Why Authors Still Need Agents

Recently, I was lucky enough to witness a keynote speech by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. He talked about a day when writers supersede agents and publishers. He even made a joke of it:

One day, an author will tell some friends, “I just got a book deal.”
And they reply, “I’m sorry.”

This elicited groans from the audience (mostly writers with a handful of agents and editors). I agree in principle with Mr. Coker. Publishers have dropped the ball. They need to cut their own costs to become competitive and offer authors a greater piece of the revenue stream. Amazon’s 70% is far better than the 12% you get from publishers.

I still see a place for agents. Next time you’re on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, troll through the lists of available ebooks. You’ll see plenty of indie authors. That’s a good thing. The ebook has become the great equalizer. Yet, try purchasing one of these indie books.

I did.

I tried quite a few. None were worth the $0.99. Typos were rife. Even when they weren’t the story sagged or had horrific info dumps, or just bad writing. What all these books had in common was a lack of agents and proper editing.

Agents serve as gatekeepers. They champion good books and turn the rest to the door. It’s true, that agents take less and less clients these days, but this is an issue based on the poor state of the publishers. If those corporate guys can get things turned around, I think you’d see many more author’s picked up.

The truth is, as a reader, I want someone to vouch my books. I don’t have a lot of time to read, and wasting it on poor prose is infuriating. That’s not to say that lousy books can’t make it through the agent and publisher system. They can and do. But usually I sour on these as a matter of style. Agents, at the very least, make sure the writing is free of errors and has a decent story.

Tim Kane

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When Do You Let Your Creative Pooch Off the Leash?

Animal strokes ... Leonardo da Vinci's Studies of a dog's paw, about 1485. Photograph: The National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Where do you go to dream up that killer plot twist? I own a restless mind, and like a puppy scrounging for a toy, it’s always off on an adventure somewhere. During my working hours I reign it in, focusing on the task at hand. Oddly, I have a structured and logical side, and I think this takes control in my school situations. Yet when I take off the dog chain and let it loose, my inner puppy romps all over creation.

Over the years, I’ve learned to channel this rampaging creative force. Direct it toward solving difficult writing problems that stymie my logical side. Usually, what I do is mull over a problem, maybe read a few pages of my manuscript in progress and then give my brain time to work.

What works best is showers. I’m stuck there for fifteen minutes. I can’t write, so my left-brain can’t ruin things by trying to put it all into words. Usually when I emerge, a soppy mess, I rush to a pad of paper and jot the whole thing down in one mind dump. So far this technique has never failed me.

I also find that driving produces the same results for the same reason. I can’t write. This leaves my mind free to explore the permieter of the yard inside my head, sniffing and digging the dirt. I often mind myself stopping in a parking lot and unloading on whatever scrap of paper I have. If you ever see me parked and writing, don’t come near. I’m working.

One time, on a drive to Disneyland, there was nowhere to pull over. Thank goodness my phone has a record feature. I must have put down a dozen tiny recordings. Some no more than a few words. My wife must have thought me insane. At least I kept my eyes on the road.

I used to settle in coffee houses for the same effect. Though with the rise of Starbucks, most independent java joints have vanished. Plus I brew my own killer cups at home these days.

So what about you? Where do you let your creative pooch off the leash? Does the dog deliver the goods, fetching back trinkets of character or plot for you to use?

Tim Kane

C: Terrible Consonant

No. How Can I say that viCious letter — terrible Consonant? C! No, I Can’t go on anymore denying its horrid power over me. Just to look at its Curved Crooked from brings the bile up from my stomach. Look how it jests at me, thrusting its points out side-like, as if to leap in a headlong rush, impaling hapless vowels on it’s vertiCes. No. No. I have written it too:

There stands the enemy of all that I am—my foe, my adversary, the Culmination of all that is wrong with the world. You don’t believe me? You say, “How Could such a benign letter be the Cause?” You fool. I say, you blind ignorant babe. You have been wooed by its innoCuous yet Covert pretense. Know now that C is a killer. Yes, turn your baCk, and nothing will stop the slaughter. Don’t let your apathy bloCk you from truly examining—finally seeing—the beast from the lamb. Why do we trust it? It seems too inCredible, but we do. I shall tell you, for I have taken its existenCe to heart. I shall reveal the Codex that is its mystery. I will not stop until C has been blotted from the alphabet. Gone.

C’s seCret lies in its ability to Camouflage itself in apparent usefulness. I first disCovered this while writing. Sent and Cent, though spelled differently, have the same pronunCiation. But C also bolsters a hard sound… Yes, yes, I know. This shouldn’t be, but look for yourself: Caught, Cat, Carpet. They all seem so unique, until you remember (as I did) that K has the same sound. Why not spell these words like so: kaught, kat, karpet. This insidious letter has weaseled its own spaCe in the alphabet where none was needed. Its pillage of words ends here!

Soon after I disCovered these horrid faCts, C took its revenge. It Came to me in my sleep: cccccCCCCcCCccCcCccCCc. Hissing and Clucking at me until I thought my brain would burst. Repeating in CyCliC CyCles, revolving and tightening about my throat until I Could no longer scream. But a deep strength, drawn from a respeCt for Consonants and vowels of all kinds rose up in me. I grabbed C by its outstretched hooks. My right hand bleed from the gashes. I wrestled it, holding and twisting until I nearly lost ConsCiousness. Turning it up, I finally rendered the letter into an inert U.

YoU are dead! Finally dead. And now the alphabet will be safe from yoUr sharp points and tongUe. But wait, am I really rid of yoU? No… not yoU again. Not U!

Tim Kane

Google+ What’s the Big Deal?

We writers like to stay up on the whole social media thing. I tweet and blog. Inevitably, I knew I’d have to check out Google+, the newest shiny network on the block. I can’t say I was bowled over.

The interface looks like a milquetoast version of Facebook. Yet it doesn’t seem to have the social factor boiled in the way Facebook does. Ultimately I could see Google+ killing Facebook. After all, Facebook seems to mess with their privacy settings on a monthly basis.

On the surface, the circles function of Google+ seems like a superior solution. Yet there’s something to be said for Facebook’s simplicity. On Google+, I needed to move all my friends to circles. I’m not sure what would happen if I had more than would fit in that little circle. Now on Facebook, I have close to 100 friends. If I could port these over to Facebook, I’d have to manually move them into circles. What a pain.

One strange limitation about Google+ is that you can’t direct message someone or write on their wall. When I wanted to send a message to just one friend, I had to remember their exact name and then add that to my post. Plus, my message would simply appear in their stream. It could get lost.

Folks say Google+ will take down Twitter. Frankly, I don’t see it. Google+ feels too cold and logical. Everything is thought out. Twitter is funky. It has this bizarre system of hashtags that doesn’t follow any rules. Just like the English language, it evolves. I couldn’t imagine Google+ used as a revolutionary tool in countries around the world.

My final complaint with Google+ is the lack of a good iPad app. Without it, I can only access the mobile site. Have you ever seen the mobile site? It feels like I’m working on a computer terminal circa 1985. Almost DOS like. It’s horrific. And this is the best Google can do? I know that Apple is their competition, but if they want to woo users over, they have to jazz up the joint.

Tim Kane

Eight Words You Can Use Next Time You Call in Sick

We’ve all done it. That day you really just don’t feel like going to work. You make your voice sound ragged, maybe fake a few sniffles, and call into work. You have to sound sick to pull of that sick day.

Well, the dictionary is here to help you. Here are eight stupendous words to make you sound sicker (and perhaps more contagious) than you truly are. And hey, some of these aren’t even lies.

1 Ataraxia (noun)
This sounds like it could be some debilitating disease (perhaps involving the clenching of muscles), but it in fact means absolute calm and tranquility—total freedom from anxiety and strain. Just imagine your ataraxia when you actually do get that sick day and stay home from work! (Source: The Superior Person’s Book of Words)

2 Borborygm (noun)
For all those people who seek a fancy word for fart, here it is. A borborygm is the noise made by gas in the bowels. It comes from the Greek word borborygmós, meaning intestinal rumblings. Here’s how you might utilize it for a sick day call: “I’m suffering from a severe case of the borborygms.?” And if you’re telling the truth, then your co-workers will thank you for taking the day off. (Source: The Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird & Wondrous Words)

3 Cardialgia (noun)
This sounds as if you’re about to have a heart attack right on the spot. Relax, it only means mild indigestion. But your co-workers don’t know that. (Source: The Superior Person’s Book of Words)

4 Collywobbles (noun)
This word just sounds like a kid made it up, doesn’t it? Having the collywobbles means you have sick tummy or you’re scared or nervous (like having butterflies in your stomach).  The word derives from a combination of wobble (as in trembling) with colic. Though if you used this word for your sick day, your boss might think you’re all of five years old. (Source: Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

5 Kedogenous (adj)
This adjective means something that is brought about by worry or anxiety (exactly the type of problem you have when calling in sick). Pair this with any other sickness to make it sound more extreme: “kedogenous cardialgia”. (Source: The Superior Person’s Book of Words)

6 Kinetosis (noun)
Sounds like it could be a distant relative of halitosis. This word means travel sickness. Perhaps this is a sickness you will acquire after you’ve taken the day off from work. (Source: The Superior Person’s Book of Words)

7 Lippitude (noun)
This might actually be a honest-to-goodness excuse, made a little more fancy to pass off as a true sickness. The word means a bleary-eyed condition—much as you would have after a late night of heavy drinking. Now you can call in sick because you truly are. (Source: The Superior Person’s Book of Words)

8 Tragomaschalia (noun)
This is another great sick excuse. Simply call into work and say that you are suffering from tragomaschalia. Sounds life-threatening, when really it means you suffer from  smelly arm pits. (Source: The Superior Person’s Second Book of Weird & Wondrous Words)

There you have it. Feel free to be sick all you want. Just remember, you might have to “define” your sickness if you use it too often.

Tim Kane

Selling Your Sister to the Goblins

A challenge was issued and of course I couldn’t resist. Anna Meade ran a contest to promote the book The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure. The goal was to write a 300 word flash fiction about an encounter with a fairy folk. I chose to make it completely fictional, with a very young protagonist. I incidentally do not have any siblings. At least not anymore.

Selling Your Sister to the Goblins

My teeth cut into the slimy bar of Irish Spring. All I did was call her a dirty liar. Totally true.

Lizzie saunters by the bathroom door, her mouth curled in a smirk. What’s she so glad about? She’ll never find her book. Not where I hid it. She leans against the railing, staring at me.

“Wha…” My tongue strikes the soap and a bitter taste fills my mouth.

She giggles. I kick shut the door. I’d give anything to make her disappear.

Fwah-thunk. The water gurgles in the toilet bowl. Then the room fills with the odor of rotted cheese. A hairy hand grips the side. I jump, the soap clunking to the floor. A man the size of a cat scrambles out of the water. Matted black hair speckles his body.

He bows. “Og-Alog the goblin.”

I scoot against the towel rack. “What do you want?”

“I make people disappear.”

This has got to be some sort of hallucination. Soap poisoning.

“You can take kids away?”

“I can and I will. A changeling steps in. No one will know.” He grins. A thin layer of moss coats his teeth.

This is no joke. Lizzie could really be gone. I glance at the soap and smile.

“Do it. Bring that change thing.”

The goblin scurries up, blackened fingernails gripping my pants. “I have your permission?” He smells like sour milk.

“Yes.”

Cracks spread along the wall in the shape of a door. Wood squeals as it rotates inward. A small figure about my sister’s size crouches inside.

I can’t do this. Not even to Lizzie.

“I changed my mind. Take it back.”

“She did not hesitate,” the goblin says, lips spread wide over mossy teeth.

The figure looks up. It’s my face.

The changeling is me.