Trigger Warning: Trigger Warnings

When Sophie’s Choice was released, I went with a date to see it. I didn’t check reviews; I just heard about a great actress. I spent the last half of the movie sobbing and scared the bejeezus out of my date (especially since I had to drive her home). My mother had told me that story, in gory detail, from her multiple personal experiences with the Nazi “selektion” at Auschwitz. Cue “triggering.”

At the last ArmadilloCon, there was a spirited set of discussions, on and off-panel, regarding trigger warnings. Even with the book title “The Property of Blood, ” the author was urged to use a trigger warning for violence.

As someone who’s lived with PTSD for most of their lives and has had the cinematic Vietnam vet flashback, I don’t see it this way. Caveat Emptor needs to be a much finer, more granular warning, if at all. What triggers one person may be fine for another. And where’s the limit? Do we warn if there are giant spiders in the novel? What if there’s non-consensual, non-sexual touching? The echo of trauma from a bully’s beating can be very painful for some readers, but how does one alert the public?

What Ilona said, mostly. But also, if there’s a large amount of specific violence such as anti-<abuse> that’s not on the title or dust jacket, it’s probably not a big deal to add a warning on the back cover just to give a heads-up. My $0.02, IMHO, YMMV.

Publishing & Reality… and Magic

My series, under a nom-de-plum, is finally back in process, after a bout of reality-induced depression and anxiety courtesy of religious fundamentalists in all branches of government. Oh, and nazis. They’re feeling empowered more and more. “This can only end in tears” — ancient parental saying. This was compounded by my having a discussion with a publicist who refused to work with me on the series because the owner is pro-life. (And apparently Jewish practices are anti-life, but I’ll let that one lie.)

So I’m close on the release date of the next book in that series, but having said it would be in “the fall of 2022,” that’s not a small bullseye target.

To restart my engine I returned to a novel I’d completed in first draft, shown to a couple of folks, and knew I needed to make many changes. It’s a YA fantasy novel, with a large world-building component (points a finger at Marshall Maresca’s thoughts and work on that topic).Getting magic right is tricky. Don’t know if I nailed it, but I’ll be reaching out to a few readers in the next couple of weeks.


Cuspical Data

Last post I talked about the uncertainty of “that time” between an agent submitting a manuscript to a publisher and when a writer gets a response from the publisher in the form of a rejection or a contract.

Thing the First: A Conversation on Time on Cusp

I posed these questions to Marshall Ryan Maresca, a local Austin published author:

  1. Is there a correlation between the number of requests for a full manuscript and the possibility that it’ll get picked up?
  2. Are there months where publishers generally make decisions on contracting to publish a novel?
  3. How long would a publisher sit on a manuscript they’ve asked for before coming back with a decision? I’d heard a few snippets back at the last ‘Con, but… you’ve been through the grinder a few times now.
The following is a quote, edited to preserve anonymity where necessary, of Marshall’s response:
“Man, let me tell you, that interstitial period in a writers career, where you’ve made that massive level-up achievement of Getting An Agent, but still haven’t sold… it’s rough.  And it is just because you’re in limbo.  You’ve got people asking for it, so that’s good.  But it can just take forever.  I mean, it was about two and half years for me.  [Author], I think four.  As for months when things happen and when they don’t? I mean it all depends.  I hear that a lot DOESN’T happen in the summer months, for example, because editors are often going to cons and such each weekend.  I know that it was about a year between when my agent sent Thorn to [publisher] and when she started reading it, and she really didn’t read it until I went up and said a polite hello at WorldCon.  And my agent was just telling me a story of one editor who kept going, “Yeah, I know, I’m going to read that soon” on someone else’s manuscript for years.  I think Martha Wells made the joke of “glaciers honk at the publishing industry to move faster.”
“(But, on the flip side, you get something like [another author], whose agent sold his manuscript a week after signing him.)
Thus, the big unhelpful answer is, “Who knows, man?”
Well… okay, then. The crystal ball continues my future opacification. All I know is Marshall has a glass of a good scotch coming his way.

Thing the Second: Odds of Getting Agent Representation

Someone posted this article on Austin’s Indie Authors Society Facebook page [link to Nelson Literary Agency here]. Keep in mind this is from an agent, not a publisher. So the numbers and “successes” only mean the author received an offer of representation, not a publishing contract. The crux of Kristin Nelson’s post was this: for four agents, the agency received over 20,000 query letters. Of those, they requested about 440 manuscripts. And of those, a quarter of those authors received an offer letter from the agency to represent the author and try and get their manuscript published.
Bottom line: The agency looked at the manuscripts of 2.25% of the query letters they received. And only 0.56% of all query letter writers were given offers of representation. I strongly recommend reading Kristen’s full blog post for precise numbers and more (and funnier) odds.

Wrapping This Up

Neither of these items is directly connected, except to make a single point: the odds of an author, even with a great book and query letter, are literally minuscule. Not lottery minuscule, but certainly nothing you’d want to pin your mortgage payment on selling that Great Novel. Sigh.

Can’t Tell if I’m on the Cusp…

My agent’s gotten ten query letters out to qualified publishers. Three of the five sent out around Thanksgiving asked for full manuscripts. This past Monday my agent sent another five. Two of those five asked, within a day or so of the query letter, for a complete manuscript. Don’t have feedback on the other three. So now there’s five publishers looking at the novel, all of which imprints for the top publishers in the fiction biz. And while on one hand this sounds like “great progress” and is nice to hear, I don’t have any way to quantify this. Previous Armadillocon panels addressed the time to acceptance, but not the numbers part of publishers in waiting. While JK Rowling sugarplum auction fantasies dance in my head (but I harbor no delusions as to any comparisons between that and my novels), I don’t know what this “top five are reading” means in terms of getting closer to closing a deal.

Calling on wise women and men if they have ideas. Comment, or blog on your own and let me know.