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So. I’ve been meaning to put this post up for some time. To be honest, I’m at that time in my life where I’m still young, but I have that…I see a lot, and lack the patience for things that didn’t used to bother me.

I’ve taken it into my head to write semi-funny posts about etiquette. It’s probably not going to help, but, hey, at least it’s something to write about.

Today? Email.

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So, the great agent hunt continues. It takes forever to do it right, to read as much as you can and to write…and re-write each letter so it doesn’t sound like a cut and paste, tasteless plea.

And you try and wait. Agents and editors all sort of like you to wait until they respond, but I think they know that it’s unlikely. They get deluged by so many emails…queries, questions, spam…that it is hard to get through it all in an eight hour work day. The shot gun approach to this is tempting, but not really good. If you don’t get what I mean, the shot gun approach is what we used to call blindly querying everyone all at once…just shoot blindly and hope you hit a target. I’m trying to be picky, to choose wisely. Every agent I query I believe in, I think that I’d genuinely like to work with them. I read their twitter feeds or their blogs, I think about my story and see if it fits what they like, I look at what they have sold.

You see, now that Chocolatier’s Wife is out of print, I am having a hard time, mentally. It’s the book I have the easiest time with…the one I am proudest of, the one with the best reviews, the one that more people want sequels to. The other two books are wonderful…and because I am fond and loyal to Zumaya, I want to offer it to my editor and see if she would like it because she and Zumaya have been amazing to me, but, on the other hand, I’m itchy. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job at being a Published Author and I want to…I don’t know. Explore new paths. Start over. And I am worried that CW will have a harder time finding a home because she was published, even though the publisher was small and is out of business, so I’m hoping that an agent will help because it’s another professional who believes in the book.

People who have been small press published authors for awhile often feel like you’re wasting your time with agents. And many people have done well…very well…without an agent, so it’s not (all) sour grapes. And so they will shake their head sadly at me, reading this.

And part of me is like, “This is my best book! I have to get it back out there! I’m losing momentum!”

But here is the painful truth.

No one’s path is the same. I don’t generally bother reading any book about writing because I know how to write, and I learn how to write better all the time by practicing and by reading widely. There’s nothing wrong with learn how to write books…if you don’t have to be a girl with a bachelor’s in creative writing (me, me!) then maybe it’s data that you need to stick into your head. But really. No one’s path is the same, so there’s no book out there with a step by step process.

Every time you send out a query, it’s a dice roll. Taste is hitched partly to mood. Yes, you like what you like, but you are more or less forgiving depending on your mood. I’m not impugning anyone professionally, but it’s got to play in there. Crappy days will make anyone less receptive, despite their best efforts.

Every step, in fact, is a dice roll. That enough people will write good reviews that enough people will read that enough people will share on Facebook. It’s all about luck.

Well, mostly. It’s also about being talented, but not always. I guess we can say…talented to someone? Or talented to enough people?

So, there’s nothing wrong with trying agents. Then, if that doesn’t work, making another plan of attack. It’s like any problem, you just have to nibble at it until it comes clean.

I don’t think this is what I meant to post about. But that’s good enough for now. I hope you’re all doing well.

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This Saturday was the Rapier and Costume Academy in Pittsburgh. I really loved it and hope we have one every year. I am inspired to go back to an idea of what I have been playing with for many years…to distill down the similarities and the differences in the different old masters of rapier styles so that you can, technically, look at the sheet, look at the fencer, and sort of guess what they are doing. I’d love to make accompanying flash cards with a mini check list…”OK, he’s standing with his feet together, but it’s not Spanish because he’s leaning forward…oh! It’s Swetham!”

But basically I would like it to be a basic primer to give people a simple understanding of what the styles are. I think if I did it I would finally get better at explaining what is what, or if I was watching a “By the Book” tourney, I could appreciate what is being done better.

I was given a Comet Vert, for being a friend of the Barony, which was amazing, but even cooler was the fact that several of the people at my fencing practice also received awards. I was standing behind the Royals, retaining, and so I had the perfect view of their faces. What happens when you receive awards in the SCA, if you do not know, is that it is done during court, and the king or queen will be whispered to before the award by the bard, telling them a couple of cool things so that they are prepared to speak. Then the person is called up, and they sort of do a take and then they come up and kneel in front of the King and Queen, and one or the other speaks of their awesomeness. Usually things like service or their arts or their martial ability. And the herald reads the scroll that is about to be handed to the recipient, the King and Queen help them stand, and then everyone cheers as the person toddles away with their beautiful scroll. It’s pretty awesome, even more so when you know the person…and so I was standing there, watching the faces of my friends as Nice Things were being said about them. Two of them peeked up and glared at me. I knew I was grinning like an idiot, but I was genuinely happy. These are good people…hard workers, passionate about what they do, and they deserved to be recognized for that hard work and love.

Did not win Nanowrimo. Partly because I got stopped on the book I was supposed to be writing but I knew what was happening in another one, so I said, “OK…well, I’d rather do that, then.” Writing is slow. But it’s going, so thank God for that.

I am also slowly looking for an agent for The Chocolatier’s Wife. She needs a new home.

And that’s my news…

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One of the most disheartening times of year for me as a writer is tax time.

1. You get to see how little you actually sold. Until you look your 1099’s in the eyes, you can sort of lie to yourself that you’re actually getting books into the hands of future fans.
2. You can’t free file because you need to process something that’s not a W-2, and your pitiful royalties are probably only a little more than what they want to charge you to file your taxes, so if you’re like me you curse a little then go start doing them offline. (At the end of the day it would have cost, like, 50 bucks.)
3. I can’t get over the idea that I am filing taxes for that tiny bit of money. I swear, there should be a limit, “Don’t file taxes on your royalties until you have 500.00 bucks” …that would be a good law. There should be, but I couldn’t find it. (If you can prove to me that there is, I will be a very happy person.)

So. Did my taxes. I am a fairly bright woman, but tend to worry that I’ve not done the right forms and so watching me do my taxes would probably be a painful experience…it’s slow, I stop to cross reference, to Google, to fill out multiple schedules and forms and print them out. And I’m sort of cranky because I feel uncertain the whole time, and part of me is on a whinge because if I didn’t have to file the 1099, I’d be done and like magic, money would eventually be refunded into my checking account.

But, thankfully, it’s finished. The envelopes are stuffed, addressed, and waiting for the mail run. And I feel headachy, confused, and vaguely uncertain. Just wait until next year, when I actually have…gasp…deductions. Which I never remember to keep slips for, so I never get around to doing…seriously, I thought I’d be doing deductions this year, because I bought and gave away books for contests, so there’s that expense right there, but I couldn’t find the slips, though I swear I put them where I could find them.

On a semi-related note, one of my friends said that I can deduct parking…since we have to pay to park to here at work unless we park up on the hill and take the bus…from my taxes, which now fills me with the vision of getting to park in the swanky, right-behind-my-building garage. I wonder if that really works if you have a free alternative?

In other news I’m reading “Mistress in the Art of Death.” I’m not an expert enough to know if the history is perfect (Did they really have body farms with pugs as the residents in Salerno, Italy, in Medieval times?) but the story is pretty riveting.

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One of the things that’s going on right now is that I am seriously in love with my iPad, which I just got this week.  I’ve been writing up little emails to my faculty, who have them too, to let them know the neat things that might be able to do.

It’s an interesting journey for me, because, for ages, I’ve been trying to make a decision:  Netbook?  Tablet?  iPad?  Just get an e-reader?  Because there were several things I wanted to be able to do…mostly write and read anywhere I want to…but I wasn’t sure if anything was the best choice.  But fate took that debate out of my hands (yay!) and now I am dedicated to making the iPad work for my life.

Not that it’s hard at all.  The iPad, right now, seems dedicated to making me happy.  Currently I am using My Writing Spot.  It’s a browser (www.mywritingnook.com/ ) based app as well as an iPad one.  You can write in your browser at any computer, no download needed, which is great if you’re at your job and have a little downtime and want to work on your book and look like you’re not slacking off.  Then, when you’re at home (if you have a wireless connection…I tend to just make sure I sync my iPad’s Writing Spot before I go home so all the changes are the same) you can go sprawl on the couch and write some more.  Or go anywhere, really.

Nice things that I’ve found so far…in the iPad it opens up a little bar with some navigation arrows, single and double quotes…things that you need while you’re writing a novel. The picture below, swiped from the iTunes store, is meant to illustrate that:

writing spot bar

I also like that it will check your documents…if there are conflicts between two documents of the same title, it’ll let you look at both versions and choose which one you like.  

The on screen keyboard, especially when in landscape, is fine to type on.  I was seriously worried, but maybe it’s my super fast two finger style of typing (I hunt and peck, but I do so freakishly fast) but I have no problem at all.  I find it comfortable.

Also, the program quickly emails you your stuff.  I have my Gmail account connected to it (it’s also how I log in) and in two clicks you can email yourself each file.  I created a label called oh-so-creatively “My Writing Spot Backups” and every so often I just email them all to myself, then label them and archive them.

Since this system allows me to subtly write at my lunch (I may take my lunch at my desk, but it doesn’t mean that people know that I am at lunch and therefore free to write without guilt) and carry things with me rather than try to remember to update my files (or try to remember which version is good and which isn’t) I am really happy.

There are a lot of other neat things I’ve not pointed out…it’s available for other platforms, it’s got a built in dictionary and thesaurus and a constant word count.
So, yeah.  Really liking this right now.  I feel my writing productivity just zooming.  It’s kind of nice, after being blocked for so long. Check it out at http://www.mywritingnook.com, or at the iTunes store, which has some nice screen shots: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-writing-spot-for-ipad/id363412884?mt=8

Another app I’m really loving is Springpad.  And I’m sort of attracted to Dragon Dictation (I envision myself, laying on a couch like Barbara Cartland, eating chocolate covered cherries as I dictate my newest masterpiece…) but already know that it is probably more work than just typing the book would be…

What is your can’t live without app for writing?

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I haven’t gotten to book signings yet in the books I’m reading, so I may well revisit it again, but something I was reading in Booklife, about people’s strengths and weaknesses (i.e. this one lady who is very shy and actually does herself harm by trying to interact with people at conventions) made me think about how I deal with book signings.

The thing I always do is I think about what people expect when they see an author. I think they expect someone well dressed. At my first signing I wore a black dress that I always look good in, at another I wore a pretty black blouse with a glittery pattern in it because it was close to the Holidays and I wanted to inspire the idea of Blue Moon making for a good present. I always dress carefully and do make up, hair, jewelry…things to make me look my best, but I also try and subtly make people think of something else. Like with the holidays, or, like my signing last summer, I wore a blue summer dress and silver heels to make people think of sitting and relaxing and reading out in the sun.

Another part of the physical presentation is the display. I have a pretty vinyl sign that I got from Vistaprint, business cards, carefully made postcards and book marks. I believe in displaying all of my goods…I have a few of my past books, but more of the newest one, I have materials for all of my books. The newest one is always the forefront, but it’s good to show people that I’m not a one time only. The post card describes how to buy my stuff, and I try and get people to take them because I’m hoping that when they get home they might decide to buy something. Also, sometimes people won’t like the book that I’m primarily pushing, but they will buy one of the older ones. I tend to have widely different books.

I think there are stereotypes and expectations about authors, and I think it’s a good idea to play into the positive ones.

It also helps me put on a sort of persona. My persona is a combination of the good parts of my personality along with what people, like I said, expect.

Neil Gaiman will always have my admiration because he has a reputation of being incredibly nice and good to those who read this stuff. I remember stories about signings being long over, but he’s still there, writing his name on books or whatever people bring. I like that. I want to be the kind of author who is good to her readers, who treats them with respect and kindness.

So, Cindy the Author will always be warm. But that’s easy, I try and be warm and welcoming and friendly in my real life, too.

Cindy the Author will show that she’s educated without being snobby or make people feel showed up. Which means I need to speak elouquently. (I’m not saying you have to talk like you’re at a Cambridge dinner party.) It also means that I cannot curse. Which is harder than the above because I curse like a longshoreman. I go through bouts where I try to stop. Did you ever see Lou Diamond Phillips play Tony Hillerman’s wonderful Jim Chee in The Dark Wind? There’s this scene where he starts a small fire in a dumpster to distract someone, and when he comes back to see that it’s become a huge blaze, he’s like, “Oh, dear.” He doesn’t swear, his reactions are just as honest as if he had, but I find the way he did it gentle and endearing, and I think, “Must stop cursing!” but I usually fail. And people do tend to think less, sometimes, of people who curse, so I need to tame my tongue.

It’s also important to listen. Eye contact is important. People will come up to you and tell you the weirdest things…it’s insane. Now you may think, “This person obviously has no interest in me or my books, they just want a captive audience” and slough them off. But remember, it’s not just about how the person yapping away in front of you perceives you, but about how the people around you do. I do gently push people away, especially if there’s someone else waiting to get their book signed, and I often get compliments about how I treated the people. It’s not easy…sometimes people come out of nowhere with the strangest, long winded, surreal stories, but you can’t let yourself get itchy, because it will show in your expression and body language. When you genuinely can’t take it anymore, find a polite way to usher them aside.

Be calm and relaxed. You are the expert in this situation…in how you got there, in what your book is like, in who you are. I remember that…that no one knows what I know…and it puts me at ease, because I can’t be wrong. Now, granted, people will argue with you. Discuss with them as much as you like, but remember the ultimate escape hatch. “You may be right, bit this is my experience in the subject.” That is fairly hard to argue with. Not that people won’t try.

For me, these three elements make signings easy:

Presentation: If I look good, and my table looks good, it boosts my confidence.
How I act: If I act kind, a little elegant, and if I have a brain, I know people will walk away feeling good, whether they buy the book or not. This helps build my reputation, only if on a karmic level. 😉
Knowing I’m the expert: This allows me to chill and just enjoy the experience with no pressure. Really, once the table is set up and I’m ready, what’s to worry about?

So, what are your experiences?

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So, as part of my…I guess for lack of a better way of putting it, New Year’s Resolutions (I don’t like to call them that because NYR’s have a feeling of pointlessness to them. But there is something nice about using the beginning of a year to say, this is it, I’m taking control of this situation.) I decided to take control of my writing life. Find balance, and actually promote my work.

A few months back I bought two books – Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife and Penny C. Sansevieri’s Red Hot Internet Publicity and have started reading and…though I feel a little piece of me die when I do this…highlighting them. I hate marking books up, but I know I won’t read the whole thing ever again, so I’m highlighting or post it flagging the really important must-get-back-to stuff.

And I don’t want this to become a winge about how much I hate self publicity. It’s not because I feel like I’m too good for it…I, frankly, suck at it because of two things.

1) I feel like I have no time for breathing let alone climbing the sheer mountain of work this promises to be.
2) I am one of the world’s most apologetic, self conscious people ever. I spend most of my life trying to hide and be innocuous. I don’t want people to notice me. And what if I convince them to read my book and they hate it and feel like they wasted their money?

I have a friend who told me two things that are very important. One, he said, “How can you get to your goal if you’re hiding in a hole?” Which, despite being cleverly rhymy is really quite true. He also tells me that I don’t need to be the queen of the universe…that not only can I not control what people think, it’s not even my business what they think.

But, you know, a lot of this isn’t easy. I think, “Well, my friends who are on facebook and Live Journal will see this post on my blog, and be annoyed and bored.”

Or, since I have a lot of friends at places where I want to promote myself, I fear they may feel sold to and pestered.

Or you, dear reader, will feel like I’m trying so hard to get you to buy my book you’ll feel abused.

When someone says, “I now need to self promote my book.” Many of you probably wonder what’s so hard about the whole thing. I mean, really, how hard can it be. “Hi. I’m Cindy Lynn Speer. I wrote (insert random title of mine here) and it’s a good book. A lot of people like it. I’m a quality, well trained writer and this is a quality, well edited book. Please read it.”

See? Easy, right?

But then I realized that nothing than anyone feels or thinks is original, really. The composition of the feelings/thoughts and the life context is original, but you can bet if you’ve felt something (in general) someone else has felt it or thought it too. Not exactly in the same way, but close enough that there has got to be someone out there, who, if they read this will be going, “Oh, my Goodness! Me too!”

So, I am going to read these two books, research other avenues, and try and blog about it. Because God knows I need something to post about on this blog that feels substantive!

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And now I will leave you with the final (for now) short story, “The Fortunate Ones.” It is by far my grimmest short story – and one that is the hardest to talk about. Partly because it deals with spousal abuse, partly because it deals with how the mind tries to escape what’s happening to it. The main character is of a race of people who believed that all of their fortune resided within their women, and so they became a commodity…slaves to be bought and sold.

It’s about a woman trying very hard to be brave, and about the imagination, and about not knowing what’s real.

All of my stories I can remember why I wrote them…I can tell you the catalyst (and have, I remind us with a wry grin) and what life was like. I just remember typing this one out…it was another story that would not shut up, and it wrote itself right over another short story that I was writing. Come to think of it, I never did finish the other one…but some stories are like that. Stories have power, they have things that need to be said. I wrote one that no one has read because it’s somewhat erotic (very for me, not so much by most standards) because I wanted to try and capture the emptiest moment a person could have.

Now. I shall stop blogging and work on one of those stories that must be read.

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“One Hundred Eight Degrees” is a short story that was meant to play an idea that is, off and on, very popular in fantasy…the mundane, every day person from our world traveling to another.

Don’t get me wrong…I’ve always liked the idea, it’s very seductive. I remember, particularly, Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger and Magic Kingdom Books, But I wondered, about all the characters from these books who go to these magnificent worlds, who do these marvelous things…and then they come back. They come back and they are secretaries instead of sorceresses, workman instead of wizards, they work at Kings instead of being Kings. How would you deal with that? Worse, how would you deal with it if there was a chance you could go back?

Between you and me and the internet, I keep wanting to write a travel to another world story, but keep avoiding it because I worry that people are sick of them. But maybe, someday, I will.

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“Every Word I Speak” is the last of my re-told fairy tales, and the story that got me published by Drollerie. I still remember and treasure the comments Deena Fisher said, because I was submitting stories and starting to wonder if I would ever get anywhere. It was originally published as one of the downloadable short stories, and now is in But Can You Let Him Go?

For me, this story marked my return to writing short stories. I’d quit for a time – life got in the way – and I played with the longer stories I’d written, but it didn’t really work for me. I was too tired and fighting battles I wasn’t ready for.

Then, one of my friends lent me a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, and I fell in love with the short story form. Furthermore, I could feel short stories forming in my head, the feel, the sound, of a story that will be a short story is different to me. The voice of the words, if that makes sense?

The final ingredient to this recipe was the fact that I was haunting a discount bookstore called Book Country every chance I got, and on a whim bought the Dover edition of Perrault’s Fairy Tales. One of the stories was “The Fairies,” a tale about a young woman who does a kindness to a fairy, and in return is blessed with the gift that every word that comes out of her mouth is either a diamond, a pearl or a flower. Of course, in the story (sorry, spoiler!) she rides off with a prince and lives happily ever after. And I started thinking the whole thing was a bit suspect. The story I wrote became a sequel, and explores the price of her gift.

And, the original cover to the story:

speaklowres smaller

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