Sunday, June 30, 2013

Agent Searching

by Steven Vincent

First off, I would like to thank Mary Fan for letting me on her blog today! I would also like to note that this article is not about making a query letter, not about making a synopsis, and not even about landing a deal.

My point in writing this is not so much the quest for representation, as it is getting ready for the quest.

1.) Ready the Book

Don't assume all the kinks will be worked out by professionals; that's you! It's your job to make the book as good as it can get. An editor can correct the mistakes, but if you present a clean manuscript to an agent, you will stand out that much more.

2.) Plan the Pitch

I fully recommend rereading the book from cover to cover to try and figure out what the heart and soul of the story is. How would you best describe the central plot? After you figure that out, find a way to keep the description telling, but vague enough to build some healthy anticipation.

This will become the core of your query letter, and probably your synopsis, too.

3.) Get Resources

The biggest pain of contacting agents is finding them. Before you start contacting, try to get a good idea of sites or books that list updated information on agents, especially new ones looking to build their client list. Agent Query and Writers Digest are both helpful sites for this.

4.) Keep a List

Short but sweet; KEEP a list of agents you contact, their email address, agency name, and any other information you might need. Getting confused about who you've written is not fun, and neither is digging through your sent mail.

5.) Stay Motivated

The fifth and final tip, and also the most important one. Sending letters can be a very tiring task, believe it or not, especially when the fate of your book seems to hinge on your every word. Try to keep a schedule of when you'll contact agents - usually ten at a time.


One word can be all it takes to paint the wrong image in an agent's mind. This may sound bad, but the good news is it works the opposite way, too! It also means that rejection doesn't mean your book is trash.

Keep at what you do, and eventually you will find your place.

- Steven

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

REVIEW: Dynasty Wars / James Butler

TITLE: Dynasty Wars
AUTHOR: James Butler
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle), Amazon US (paperback)

Science Fiction - Alternate History / Military

Dynasty Wars moves along at a good pace. The writing is engaging and efficient, and there's never a dull moment.

Third person omniscient.

In the distant future, Earth has become part of a totalitarian empire in which individualism is treated as a disease. Forced to conform, Colonel Kurt Ito Rodriguez spends his days fighting aliens and hiding the fact that he, unlike the hive-like people around him, practices and values independent thought. When a space-time anomaly sends him and a starship full of people back in time to ancient China, Kurt sees a chance to change the past for the better.

Dynasty Wars is a brilliantly imagined tale of military strategy, political maneuvering, and conspiracies set in the later days of the Han dynasty. As the author of two space operas, Butler is no stranger to world-building, and I must say, Dynasty Wars is his most inventive tale yet. Both the bleak future Kurt comes from and the historical fiction element are richly depicted. Butler has clearly done his research with regard to ancient China, and the reader is treated to many fascinating details. Fantastical as the idea of robots and futuristic military leaders in ancient China is, Butler succeeds in making it believable.

Although Kurt is the central figure of Dynasty Wars, Butler tells the story from multiple perspectives. The most fun-to-watch supporting cast member is the beautiful, conniving concubine introduced as Wan, who uses her feminine wiles to pit powerful men against each other. Manipulative, ambitious, and perhaps something of a psychopath (as in lacking empathy), she's not exactly sympathetic, but certainly fun to watch.

Butler has the impressive ability to handle multiple complex story lines and tie them together to serve the themes at the novel's core. Collectivism versus individualism, freedom versus oppression, past versus future... Kurt faces all these and more. He and his crew from the future face challenge after challenge, which they must handle deftly or risk throwing an entire civilization into chaos.

For fans of military-type science fiction, Dynasty Wars offers a unique take on the genre. Well-written and fairly fast paced, its twists and turns will keep you engaged to the very end.

I received an advance copy of this book, so I can't comment on typos or anything.

This book contains references to sex, but nothing is described graphically.

James M. Butler has traveled around the world. Part rock musician, part screenwriter (he's had a work optioned by Lion's Gate) and part novelist, James is perfectly at home with the written word.

James has tutored in many subjects, from Psychology to Geography. He prefers history and excels at the subject.

Originally from the swampy hell of south Florida, James has been called many things in his life, and cynical, sarcastic and sardonic are just three of them. He has also lived in various places around the world. Currently, James works as a care giver for the Developmentally Disabled at a group home somewhere in Ohio…

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Long of It—Backstory to Five-Star FLEECING

In retrospect, 1988 was a pivotal time in my life. It was the year when my close friend phoned me from Moscow.

"What the hell are you doing there?" I asked with my typical tact and diplomacy. "I saw you only a few days ago!"

"I just made a million dollars with one handshake," he informed me.

"How the hell did you do that?"

The next thing I knew, I enrolled in a seminar about transformational technology, the purpose of his call. If he can make a million dollars on a handshake, well, I'll enroll in anything that would have that desired outcome. Sadly, the seminar didn't do anything for me, but I sure liked meeting new men from all walks of life.

1988 was also the year when commercial banks nationwide, in particular foreign banks in Manhattan, experienced a nose dive in the quality of their loan portfolios because they all shared similar risks through syndications. Yours truly was a commercial lending officer and saw an opportunity, no doubt a result of transformational technology.

I told my father, "I'm quitting my job and setting up a consulting company."

My father staggered back a few feet and clasped his chest in agony. He bellowed, "In a recession?"

"What better time?" I snootily responded.

My first client was a former employer from ten years' earlier. They put me on probation for writing thinly veiled pornographic reports as well as for insubordination.

The Branch Manager contacted me. "You won the contract because Headquarters remembers you. They loved your reports and hope you didn't lose your touch."

This round, however, they paid through the nose. For several years, I consulted at top commercial banks until I hit a wall. It was called boredom. I don't recall how I ended up at the Waldorf-Astoria, but I loved working there. Without embarrassment, I admit there's a certain appeal about luxury hotels that triggers all my senses to hyper-drive. From the Waldorf, I piggybacked to the top hotel at that time as Assistant to the General Manager/Resident Manager.

It was an exasperating job. Even more so when I was fired for a wisecrack I made about the General Manager. Furious, I sat down to write a complaint letter to the owners about the poor state of affairs in their U. S. investment. And thus, Five-Star FLEECING was born: the longest complaint letter known to mankind, not to mention the snarkiest and funniest.

It took ten years to write, mostly because I went back to work full-time in commercial banking with a slight departure as an executive in California. Through the ministrations of my very talented editor, Lonnie Ostrow, I whipped it into shape for publication.

"Are you soliciting any literary agents?" he asked.

"Hell no," I responded. "I want to see this published before I die." In truth, years earlier I had signed with a literary agent for another book which died a painful death as did my relationship with said agent.

Imagine my joy three months after I self-published the book received rave reviews from the doyenne of literary criticism, Harriet Klausner, along with five-stars from The Midwest Book Review. Years later, Five-Star FLEECING received a national indie award for comedy and still accumulates accolades.

Since then, I've published numerous articles that went viral, interviewed on radio shows, magazines and newspapers, performed readings, book signings and recently published a comedy about the wild world of online dating, The Complete eDating Advice Comedy Series for Women and for Men, the result of eight years of primary research.

You really don't want to know the backstory for that book. 

2011 Winner of National Indie Excellence Award for Comedy
2012 Inductee to the National Bathroom Readers' Hall of Fame

Over 33,000 readers & growing! 

Fractured Advice for the Lovelorn: 

The Complete eDating Advice Comedy Series for Women  
Click HERE for Purchase at Apple Store

The Complete eDating Advice Comedy Series for Men
Click HERE for Purchase at Apple Store

A new take on unconventional romance: 

Arc of Passion

Monday, June 17, 2013

BookBub - It's to get attention

Last weekend, my publisher ran a $0.99 cent sale on Artificial Absolutes and publicized it via an ad in BookBub, a website that sends subscribers daily deals on ebooks. With thousands and thousands of subscribers in each genre, it's bound to get you some attention. Most of the sales they advertise are freebie and $0.99 runs, although sometimes they advertise sales for $1.99 or $2.99 as well (the sale has to be at least 90% off the paperback price).

Now, BookBub doesn't accept every application for an ad. The reason they have so many loyal fans is because they screen the applications to make sure the books they advertise are of good quality - properly edited and such. Call it quality control. They also write their own blurbs based on the book's description and sometimes its reviews.

Now, BookBub ads aren't exactly cheap, I've had a few people ask me, "So, how did it go? Was it worth it?" In terms of monetary returns, the jury is still out. At $0.99, with Amazon taking about 70%, not a lot of money is going to be made unless you get really, insanely lucky. Of course, if you're doing a freebie run, you're not going to make any money at all. The idea behind these steep discounts is to get the book into the hands of as many people as possible. Hopefully, some of them will like it and leave a review, maybe even recommend it to a friend.

And, of course, it's great for visibility. Artificial Absolutes made the top 100 lists for both Sci-Fi Adventure and Space Opera, peaking at #20 in the former and #5 in the latter (there are over 17,000 books in Adventure, so that's quite something!). Unfortunately, I didn't get a screenshot because this peak occurred in the middle of the night, while I was asleep. But I caught the next best thing - #6 in Space Opera (I also have a screenshot of #22 in Adventure, but adding that would clutter up this post with pictures). The sale also landed my book on the Also Bought lists of other space adventures, which will, in theory, help readers interested in the genre find it.

The effects of the ad will outlast the actual sale. It's going to take time for readers who downloaded the book to get through it. Here's hoping they like it! It was certainly a thrill to see Artificial Absolutes shoot up the rankings, even if it was just for a few days. And let it be known - Amazon takes ages to catch up. As of 5pm on the day of the sale, my book's ranking was still pretty low, and I was starting to worry that the ad wasn't working. By 6:30pm, it was on the bestseller lists of Space Opera and Sci-Fi Adventure. :-D

Friday, June 7, 2013


Sawney Hatton, author of the satirical dark comedy Dead Size, discusses his background and inspirations.

Hi Sawney! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author? What kinds of books do you write?

I started my professional (i.e., getting paid for it) writing career as a screenwriter, spending several years in Los Angeles penning screenplays that mostly went unproduced. Of the languishing spec scripts I wrote for which I have a particular fondness, such as DEAD SIZE, I intend to adapt these into novels, an effort that seems much more practical and rewarding than just letting them gather cyber dust on my computer. 

Like my tastes in film and books, my writing is eclectic. I adore dark comedies, from Evelyn Waugh's THE LOVED ONE to Torsten Krol's CALLISTO, but I also dig horror, fantasy, and thrillers. All of these genres are evident in my debut novel DEAD SIZE. I am most impressed with narratives that court originality, that skew away from the mainstream. While I aim primarily to entertain, I don't want to write stories that are formulaic and forgettable. My work may not be for everyone, but I hope it won't ever be called 'hackneyed'.  

What got you into writing?
Like many writers, I became enamored with storytelling at an early age. I grew up in a very white bread seaside town, where I used my imagination to embellish upon the banalities of suburban existence. Movies like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, POLTERGEIST, and GREMLINS really fed the flames of my nascent creativity. I especially loved monster movies, so I wrote many monster stories. Adventure, action, sci-fi, horror-- all genres that piqued my interest because they made life less boring. I also whiled away the time chewing on rocks.  

Dead Size is a dark comedy about a man with a race of miniature people living in his walls. What inspired this story?

I'd love to regale you with some fascinating/amusing/rollicking tale of how DEAD SIZE came to be borne, but I honestly don't remember what inspired me to write it. I suppose I could make something up, but it would probably sound like bullshit anyway. 

Okay... how about, I don't get enough sun? Does a vitamin D deficiency make you hallucinate about the Grim Reaper milking Louise Brooks?

Dead Size features a colorful cast of characters, including a punk barista and a cop with memory issues. Among them, who's your favorite?
The majority of the characters in DEAD SIZE are loosely based on real people I have known throughout my life, so I find them all endearing. But if given the thumb-screws to answer, my fave would have to be the main protagonist Gulliver. He is flawed in all the ways I can relate to-- timid, melodramatic, delusional, lewd. 

What's your favorite scene from your novel?

Without spoiling anything for those who haven't yet read the book, I'd have to say the final clash between Gulliver and the Micronians. It was definitely the most fun to write. 

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

The conception of a plot (i.e., telling a story) is what enticed me to become a writer. But you can't tell a good story without good descriptions, characterizations, and dialogue. I believe an author must love all the elements that compose a narrative; only then can these pieces come together to make a great whole. 

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

DEAD SIZE took me four years to finish-- accomplished between my full-time regular jobs and part-time Giant Beaver quests-- which was at least two years longer than I had anticipated. I intend my next novel to be completed well within a year, barring any unforeseen apocalyptic occurrence and my consequent cryostasis which might set me back a few millennia.

As I mentioned previously, I adapted my novel from my screenplay, which really streamlined the process. That said, if there were no script, I'd still outline the story in as much detail as possible before beginning the book. This often helps fix potential plot issues well before you're, say, 2/3 of the way into the novel, forcing you to rewrite god knows how much.    

Are you working on anything new?

I just released a mini-collection of shorts on Kindle called WHITE SPACE & OTHER STORIES (

My next novel will be a noir-ish YA novel for adults. It'll be very unlike DEAD SIZE. Which is just how I do things-- different.

Where to find Sawney online: 
Twitter: @SawneyHatton
Amazon Author Page:

Dead Size is available on Amazon.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Breakdown of Fahrenheit 451

A breakdown of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 in less than 3 minutes. It's a very well made video and quite a persuasive little clip. Now I want to read the book again...

Ray Bradbury wrote his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 at the height of McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia. In the novel, Guy Montag is employed as a fireman who burns books. The whole of American society has descended into a zombie-like stupor of instant gratification, and books are seen as challenging and disruptive relics, which must be destroyed at any cost.

Today, with the increasing proliferation of surveillance equipment in American cities, the spread of digital books and the decline of attention spans the world over, Fahrenheit 451 remains a startlingly relevant work of fiction today. Watch this video and be instantly gratified (irony alert) with your knowledge of Bradbury’s most famous novel. 

Watch the video below or at

  Created by

Monday, June 3, 2013

"What the hell am I reading? I kind of love it..."

The world of indie books can be a dangerous place. Much has been said lately about the quagmire that is Amazon's Kindle store, which is riddled with unedited, poorly written nonsense, many of which have shoddy covers. A lot of this nonsense ends up in my review query inbox, and it's a nightmare wading through them to pick out something I'd actually want to spend hours of my time reading and reviewing. Unfortunately, these hastily slapped together vanity projects have given self-publishing a bad name, creating the impression that going indie is the easy or lazy way out.

I must protest! A lot of self-published writers are the hardest working people in the world. They don't just throw things up on Amazon; they independently publish themselves. They find editors, proofreaders, and cover artists to create a well put-together product, then go forth and market their creations. And the results can be awesome. A lot of these writers have unconventional or hard-to-define books, which is probably why mainstream publishers turned them away. I've come across some books where I've been reading and thinking, "What the hell is this? I've never seen anything like it! But... I kind of love it!"

So here's to those brave souls who aren't afraid to be different. Who believe in their brainchildren enough to fix them up and put them out there even if no one else will. Who would love to turn a profit, I'm sure, but who ultimately serve a far more compelling purpose.

Here are some of the "What the hell am I reading? I kind of love it..." books (that is, unconventional but kind of awesome) I've reviewed on this blog:

The Book of the Forsaken by Yannis Karatsioris Three outcasts with supernatural powers pursue an ancient tome across Europe, brought together and manipulated by a mysterious godlike figure  
Click here to read an interview with the author.  

Cyberfreak Debt by Stuart Wilson A teenage boy faces dangers real and imagined when he receives performance-enhancing nanobots and joins the Directorate of Metanormal Defense.   
Click here to read an interview with the author.

Dead Size by Sawney Hatton A mild-mannered loner finds a race of miniature people living in his walls.

The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club by Duncan Whitehead
The residents of a picturesque American suburb harbor secret pasts and passions. 
Click here to read an interview with the author.  

Red Sand by Ronan Cray
Survivors of a shipwreck are trapped on a mysterious and dangerous island, facing both man's and nature's brutality. 
Click here to read an interview with the author  

Royal Flush by Scott Bartlett In a outrageous, over-the-top realm, an incompetent king searches for love and tries to hold on to his throne. 
Click here to read an interview with the author

Smudgy in Monsterland by Paul Rasche A twelve-year-old boy, alone in a twisted and unfriendly world, finds an ally in a supernatural rabbit who promises him immortality. Click here to read an interview with the author.