A head-scratcher here...
Recently, a friend of mine lamented on Facebook that she had just received another rejection to her agent query--and was clearly getting frustrated--a state to which I could relate. I made some sort of sympathetic comment about hanging in there, that every author experiences rejection, and to keep persevering. Or maybe even start a new project and set that one aside for a while. Platitudes perhaps, but sincerely meant.
Well, I was quite surprised when other people jumped all over my comment, saying that rejection should be celebrated and that I was in the wrong for expressing sympathy. That rejection wasn't supposed to be viewed negatively.
Now, I do understand about learning from feedback, no matter how negative, but celebrating rejection seems counter-intuitive. Giving yourself permission to take risks, permission to fail--these are things I believe in too. But permission to celebrate rejection and failure, as if these are the expected end products of a writer's journey--that I can never endorse. (Unless of course one wishes to remain unpublished, than by all means, celebrate rejection.)
I thought this was an isolated incident, until I read a piece today by author Bryan Hutchinson, who talked about being wary of the rejectionists:
"There’s a new bandwagon in the writing community, actually, it’s in nearly every community. The trend dictates that it’s okay to fail, in fact, it’s not just okay – you should expect to fail. And if you’re not careful you might jump on, tricked into not living your passion and not striving to achieve your goals."
I could not agree more.
Over the last few years I've had the good fortune of being able to spend a lot of time with other published authors--at conferences, at bookstores, or just over a drink--and one thing that still amazes me is how hard every single one of them had to work to get to where they are. I don't know a single author who doesn't have stacks of rejections and years--even decades--of toil, heartbreak, and anguish behind the image they present to the public, no matter how successful they appear now. Striving to get an agent, striving to get a publisher, striving to get the next contract, striving to develop a readership base...its all there.
Every author I know says persistence and determination (and yes, maybe a lucky break) are crucial. We may cope with rejection in different ways, but the common element seems to be to grit your teeth and move forward and just...keep...trying. (I'm not saying this has to be done without copious amounts of ice cream, or alcohol, or rejection letter bonfires...)
Simply speaking: There are no overnight successes. Just look at Jenny Milcham's fabulous Made it Moments blog and read through the inspirational stories there. No author's "Made it Moment" is the same, but the sense of perseverance is ever present. (Heck, check out Jenny's own story--she's incredible).
Rejection, yes it happens. It's painful, it hurts, its part of a writer's journey. LEARNING FROM REJECTION (or FAILURE)=GOOD THING.
But CELEBRATING rejection, as if rejection should be the end in itself?!... NO! That's when dreams die.
It seems like every day I receive a Google Alert, kindly informing me that another site has popped up, allowing my books to be downloaded for free. Not only are these parasitic companies stealing from me and other authors, but to add insult to injury, many users actually post comments on these sites, thanking these bottom-dwellers for the "service" they provide to readers. Sometimes these comments are so heartfelt it makes me wonder if the users don't realize they are committing an actual crime. Is that possible?
Taking a step away from my indignant high horse for a moment, I do find it interesting that plagiarism and piracy of books has been around since the invention of the printing press. Initially, imitation in the Renaissance was seen as a compliment, a form of flattery, at least in art.
In the world of the cheaply printed piece, necessity and practicality were at the heart of imitation. Printers regularly used the same woodcut again and again--say, of someone being hanged--most likely for ease of use and to evoke a certain image or memory in the audience.
But over the next century or two, there seemed to be growing concern with the ability of printers to simply reset a piece and sell it for themselves. On occasion, advertisements to booksellers were created, informing them when a "sham" edition of a book had been created.
They would implore the bookseller to consider the nature of property; they also seemed to speak to the bookseller's sense of quality, by reminding them of the inferiority of the sham piece. For example, this next advertisement reminds the bookseller that "The sham edition has several mistakes and blunders, contrary both to sense and grammar."
Some of these advertisements even specified that the printer, publishers and dealers would be prosecuted by the Company of Stationers, who as a royal guild had the sole power to oversee the publication of most written work, including almanacks as described in this next advertisement.
In particular, I like the last line, which warns against those who would claim not to have known they were doing anything illicit: "This notice is given to prevent all persons from coming into trouble through ignorance."
Lastly, I suspect this is where the practice of authors signing their own books came from--the author was attesting to the authenticity of his (or possibly, her) books.
I don't know if its particularly heartening to realize that piracy and plagiarism are not a new phenomenon for authors. But it is interesting to think that such acts had long been condemned by the publishing community, even if the problem is still present 200 years later.
In my next post, I will tell you what happened to one of these plagiarists...
My fourth book has had several different titles, but none that really resonated with me or with my editor.
I've talked before about the image that prompted this novel initially--although, alas, that too has changed somewhat--and about the difficulties I've had with titles generally. But naming a book is a difficult thing--it has to be right!
The new title--A DEATH ALONG THE RIVER FLEET--feels right. (I mean, I also liked Murder at Fleet Ditch, but it was deemed a bit too harsh for my Lucy books, which I can totally see now).
Here is the working premise:
Crossing Holborn Bridge, where it crosses the River Fleet, Lucy Campion—printer’s apprentice--encounters a distraught young woman, barely able to speak and clad only in a blood-spattered nightdress. To the local townspeople, the woman is mad, afflicted with the devil’s tongue, but Lucy, feeling concerned for the woman’s well-being, takes her to a physician. When the woman is shockingly identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while in the physician’s care. As the woman recovers over the month of April 1667, she begins—with Lucy’s help—to reconstruct the terrible event that occurred near the bridge, as well as the disturbing events that preceded it. When the woman is attacked while in her care, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications.
But, given that I don't like to disclose too much about my work-in-progress, this is all I will say!
I'm delighted to say that recently a group of us--eight authors who write historical mysteries--joined together to form a new collective: Sleuths in Time, Tracking Crime.
We write historical mysteries set in England, Scotland and the United States, ranging in time from the 1660s to the 1930s. Connect with us on Facebook and Pinterest (Sleuths in Time Authors) or follow us on Twitter! (@sleuthsintime).
We've got some great things planned, including some giveaways and a scavenger hunt at Malice Domestic. Stay tuned for details!
Every morning, when I check my email, I'm reminded of a funny (funny-weird, not funny-humorous) thing about book titles. Because I have a daily Google alert on my titles, I get a little summary about how they have used been used on the internet. For my first novel A Murder at Rosamund's Gate and for my third novel, The Masque of a Murderer, I get alerts that actually pertain to my book.
But for my second book, From the Charred Remains, I am treated to all sorts of terrible and strange news stories--usually house fires--of things or people being found after a fire (this gem to the right is one of the better things that's come this way).
Literally, this illustrates the dark side of book titles. There are terrible things that happen in the world--beyond what happened on the mythical Tatooine--and every day those come to my inbox because of how I titled my book.
I shouldn't be surprised--after all, the premise of my book is that a body has been found in a barrel outside the Cheshire Cheese after the Great Fire has devastated much of London.
So as I sort though new titles for my fourth book--the soon to be renamed Stranger on the Bridge--I find myself avoiding titles that reporters might use to describe particularly grisly stuff.
It's ironic really. The title of my first book didn't make it through marketing, but it was originally called Monster at the Gate. I thought the concept of monster fit well with my time period, but that title was deemed too harsh and supernatural. I can only imagine the kinds of Google hits I would have gotten, had I kept that title.
The original title of my third book, Whispers of a Dying Man, didn't make it past my own internal scrutiny. Bleagh. Glad I changed that one. The Masque of a Murderer is a much better title.
But From the Charred Remains sailed through easily. I still like the title, but I'm still a bit wary when I see what Google has sent me.
Now, I'm still pondering the title of my fourth book. Stranger on the Bridge just isn't resonating for me. So at New Year's, after describing the premise, I asked a bunch of my friends to all put single words (nouns and adjectives) into a hat. Then we all picked three or four slips of paper and formed titles. The best of this admittedly drunken endeavor was Across the Misty Divide. Probably won't go over either (sorry Steve!). Maybe the parlor game method of naming books is not the best method.
So hopefully something connects soon!!! I'll keep you posted!
This never gets old...so exciting to get the copy edits for my third Lucy Campion mystery--The Masque of a Murderer!
I am hoping to reveal the cover soon. I've seen an early version and I love it! Can't wait!
(To be released on April 14, 2015, but available now for pre-order at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and a bookseller near you!)
I am excited that Sam Thomas, author of The Midwife Mysteries, was able to join me on my blog today! To celebrate the fact that The Midwife's Tale is now available as an E-Book for just $2.99, Sam shares the story behind his cover! (Head over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to pick up your copy!)
One question that a lot of readers have asked is how The Midwife’s Tale wound up with its cover, and whether I had any say in its creation. It’s a pretty great question with an interesting answer.
When I envisioned the cover of The Midwife’s Tale, I wanted it to look like a seventeenth-century book, largely in keeping with my original title, Bloody News from York. The image I had in mind was something like this book from 1635:
I thought that this cover would both capture my setting and the central tension of the book, whether a woman would be burned at the stake.
Unfortunately, kept this idea to myself for a bit too long, and before I said anything to my editor, he sent this cover:
I was floored. I loved the darkness, the color scheme, the way the light played across the figure’s back… nearly everything about it.
The one concern my agent had was that it seemed a bit too still. I had written a murder story, after all, and he thought it could use a bit more danger. We suggested putting a knife in her hand, and perhaps replacing the stalks of grain on the table with a mortar and pestle.
This is where Minotaur came through for me the first time. By all rights, they could have said, “Nope, this is it.” But they didn’t. They came back with a modified cover:
Well the last ten days have been fun, fun, fun, and crazy, and I don't know what else. Hence, the reason I am writing a post at four in the morning. (This effect could also be called: "Why Susie should not drink a medium latte at 9 PM").
A week ago, I had the fun of seeing my second novel, From the Charred Remains, out in the world. (From that day 'til now, I also had a class full of essays to grade, several big reports to write for work, a full-day faculty retreat to run, classes to teach, and a plenary on critical thinking to facilitate for 150 law professors, so to say my week was a bit nuts is a mild understatement.)
(*But work is work, and writing is writing, and ne'er the twain shall meet!)
In between, I frantically got one post out for Criminal Element, where I discuss "Crime-Solvers: Forensics of the Past." And, well, I am trying to finish book 3--The Masque of a Murderer--**which I promise, my dear editor Kelley, is nearly done. ***Gritting my teeth while smiling is about where I'm at these days.
But a quick recap of the last ten days in photos:
In a few hours, I will be taking the train down to Bethesda, for the Malice Domestic Conference. It's always so much fun to connect with other mystery lovers. I have a panel on Sunday, May 4, 2014 11:45-12:35, called "One Is Not Amused by Murder: Historical English Mysteries." I'm delighted to be on this panel with fellow historical mystery authors: Kate Parker, Sam Thomas, and Christine Trent. The moderator will be Donna Andrews.
And on Thursday, May 8 at 7 pm, I'll do a talk at ArrivaDolce, the coffee shop where I do a lot of my writing. Someone will win this coffee and book themed basket!
Hope to see you there!
*Disclaimer to work colleagues who might read my blog.
**Disclaimer to my editor and agent, who might read my blog.
***Disclaimer to my dentist, who might read my blog. Okay, now I'm getting the 4 a.m. loopies.
Anyone who knows me, knows I really love doing puzzles. Even when I was a kid, I was always doing puzzles--from word searches to crossword puzzles to substitution ciphers (probably because I felt like I was really decoding mysteries).
But when I was in graduate school, I first encountered the fun of acrostics. In the high Middle Ages, scholars like Alcuin of York (Charlemagne's tutor) used to write short poems that contained clever messages--sometimes hidden--when read a certain way. In their simplest form, the first letter of each line would be carefully selected so that, when read down, the reader could discern a message. However, they could be more complex as well, which always fascinated me.
I just knew that I had to work acrostics and other puzzles into my story, when I came across this acrostic published just after the Great Fire of London in 1666:
London's Fatal Fal, an acrostic.
Lo! Now confused Heaps only stand
On what did bear the Glory of the Land.
No stately places, no Edefices,
Do now appear: No, here’s now none of these,
Oh Cruel Fates! Can ye be so unkind?
Not to leave, scarce a Mansion behind…
Working out my own acrostic--and actually several hidden anagrams within the acrostic (shhh!!!)--was probably the most challenging and fun part of writing From the Charred Remains. But puzzles abound throughout the entire novel. There is even a secret hidden on the cover of the book, which you will understand after you read it!
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.