It made sense for that character because the character WAS cataloguing everything from his sensors and thinking and… and the tense made you feel that bit of alien-ness. (It wasn’t the most polished piece but it’s so far, in my reading experience, the only one that’s been good enough to make me forget it was in present tense.) On the other hand that’s the ONLY exception to present tense doesn’t work, that I’ve found. And I’m not sure it would work in a longer novel.

    1. That sort of scenario makes sense for present tense. I need to see if I can find the story. But for the rest of it, I’ve yet to find more than one or two authors able to carry if off.

    2. I’ve only once or twice come across an author where first-person-present was their natural voice, and it worked. Most of the time it reads like an affectation, and puts the story into stop-motion mode. So it’s become an automatic back-on-shelf.

      Back in the 1970s I read a series of three novels in 3rd person present. I still remember how it made my brain itch.

  3. Once upon a time there was a Hugo-winning novel written in present tense. Second Person present tense. The chapters were in mixed rather than linear temporal order. I was congratulated by several people for finishing it. Admittedly, the final sentence of the text was very clever. However, I publish a fiction fanzine, and I would have rejected it.

    1. You’re very brave. I managed to read about six pages. Beautiful prose about ugly things, like a lovely flower that smells horrible. However, in this case the 2nd person present aspect didn’t bother me; it seemed her natural voice.

  4. So far as the vampire mom in the nursing home bit goes, my first thought at plot salvage would be Mom has a yen (pardon the pun) for blood that’s aged, like a fine wine, and so she’s gone where the best blood is. Maybe she sees herself as an angel of mercy, doing well by doing good, assuming her feeding method is pleasurable. Or maybe she’s a monster in several senses of the word and just wants to off the helpless human elderly. If daughter hasn’t realized mom has that kink, the story could be about her discovering the condition she’s inherited can lead to doing terrible things, and what she decides to do about it.
    I suppose it would be too traditional, but the author could have done, “Mom gets staked, innocent daughter goes after “evil,” vampire hunter, and slowly discovers he had complete justification. Now what?”
    Does this mean I’m out of touch with modern lit? I kind of hope so.

  5. Huh … I thought that vampires were never-aging, pace Barbara Hambly’s Don Simon character. And Anne Rice’s oeuvre. They remained the same age as when they were turned into vampires.
    Yeah, and I agree with Dorothy…

    1. It depends on the vampire in question. In Stoker’s novel Dracula starts out a hideous old man but the more he feeds the younger he seems to get.

  6. I can’t say that I’ve read much written in present tense, but whatever I’ve read didn’t make an impression one way or the other. However, I wrote an entire novel that swings between first-person present and first-person past tense as the narrator circles the childhood trauma that has formed her and with which she is finally coming to terms as an adult. Though many may challenge how effectively I pulled it off, I had at least one Goodreads reviewer write this:

    “Here she eschews straight linear narration, moving back and forth between [MC’s]1997 present (using present tense) and the experiences of her childhood (using past tense), with the third-person perspective of her leading male character, [name redacted], interjected in a few sections. This kind of disjointed structure takes real authorial skill to pull off successfully; the author does it with flying colors, and it’s exactly the structure this tale has to have.”

    I should point out that this novel is literary psychological suspense that is character driven. Under the Liane Zane pen name, I write in linear, past tense, limited third-person POV in the romance genre. That’s the only way I’d write a genre novel. I’m not even sure that I’d use first-person POV because I think that it’s overdone (someone in one Facebook indie author group said that something like 15% of all novels are now first-person POV). I think that it’s extremely difficult to write a distinct first-person POV. I don’t know how many romance novels I’ve started with the too-snarky-for-tolerance female whose attitude rubs me the wrong way. It’s like narrative kudzu.

    As for Deep POV, I skimmed the blog article and decided it was too complicated for me to deal with this late in the evening. I assume that I do something of the sort when I layer in internal monologue and indirect paraphrasing of a character’s thoughts as well as choosing to write certain descriptive passages from an unstated author-as-narrator POV, that is, clearly describing events, characters, and settings from a viewpoint that isn’t limited to any particular character. That distinction came into play in the current audiobook that my narrator is recording. The MCs (the love interests) aren’t American, and she’s doing accents for them when they speak or have internal dialogue. But for the rest of the story, I told her to read in a general American accent for an unnamed, omniscient narrator who is a version of me. If that makes sense.

    As for the vampire story, I suspect that there is Something Literary and Symbolic being told rather than any kind of story that follows an internal logic related to character, which drives plot. No one would read this for entertainment.

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