Creative stimulants

Witkacy, one of my favorite artists used to fortify his creativity with various stimulants. Whenever he painted or wrote he added a short note on the substance he used in his work. His paintings are particularly interesting for they bear witness to the artist's work. Underneath his signature one finds interesting information, such as date, followed by: "two beers, a shot of vodka and a cigar"; or, "peyote, two bottles of wine, 6 cigarettes", etc.

Well, sometimes I use creative stimulants in my work too, most frequently red wine. I find wine a happy serum that helps deliver satisfying results; yexy written under the influence of wine seems optimistic, as though in a mist. Inspired by Witkacy I tried something more potent and turned to vodka, alas it turned out most unreliable. The next day I opened the text I created to a pint of vodka and found it, well… too creative. Some 80% of words are badly misspelled and to the point that they are quite unintelligible; what makes the text even wackier are the auto-corrections performed by word-processing software. First that comes to mind is that its a classic from the canon of the Klingon Empire, but seeing as I cannot understand it it is probably better that I stick to red wine.


see Witkacy's notes in the corner


What is truth serum?

Here's an article on "truth serum":

The only way that interrogators can tap a man's memory is to ask him. But what if the person is unwilling to spill the beans or, at least, the real ones? If only there were only a way to plug a USB cable to the back of Kasab's head and just download the experiences.

While such technology may be the stuff of science fiction, Indian government officials have announced they will employ another technique that seems to leap from the pages of a 1940s pulp novel: truth serum. Also known as narcoanalysis, administering psychoactive drugs for interrogation purposes has been around for just under a century, but it has been viewed with skepticism from the start. Indeed, the practice is banned in most democracies, and evidence obtained from such an interrogation would have a hard time making it into an American court.

What does the term "truth serum" mean?
That's a term that was used to describe the use of certain drugs, most commonly barbiturates like sodium amytal and sodium pentothal, to try to extract truthful statements from people about their past experiences.  What the term really meant was that the people who used the serum believed that it made people unable to censor themselves and they would just empty their memories into a narrative statement.

A must read for some thriller writers, who far too often rely on "truth serums" to leap forward a story.


300% rise in booksales

Here is proof that one needs to write just the right books for the times:
German media have reported that bookstores nationwide have seen a 300% increase in sales of the book in recent months.

The book: Das Kapital, by Karl Marx.

Quite an achievement considering that at the same time:
* E-book sales rose 73% to $5.2 million.
* Adult mass market rose 6.3% to $65.3 million.
* Children's/YA hardcover rose 0.8% to $86.4 million.
* Professional and scholarly sales slipped 4.4% to $46.3 million.
* Audiobook sales dropped 9.1% to $18.4 million.
* University press paperbacks fell 13.9% to $4.2 million
* Children's/YA paperback fell 14.8% to $43.8 million.
* University press hardcovers dropped 20.4% to $6 million.
* Adult paperback dropped 23% to $95 million.
* Adult hardcover fell 25% to $246.2 million.
* Religious books fell 25.6% to $57.1 million.

Publisher of Das Kapital attributes the huge rise in the book's popularity to:
"The financial crisis brought us a huge bump."

He suggested that it was younger Germans who were buying the book unhappy with the direction their elders had led the country.

"There's a younger generation of academics tackling hard questions and looking to Marx for answers," Mr Schuetrumpf said.

The Capital by Karl Marx is available as a free download (pdf).


Editing books

Found on Good Experience:

The phrase that got me was like a stone in my shoe - noticeable at first, then irritating, then prompting outbursts.

It was "his heart in his mouth."

This is how Follett described a character who was nervous or anxious or frightened. It’s not the most refined metaphor to begin with, but there it was – and then a few pages later, someone else’s heart was in his mouth – and then, next chapter, another heart in another mouth – and again – more hearts, more mouths – until I finally finished the book and thought, just how many times did Follett use that ONE metaphor in a single book?

Which brings me back to the Kindle. Digital technology changes the experience of reading books. What might otherwise have taken hours, to scour the text for an irritating phrase, now takes just a few seconds.

And the answer is: 13. Actually 17, if you count the four instances of “her heart in her mouth.” (It seems that men are, on the whole, a lot hungrier for coronary snacks.)

Unfortunately it happens, it is not something we pay attention too - really, these cliche expression are the least of our problems. By the time we're done with a book we are dog tired. This is why I don't edit my own books, I have a hound for such things - my wife, who bites when she spots these smelly chunks of literary rawhide. My editor said he's never seen a manuscript edited this well...

Changes to manuscript submission

Changes to book acquisition at Random House Canada:

In the past, agents were able to submit manuscripts to both Random House Canada and Doubleday Canada. (Knopf Canada has always acquired under the Random House Canada banner.) If Random or Doubleday both showed interest in a given title, they would come forward with separate offers and marketing plans. Now, however, only one division will be given the go-ahead to pursue a book. According to Jackie Kaiser, of Westwood Creative Artists, this could cut into the competitive advantage of having multiple bidders at the table. “It curtails the process of discovering what the best way of publishing the book is,” says Kaiser.

Agents may still submit to individual editors within the firm, but the decision will be made earlier on as to which division will put forward an offer. According to Random House of Canada president Brad Martin, that decision will be made by an internal committee consisting of Louise Dennys, the executive publisher of Knopf Canada, Doubleday publisher Maya Mavjee, and Martin himself, and it will be based on “who needs [the book], who wants it, and who can bring the best possible focus to it given the publishing schedule they have.”



Anatomy of a query letter

Writers tell me that they are inspired by my story on how I published my first novel, so much so that they take me for a pundit. I’m not sure about that, but let’s say that I’ve seen my share of rejections, which allowed me to make some observations. So here’s to all who sent me their query letters in the past week: there is no magic formula, just basic dos and don’ts when it comes to crafting a query letter.

An ideal query letter will contain everything the recipient needs to asses whether the book meets his or her requirements:

  • Title

  • Genre

  • Word count

  • Protagonist’s name

  • Description of protagonist / his or her objectives

  • Plot

  • Setting / Location

  • Writing credits (optional in case of debuting writers)

  • Platform (all this activity that makes you a known expert)

  • Writer’s name

Always address your query to a specific recipient (name), rather than Dear Agent, or Dear Editor. Agents are notoriously stressed out folks, so try and appease them. Some agents are so stressed that they demand that writers include something personal, such as a reference to a comment the agent made in an interview (this may seem laughably outrageous, since a rejection will be anything but personal, however it does enhance the chances of receiving a reply, which is becoming a collectors’ item these days).

Target the recipient carefully and according to the genres he or she represents (not an easy task since many are remarkably sloppy when it comes to updating their requirements).

Now, here is something that is absolutely crucial, and what most writers (who sent their queries to me) missed: format your emails properly. Some queries that I found my inbox were impossible to follow because all formatting was lost, they arrived as one block of text. This severely limits your chances of finding someone who will struggle to read a letter without line breaks and paragraphs. Do not take it personally (I've been there too), and consider that it's infinitely better that you hear it from me rather than wonder later why your queries are not being answered.

TIP 1: Copy-pasting text from WORD often results in the loss of formatting (partial or full, depending on the email client). Either format your text within the email program, or copy it first from WORD to NOTEPAD, and then from NOTEPAD to email.

TIP 2: Also worth keeping in mind: many agents disable HTML formatting in their email clients in order to protect their computers from malicious content. Messages sent in an HTML format will therefore be stripped of formatting, which in turn may result in all kinds of strange looking characters. Send your mail as plain text.

Finally, for those of you on the verge of depression following a long string of rejections (or receiving no replies whatsoever): write several different query letters. There is no magic formula, what works for one recipient may not work for another. So, write a second, or a third query, which looks at your book from a different angle. For instance – one query letter will concentrate on the plot, whereas another will give prominence to protagonists. Re-query those agents who declined your first offer, as well as those who think that it is an acceptable business practice not to reply at all when they do not like a particular offer (you don't know why you receive no reply, so assume that it is the query letter, and therefore send another one...).

Spell check, format properly and fire away. Do not be discouraged by rejections – all writers receive them. Rejections are a part of every writer’s life. Accept them and move on. Never beg! Do not forget who the employer is.

Best wishes.

Sometimes you only get one chance. Don't blow it. Learn from my mistakes:

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