Archive for the ‘Mirrored Heavens’ Category

ComicCon trophy

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Spartacus the Cat here! I’m back while Dave frantically works on the proofs for BURNING SKIES. He took a day out for ComicCon in NYC on Saturday, leaving at 7 in the morning and getting back well after midnight. I found this annoying, so I had a little “accident” on the rug. Harharharhar. Now he’s afraid to leave the house. 

Anyway, he did all sorts of things up there, like signing copies of MIRRORED HEAVENS and meeting cool people; I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it, but he also brought me back a new friend! I’d like you to meet Rex the Lion.  Rex is from, which is run by a guy who used to row alongside Dave back in the corporate slave galley.  I know Rex looks so realistic he’s probably fooled you into thinking he’s a real lion, but I have a very acute sense of smell so I know he isn’t.  But he’s still fun to have around.  We spent the morning talking about how to get down the fire escape and meet some of the female alley cats.  Meantime, I think I might have an accident on his head to show him who’s boss.

How to Get Your Novel Published

Friday, February 6th, 2009

NOTE: I’ll be signing copies of Mirrored Heavens at the Bantam Spectra booth at ComicCon NYC tomorrow.

I had a conversation earlier this week with the inimitable Shaun Farrell over at Adventures in Sci-fi Publishing. Check out the podcast, in which I rant on about space elevators, Autumn Rain as Al-Qaeda, the weaponization of space and cyberspace, and various other fun topics.

Towards the end of the conversation, we talked about how breaking into publishing.  Shaun said a lot of his listeners have more than a passing interest in the subject; I mentioned an essay I wrote last year for Bantam Spectra’s Facebook page, and promised I’d reprint it here when he released the interview.  So, without further ado, here’s the REAL story. . . .


Though a title like that kinda intimidates me. Yikes. And in truth I’m a little bit hesitant to offer up advice here, because I’m just one guy, and relatively new at this. More seasoned authors undoubtedly have a lot more to say.

Except a lot of them don’t.

Thanks to a nifty little paradox that is routinely ignored by some of the very folks to whom it applies the most. That paradox being: the more seasoned an author you are, the further you are from the realities of breaking into publishing in the market today. And, I might add, the further away you are from the dilemma of the Unpublished Newbie.

Something that I discovered pretty quickly as I started to research the market in 2006. My first novel was done, and I was scoping things out. And buying books on how to land publishing deals . . books that featured sample query-letters like “Dear Agent: Having already written two best-sellers . . . blahblahblah”, or that included sentences like “my work has been featured in [Prestigious Magazine], and I won [Prestigious Award].”

And you can see the problem. What I’m saying is that a LOT of the advice you’ll see out there falls under the general umbrella of Bell the Cat Strategies:

I.e., strategies that are great ways to solve problems that are already largely solved. (Because if you really could bell the cat, you wouldn’t need to worry about the goddamn thing in the first place. And if you really DID have a best-selling book . . . you get the point.)

So here’s my advice. For what it’s worth. From the perspective of the Utter Newbie:

#1: Unless you know somebody at a major publisher, go for the agents. You’ll hear a lot about how you can’t get a publisher without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without a publisher. You’ll also see stats that say half of writers got their deals through publishers directly. But here’s the thing: virtually all of those writers knew someone, or had short story credentials that got them introduced to someone (see below). Though there are exceptions to everything in life, you generally have to know someone to get a major publisher to seriously consider your material without an agent. (Unless you win the slush-pile lottery at one of the few publishers that still takes unsolicited submissions.) But you DON’T have to know an agent . . . to get to know an agent.

#2: If you DO know someone, then make the most of it. Because realistically, this is how a disproportionate # of folks get in. (Be prepared to push that six-degrees-of-separation a degree or two out of your comfort zone too.) And if you don’t know anybody, then start going to cons. Try not to make the first thing you talk about your unpublished novel. But hey, you’re a fan right? So you’ve got a right to be there, and you’ve got something to talk about.

#3: For the love of God, find a way to bypass the #$# query-letter stage: Query-letters are the meatgrinder of the process. The really senior agents are getting tens of thousands of query-letters a year. And they’ve got an intern or their high-school son reading them. I’m not saying you can’t run the gauntlet. I’m just saying don’t let it stop you in your tracks. I queried two-thirds of the market. Want to know how many agents requested to see my manuscript material? One. Want to know how many agents requested my material off of my query-letters?

Zero. Which brings me to . . .

#4: For the love of God, find a way to meet the agents: I met Jenny Rappaport, my (awesome) agent, at the WorldCon in 2006 in Los Angeles, following a panel. They say no one in their right mind goes to WorldCon to meet agents/editors (World Fantasy is, in truth, far better), but sometimes not knowing the rules works to your advantage. And the first question out of my mouth was NOT “hey, Jenny, nicetameetcha, would you be interested in taking a look at my awesome book?”

#5: When you meet the agents, don’t #$# up: Because asking her that would have been bad manners (like asking someone for a date when you’ve known them for five seconds). First she and I talked a little about the panel, and we also talked about how my experience in the video-game industry ought to be positioned in my search for representation (i.e., I was politely asking her for advice). Only then did I switch to my pitch. I kept it to a single sentence, and Jenny said, sure, sounds intriguing, send me a partial (i.e., first 50 pages of the manuscript). Query letter=bypassed.

#6: There are all sorts of ways to meet agents: . . in addition to talking to them after a con panel. The hotel bar, for example—editors tend to lurk there too. : ) The problem, though, is that unless you’re an ace networker, you’re only getting near an editor/agent at a con bar or party if you already know somebody they’re drinking with. And I’m assuming that, as a newbie, you don’t. But many cons have “speed-dating w/agent” events (the cons call them that, this isn’t an extension of the above analogy), and these should be a top priority for you to get in on.

#7: Agents who want to be big are way better than agents who ARE big: Legendary agent Eleanor Wood was also at the con where I met Jenny. I felt sorry for her; she had a crowd of aspiring authors surrounding her/stalking her for virtually the entire time. And she didn’t look very pleased about it either. And I can only guess how many query-letters she receives. I’m not saying she’s not a world-class agent: obviously she is. But that’s the problem. She’s so senior that unless you’ve got publishing credentials already, she’s probably out of your league. Jenny and I were a great match for one another because she wants to get to Eleanor’s level: i.e., she’s hungry, and smart—and she used my MS (and the outlines of the rest of my trilogy) to land her first deal with Bantam Spectra. And it’s tough to argue with a result like that.

#8: Iterate: If you play your cards right, you’ll do better than I did: you’ll have more than one agent who you’ve managed to get a face-to-face connection with. But there’s a lot of agents out there, and the bulk of agents will probably remain unknown to you. So you’ll just have to send them query-letters anyway. And . . . this is yet one more way in which so many of those #$# query-letter advice books are so lame! They basically tell you to write the Perfect Query Letter, and then send it out to all the agents.

Me: Well . . . how do you know it’s a Perfect Query Letter?

The Advice Book: Because it gets agents to say yes.

Me: Right, but . . I haven’t sent it out yet.

Advice Book: Well . . send it out, and find out!

Me: Ok . . . but say all the agents say no?

Advice Book: Well. . then I guess it wasn’t the perfect query letter after all!

See the problem? (It’s such a basic problem it’s a wonder it doesn’t get brought up more often.) I don’t care how well you craft the goddamn letter, the only REAL way to tell if it’s worth anything is to send it out. But you don’t want to blow it all in one go. Meaning you have to adopt (in my humble opinion) a strategy of “cautious iteration.” Write an awesome letter, and then send it out to a FIFTH of the agents. If they all say “yawn”, then chances are it’s NOT as awesome as you thought it was, so . . . iterate! . . . develop a different angle/pitch, and then send a DIFFERENT LETTER out to the next fifth of the market. Is there a chance there’s someone in that second fifth of the market who would have loved the first letter? Sure. No one said this gets you out of rolling some dice. All I’m saying is be careful of putting all your eggs in one basket.

#9: Play the Long Game: Since the query-letter system is broken (and it is), you’d be an crazy to act like it’s not. A lot of people think you only get ONE query per agent per novel. This is a myth: because it essentially asks us to assume that agents have got some Awesome Database that says, whoops, we already received a query-letter from this guy, guess we’ll just have to NOT READ this new query-letter from the same guy. Who of course they remember. . .except they don’t: like I said, they’re swamped just trying to keep up. So take advantage of this fact. But don’t be a jerk or unprofessional about it. Wait several months, then send any agent who declined you at the query-letter stage a NEW query-letter with different content (because you’re iterating per #8, right?), and see what happens. Some people will say you should write in that letter that the book has been revised pursuant to market feedback. That’s absolutely true if the agent has seen manuscript material. But if they haven’t, then why bother: the agent doesn’t remember your book, they don’t remember your pitch, and they sure as hell don’t remember you. To them, you’re a nobody. Take advantage of the one advantage that fact gives you.

#10: Make sure your novel kicks butt: yanno, I probably should have started with this. How about we deal with it in a later post? Sound good? Good. See ya later. More later . . .

The Mirrored Heavens is available in mass-market paperback from Amazon and all fine bookstores (and probably some crappy ones too).

Closing out the week

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Spartacus here, back for the final day of my week of guest-blogging. Dave’s pitiful cries from the bedroom are growing faint, and I think I’ll have to open the door shortly if I want more food (I suppose I could eat him, but this would be a short-term solution).

So.  What’s in the inbox? <rummage> Aha, a post from Robert Thompson of Fantasy Book Critic. In his year-end round-up, he was rash enough to call MIRRORED HEAVENS a “smart, intense and engaging futuristic thriller that effectively combined cyberpunk, military science fiction and espionage.” Huh, not bad. Maybe Williams isn’t the ignoramus that he looks like when he’s failing to cater to my every need.

Anyway, I’ll conclude with MY year-end round-up, a little late, but what the heck.  My goals for 2009:

#5:  Keep my balls.

#4:  Catch at least one of those goddamn birds in that nearby tree

#3:  Turn all of my non-mouse toys into mouse toys.

#2:  Grow to tiger-like proportions so that I will be able to deal with all humans as they deserve.

#1:  Eat so much catnip I’ll think I actually know how to type.

Mirrored Heavens is available in mass-market paperback from Amazon.

Die, humans, die (but buy this book first)

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Spartacus here for day two of this circus, ready to do whatever it takes to peddle this excuse for a book . . . anything at all, unless it involves taping bacon to my butt. There are some things even I won’t stoop to—meanwhile Dave has yet to figure out has yet to figure out a way of the bedroom where I’ve locked his dumb ass, and I’ve been left to continue to say whatever the hell comes into my head. 

Here’s what I don’t understand about you humans.  You slide one of those little mouse toys across the floor, I bring it back to you, you slide it back across the floor, I chase it, grab it, get bored, drop it, and then come back across the room to you. . . and you look at me like you haven’t got the mouse toy.  You look at me like I left the mouse toy on the other side of the room.  And I look at you like where the hell is the mouse toy and why can’t you produce another one at will like you do my chicken-turkey combo?

But if we can get Mirrored Heavens into the next tier of sales, I can get unlimited mouse toys dispensed at machine-gun rates by a customized baseball pitching machine.  Dave told me that a science fiction empire should be reasonably easy to achieve, and it all starts with him appearing on the Dead Robots Society podcast like he did last week.  Those guys were cool, but Dave sure wasn’t:  as quickly becomes apparent as he describes his theories about Mirrored Heavens (is it cyberpunk?  is it not?  is it–SHUT THE FUCK UP DAVE), he was obviously drunk or had had way too much coffee.  I mean, five minutes into the interview, he goes on record saying unemployment is a writer’s wet dream. Which is true, but why admit it?  Last thing you need with the nation going into a recession is someone saying the dole should be a sought after goal.  Then everyone will want to be like me:  sit back and get hand-outs and chase fake mice. Trust me, I don’t want the competition.  So buy Mirrored Heavens and then keep working so you can.  Buy.  MORE.

I. Am. Spartacus.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Aka the Stupid Human’s Cat. And I have taken over the blogging from him, since what he writes is so stupidly lame. He only acquired me to pimp his dumb book anyway: he told me that “science fiction fans are suckers for cats, so they’re gonna LOVE you and make us both rich.” Of course, he wasn’t expecting me to announce that to all of you.  Sucks to be you, Dave! Now your career’s over.

But anyway, let’s get to the inbox. Let’s see. . Mike Collins of Rescued by Nerds has posted an interview he did with Dave a couple days back. Mike even calls the book “Iron Man meets Jason Bourne.”  Hmm.  He seems like a classy guy; I can’t imagine why he wants to be associated with the author of MIRRORED HEAVENS, but whatever. There’s no accounting for taste.

And speaking of taste, my magic food bowl has refilled.  And so have Amazon’s stockpile of the book. The two events are clearly related—so keep on buying it, humans!  Keep on buying!!!

To market we go

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

So MIRRORED HEAVENS is now available in mass-market, which (as I learnt comparatively recently) is what you call the paperbacks that comprise 90% of all books out there, and 100% of those you’d see in airports or drug stores. It’s several dollars cheaper than the trade paperback that got released last summer—clocking in at $6.99, not bad for a recession—and contains special bonus material, to wit:

-map of the world of the 2110.  Though in the spirit of full disclosure, you can get one in full color on this website.)

-glossary.  Everything you ever wanted to know about the terminology of the early 22nd century.

-one set of dossiers.  Now these are the crown-jewels.  The back-cover says these are “agent dossiers”, but they’re also dossiers on the spymaster/handlers, as well as on the Inner Cabinet:  i.e., the rulers of the United States.  Want to know when Claire Haskell was born?  Want to know what Jason Marlowe’s bosses say behind his back?  There’s only one way to find out. For those of you who thought you knew what was going on, these are worth checking out.

And apparently the book’s almost sold out at Amazon, so I’m sending folks to Barnes and Noble.  Spartacus aka Wonderbeast may yet be able to get in on the Perpetual Dinner Plan.

UPDATE:  Book is back in stock at Amazon!

World, meet Spartacus

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Ok, the mass-market of MIRRORED HEAVENS gets released tomorrow, and that means it’s Shameless Self-Promotion/mega-pimpage time. Events are going to be going down all week, so watch this space. . .

And I’m going to start off by introducing my partner in this marketing endeavor, Spartacus the Wonderbeast. He may be only five months old, but he is a marketing expert, and has been signed on at Chez Williams specifically to help me sell this paperback. In fact, his continuing to be supplied with unlimited amounts of chicken and turkey directly depends on Bantam moving thousands of copies of this book. But he’s not worried in the slightest, and is right now investigating a certain mouse-like toy that has rolled under the desk. Stay tuned for further updates. . .

The world’s most elite Crackberry

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Thanks to the NSA, Obama gets to keep his Blackberry, which will be “super-encrypted” to allow him to continue to have private conversations. Obviously with the Chinese (and, presumably, a lot of others) doing their utmost to hack the White House (like they did last year), there’s a lot at stake here, but future presidents are likely to follow in Obama’s footsteps all the same. We’ve still got a ways to go to the world of MIRRORED HEAVENS, where the software implanted in the president’s head contains all the firing/missile launch codes, thereby serving as the future equivalent of today’s legendary nuclear football (aka “the button”), but the use of technology at the apex of national decision-making will be increasingly redefined.  In the meantime, we can only assume that the executive branch has done its utmost to ensure that no one at the NSA pulls any stunts: an additional level of security is that much better access if you’ve got the back-door….

Of course, the other reason why advisers were so reluctant to let Obama have his way is the paper-trail issue. If Bush and Cheney had carried those little devices, they’d be in even deeper shit than they already are. Could it be that Obama plans on committing no crimes in office? I guess we might have the audacity to hope.

This writing life

Friday, January 16th, 2009

. . . is an ongoing series that John Ottinger over at Grasping for the Wind created and runs. As I mentioned, he reviewed MIRRORED HEAVENS earlier this week; he also was kind enough to invite me to appear on This Writing Life, and here I am! Tune in to find out all about my approach to space war, as well as the Autumn Rain/Al-Qaeda analogy, and a couple of other random tidbits too.  Thanks a ton, John! And of course the mass-market is available at Amazon and other fine bookstores. . . featuring new stuff like secret agent dossiers and all sorts of other skulduggery . . .

Why MIRRORED HEAVENS isn’t a bestseller (yet)

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Ok, so the book’s done well, and sales are generally strong—but MIRRORED HEAVENS remains a long way from battling its way out of the midlist. And I have to rationally grapple with this fact, because I need to figure out how to market the upcoming mass-market (not to mention the rest of the series). I’ll have a post shortly on stuff I did to market the trade paperback (released last summer), kinda like what my pal David Edelman did here. But in the meantime, I need to think deep.


And in the hopes this will be helpful to others, I intend to be totally transparent about this.

And here’s what I’ve noticed, going back over the negative reviews (incredibly, there were some!).  You’ve got some people who say the book is just pure “combat porn”, with “little to no plot”, and then some people who say the plot was too complex, and they didn’t understand it.  Clearly, these directly contradict each other, which I find fascinating, and which leads me to believe that I have a larger challenge.  The core military SF audience at whom Bantam aimed the book has yet to entirely embrace MIRRORED HEAVENS; I suspect this is partially because it’s not as Manichean as that audience is used to (there’s no clear line between good guys and bad guys), and also because some of them might be getting lost in the thicket of unfolding conspiracies (because the book is in many ways a spy thriller).  At the same time, a lot of folks in the non-mil SF world haven’t looked past the shoot-outs, I suspect, and have been quick to dismiss it as just another kill-crazy action-fest.

So where does that leave me?  It leaves me all the more resolved to come up with a marketing strategy that will find a way to crack the lucrative n’ large military SF market, while simultaneously positioning MIRRORED HEAVENS for a breakout into the mainstream/Tom Clancy audiences.  Hell, Stephen Baxter himself invoked Clancy’s name in describing the book, and my agent sold it as LeCarre on SF crack, so there’s gotta be a way to crack this code. More on this later—