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Archives, Part One (June 21, 2008 to July 3, 2008)

In preparation for the upcoming formal relaunch of "Of Playthings and Puppets," I am presenting the first of several Archives from the previous edition of the blog, which was found on the absolutely user-unfriendly www.blog.com (please, don't ever use that site). These are my first writings, from June 21, 2008 through July 3. Subsequent archives will also consist of five entries apiece.

Thanks for your continued love and support.

-Warren

Day One (June 21, 2008)

My name is Warren Pawlowski. I want to be published.

I think I can do it. I've technically already been published, several times, but this time is going to be different. Of course, I've only been published in my school newspapers - The Criterion and The UConn Free Press - but that is of little importance. I want to publish my book.

Many people have asked me: "What is your book about?" including my college English professor, who shall remain nameless for now, though I am sure he will show up eventually. For me, describing my story - a work that I have seen through countless revisions - is harder than anything I have ever done before. To be stumped, to be tongue-tied, and to be at a loss of words as to what this 300 page monster of a narrative I have constructed is actually about... well, it's very bothersome.

But, before I get into that, some background. I started writing in the first grade. Yes, yes, we all - except for the late bloomers - began to write sometime around then, but it was in the first grade that I actually designed and wrote my first story. It was simply called: The Hulk and Me. As can be discerned, it was about the Hulk - the green giant currently gracing the silver screen for the second time - and, well, me. It was short. I believe it was less than 10 pages, but WAS fully illustrated.

Years later - the years between first and fifth are but a blur to me now - I wrote a longer story, about 20-25 pages, entitled World War Three. It was not about any current event, nor did it involve any politicians at all, but rather focused on my adventures with the friends I had formed intimate, though naive and immature, relationships with. I went on to write a sequel, World War Four - go figure, right? - that, for some reason or another, actually managed to receive honorable mention at the ill-conceived Young Authors, an award - and bright yellow pin - I still have to this day.

The next year is when events lost themselves in fate. I began to write a newer, much more complex story titled The Leprechauns. Based on a dream of a girl wearing green running through the park while chased by men in suits, it was my greatest achievement up to that point of my life. My English professor did not agree, and he failed to enter me into the Young Authors contest for the year. The book was put aside for some time, though I never forgot about it.

I went back to it a few years later, completely rewriting and expanding the story. It grew and grew... and then stopped when I believed I did not truly wish to be a writer. It sat there, collecting proverbial dust on my hard drive until my current and wonderful girlfriend inspired me to begin work on it again. Changing the title to The Nobodies - which will probably be changed again, all things considered - I wrote an additional 200 pages past what I had originally intended as the actual narrative. That is what I have now. That is what I want published.

I will continue that story another day, but today I began to actually start the process: I looked up the LMP and also the 2005 Guide to Literary Agents hoping to find the perfect one for me. Unfortunately, I had only 1 quarter and the librarians would not give me change, so I could stay only 15 minutes and the books could not be taken out of the library. They will have to wait another day.

Although I may bypass the whole agent thing for now and simply send my manuscript to a publisher in the hopes that I get lucky enough to have it plucked from the slush pile.

Ode to the slush pile:

Pile of words, symbol of thought

Where no one is found, and all are forgot(ten).

I am a novelist, not a poet. At least not yet.

First Shot (June 23, 2008)

With summer hours fully in gear, last Friday I explored the idea of finally submitting my story, as I have already slightly detailed. Looking further - without the aid of the LMP - I began with a list of the top 20 science-fiction imprints as compiled by looking at titles on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Currently, these are (in order):

Del-Rey, Knopf, Orchard, Tom Doherty, Tor, Bantam, Random House, Ballantine, Harper, Anchor Canada, Litte Brown, Aladdin, Yearling, HarperEntertainment, Berkley, Signet, Philomel, Novel Units, Forge, and Baen

Starting right from num
ber one, I began exploring each imprint's website. Almost as if following the "right hand rule," I followed the links to each FAQ page, looking specifically for submission guidelines. While there are general rules to submissions, each publisher also has their own ideal in terms of submissions. Unfortunately, Del-Rey, Knopf, and Orchard are all part of RandomHouse and a quick search of their site will reveal this sentence:
 

"Like most big publishers, Random House only accepts manuscripts submitted by an agent--the volume of materials we receive is just too large to accept unsolicited submissions or ideas."

It is rather unfortunate, but keeping up the momentum, I jumped right from the sentence - not actually completely reading it until JUST now - to Tom Doherty's website, www.tor.com, and, assuming RH's sentence is actually true, found out that TOR is NOT like "most big publishers." Here's what I found:






Address submissions as follows:
  • Paranormal Romance: Acquisitions Editor, Paranormal Romance
  • Science fiction and fantasy: Acquisitions Editor, Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • General fiction of all types including mysteries, thrillers, mainstream fiction, women's fiction, and horror: Acquisitions Editor, Fiction
  • Children's and Young Adult: Acquisitions Editor, Children's and Young Adult Division Note: We publish books for chapter book, middle grade, and young adult audiences. We do not publish picture books.
How extremely helpful! Tom Doherty and Associates, or rather, TOR, as the fourth most popular imprint/publisher, will be the first to receive my manuscript. Oh, and less I forget, other than the guidelines I followed from TOR, these websites also offer helpful hints, though some things seem rather contradictory. I'll let you figure out which ones you think are the best:

William Shunn: Manuscript Format

Standard Manuscript Format

A Quick Guide to Manuscript Format

I'll go into more detail tomorrow regarding the PITA that the cover letter and summary/outline were for me, as seen through the perspective of my final semester grades... and the several office visits that accompanied them.

Until then, from me to you: Good luck!

The Summary from Hell (June 24, 2008)

As my girlfriend read my latest entry, it wasn't the prospect of me actually sending out my manuscript that excited her the most. She, excitedly, pointed out that TOR recycles their denied manuscripts.

Well, great.

Taking the opportunity, however, I would like to point out that I chose the black background for my blog for a very specific reason: to do what little I can to reduce, reuse, and recycle. You see, "Image displayed is primarily a function of the user's color settings and desktop graphics, as well as the color and size of open application windows; a given monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen." Roberson et al, 2002 The concept can be seen, and is further employed at Blackle, a search engine that uses a black screen after seeing in a "January 2007 blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year [a] theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine."


As such, I have recently made my windows all black with gray lettering. I would do it here as well, though I believe it would drive most people rather insane. I'm still debating it, however, and welcome any feedback into the matter.


Anywho, last night I said I would go over the debacle that was writing a summary. First off, let me ask you: have you ever written a summary? A summary is NOT an outline. According to dictionary.com, it is "a comprehensive and usually brief abstract, recapitulation, or compendium of previously stated facts or statements." It is a detailed account of all important actions contained within the body of work, and as Tor already outlined, "should include all important plot elements, especially the end of the story, as well as aspects of character development for your main characters."


Unless you are fully practiced in this, or are summarizing a non-fiction piece - let's face it, a simple statement, "Constantinople was conquered by Mehmet in 1493," could summarize a much larger narrative, and most often serves as such within history books - providing a summary or synopsis can be rather difficult. After working on my story for the better part of 10 years, and firmly holding onto the belief that my story is rather important - I'm sure it isn't, but to have me believe otherwise would be like having a parent believe their kid is nothing more than a loser - when I was given the task, I could barely do it.


My first summary was about 20 pages long in 12 pt. Times New Roman single spaced. I got it down to 14 on the second shot. Handing this version in, I received the absolutely horrendous grade of a C- for the vagueness of the overall plot description. I amended it, trying to make things clear, but only brought the grade to a C in the next draft.


Asking what could be done, my English professor - a self-acclaimed English guru and semi-well known author, at least in literary circles - sat me down and stated, simply, "It has a lot of work that needs to be done. You have to completely rewrite it, and then it might still not be better."


Well, after calming down and realizing that his opinion really meant far less than I had previously believed, I rewrote the entire summary on a whim in the length of about 20 minutes. The result was 10 pages in manuscript format - about 5 single spaced - with character development, important plot points, and every other piece of knowledge concerning the overarching storyline. Afterward - without looking it over at all - I shared a drink with some friends, printed the paper, and handed it in.


Though I do not know what grade I actually got on the summary, I pulled from a C to a B+ for the semester, with the paper approximately 50% of that. If I managed an A on the other half of the grade, the lowest I could have received was a B-. How that will translate toward publishers, I still have yet to know. Of course, before I send the manuscript - along with summary - to Tor, I will be editing and rewriting it, if only to appease my uncertainties.


My recommendation to you: do not stress when it comes to the summary. Include what you can, make them want what you are selling to them, and do not - DO NOT - try to surprise the publisher. Tell them everything, even what adds to the suspense, and point out all foreshadowing, etc. They are not reading a story, they are evaluating it.


And with that, good luck!


A Summary for You (June 29, 2008)

You'll notice that to the right of this post, low in the sidebar, is a short pseudo-window simply called "Books" (though as I write this, I am incredibly inclined to change that title). There are only two at the moment, but I recently completed the entirety of the Dune series - that's 15 books including the prequels, standard series, and new sequels by both Frank Herbert and Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson - and have more books on the way. I figured that it would be rather worthless to put every book I've read in the past 2 years (that's all I've kept track of) on the list, so I will only do it from here on out.

Some books may reflect what I am planning on writing, so take note if you will.
  
To my own right - that is, in real life - there is a white board I like to refer to as the "Things to do board." Currently on it are: "fix the pipe" (my bathroom drain pipe - it clogs nearly every time I use it and Liquid Plumber doesn't do a damned thing), "finish the portrait" (a Photoshop picture of myself I started late last year and never completed), "clean: refrigerator, freeser, cabinet, front closet, bedroom, game room, kitchen" (there were more on there. The list is actually six items shorter now), and, finally, "send out manuscript."

That's right. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I haven't yet sent anything to Tor. I am going to rememedy that today, so I will (hopefully) have it out by Tuesday. Interesting enough, I went to New York over the course of the week for my job, and while I was there I walked into Toys R' Us to have a look around. For those who don't know, a large part of the first two chapters take place in the store, which has been turned into a hostel by the time my story is set. Taking a look around, I noticed that a few things in my story were off, and I have set about to change those instances.

Though only small things - the placement of a window, the type of cars in the Ferris wheel, etc. - it is incredibly important that such small things remain consistent, especially for the story to work overall. Granted, many things change in the course of ten years, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I think now is a good time to summarize my story for you. In the coming weeks, I may serialize the entirety of the novel - or at least the first section - in small chunks. Hopefully, that will make things a tad more interesting:

It is the year 2018. The world as we know it is gone. Wars ravage the planet. The cities are in ruins... but the suburbs are thriving, and men and women and children are experiencing the most peaceful, calm, and fulfilling time of their lives. While they carry on a meaningless existence, others die fighting for pure freedom: the freedom to work, to live without a government telling them what to eat, drink, and do. And while the government is on the verge of finally ending all conflict within its borders, a new resistance rises up, and the system's own relentlessness will finally mean its end.

Mmm... teaser.

Phase Two (July 2, 2008)

As of yesterday, a slim manilla envelope with my name as return address has been shipped to Tom Doherty Associates, more commonly known as Tor. In the envelope:

Cover letter: includes all of my contact information, the title of the story, the genre it is in, notice of the enclosed SASE, and, of course, a thank you. (1 page)

Synopsis: includes a description of the setting (date, place), the title again, and a synopsis of each chapter separated by section with important character and plot developments clearly highlighted. (10 pages)

First two chapters: although general manuscript format includes the first three chapters, my chapters were rather long and so abided to the maximum without going over 10,000 words. The first two chapters consist of 9,103 words. (29 pages)

Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE): business sized, since they cannot return manuscripts.

Although I wasn't physically able to deliver the package myself, I kindly asked my mother to do so, asking for a receipt so I would be sure to pay her back in full. Through this simple task I learned that to ask my mother to bring a package to the post office is not something to do ever again. Thinking postage to be relatively low - the SASE was 42 cents and the manilla envelope was $2.02 - I figured I would get off easily.

Not so. Thinking that when I said, "Make sure to get a receipt," I actually meant, "Make sure to get a return receipt so I know they got the package," my mother spent an additional $4.90 - $2.70 for certified fee and $2.20 for return receipt - she did, in essence, make sure I had a receipt.

So, it cost me $6.92 to send my package. Hopefully, it will be the last time, but either the case I will find out in approximately six months, which is the standard return rate on sent manuscripts, supposedly. We will test that.

PHASE 2:

If you have read the post describing Tor's submission guidelines, you may have noticed a certain line:

Please list any previous publications in paying markets.

I have, of course, only published works of fiction in a students newspaper: The UConn Free Press, and have otherwise only appeared in Central High School's Criterion. I currently appear in the pages of my employer's business newsletter, and though I now write a large section of each issue, my name only appears in the general credits and not as a byline.

So, the natural step, of course, it to explore other avenues of publishing. Doing a quick search for "science fiction magainzes" - since that is the genre I find myself most addicted to - in Google, the first entry is Asimov's Science Fiction. Here are their manuscript guidelines:

Payment & Rights Asimov's Science Fiction magazine is an established market for science fiction stories. We pay on acceptance, and beginners get 6.0 cents a word to 7,500 words, 5.0 cents a word for stories longer than 12,500 words, and $450 for stories between those lengths. We seldom buy stories longer than 15,000 words, and we don't serialize novels. We pay $1 a line for poetry, which should not exceed 40 lines. We buy First English Language serial rights plus certain non-exclusive rights explained in our contract. We do not publish reprints, and we do not accept "simultaneous submissions," (stories sent at the same time to a publication other than Asimov's). Asimov's will consider material submitted by any writer, previously published or not. We've bought some of our best stories from people who have never sold a story before.
Story Content
In general, we're looking for "character oriented" stories, those in which the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader's interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will constitute the majority of our purchases, but there's always room for the humorous as well. Borderline fantasy is fine, but no Sword & Sorcery, please. Neither are we interested in explicit sex or violence. A good overview would be to consider that all fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of human existence, but that in science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the Universe.
Manuscript Format
Manuscripts submitted to Asimov's must be neatly typed, double-spaced on one side of the sheet only, on bond paper (no erasable paper, please). Any ms. longer than 5 pages should be mailed to us flat. Dot matrix printouts are acceptable only if they are easily readable. Please do NOT send us submissions on disk. When using a word processor, please do not justify the right margin. If sending a printout, separate the sheets first. The ms. should include the title, your name and address, and the number of words in your story. Enclose a cover letter if you like. All manuscripts must be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope (if ms. is over 5 pages, use a 9" x 12" envelope) carrying enough postage to return the ms. If you wish to save on postage, you may submit a clear copy of your story along with a standard (#10) envelope, also self-addressed and stamped. Mark your ms. "DISPOSABLE," and you will receive our reply only. We do not suggest that you have us dispose of your original typescript. If you live overseas or in Canada, use International Reply Coupons for postage, along with a self-addressed envelope.
Our Reply
Finally, we regret that it's become necessary for us to use form letters for rejecting manuscripts, but time limitations are such that we have no choice. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide specific criticism of each story. Our response time runs about five weeks. If you have not heard from us within three months from the day you mailed your ms., you can assume it was lost in the mail, and are welcome to resubmit it to us. We do NOT keep a record of submissions, but if you would like to know if we received your story or poem, include a self-addressed stamped postcard, which we will return to you on the day it arrives in the office. Thanks for your interest in Asimov's and good luck!
Our Editorial Address
Sheila Williams

Editor

475 Park Ave. South, 11th Floor

New York, NY 10016

E-mail: asimovs@dellmagazines.com


Easy enough after following Tor's guidelines. My plan is to spend the next few weeks - before jumping into my next novel, which I will discuss in further length then - writing probably 2 short stories, both of which began life as short pieces in the Free Press. As it was a student run paper, I cannot foresee any possible copyright issues, and even as such, the majority of each story will be quite different than anything that appeared in that newspaper.

The road to stardom is long and full of potholes. But at least my story is now on the verge of being read.

To those of you trying to be published as well: Good luck!

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