Filthy Lucre

Hanzai Japan

Hanzai Japan

Hanzai Japan

One of the great joys of writing, for me, is selling a short story. I can’t explain it: You can’t live on the money you make, you often get very little notice for it, and yet I’m privately incredibly excited whenever I manage to convince someone that some chunk of words is worth paying me for.

My short story “Three Cups of Tea” will be included in the forthcoming Hanzai Japan from Haikasoru, which naturally makes it your priority. “Tea” is a Philip K. Marks story; this is the fourth story I’ve sold starring Mr. Marks, who’s a sort of run-down paranormal detective with huge chunks of his life missing from his memory (but not from some unpublished stories). For some reason when I think of Marks I tend to get some really awesome ideas.

I have some stiff competition in this anthology, though. Here’s the complete TOC:

Genevieve Valentine “(.dis)”

Yusuke Miyauchi “Sky Spider”

Libby Cudmore “Rough Night in Little Toke”

Ray Banks “Outside the Circle”

Yumeaki Hirayama “Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Map”

Brian Evenson “Best Interest”

Jyouji Hayashi “Vampiric Crime Investigative Unit: Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department”

Naomi Hirahara “Jigoku”

Carrie Vaughn “The Girl Who Loved Shonen Knife”

Kaori Fujino “Run!”

S. J. Rozan “Hanami”

Violet LeVoit “The Electric Palace”

Setsuko Shinoda “The Long-Rumored Food Crisis”

Jeff Somers “Three Cups of Tea”

Chet Williamson “Out of Balance”

Hiroshi Sakurazaka “The Saitama Chain Saw Massacre”

Get excited and pre-order this one today! And while you’re at it, buy Haikasoru’s other anthologies: The Future is Japanese and Phantasm Japan.

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New Avery Cates Short Story Coming

Walled_coverSo, Avery Cates is not only my first published book series, it’s also a character close to my heart and one I thoroughly enjoy writing. And while I’m busy with a lot of other projects, sitting down and writing an Avery story always remains in the back of my head, so I’m giving in, slowly.

A few months ago I published The Shattered Gears, a short story that was also the nub of a new Avery adventure. Since then I’ve written The Walled City, which will be released as a short story on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play on June 15th, 2015, again for 99 cents. It’s a direct continuation of the story from The Shattered Gears. It’s available for pre-order now, in fact!

I have a whole story arc laid out, and what I’m going to do, until someone tells me to stop, is write chunks of the story and release them as novella-length pieces. Each piece will be a standalone story as well as a piece of a larger story. When all the chunks are out, I’ll combine them into the complete novel and release it separately.

Why not? This way I’m not trying to write a whole novel while trying to write six other things, but I still get to play in my favorite universe and sell some writing. It’s a win-win, I think.

Feel free to spread the word to any Avery fans out there. Here’s a little video trailer I made for the new story:

Any questions, just shoot me an email!

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Why I Was So Smug in College

Digging through rejections, another non-rejection that’s still kind of interesting, I think. I’ve told this story before, but now with pictures!

Back in 1989 I was a young kid, and I’d written a science fiction novel called White Rabbit, which was about a specially trained agent of a galactic civilization who could control his musculature so minutely he could actually change his appearance just by concentrating in order to infiltrate groups and such. On a mission, he discovers a terrible secret, and finds himself at odds with his own people, and on the run. Yada yada yada. Was it good? I haven’t read it over in 26 years, so who the hell knows. I did, however, manage to get someone to agree to publish it. In fact, I have the letter to prove it (and the contract):

Sic-Sic by the Seaside? WHAT THE HELL, 17-YEAR OLD ME?

Sic-Sic by the Seaside? WHAT THE HELL, 17-YEAR OLD ME?

Yup, not only was he not looking for submissions, and not only did I apparently write him an incoherent cover letter in which I assigned us code names, I also left several pages out of the photocopy I sent him. PROFESSIONALISM: Look into it. Hey, I was in high school! And any way, it worked: He wanted to publish me. We actually signed a contract. There was no advance, and about a year and a half later he wrote to say he had to cancel everything due to financial and health reasons.

Just goes to show that you just never know. I mailed 350 pages of manuscript, unsolicited, to a guy based on a (dubious) listing in the Writer’s Market, and came close to actually seeing a novel in print. No wonder I was such a prick when I arrived at college.

What I really wish is that I could see the letters I wrote this guy, especially that first one. I have no copies of them, and this was snail mail, so my letters are likely lost forever. That first letter must have been something, though, and certainly set the tone for the rest of my literary career. Which is to say: Batshit.

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Rejection-palooza Part the Fourth

Once again, I’ve taken a walk through my many, many, many rejections letters in search of interesting or humorous things. This time I switched over to my pile of short story rejections.

I write a fair number of short works out of love, and also because I think writing short stories keeps you in practice. By forcing myself to think up a premise and knock out 1,000 – 5,000 words that conclude with a recognizable ending every month, I’m keeping my skills sharp. Or so I tell myself. Whatever, shut up. Anyways, as a result of this practice I have tons of short stories to sell, and so I, er, sell them. I’ve been trying to hawk my short stories for decades, and I have the rejections to prove it.

These days, most of those rejections are emails, because I don’t submit via paper any more. But back in 2006 I was still sending out paper submissions, with HILARIOUS cover letters. Trust me: Hilarious cover letters for the win. I got this response for a short story called “Time’s Thumb”:

NO PANTS for the win.

NO PANTS for the win.

I don’t recall what I wrote in the cover letter about my pants, but it amused the editor enough to invite me to submit again. Did I? I honestly can’t recall right now. Probably not, because I am incompetent.

I do think selling writing is 50% finding someone on the other side that sees things the way you do, who gets your jokes and references. Making an editor laugh is a good way to be memorable to them, and to wedge your story into their brains. Also, it’s one more step towards a world where everyone just accepts that I don’t wear pants. Mission: Accomplished.

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The Vantage Disadvantage

So, we’ve been discussing Jeff’s awesome History of Fail in terms of rejection letters I’ve gotten along the way to my stunning … is “success” the word we’re using? Anyway, yes: Rejections. I have many. This one actually isn’t a rejection. And it made me very angry. And if you’ve ever met me, you know it’s really difficult to make me angry. Like, people have stabbed me and I’m all like “Oh, no worries.”

Subsidize This

If you were submitting novels to every single listing in the Writer’s Digest back in the Day, you probably came across Vantage Press. Founded in 1949, sued for millions in 1990, they finally shuttered in 2012 and were for a time the most recognizable and well-known “vanity” publisher, or subsidy publisher. This was in the Dark Times before POD and easy eBook self-publishing, you see, and it worked like this:

  1. 17-year old Jeff mails a photocopy of his novel Cravenhold (previously discussed) to Vantage Press via the listing in the Writer’s Market, which does not mention the words “vanity” or “subsidy”.
  2. Jeff receives the following letters, informing him a) they love the novel and want to publish it! b) it will only cost Jeff $14, 675 to do so [the fact that I would be paying them and the actual amount wasn’t in the letter; it was in the contract] ! c) wait, what?
Why yes, I *am* pleased.

Why yes, I *am* pleased.

That’s right: A mere $15,000 (that’s about $30,000 in 2015 dollars, BTW) and my book would be published! Along with this list of absolutely hilarious promotional efforts:

"Study additional promotional steps after publication." UH, *sure*.

“Study additional promotional steps after publication.” UH, *sure*.

Yes, an advertising announcement not in The New York Times, but the “The New York Times”! And they will “suggest” “autograph parties” (what in bloody hell is an “autograph party?)! But the best is the “Production Specifications” section at the bottom, which assures me the trim size will be “about” 6×9, and that it will be printed on “quality” paper.

I mean, seriously. That this place operated for more than 60 years is a crime. I was 17 but not stupid, so I wrote them back a nasty letter telling them to return my manuscript or I would burn their place of business down. And this is what I got in response:

Just THIRTY THREE easy monthly payments of $350.

Just THIRTY THREE easy monthly payments of $350.

Yup – a fucking discount. They were sorry to hear I wasn’t incredibly stupid, or rich, or both, so they generously double-tapped me by suggesting I was so fucking talented, they could swing publication for just $11,675, saving me $3,000 over the suckers who didn’t bitch and moan. Even better is the suggestion that I could make monthly payments of $350 and they “would work on your book as we received the payments” so my book would publish three years later.

Oh this was rich. So I wrote a second letter demanding they return the manuscript or I would show up at their offices and perform the Daffy Duck Gasoline Trick He Can Do But Once, and they finally relented and returned my manuscript … but included this final gem of passive aggression:

"we do believe it would be worthwhile for you to make the effort."

“we do believe it would be worthwhile for you to make the effort.”

Holy hell. “You might be one of the fortunate few.”

I mean, seriously: My fault for not knowing any better, but assholes like this are why people think publishers are evil gatekeepers. Don’t worry; a few years later in 1990 they were successfully sued and ordered to pay $3.5 million to 2,200 authors who had paid them for services that were never actually performed, and the business moved to Massachusetts. Still, they stayed somehow in business for another twenty-two years, and apparently when they closed up shop they left a lot of authors in the lurch. Just goes to show: I’m dumb, but I ain’t that dumb.

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How to Annoy Your Agent

Your Anti-Monkey Rhetoric Makes Me Sad.

Your Anti-Monkey Rhetoric Makes Me Sad.

When you’re a young writer seeking an agent, you always think getting an agent will be like it is in the movies: They’ll buy you an expensive lunch and then start sending you plenty of contracts. In other words, we all think getting an agent is pretty much the same as becoming rich and famous. And then you get an agent and you discover what it really means is there’s someone to tell you how incredibly annoying you are, and that if you weren’t such a genius writer they would certainly have a restraining order against you.

This past week I tortured my lovely agent excessively with a series of oddball contracts, opportunities, and mysterious contacts from mysterious people. I had the following conversation with her at least three times:

<phone rings>

ME: Hello I am required by court order to inform you that I am not wearing pants.

AGENT: What in the sweet sainted hell is this?

ME: A short story contract.

AGENT: Who wrote it? Monkeys? DID MONKEYS WRITE THIS CONTRACT?

ME: Uh —

AGENT: IS THIS A JOKE? ARE YOU PRANKING ME? I Swear if you are pranking me I will have you killed.

ME: Uh — No prank. Is it okay to sign?

AGENT: Jebus. Yes, I’ll mark a few changes and you can sign it. Tell whoever wrote this contract they should plan carefully to never meet me in a dark alley.

And so on.

I did earn the ultimate compliment from my agent, though, when I sent her something on Saturday night around 10PM and happened to catch her still checking email (and a version of the conversation above did in fact occur), when she said “You really do provide the most entertainment of any client I have.”

Frankly, if I make you swear and then tell me I’m entertaining in the same breath, I figure I am doing my job as a writer. Right? This is why you need an agent: A lot of people out there think they know how to write a contract, or how to run a magazine or publisher, or how to do, well, anything. As a writer I have realized that the ONLY thing I know how to do competently is write (and believe me, there is a long string of Day Jobs where world-weary bosses will back me up on that). There have been plenty of contracts large and small that I would have signed without hesitation, only to pause when I spied the rictus of horror my agent’s face had taken on.

Am I saying that without my agent by now I’d have signed a contract written by monkeys and would be, in fact, working for Monkey Overlords and being paid in abuse and grooming sessions? That is exactly what I’m saying.

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The Art of Rejection Part Deux

Here we are in the second installment of essays about rejection letters I’ve received, because it’s educational and also because this blog is a hungry time-devouring beast that demands content, content, more and more content! until I lay awake at night wondering how in the world I will attract eyeballs tomorrow, and the next day, and the next until sleep is a distant memory.

Also, going back through these rejection letters has been eye-opening. First of all, I don’t recall being this industrious. I’m typically a lazy, lazy man. Secondly, I don’t recall being this hilarious.

Back in the Day I bought a Writer’s Market and read all the advice within and then promptly ignored it all and wrote these sloppy, funny, shaggy-dog type query letters based on the theory that I didn’t want to work with an agent or editor who didn’t “get” me or my sense of humor. This has proven to be excellent advice from my younger self, which is an unusual condition as my younger self’s advice is typically horseshit along the lines of “Sleep more” or “Dude!” – that’s it, just the word dude.

Anyways, here’s a query letter I sent out to a small publisher in early 1997, which was sent back to me with the handwritten notes on it, requesting the manuscript, and then my follow-up letter delivering the manuscript and the handwritten notes rejecting the book. I thought I’d share these because the query letter is a disaster in many ways, and yet it got a request for a full solely because I amused everyone in the room – in fact, I have another rejection somewhere that tells me flat out they would publish the query letter but not the book.

Yet Another Query letter from a Desperate and Violence-Prone Writer of Fiction

Yet Another Query letter from a Desperate and Violence-Prone Writer of Fiction

reject_97_Page_2

My God You Want to See the Book

The book itself was title Shadow Born (yes, yes, I know – my titles are awful and everyone knows this) and is one I still quite like, actually, although it is definitely juvenilia. It’s set at a college party where something terrible happens, is told from various POVs and employs some minor experimental things (experimental for me, not, you know, literature itself). The bit about my brother’s feedback is true. When he read the MS he complained that the final chapter, which was the MC ranting in a stream-of-consciousness way, should be titled “Lord Kincaid’s Farewell Address” because of its pomposity, so I promptly re-titled the chapter “Lord Kincaid’s Farewell Address” in a fit of pique. BURN.

Anyways, I had a lot of success getting responses from agents and editor by sending humorous, self-deprecating queries. I also had a lot of blank, form, and slightly negative responses to this tactic, so Your Mileage May Vary.

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Being Charged for Submissions

I have cats to feed, you know.

I have cats to feed, you know.

The other day, writer Nick Mamatas mentioned pulling a story submission from a magazine because the magazine had instituted submissions fees (see the Storify here: https://storify.com/NMamatas/against-submission-fees). As it happens, I’d spent the day before seeking markets to submit stories in my typically semi-incompetent, shaggy dog kind of way, and I’d gotten frustrated after hitting three markets in a row that required submission fees of $2-$4 or thereabouts. It’s not a lot of money, maybe, but I didn’t submit to those magazines, because I agree with Nick: Submission fees are exploitive, and demonstrate that the market in question doesn’t value writers very highly.

It comes down to this: My work has value. The essential belief involved in fiction markets is that people (readers) will pay magazines and publishers money to read the things we write. If a magazine charges readers for the privilege of reading my genius, they should pay me for the right to publish it. If no one pays the magazine, that’s not my fault or my problem. They’re free to stop buying my work if I’m not bringing in eyeballs.

And I am free to not submit to markets that charge a submission fee, so what’s the problem? Well, I know that a few decades ago when I was just getting my legs under me, I might have paid some submission fees, because I was dimwitted and desperate for some professional street cred. And $2, even in those ancient days, was low enough that I could have considered it the cost of doing business. And all that would likely mean today is that I would have spent $500 on submission fees and likely not sold a damn thing, because the stories I was submitting weren’t all that great.

Being inundated with awful slush from idiots like me isn’t a good reason for submission fees, either. As Nick points out somewhere in there, a) reading slush is the price you pay for accepting submissions, b) there are ways to throttle down submissions if you’re being crushed by crappy subs (most easily, reading periods or very tight guidelines) and c) fees won’t stop the awful, it just monetizes it.

Money should flow to the writer, because we created the shit you want to read. It’s that simple. Yes, publishers get a cut for providing infrastructure. Others might get a cut for facilitating or assisting, who knows. But writers shouldn’t pay to play, period. As Nick points out, everyone else associated with getting a magazine out to its readers gets paid – why shouldn’t writers? And if people choose to volunteer for a magazine out of love for words, that’s great, but has nothing to do with submission fees.

Now if someone wants to talk to me about paying me for my submissions, I am open to that conversation. I’ve got a lot of stories, people. A lot of stories.

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Forever Twelve

This sweater was likely a hand-me-down and probably cost $1 AS ALL SWEATERS SHOULD.

This sweater was likely a hand-me-down and probably cost $1 AS ALL SWEATERS SHOULD.

ANYONE who knows me knows I have a distinct inability to comprehend that the universe evolves and changes around me. This is most evident in my attitude towards the prices of things: To me, everything should still cost as much as it did in 1980, and when I’m confronted with $3 coffees I am outraged, convinced I am being screwed. You don’t even want to know my reaction to discovering that a modest new car can cost as much as $15,000. My first car, the much mourned Laverne the 1978 Chevrolet Nova, cost me $1.

A moment of silence, please, for Laverne, best car ever.

Another aspect of this can be identified in my artistic identity, to an extent: As a writer I’m often still that 12-year old who feels ridiculously grateful when anyone bothers to read my work, much less actually pay me for it. When presented with offers and deals for publication or something else, I am a terrible negotiator because at some level I’m still that kid, and I think I should be happy just for the attention. On phone calls with people who want to do something with my work, I’m breathless, nervous, and supremely uncomfortable with the idea of insisting on getting paid. It’s not because commerce defiles art (Ha!) but rather because I immediately regress to that 12-year old kid who made his own book covers out of construction paper.

If Amazon-style self-publishing had existed in 1983, my friends, the world would be littered with my juvenelia (complete with my own cover art) and I would have earned about $50 in the ensuing 32 years. There would be regrets.

Kids: This is why you want an agent. This. Because if you’re like me, you need someone who will laugh in the face of piss-poor offers and fight tooth and nail for every right and every sub-right. If I were doing this on my own no doubt I’d actually owe publishers money simply because they half-heartedly published my work.

Now, writers do tend to be at the bottom of any entertainment budget, it’s true. Films that have budgets in the hundreds of millions will be paying a novel author a few hundred thousand for the source material. That’s a lot of money, but when you contextualize it, it’s a tiny percentage of the total. But of course, nothing happens unless a writer first creates a story and characters, does it? Slowly, I’ve come to realize that giving away work for free doesn’t make sense – it takes me time and energy to write this stuff, it will make someone else some money when they publish it or adapt it, so I should absolutely always get paid. It’s taken me decades, but I’ve come to own that.Still, put me in a meeting or a conversation about getting paid for some writing, and I’m instantly twelve years old again, demanding that a new pair of sneakers cost $10 and shocked to the core that books cost more than the $3 they cost in 1983 – and somehow conflating my writing career with the chores I did at the old Somers homestead in exchange for a $10 weekly allowance.

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CHUM’s Cover

Designed by Frank Rivera

Chum by Jeff Somers

Here’s the Fab cover for my next novel, Chum, due out from Tyrus books on 9/18/13. Chum is a darkly comic novel about marriage, mayhem, and murder, told from multiple points of view and revisiting events from different POVs throughout the book.

When I first saw the cover I wasn’t sure what I thought, frankly – it seemed very stark and the roughness of the art on the bottles threw me. But then I got it, and realize how great this cover is.

It’s stark so it stand out as a thumbnail when people are scrolling on web sites or their phones.

It’s rough because the story is rough. The characters have jagged edges. The language is, er, salty (would you expect anything else from me?). There are literally – literally – no good people in the whole story. One or two people think they’re good, but they … aren’t.

And the off-center “U” in CHUM? Genius. It’s drunken and unpredictable.

So, my gratitude and respect to Frank Rivera who created this cover, and to Tyrus Books, for packaging my work so well. We’re gonna be good friends, I think.

 

And, without further comment:

Chum by Jeff Somers

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