Fantasy Book Review Sites

Trolling around the internet trying not to get into too much trouble and I started looking at sites that specialize in writing reviews of fantasy (and often science fiction) books.

Here are some sites I found, in no particular order. I don’t agree with every review I read on every site (I’m talking to you, Wise Man’s Fear!), but it sure is nice to see great communities out there where we can share the love. So go, share some love.

Automatic Transmission

So here I am in my hotel room, waiting for the registration desk to open. This evening I have a pitch-craft class. Getting those elevator pitches shined up to gleaming!

Whatever I do I must not sound like I’m trying to sell a used car.

“This here novel is a beauty. She’s only got fifty-five thousand words, but she’s a go-er. Full warrantee covering everything except those pages. They’re not covered. Too combustible you see. Too sporty? Something more substantial? Well, I got this one. Four wheel drive and ninety-seven thousand words. Look at the paint job.”

Of Pitches, Poetry and Passion

So I’ve been working on verbal pitches for both my novels (and on synopses, but the less said about that the better!). What’s a verbal pitch (also called an elevator pitch)? It’s a minute long description of your book meant to hook an agent or editor well enough to want to read what you’ve got to offer.

Pitches are perhaps the hardest thing a writer will ever have to do. It’s harder than writing a novel, in my opinion. When you write a novel you can say whatever you like, express it in any mode you choose. The only things you need are a certain level of clarity (no aspersions cast upon James Joyce) and a decent skill with words.

But a pitch—

Most importantly, you have one minute. One minute. Think about how long a minute is. And you mustn’t rush. Words can’t flood out of you in a breathless, panicked stream of nonsense. So, one minute. Let’s put that at 200, maybe 225 words.

Not a lot of words.

Not just not a lot of words, though. Oh no. It needs to be fascinating and exciting. You need to catch the interest of an agent or editor in those 200 words. You need to instill in them a desire to read your story. And those 200 words need to be typical of the voice or style of your work. Oh, and those 200 words should also include works already published that are comparable to your own, to give your listener a sense of who your audience might be.

My first reaction—and the reaction of many writers I should think—was “If I could do it in 200 words, I wouldn’t’ve written the 97,000 words I did write.” I’ve already written more than 200 words right here!

So bitter.

But I’ve learned to love the pitch. A pitch is a distillation. It’s a piece of poetry, a scrap of blank verse about your book. You love your book, right? Of course you do! If you’re not passionate about your book, don’t bother to try to get it published. So write a little love poem to your book. Tell it what you like about it best. That great moment when the protagonist first sees the Nazi-zombie she’s destined to kill? Give it a sentence in your pitch. The perfect paragraph where the cattle-rustler dies so elegantly? Give it a sentence in your pitch. Whatever you love about your book goes in there.

You’ve got about a dozen sentences, give or take. One of them is your introduction. Goodness gracious, don’t forget the “Hi, I’m John Doe and my book is The Clockwork Cop, a fill-in-your-genre novel.” which goes at the beginning. One of them is your “My book will appeal to readers of Captain J. L. McFrizzbog’s Book of Much Steampunk and Ophelia Spotlock’s police procedurals.” which should go at the end.

That leaves you ten sentences or so of pure book-love. Every word counts. Invest in your protagonist with a quick physical description early on. That gives a mental picture to your listener. You want that agent or editor to fall in love with your main character and no one falls in love with a blank face. Then go for it. Love your book. Rhapsodize.

Then edit it, because it will start too long. Then read it out loud. Then edit again, because bits that read well will sound funny being spoken. Then read it out loud again with a stopwatch (there’s probably one on your smartphone). Then edit again because it’s still too long. Record and listen to it. Does it excite you? If not, edit. Read it to anyone who will listen. Pay attention to what they say. Edit. Memorize it, but don’t make it sound like a speech.

And then you have that perfect little love poem to your book.

P.S. The Clockwork Cop is a great title for a book!

Talk Talk

I went to a great talk this past weekend. Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada (literary agents to be found here) came and spoke to our division of the California Writers Club. They were engaging speakers and they came to talk to us about what each of us needs to be a successful writer and why now is such a great time to be a writer.

Well, according to the talk to be a successful writer you need commitment, passion and focus. Obvious? Maybe. But I argue, not as obvious as you might think. I talk to a lot of people who want to be writers. I don’t talk to a lot of people who have written books. I don’t mean published books. I mean just lots of words on paper (or computer screen). So many people intend to write. So many people want to write. Not many people do write.

Hearing Mr. Larsen and Ms. Pomada speak was an inspiration not necessarily because they told me something I didn’t know, but because they confirmed what I did. And because, more importantly, they brought their own passion with them. This is a pair of people who love books. Who appreciate writers. Who want more books to be in the world. Who want every voice to be heard.

If you get an opportunity to hear them speak, take it.

And why is now the best time to be a writer? Well, for me, it’s a bit Dickensian. It is the best of times and the worst of times. As Larsen and Pomada pointed out, there are more resources available to writers to self-publish and self-promote. An eager audience is reading more than it has in years, though not necessarily in the ways it used to. However, big publishing houses are spending less time and energy on new writers and more on established writers.

Is it a great time to get rich on your writing? Oh, probably not. But there are so many ways now to get your voice heard.

You could blog, for instance.

Well, Ms. Pomada, whom I spoke to at the end of the talk, was kind and encouraging. She does not represent fantasy and so I was unable to make a pitch to her. If I had thought about it sensibly beforehand, I’d have gotten a pitch ready for my mystery novel. It’s a little short (55K words instead of 60K) and so I’ve been sitting on it.

Oh well, I’m going to shine it up for the conference I’m going to (in two weeks!).

Writing & Procrastinating at the Same Time

I have a friend who is also an aspiring author. Let’s call her Kelli. Kelli said to me that she was busy working on her writing and I asked how far she’d gotten. Kelli said she hadn’t started the novel itself because she had been busy working it out first, summarizing what she wanted the novel(s) to be.

She’d been doing this for some time, it seemed to me. I asked her if she was planning some unusually byzantine piece. It turned out she was creating a long and somewhat complicated story, but what was really going on was that she’d write a summary, look it over and either find problems with it or decide it just wasn’t good enough. Those things decided, Kelli would start her summary over.

At first glance it seems like Kelli’s being productive. She’s not. She’s procrastinating.

Summarizing is not writing. Summarizing–for some authors–is a necessary step before diving into the novel headlong, a sort of putting your toe in to test the water. While full summaries are not for me, I totally accept it could well be for others, Kelli included.

That said, repeated summaries, edited summaries, rejected summaries are like putting your toe in the water, and deciding to wait a few minutes because it may be warmer later. You wait, then put your toe in again. Still not quite warm enough. You wait and put your toe in again. Nope, still not warm enough. This is the surest way to guarantee you never have that swim.

Summaries, even the most perfect, will change when the writing starts. While some writers create a plot and stick to it and there is no variation (their novel is basically a fleshing out of their summary), for most authors plot holes will be found, character development will change your view of events, subplots will morph to serve your story in ways that hadn’t occurred to you before your novel started its slow crawl toward completion. The perfect summary, no matter how long you work on it, will not be exactly your novel and the more time you spend summarizing, the less time you spend really writing.

A novel is a cold pool. You can wait for it to warm up, but it will only get so warm. Sooner or later you must dive into it, temperature mostly unknown, complete lack of knowledge about possible sharks, electric eels or rips in the time-space continuum lurking in the depths. You must swim, and you must relish the adventure that swim represents.

Remember that editing is where your book really starts to work. You can’t fix the book before you write it. Summarize if it’s your thing, but once the summary is done, the very first summary, write.

Write. Write. Write. Write!

When you’re done with that, write some more.

Then edit.

New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions as a rule. However, this year I’m going for it in regards my writing at least.

In no particular order, these are my writing resolutions.

1. Blog more.

2. Get an agent or at least try like the dickens to do so.

3. Get a short story posted up on this blog as a writing sample.

4. Get Book II of the The Marsh King finished.

5. Start Book III of The Marsh King.

6. Start organizing second trilogy to follow The Marsh King–The Red Prince.