The Dreaded First Edit: Part 1

On January 27, 2017, I entered into an “Agreement Between Publisher and Author . . . Whereas the Parties are desirous respectively of publishing a work provisionally entitled The Precariousness of Done (the “Work”), which title may be changed only by mutual consent.”

The agreement is 24 pages long.

Page 24 contains a “TENTATIVE PUBLISHING SCHEDULE,” which “depends on the extent of editorial revisions/corrections, and publisher’s, author’s and printer’s schedules. The following dates are based on a publishing agreement finalized by February 5, 2017:

First Edited Proof: March/April 2017
Final Edited Proof: March/April 2017
1st Interior Design Proof: April/May 2017
Final Interior Design Proof: May/June 2017
First Cover Versions: June/July 2017
Final Cover Proof: June/July 2017
Book to Press: July/August 2017
Printer’s Proofs: July/August 2017
Books Shipped: July/August 2017
Limited Release: July/August 2017
Public Release: Fall 2017

(Limited release is the date copies of your book are available to you, as well as available for preorder from [name omitted], amazon.com and bn.com. Public release is the date your book ships and is available for order from brick and mortar chain stores. Public release is generally scheduled two to three months after copies are received because it takes a number of weeks for your book to be reviewed by Barnes and Noble and other buyers, and additional time for your book to appear in buyer databases.)”

The first task to be completed on that tentative schedule began simply, with this email from my publisher:

“March 23, 2017

Dear Tony:

I am attaching the 1st EDITED PROOF of Precariousness for your review. We have edited the manuscript for grammar, mechanics, usage, and general content. We have used Microsoft Word Track Changes feature for this edit. In case you are unfamiliar with this feature, I have attached instructions on how to use it. Please note that we have not included the “clean” file mentioned in the instructions, but I’ll be happy to send one if you prefer. Some authors who aren’t familiar with tracking find the clean file easier to work with. Just let me know.

It is important that you read the instructions about the Track Changes feature before you begin responding to the edit.

Do not be concerned with spacing between paragraphs or other formatting elements at this stage. We will address formatting, indentation, margins, and other design elements at the design stage.

SPECIAL NOTES: None at this time.

IT IS CRITICAL that you work with the attached file in Microsoft Word, not with your original manuscript file or any other file. If you work with a previous or another file, we will have to edit the manuscript from scratch, and there may be delays and more production costs.

When your review is complete, please email the proof to me at your earliest convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call me at [phone number omitted]. Thank you!

Very truly yours,

[name omitted].”

When I opened the attached file, simple flew out the window and then straight to hell: Microsoft Word Track Changes feature is a visual nightmare for this severe obsessive-compulsive author–changing, checking, rechecking, re-rechecking. Accepting or rejecting my editor’s changes are another matter, for another post.

The instructions about the Track Changes feature got me started; the suggestions from those who have used it–thank you Adam and Noah–let me chew through the edit and make peace with it. An uneasy truce: other proofs (scary, final ones) will be coming.

If you’re a writer who is starting the process I am well into, and you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

If you’re an obsessive-compulsive who is struggling every day as I am, I’m here for you, too.

The Author Questionnaire: A Key to Book Marketing That Would Make the NSA Proud

For some authors writing is easy, for others it’s hard. I’m with the latter, and for an introvert like me marketing and publicizing my book (set for public release this fall) will be just as hard as writing.

As I was completing the author questionnaire sent to me by my publisher, two thoughts kept running through my head: (1) I’m going to have to leave my comfort zone so far behind I’m going to need a passport, and (2) I wonder if this is what it’s like to apply for a job in the intelligence community.

I kept waiting to be asked about my blood type.

So for those of you who are curious about book marketing and publicity, here’s the author profile/questionnaire I was sent and recently completed. Don’t worry: reading it doesn’t require you to disclose anything about your red blood cell antigens.

“AUTHOR PROFILE / QUESTIONNAIRE

Please complete this questionnaire in this Word file, not by hand. Also please leave questions in place and enter your responses following the questions.
Thank you!

The following questionnaire will help us prepare marketing materials, and will provide us with other useful information. It will also prompt you to begin thinking about how you will market and promote your book. Today’s author must be more than a writer; you must also be an active spokesperson for yourself and for your book. As your publisher, we will make your book available in the marketplace, but availability is only the first stage. The world must know your book exists before they can buy it, so our challenge (yours and ours) is to make you and your book visible. In a world where more than a million books are published each year, the competition is staggering. Marketing and promotion are essential to make your book successful.

Thank you for answering these questions as thoroughly as possible. (Some questions may not fully apply to your book; use your best judgment.)

TITLE OF WORK:

AUTHOR’S FULL NAME:

EXACT NAME(S) FOR COPYRIGHT:

MAILING ADDRESS (Street or P.O. Box, City, State, Zip):

SHIPPING ADDRESS (Street, City, State, Zip):

TELEPHONE (Day and Evening):

E-MAIL ADDRESS:

TWITTER ADDRESS (if applicable):

FACEBOOK ADDRESS (if applicable):

WEBSITE DOMAIN NAME (we recommend using your name rather than the title of your book):

YOUR DATE OF BIRTH:

ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS. (Colleges, universities, training; include dates):

OTHER PUBLISHED WORKS. (Be sure to provide titles, publishers and dates of publication, as well as a short description of each title):

AFFILIATIONS (clubs or organizations in which you are involved or a member):

WORKS IN PROGRESS. (Are you currently working on another book? If so, tell us about it.)

BIOGRAPHY. (Please write a short biography that can actually be used in your book. Write in third person. Keep it simple and clear. Longer bios, 200-250 words, are generally printed on a back page (or back flap for hardcover editions); shorter bios, 50-60 words, are printed on the back cover, if space permits. The length of your bio is basically your choice. If your book includes an illustrator, please also provide your illustrator’s bio.)

PHOTO. (Please send a quality color photograph of yourself (and illustrator, if applicable) that might be used on the back cover (or on a back page) and for promotional purposes. We recommend a casual photograph. Either way, it should be good quality. If you send a digital file, it should be high resolution and in jpeg or tif format (300 dpi). If you mail a print, a 4×5” or 4×6” is best.)

SUMMARY OF YOUR BOOK. (Please write a brief summary or synopsis in 150 to 200 words that captures the essence and main focus of your book. Write the summary so if people read it, they will want to buy your book. Write in third person. This summary will be used to develop your jacket copy.)

ELEVATOR. (If you got on an elevator and someone asked “what is your book about,” and you had just one or two floors or about ten seconds to tell him, what would you say? Write one or two sentences that capture the essence of your book.

BOOK COVER. (Please tell us how you envision your front cover. Are there specific photos or images you would like to see included? Do you have color preferences? We try to accommodate author preferences, within reason. Keep in mind that if you ask for “a woman sitting on a horse, holding a silver sword and wearing a white dress,” an image like this usually involves hiring a model, a horse, and a photographer to take a professional photograph, or involves complex PhotoShop manipulation and involves considerable expense. Think of simple images or photos that can be created easily or found in stock online photo galleries (like iStock.com) and that are royalty-free. (If yours is a children’s book, the cover image will most likely be produced by the illustrator.) Our standard approach is to create several versions of your cover. With your input and that of our designers, we arrive at one or two strong designs, and once a final version is selected, we polish and refine that version. We’re happy to discuss cover ideas with you.)

SALES HANDLES. (Think of statements that will help sell your book. How is your book unique? Why should a reader purchase it? How is it different from other titles on similar subjects or in a similar genre? Be as detailed as you can.)

AUDIENCE FOR YOUR BOOK. (The first audience to potentially purchase your book are those people who know you. Who else do you think will buy your book? List specific groups, organizations that may be interested in single or bulk purchases. Make a list of contacts, email addresses, and other pertinent information. You will probably want to create an Excel file or Microsoft Word file to list this contact information. Remember that your email list is one of your most powerful marketing tools.)

POTENTIAL ENDORSERS/REVIEWERS. (Consider who might write an endorsement for your book. Endorsements, sometimes called ‘blurbs,’ are printed on the back cover or on the inside first page of your book, and they are often used in promotional materials. You can request endorsements once we have a final edited or designed proof. The most effective endorsers/reviewers are successful writers, especially those who write in the same genre of your book, people in the topic field, editors, book reviewers, leaders, celebrities—people who have an audience and whose names may be recognizable. However, we welcome almost any endorsement. We suggest that you compose a simple letter asking for their endorsement or review (we can provide a sample letter). We encourage authors to be bold in seeking endorsements. Don’t hesitate to contact well-known authors and celebrities. They will often surprise you and respond. When we have an edited or designed proof, you can simply email or mail a copy to the potential endorser, along with your letter—and hope for a reply.

CONTACTS. (List those groups, organizations, newspapers, magazines, or newsletters you might contact who might publish a review, article or announcement about your book in their publication or on their website. Organizations or groups are often willing to include announcements about books published by their members. Perhaps you have associations or connections with media, editors, reviewers who may be willing to write a review once your book is published. Please send us their email addresses and names.)

EVENT LOCATIONS. (List libraries, booksellers, or other retailers or venues you might contact who may hold a book event for you, and collect specific email addresses and contact names for these locations. These should be in areas near where you live, or areas to which you are willing to travel. Signings and book events can be held anywhere—in homes, restaurants, wine bars, museums. It’s becoming more common to have events in places other than bookstores. Be creative. Perhaps you can hold an event at a coffee shop in your neighborhood.)

PRESENTATIONS/TALKS (POETRY, FICTION AND NON-FICTION GENRES). (Author presentations always draw larger audiences than simple signings. People are more likely to come to hear a talk than come to see an author sitting at a table, pen in hand. Author talks are generally followed by a question and answer session, possibly a reading, and then a signing at the end when you can sell your book. Now that you are a published author, people will think of you as an expert. Think of 4, 5 or more potential 15-20-30 minute presentations/talks you might give. What would the topics of these talks be? Write the topics here. Make them interesting and compelling, so when people see the title of your talk, they’ll want to attend.)

CHILDREN’S BOOKS ACTIVITIES. (One of the key draws for children’s book authors is to offer activities to children. We recommend that you develop 3 or 4 potential activities for children in the age/reading level for the content of your book. These should be hands-on/participatory activities that will engage children and inspire parents to bring their children to your event. Consider activities that involve drawing, illustration, assembly, puppetry, word or other games. List your activities here.)

BUYERS. (List booksellers, retailers, and other potential buyers who may want to purchase your book, and provide their contact information.)

RADIO AND TV STATIONS. (List local or regional radio and TV stations who may be willing to interview new authors. Provide contact information for these stations.)

OTHER. (List any other promotion/marketing you plan to pursue that will help sell your book.)

Now more than ever, books are successful in today’s market largely because their authors are active promoters. Reaching people who know you is easy; the challenge is reaching buyers who know nothing about you. In order to reach these buyers, you will need to be active and visible; you will need to talk about your book to groups and individuals, market your book in online blogs, social networking sites, and by other methods. Together with our effort, we hope to find a responsive audience!)

Return to: [omitted]

Thank you!!”

On Getting No Response to Queries, Licking Your Wounds, and Then Querying Again

About a week ago I received an email that made me tremble with excitement. Here’s how it began:

“Mr. Houck:

Thanks for your kind patience while we reviewed your submission. We’ve had a flood of submissions over the past year plus, and have been giving each one a fair reading.

I’m excited to let you know that we’re interested in publishing your book…”

(To read more, visit The Precariousness of Done.)

It was a thrilling, anxiety-provoking, life-changing moment that validated my years of lonely, hard work and briefly quieted the self-doubt that has always plagued me.

Throughout the writing process, I had become a better writer and believed in the book, but not so much in myself. And growing a thick skin was painful.

Three of my critical readers didn’t finish reading the manuscript. One that did had several “running quarrels” with me throughout, including “over written descriptive passages” and my shifting gears into “what seems to become a travel guide, thus confusing the point of view and the unity of the text, not to mention endangering the dramatic tension.” I could go on, but won’t.

After licking my wounds, I listened to their criticism, reworked the manuscript as I saw fit, and sent out my initial round of email queries in early September 2015.

October came and went. So did November and December.

I heard nothing.

But I still believed in the book. In myself, not so much.

So, after licking my wounds again, I spent the winter working on a new query letter, getting help with my approach, and re-re-retooling my manuscript. In April, I stepped well outside my comfort zone by attending my first writers’ conference and subjecting myself to live critiques of my submission during Slush Pile Live!

I survived and thrived, and then put what I had learned to good use.

Here’s the opening of the email queries I sent out in May:

“Dear [names omitted],

Ethan is bright yet painfully shy. A milk toast, he rarely stands up for himself, and when he manages to say no, he feels guilty or anxious. But when it comes to his passion—Spanish—he is an absolute and unflappable crack. His Castilian accent was honed while studying after high school in the Spanish town of Las Rozas. He has fond memories of living there, but not of his host mother, who called him a “profound retard,” or of his host father, who told him he was a “troglodyte” and then threw the teenager out of his apartment.

My novel, The Precariousness of Done, opens years later, when Ethan, now in his twenties, has returned to Las Rozas to visit the family that took him in after his eviction. It’s early October. The town’s holding its annual fiestas—runnings of the bulls, bullfights, carnival, concerts, street vendors, pickpockets, and crowds of teenagers puffing on cigarettes.

And it’s been nearly two months since Ethan lost his natural mother…”

So I started waiting again, knowing my queries were better. But were they good…or good enough?

My wife and I spent the summer months packing moving trucks, selling the house, taking our son to and from lapidary arts school, and starting a new job, but the queries were never far from my mind. At least I got a few personal rejections.

And then that email came last week.

So stay tuned: I intend to take you, the followers of this blog, through the hard work ahead with me. I’m sure it, too, will be exciting and anxiety-provoking, and I hope my journey can be of use to you as you push toward your goal(s), especially if self-doubt is also your constant companion.

Maybe we can work on that together.

Family Hassles and Turning the Tassel

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The future awaits my son. If I have done my job—and the verdict will be out for some time to come—he will work harder than everyone else, refuse to accept rejection and failure, which are unavoidable, try new foods and go new places, push himself far beyond his comfort zone, and tell those who deserve it to kiss his ass. I will always love and support him, and he will always have a soft landing place in my home, wherever it is.

And if, as I get older, I behave as certain members of our family did on graduation night, I give my son permission to leave the dinner table, to curse my name under his breath as he walks away, and to block my messages as he cranks his car.

I will not become my parents.

Welcome to the blog of Tony Houck…

…and I thank you for visiting. Stay a while. Browse. Read. Smile. Scratch your head or shake it. Comment. Follow.

I’m introverted and hesitant to ramble or waste your time.

In that spirit, let me quickly explain that unsalted gems is a term used at family-friendly gem mines, that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, that I am addicted to the language and culture of Spain, and that the purpose of this blog is to inform and entertain my readers. To them, I extend a sincere invitation to provide feedback and share their stories.

My Story, which further discusses unsalted gems, OCD, etc., is available for those who wish to read it. I leave that decision up to you.

As an obsessive-compulsive who is embarrassed by his disorder, and not a person who gravitates toward self-aggrandizing tendencies, I’ve had to step outside my comfort zone for my first post. Although it’s an excerpt from my unpublished novel, which is not a memoir, the passage is short on meism but long on insight into the world of an obsessive-compulsive. OCD manifests itself in different ways, of course, but what follows is a place to start….

 

CHAPTER SIX

07:43 h

      A bottled gas delivery truck clanged past the open window, but Thomas was already awake. Staring at the clock he had watched throughout the night, he sat hunched on the side of the bed, his forearm resting on the nightstand. He dared not move the travel alarm, so he pinched it lightly between his index finger and thumbnail, which quivered over a small button split into half-moons marked ALARM and SET.

07:45 h

      Thomas took a shallow breath, held it, and pressed the button before the alarm could ring for the fifth time. Five would have been bad: It wasn’t one of his numbers. After letting the echo fade, he pressed the button again and then stared at the display, holding his breath again. “It’s there,” he whispered.
      “It” was a little bell above the colon that indicated the alarm was turned on. A lingering touch—he had a proclivity for lingering touches—could have turned it off altogether, but his nail had been quick. He exhaled. The alarm was ready for tomorrow morning, and it was important that it was…irrationally important, anxiety-provokingly important. He lifted his elbow off the nightstand and sat back. “It’s done.”
      But no amount of physical distance could have taken his mind off that bell or prevented his daily battle with “it,” as even a master of self-control is helpless against spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm. He leaned forward. “It’s there.”
      It was there. He clearly saw it and the speck of dust on it, but couldn’t take his eyes off it. He tried to lean back. “It’s done…It’s there— It isn’t.” He sighed and checked it again. The thoughts became reflexes.
      “I see it…It’s right there.” He leaned back, but before his spine could straighten, he threw himself forward. “Damn. Last time,” he promised emptily with all his heart and rechecked it.
      In the distance a driver laid on the horn, but Thomas was already beyond the tipping point again. “Not there. Damn it, shit, hell. Last time, I promise.” He re-rechecked it, but was soon lost in the bell once again.
      “It’s there— No, I see it. Fight it. It’s not, check it later…I might forget. Last time, I promise.” He re-rechecked it again, raised his eyes to heaven, and then smacked himself on the head. At that moment, he wasn’t sure whom he hated more. “Guaranteed done, no matter what. I promise.”
      There was no way in hell he was done.
      “You’re not getting anything else from me— I promise just one last time.” He checked it, but he wasn’t really seeing at it anymore. Something similar to the difference between hearing and listening.

07:47 h

      “It’s there, it’s there, it’s there, it’s there,” Thomas insisted, desperate for the relief that often came with repetition in fours. He could have afforded to change his ticket if he had 1 € (about $1.30) for each time he’d repeated something four times in September alone.
      He had other “lucky” numbers of course, but in eights, fifteens, seventeens, twenty-twos, thirty-ones, thirty-sevens, fifty-ones, fifty-sevens, and seventy-sevens things took quite a while longer, and he had to get going. No, four usually did the trick. Besides, the higher numbers were better suited for such things as turning off headlights, wiping down the bathtub, blowing dust off the television, walking across a room, and closing bottles. He could have stayed in Las Rozas forever if he had 1 € for each time he had mashed the refrigerator handle.
      He took several deep breaths, trying to reset the brain that wasn’t getting the message.

      —Why? is a question answered only by theories about the cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
      Many researchers attribute the disorder to biological abnormalities. Perhaps the neurochemical serotonin can’t transmit its message to neighboring nerve cells because the receptors on those neurons are faulty, resulting in the reuptake of serotonin. Maybe the part of the brain that initiates certain actions lacks a specific protein. Possibly a prior immune response to the streptococcus bacteria produced offending antibodies. These are but three possibilities.
      Advocates of a psychological cause suggest that OCD sufferers repeatedly wash their hands, check locked doors, etc., to relieve anxiety provoked by illogical doubts and fears that intrude into their thought processes, and though the anxiety re-emerges, they associate short-lived relief with the washing, checking, etc., negatively reinforcing those actions. The cycle repeats, encouraging the obsessions and compulsions, although sufferers take no pleasure in them, and the disorder intensifies.
      Whether abnormal biology, psychology, or, more likely, a combination of the two is to blame, the many forms of OCD make it one of the more prevalent mental disorders in the United States, afflicting millions, and many more have never been formally diagnosed.

07:48 h

      Thomas wiped the “pollution” off his finger and wagged the tip of it across the display, playing peekaboo with the bell. “There, not there. There, not there.”
      Muttering stares were often just fists to the chest, but taps and rubs could be like paddles to a fibrillating heart and restore normal rhythm to his dwelling brain; for Thomas, abnormal was normal. The additional stimuli helped curb his anxiety, so he relied heavily on the sense of touch during his private struggles, but in public the behaviors drew embarrassing looks, so he disguised them.
      When tapping and rubbing didn’t provide the necessary relief, the situation worsened still, and he was often forced into momentary, even persistent surrender. But if he was playing beat the clock or if the task was especially difficult, he resorted to more severe behaviors to increase the stimulus. Metal zipper pulls were tugged so hard they bent. Plastic caps were tightened until they bulged at the sides; often they were so tight that he had to open them with pliers. The violent rattling of the side door used to shake and wake the house.
      Thomas was incredibly sorry about breaking the doorknob.

07:49 h

      “It’s there.”
      The next few moments were critical, so Thomas sat breathless, motionless, fearing the unexpected, even the rumble of his stomach.

07:50 h

      On to the bracelet, the shirt tag, the drawstring in the pajama pants, in that order. In that order.
      The day had just begun.
      He was exhausted.