#SFFpit Happening This Thursday!

“Writing a fantasy or science fiction novel is hard enough. Now, try pitching it in a single tweet. That’s the challenge set forth by #SFFpit, a twice-annual Twitter pitching contest.”

“Unlike Brenda Drake’s #PitMad, this contest is only for works of fantasy or science fiction. All age categories (PB, MG, YA, NA, and adult) are welcome. The last #SFFpit was February 24th, 2022. The next event will be August 25th, 2022.”

Click here for more information.

Mango Publishing Interview – Starting an Independent Book Publisher

Mango Publishing has been listed as one of the top ten independent book publishers in the U.S. by NY Book Editors.

In their sixth year of existence, Mango Publishing is one of the fastest-growing publishers in the country, and was a finalist for Publisher of the Year at Digital Book World 2019.

So I am very grateful that they were willing to talk with me in my continuing series of articles on independent publishing. The interview below was held with Mango’s Director of Logistics, Hugo. He has been with the company since the very beginning. I would also like to give a shout out to Geena El-Haj (Mango’s Marketing Communications Coordinator) for helping me to facilitate the interview.

JBJ: Why was Mango Publishing created?

Hugo: I don’t know if we had a very intentional start. Mango Media, the original incarnation, and parent company, was formed with the idea of being a modern, data-driven media company that explored the intersection of books and smartphone apps. Through that journey of mistakes, we stumbled upon a consistent theme: Gut. “My gut tells me,” “I have a gut feeling,” “I think I should listen to my gut…”

Nearly every project we created in the media days revolved around a lot of gut instinct. Something that was diametrically opposed to the mission of being data-driven. So we reevaluated our process of creating content and identified a hole in the market: books published for consumers, ignoring the “gut” of buyers, agents and traditional public relations, and instead focusing on the analytics on consumer trends.

JBJ: For other people who are interested in doing the same thing, what were the steps your publishing company took starting out?

Hugo: It’ll sound repetitive, but the data was our focal point. Once we understood how outdated the publishing landscape was, we began to reinvent it by following the success of content creators. Bloggers, journalists, podcasters, YouTubers, chefs and artists who were creating content for a specific audience. We didn’t (and still don’t) care how large their audience was or even how engaged they were. We were more interested in their expertise in the field and their authentic relationship with their audience.

JBJ: What are the important services you have to pay for when running an independent publisher?

Hugo: Everything. Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books loves to tell people, “If you want to make one million dollars selling books, start with two million dollars.” You won’t find many people in publishing that are in it for the money, regardless of how Hollywood likes to present it. Publishing, indie publishing, is a world filled with constant minor expenses, thin margins and incredible people. You can’t skimp on design, or editing, or printing or sustainability and expect to have a book that delivers on the promise their author made when announcing the book.

JBJ: Do you mind giving me a figure for a starting budget?

Hugo: It’s too vague to give a number because, at least for us, we build our list on every title carrying its weight. So they all get their financial support in the same capacity (in direct marketing, advertising, design costs, editing, etc.). P&Ls play a role in our commissioning process, but more than that, it’s the mission of the book, the authenticity of the author and the potential of the data.

JBJ: Would you especially recommend anyone or any website for the following services: legal, production, editing?

Hugo: No. Everyone’s purpose for those services is different, so there’s no way to outright recommend people or services in a general sense.

JBJ: What is Mango Publishing’s greatest challenge?

Hugo: Pre-pandemic I would have said time. Mainly time for commissioning. We have endless data helping us identify authors, categories, trends and more. Yet the time that goes into building the trust and relationship with your authors is incalculable and not something that can be skipped or ignored. In a post-covid world, print production is probably our biggest hurdle. Supply chain issues, paper shortages, sustainability limitations and limited warehouse workers all add chaos to a highly delicate system.

JBJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of what Mango Publishing does?

Hugo: Publishing under-represented voices from marginalized or ignored communities.

JBJ: You guys are listed as one of the top ten independent book publishers by NY Book Editors. What is the secret to your success?

Hugo: Getting unimaginably lucky with our hiring. Having the mission of reinventing publishing and publishing underrepresented authors is nice and all, but without the insane luck of the people we’ve been able to hire and work with buying into it, we would have folded up years ago.

JBJ: What steps would you recommend to an author who is submitting a query to you? What is the best way for a prospective author to get published at your publishing house?

Hugo: Know your audience. I don’t care if you have a massive platform with eight million subscribers or a new podcast with 3,000 downloads a month. Those are both fantastic and reaches we can work with, but in order for them to work, we need the author to understand their audience: who they are, why they follow them, what they’re looking for, and more.

JBJ: What are your plans for the future?

Hugo: Partner with incredible authors, design and print beautiful books and continue to push forward with the idea of borderless publishing.

For more information, check out Mango Publishing here.

When is the Best Time to Send an Email?

(Image Source)

This is a question that many writers ponder, along with marketing teams.

Much of the advice for writers says, “Just send your query when you are ready. Don’t wait around.” To a degree that is true. Every literary agent is different.

But there are some times that are better for the general person than others. I checked out some findings from mass emailer websites about when people are most likely to open an email based on when you send it.

LEAST LIKELY TO GET CHECKED: Holidays and weekends.

MOST LIKELY TO GET CHECKED: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Late morning.

See more resources below:

Advice From Literary Agents

Best Time to Send to a Literary Agent? (Literary Agents)

Funny You Should Ask: What are the best times to query a literary agent? (Writers Digest)

Seven Submission Tips From a Literary Agent’s Slush Pile (Well Storied)

Studies on Emails

What’s the Best Time to Send Email? Here’s What the Data Says (2022) (Drip)

Perfect Timing: The Very Best Time to Send Email Newsletters (Wordstream)

What 14 Studies Say About The Best Time To Send Email (Coschedule)

The Best Time to Send an Email [Research] (Hubspot)

Why “The Love Interest” Is a Boring Character

Do I hate love? Am I cold, dark hearted person?

Or is it that the “love interest” is a boring character in fiction? Specifically, the “Satellite Love Interest” trope is a character who exists solely in reference to another character as a cherished love object. In fact, the “Satellite Love Interest” could often be replaced with a bag of flavor blasted goldfish and the plot wouldn’t be affected much. This is similar to the sexy lamp test.

A satellite character is one whose sole purpose revolves around another more interesting, more significant character.

Does this mean that I am saying romance shouldn’t be a part of fiction? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that a character is more interesting if they are well developed and complex in their own right, and don’t depend on another character for their relevance.

EXAMPLES OF SATELLITE LOVE INTERESTS:

[Spoilers Included. If I list something you haven’t watched/read yet, feel free to skip past to avoid spoilers.]

[Disclaimer: The critique of the characters in the live action shows and movies mentioned is not a critique of the actors who play these characters. I’m sure these actors are all fine people.]

The Prince from Snow White:

This dude shows up at the beginning of the film to be all pretty and charming. That’s about it. Then he disappears for most of the film and returns at the opportune moment to wake Snow White up from her poison apple induced food coma. Rumor has it that Prince Charming had a larger role originally, but the animators were struggling with animating a human male.

Bella Swan from Twilight:

Bella Swan is a unusual example of the Satellite Love Interest being the main character of her own story. We don’t learn much about what her life was like before she moved away from sunny Arizona to rainy, emo Washington state: a place full of foggy montages and sparkly forests that echo with the sounds of early 2000s indie rock. That’s because all that matters is Edward, the most handsome vampire who ever handsomely handsomed into existence.

Bella easily makes friends at the beginning of the novel (because everyone loves her for inexplicable reasons), but then she dumps them all to be with the only person in the universe who matters—Eddie Pants. Her entire life soon revolves around Edward, to the point where she goes catatonic when he leaves her. She jumps between being Edward or Jacob’s satellite love interest throughout the series. Edward and Jacob could easily have been fighting over a bag of flavor blasted goldfish, because Bella had that special blood that made her a delicious snack.

Luke Bankole from The Handmaid’s Tale TV Show

Luke Bankole is the husband of the main character, Offred. He escapes Gilead and makes it to Canada. There he pretty much exists to pine for Offred, to be in her flashbacks, and to flail around (like one of those car dealership blowing floppy guys) in multiple attempts to be helpful that don’t end up panning out.

When Shows Try to Keep An Unnecessary Love Interest Character…

Laurel Lance/Black Canary from the show, Arrow:

In Arrow, we see Oliver Queen pining for Laurel while he’s stuck on the island (he’s stuck so long on that island). However, in season 3, the show writers make a sudden, and unexpected shift to the “Olicity” track, where they ship Oliver away from Laurel to the quirky, perky, blonde and nerdy Felicity Smoak. Many people believe that this was fan service, as fans found Felicity more interesting than Laurel.

After shipping Felicity with Oliver, it seemed the show writers didn’t have much they could do with the character of Laurel/Black Canary, since her original purpose was to be a love interest. So they kept finding contrived reasons to keep her relevant, including having Laurel die but then come back as an evil version of herself from another universe (I’m not even making this up).

However, I will say, some fans grew to like Black Canary in later seasons as the writers attempted to develop her into a more complex character. I stopped watching by season 6 because the show writers kept turning everyone Oliver met into a superhero. That boy had a superhero STI that affected everyone he touched, but that’s a story for another post.

Iris West Allen from the show, The Flash:

If you look on Reddit and Quora, there’s a lot of people who were not a fan of Iris West Allen, the love interest of Barry Allen/The Flash. In a show full of super heroes and super geniuses, Iris West Allen doesn’t really seem like she has a reason to be there. What makes her special? She writes an online blog?

Some people might say a character can still be interesting even without super powers and super intellect. And that is true for her father, Joe West. He’s likeable in the sense that he has life wisdom, street smarts and a sense of humor that dissolves tension. But unfortunately for Iris West Allen, she’s not even likeable.

Her catchphrase, “We are the Flash,” is cringey and reeks of entitlement. She routinely insists that she’s always right (when she happens to be in a room full of geniuses with super powers and multiple PHDs). Many people believe the writers put her into the position of authority over Team Flash simply because they had nothing else to do with her.

EXAMPLES OF INTERESTING LOVE INTERESTS:

I don’t want to be only negative, so I’ll try to point out some interesting love interests as well. I think the reason why the following love interests below work is because they are an integral part of the story, and couldn’t easily be replaced with a bag of flavor blasted goldfish.

MJ (played by Zendaya) in MCU’s Spiderman

MJ overall received positive reviews as a a strong, supporting character. She’s smart, snarky and interesting whenever she’s on the screen. She also helps Peter, Ned and Doctor Strange capture multiple super villains. She’s intelligent enough to feel like an organic part of the team (she is a soon to be student at MIT after all) and she has personality quirks that make her unique and yet sympathetic. She struggles with disappointment, and often avoids getting excited or happy about things so she won’t end up disappointed. I think many people can relate to that (myself included). And importantly, she is likeable!

All of the Love Interests in the show, Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel has received overwhelmingly positive reviews so far. It is a light-hearted, fun show about a teenage, Muslim, Pakistani super hero. She actually has multiple love interests in the show (which seems normal for a teenage girl).

First, there’s her loyal, nerdy sidekick Bruno. While Bruno obviously has feelings for Kamala Khan, she is oblivious to his attractions. This is a tale as old as time. Bruno is stuck knee deep into the friendzone. But he still tries to help her when he can with his technological innovations and moral support.

Then enters the tall, dark and handsome Kamran as the new kid at school. Kamala immediately becomes interested in him (why wouldn’t she?). He’s even willing to offer her driving lessons, which is a plus. But soon it becomes clear that he’s giving her attention because he wants her to help his mom, who happens to be a jinn. I think more than being handsome, he has an interesting background story and ends up being likeable. He takes a moral stand against his jinn mother, who is trying to make a portal that could destroy life on Earth.

The next potential love interest we meet is Kareem, a masked fighter who is a legacy crime fighter associated with The Red Dagger. So far he seems mysterious, and I definitely want to learn more about Kareem as the show progresses.

Mike in Stranger Things

Mike is Eleven’s love interest in Stranger Things. Yet more than being a guy she pines for, he is “the heart” of the team as Will states in a platonic (but not so platonic) speech about Mike in Season 4.

Mike is likeable as a loyal friend and a loyal boyfriend. He experiences some doubts about himself from time to time, but ultimately pulls through at the end of the day to help his friends.

Links

Sexy Lamp Test

Satellite Love Interest (TV Tropes)

New Guidelines to Join the SFWA

The SFWA has recently simplified their membership requirements. It seems they are trying to open up their resources to more writers.

Their old requirements involved pay rate, advance amount, and date of publication. They also kept track of markets that were recognized as paying appropriate rates. Previous sales requirements were at $3000 for a novel, or three or more short fiction pieces at 8¢ a word.

Now the new sales requirements are much simpler. One must earn $1000 or over on their work to be qualified for Full Membership. Or they must earn $100 or more to qualify for Associate Membership.

See the new requirements here.

SFWA: Tired Disability Tropes In SFF – Do Better

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association recently released an article about tired disability tropes. It’s a great resource for those who want to include disabled characters in their stories.

Why write about disabled characters? For for the same reason you would include any other character, because disabled people are a part of the world. Their experiences, their stories, and their representation matters.

However, there are many times people write about a disabled character who has a gift so powerful that their disability is functionally erased and they might as well not even be disabled at all. 

Read the SFWA article here for more information

Why I Won’t Rush The First Draft of My Next Novel

One of the conventional pieces of wisdom fiction writers hear is, “Write a quick and dirty first draft. You can always fix it later!” As someone who has been writing fiction since 2014, I have heard this advice a lot from both professionals and amateurs. It’s practically canon, up there with, “Show. Don’t Tell.”

I myself have cranked out a first draft for a 120,000 word cyberpunk novel in a mere two months. Many people use the month of November for this very purpose.

Now some people swear by this model. It may work great for many folks. But it doesn’t work great for everyone. For me, writing a first draft is like laying concrete for a sidewalk. Once the concrete dries, it’s difficult to go back and repave it later. A story evolves naturally from character motivations. If key components of your characters’ motivations have to be changed later, then you are going to have to do massive rewrites of the plot itself, practically writing a new book. It’s like building a road to one location and then discovering you are going to have to build a whole new road because the location has been changed.

And apparently I am not the only one who thinks this way. There are several other writing sites out there that explain the pitfalls of rushing a first draft, which I will link to at the end of this article.

Rushing a first draft may work very well if you are a planner. If you have all the key plot points, scenes, and character motivations written down in an outline or in your notes, then rushing the first draft itself could work very well for you. Things like setting and the choreography of action in a fight scene can always be improved upon later. However, if you are like me, and write things by the seat of your pants, you may end up with a manuscript that takes way too long to revise because you didn’t think through key story components beforehand. Much like building a house with faulty components, and then having to build over the weak material–which is often harder than just building a whole new house from scratch.

Things you should think about before you write your manuscript:

  • Main characters and their motivations.
  • What makes your characters likeable? What do they struggle with? Why should people want to read about them?
  • What is the arc of the characters?
  • What is the key conflict of the story?
  • What is the premise of the story?
  • Key plot points. “Tent pole scenes.”
  • Genre and conventions of the genre.
  • Research key components of world building.

Problems that can happen with rushing:

  • The rewrite process takes much longer than it should.
  • You may end up rushing your book to publishers before it’s ready.
  • You may lose interest and end up working on something else. If you wrote something that takes so much time to fix that you basically have to write a whole new novel on top of it, you may just prefer to write a whole new novel instead.
  • You have something that is fundamentally not marketable.

Anyways, that’s why I’m not going to rush my next first draft until I have key components of the story thought through. This will be difficult for me, because the writing process itself is what is fun for me, and not the planning process. But I think if I can force myself to do a little more planning beforehand next time, it will pay off in the long run.

And also, it’s OKAY to write something that doesn’t sell or get published. Ultimately doing something is better than not doing it at all. Perfection is the enemy of the good. However, as we evolve in our craft, we should also work at getting better with the planning process as well.

Why Fast First Drafts Aren’t for Everyone (The Write Practice)

3 Ways to Avoid Rushing Your Book (Writing Cooperative)

5 Pitfalls of Rushing Your First Draft (Script Wrecked)

Top 10 Books on Writing

Below are the top ten books from Best Books on Writing – Recommendations from 36 articles, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and 53 others. (Read This Twice).

TOP TEN BOOKS ON WRITING

(Sorted by most recommended)

On Writing by Stephen King

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder

Story by Robert McKee

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

RELATED LINKS

Best Books on Writing – Recommendations from 36 articles, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and 53 others. (Read This Twice)

Reddit Thread on Top 100 Books

Writers Be Aware – #PitMad is Today!

What is #PitMad you may ask? 

#PitMad is the original twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.

I’ll include the description from pitchwars

“Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed.

#PitMad occurs quarterly. Upcoming dates are:

  • March 5, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • June 4, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • September 3, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EST)
  • December 3, 2020 (8AM – 8PM EST)

Don’t favorite friends’ tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets, and more favorites can make it hard for those with requests to see all of their faves/likes. RT or Quote-RT to show your support. Do NOT use the hashtag when quote RTing – Keep the hashtag clean so agents can navigate it easily.

Be respectful and courteous to each other, and especially to the industry professionals. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify one of the hosts of the event.

Thank you for your interest, and happy pitching!”

READ MORE HERE