Tag Archives: Denise Tanaka

My Descent into Publishing Purgatory:
Part 4—Goodbye Professor Higgins


DeeDee discovers a new Form of Torture
(click picture to read)

Meanwhile, I worked harder at coming out of my shell. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I attended local SF/F conventions and set a goal for myself—not just to attend panels but to raise my hand out of the audience and make a comment. I gave myself permission to say dumb things or just agree with what someone else said. It was too soon for Eliza Doolittle to become My Fair Lady and command the attention of the entire room with eloquence. My goal was to just… speak.

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More good things happened. I got a short story accepted by a magazine! Okay, it’s a very small e-zine that is not a SFWA qualifying market. Even so, it was a “yes” after so many years of rejection. Since then, I have sold 2 more stories and another will be appearing in an upcoming anthology. At last, I am building a list of publishing credits to put in query letters. My fan fiction is not the only thing to put on my resume!

A-to-Z Publishing disregarded my personal leaps and my incredible forward strides to reinvent myself. I felt sure my awesome book would be a sleeper hit but they were not willing to take a chance. All they wanted was numbers… numbers… In other words, if I could not guarantee big sales right out of the gate, they would never start work on editing. More than a year after I submitted the manuscript, no one had ever read beyond the synopsis.

Also, as part of my so-called prize package, I was entitled to write blog posts on A-to-Z Publishing’s Web site for a full year, The president and I agreed on a list of topics. I wrote half of them with a promise to write more. She heartily approved, “These are wonderful, informative blogs! I know I am going to enjoy your book.”  Yet to my surprise, she refused to post the blogs until after my book’s launch. “No author has had their blogging start prior to their book release.” I never got a clear explanation of why she would hold back doing something so simple to give me more visibility. If my book’s release was delayed because of my low numbers, why not boost me up?

A phone call with the president of A-to-Z only increased my frustrations. She scolded me for thirty minutes about the lack of friends listed on my Facebook page. Seriously, I took notes and marked the time. At the end of that call, my action items were: 

  • to work harder to build up my social media numbers
  • to fill out her newly designed self-assessment and time management worksheet

Yeah, that was it; my publisher’s solution to get my book published was to make me work harder on extraneous stuff and fill out forms.

Part 5: Waking up from the Dream

My Descent into Publishing Purgatory: Pitfalls of My Novel Contract

Part One: The Dream of an Acceptance Letter

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“At least they returned your novel with a personal rejection letter.”kevinspear.com

I am happy to be not published.  Yes, you read that right: not. This is a difficult story to tell. It must sound crazy that I wanted to get out of a signed publishing contract. Isn’t that a struggling writer’s dream come true? Yet, today I am thrilled to hold a termination and rights-reversion letter in my hands.

A year ago, I would have felt differently: I did feel differently.

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I used to be desperate. It’s embarrassing to admit how long—and how badly—I have carried the burden of this dream. Turning fifty was painful because I had always imagined being on the other side of a successful author career by now. In my youth, I envisioned myself as an adult wearing dark turtleneck sweaters at bookstore signings and enjoying my well-earned fame.

My first self-publishing efforts in seventh grade used my dad’s electric typewriter and hand-drawn covers. A simple peasant girl discovers she belongs to a race of magical beings living secretly among us.  A female Tarzan dwells on a mystical island inhabited by space aliens and eloquent great apes. The margins of my school notebooks were full of amazing creatures and swashbuckling cavaliers.

In college, I majored in English lit and creative writing. My teachers praised my space operas and vampire stories, but I was rejected by the campus literary journal. Now I understand that they were probably looking for mainstream poetic literature, not SF/F genre, but at the time I took it personally.

Life happened. I got married. I worked a series of office jobs. I raised two daughters. I took night courses to become a paralegal. Somehow I squeezed in time to keep writing. I joined critique groups and workshops where I’ve met some of my dearest friends. In the days before email, I spent a fortune on postage and photocopies.  There’s an expression among us writers, that you can paper the walls with your rejection slips. Well, I need bigger walls!

I turned 30…then 40…then 45… The unfulfilled dream got heavier as the years went on. Going the self-publishing route was no better. I tossed a book up on Amazon in 2009 and, to date, it has netted a handful of sales. It weighed upon my soul, the longing to hear “yes” from a publisher. Instead I heard this:

  • After thoughtful consideration, however, we have concluded that unfortunately it didn’t work for us, so we’ll have to say no.
  • Unfortunately, we do not feel this piece is right for us at this time. We do wish you all the best.
  • I’m afraid it’s not quite right for us, but wish you the best of luck in your pursuit of publication.
  • Unfortunately, [title] is not quite right for us. I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.
  • Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.
  • Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.
  • Unfortunately, it does not meet our needs at this time.

Part 2: Winning the Contest

Weeding Your Garden

My second grade class started a little vegetable garden in the schoolyard. Our teacher helped us plant tomato seeds which are fairly easy to grow. Every day, we enjoyed watering the dirt and shooing away the beetles and pillbugs. Before long, the tomatoes started to sprout. How wonderful!

One day, a teacher from another classroom came strolling by. She gasped in horror, “Oh, look at all those weeds! They’re going to choke your tomatoes.” She instructed us to pull the weeds—but to be careful not to mess up the tomato sprouts, which she also pointed out to us. Thus informed by an adult Voice of Authority, we little children obediently went to work. We carefully picked out the “weeds” and left the “tomatoes” to grow in peace.

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So proud of our accomplishment, we ran into our classroom to tell our teacher. We carried clumps of dirt and the straggling remains of the offensive weed sprouts to show her.

Now it was our teacher’s turn to gasp in horror. “Oh no, you picked all the tomatoes and left the weeds!”

I like retelling this story because it’s an important lesson I learned at an early age. Sometimes adults are wrong.

This applies to writers critique groups and workshops, because there may be a time when your manuscript is being reviewed by a published author or a renowned instructor. A novice writer can easily feel low self-esteem in a situation like that and tend to internalize every off-hand remark that a professional Voice of Authority may make. Although you shouldn’t develop an ego too early in the game and totally disregard the advice of professionals, at the same time, remember they are only human. They may prefer a particular subgenre that is different from yours. A world-famous author of hard science fiction may not have an insightful critique for an epic fantasy, and vice versa. Trust your gut. When the expert or famous professional tells you to weed the tomatoes, step back and see if it feels right to you. After all, it’s your story.

How Did a Math Major Write a Fantasy Novel?


Moreover, how did she get published?

Keep in mind that I majored in math for two reasons. The first was it was fun. It’s okay…I’ll wait for you to stop laughing. Really. I’m serious. I enjoyed it. I’m a puzzle person, and most mathematics is solving puzzles, which appealed to me.

But I confess that a part of me majored in math because it wasn’t English. It didn’t involve English. To get my degree I needed little more than English 101 to graduate, and that sounded like a good deal. In fact, I put it off until my senior year—yes, I hated English that much. The whole “writing papers” thing…what a wasted of time! And the reading! Bah!

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Interestingly, there was this other part of me, however, that daydreamed. A lot. A lot, a lot. I’ve been guilty of that since I was knee-high to a grass hopper. Music, TV, movies, all of these generated a constant stream of playmates, friends, and distractions. As I got older, these “phantoms” had adventures.

I decided to write these down.

Oh, they were horrible! I really needed to learn how to write. Yes, I could see these people and write what they did and said, but reading it was more like a description of animated robots. The writing was lifeless, colorless, and cumbersome.

Wow. I should have taken more English.

Meet the Member—Laura Of Lurking: Reviewer, Writer, and My Inspiration

By Jennifer L. Carson

I’m the only one in the group on the sane side of the pond—Go UK! I’ve had a penchant for telling stories as far back as I can remember. I always wanted to lead the “Let’s Pretend” games when I was a kid, which my mother documented on some horrifying cassette tapes of me around age three. I apparently gathered all my teddies around and told them stories and jokes and sang songs to them. If spontaneous combustion ever happens in my home, please let it be in those tapes!


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In the last three years, Leasspell has become an important part of my life. I had all but abandoned real efforts to finish my novel. Yesterday, I wrote the final chapter. Without this group, I wouldn’t have had the deadlines I needed. Without this group, I wouldn’t have made some fundamental changes that I knew the moment I wrote them were so much better. Without this group, I wouldn’t have found the support my mind and heart needed to be sitting here today, telling you that I finished the last chapter of my novel.

I’m not the only one whose life Leasspell has touched. Our newest member, Carolyn, is a longtime friend, but she stopped writing for a while. Since joining the group a couple of months ago, she’s gotten together with me twice for writers retreat weekends. I hope Leasspell does for her what it is doing for me: keeping me at the keyboard. Denise and Jax finished in first and second place in a publishing contest for Assent Publishing’s fantasy imprint, Phantasm Books. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that out of eighty-four submissions, first and second place went to members of our writers group. It is an outstanding group. And I know Jason is using the deadlines to spur his writing. I think everyone of us is learning more about the whirlwind changes in the formerly staid old publishing industry because of our pooling together and sharing our experiences, our research and knowledge, and our contacts.

This is all to say: Leasspell has changed my life.

So what does this have to do with Laura? Everything. Without her, Leasspell wouldn’t exist. I had been in writers groups at various times with Carolyn, Denise, and Jax. Jax had been prodding me to get our last group back together, but this time online since she had moved. I dragged my feet. Technology issues, time, lack of motivation on my own writing—all things in my head that kept me waving her off with a “yeah, yeah, good idea…sometime.”

Then I met Laura online. She was young when I met her, seventeen, I think. We met through a social media game. Must have been preordained ’cause I hate playing social media games. But my husband had an interview with this company and needed accounts to play with. So I started one and got a bit hooked for three months. But in that time, Laura helped me out with the game, which lead to us talking and some very long emails.

I found out she is a smart funny young lady who has a talent for writing. She was raw, but had splashes of crisp clear writing that really surprised me, and she had the passion to go with it. I saw some of myself in her. Then I found out Laura is disabled. Very, very disabled and sick much of the time, too. The world comes to her through books and her computer. She lives much of her life in the fantasy worlds in her head and she wanted to put them into books. I wanted to help her do that, and I wanted to help her do it well, as I knew she could with a little guidance and practice.

I called Jax, and I said let’s do this. Thus was Leasspell born—all thanks to a bright young woman I met through a video game.

Today, Laura’s illness and disability have progressed to the point that she cannot spend a lot of time at the keyboard, so she is no longer submitting her own manuscripts to our group. She reads more now than ever before—125 books last year! Blew my mind! Her voracious reading is likely the reason she was one of the best commenters on fantasy that I’ve met. I have lots of writer friends giving me writerly advice, but Laura has a reader’s eye and an amazing understanding of genre conventions. That is a rare and valuable thing to a writer. Now Laura has made that keen insight available to all on her reviewers Web site. This is what she has to say about choosing that path:

For a long time, I was just a lurker hidden in the shadows of online reviewing. I would read these great, often indie published, books and have opinions. I often disagreed with other reviewers but never stated my mind. Then I thought, “You know what? I’ve read voraciously since I was seven, I think I have the right to validate my points.”

And so she did. She started reviewing on Amazon and then last year started her own blog—a very busy one at that! When asked what she likes to read, she says:

Anything and everything really, including the contents of the bathroom cupboard on those days you, well… just get stuck there! My favourite genres are science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy a good biography of somebody who has overcome great obstacles. I also read historical fiction and horror. That’s pretty much my order of preference.

So if you have a small-press or indie-published book (or one about to be published) and are looking for a good reviewer, today is your lucky day. Hop on over to Laura’s Web site, Laura of Lurking, and check out the more detailed submission guidelines. If she’s not accepting books for review, you can always email her to find out what her timeframe is till she opens up again. Like I said, she reads fast! Or if you just want to know what’s good out there in the indie and small-press community, she’s put up quite a list of candidates this past year and so her reviews can help you find a good book that suits you.

Laura has been an inspiration to me. She has every reason to be down most of the time. Instead she always greets me with wit and humor and the same voraciousness for life that she has for her reading. I sometimes wonder how she does it, and one day I finally asked. I will leave you with her answer to that, for it is good advice for us all:

What the future holds—who knows? Who really wants to? If you study the future, you’ll miss those little gems passing by right now.