Accidents, Agents and Other Disasters

by Janis Patterson

People always ask me why I self-publish. Isn’t it a lot more work?

Yes, it’s a lot more work, but the upside is that I am in control. No more the unholy circus of repeated rewrites and equally annoying ‘minor tweaks’ to fit the visions/prejudices of agents, first readers, secondary editors, senior editors, acquiring editors and God only knows who else. I do have a very good editor (I’m not a fool) but she edits the story I wrote, she doesn’t transform it into what she wants.

These days to sell to New York (to use common nomenclature for traditional publishing) you need an agent, mainly because traditional publishers have gotten too cheap to hire first readers any longer. Agents now serve that function almost everywhere. Getting a good agent is often more difficult than getting a good publisher. Thank goodness we now have choices!

Back when the dinosaurs were browsing outside the cave and I sold my first novel to New York there were still a few houses (and there were a LOT more houses/lines then) who read author-submitted manuscripts, but I was a traditionalist. (I was also very young and foolish…) Real authors had agents, so I set out to get an agent.

I have had surgery. I have had auto accidents. I have even been in a plane crash. I would rather do any of them again than deal with finding, getting or dealing with an agent.

My first agent was okay – not very good, but he was indeed An Agent, and he took me on, so in my rosy ignorance I was happy. He sold a couple of books for me… then he died. I guess I have to give him a pass on the bad agent thing… He was fairly decent and I mean, you can’t blame someone for dying can you?

So after a lot of querying and begging I got a second agent, one who for some reason seemed to be a little higher up the status pole than my first one had been. She was smart, she was connected – I thought I had it made. At least, until I couldn’t get in touch with her. I sent her letters (this was pre-internet days). I even imperiled my continually endangered budget by calling a couple of times, but all I got was an answering machine.

Finally I contacted a friend of mine who went to New York regularly on business and asked her to go by the office on her next trip and see if she could see what was happening. She did. The agent’s name was still on the door, but the door was locked. My friend is a forceful lady (that is what her friends call her – her enemies…!) so she found the super and talked him into unlocking the door.

The office was empty. No furniture. No manuscripts. No nothing, not even dust bunnies. Even the telephone was gone. And no one has heard of her since.

I went back to the search and after about a year signed with an up-and-comer who was supposed to be a firebrand. The third try, I reasoned, has to be lucky.

Wrong. Oh, she was a go-getter. I kept getting reports from her that although my book had been turned down So-And-So had simply loved it. Or Thus-And-Such had thought it spectacular, but they had just spent a lot of money on a similar story. On and on – everyone always loved it, but there was never any specific criticism or reason. This went on for a few months and I was getting suspicious when this ‘agent’ sent me another glowing rejection from an editor whom I knew. I had never sold to her, but as we had both been bouncing around the writing world for a long time we had become reasonably close acquaintances.

So I called her, looking for elucidation on what was wrong with that book.

She had never seen the book, had never even heard of this ‘agent’ and neither had anyone in her office. She got justifiably angry that someone was using her name like that, so she requested the names of my books and the names of the editors involved and went off on her own investigation.

None of them had ever heard of her, me or my books. The whole thing had been nothing but smoke and mirrors. I don’t know why the ‘agent’ did this – this was not a ‘pay upfront for representation’ scheme, so she wasn’t making any money. Maybe all she wanted was the feeling of power and importance. Anyway, she quickly vanished from the scene and was never heard from again.

I must not be very bright, because I tried again, this time with a bright, canny young man I met at a writers’ conference. I was more knowledgeable then, and he said all the right things, so I signed with him. Now this is third hand gossip, so take it for what it’s worth, but the last time I heard anything about him he was serving time in Federal prison for mail fraud. And he never sold anything for me either.

So that’s why I’m self-publishing now. It’s true that there is no one who is as interested in your career as you are, and if you want something done right do it yourself. It’s a lot of work, yes, and my sales are less than they were in traditional pubbing (you can help by buying my books!) but to be honest my income has stayed just about the same because I get to keep more of my money. 60-70% of cover price beats the heck out of 20-50% of net…

To all of you who have good agents, I wish you joy and lots of sales, but while you pretty much have to have an agent to thrive or even enter traditional publishing, you can have a great career as a writer/publisher all by yourself. Like most of life, it’s a matter of choices. Good luck to you, whichever path you choose.

If Wishes Were Horses…

by Janis Patterson

Hello. My name is Janis and I am a word nerd.

I love old words, convoluted words, obscure words… Unfortunately, it is definitely genetic. My father was the same way, and one of the delights of my early youth was playing esoteric word games with him. Which, I might add, gave me an everyday (to me, at least) vocabulary that did not endear me to the educational system. In grade school I learned quickly to accept that my automatic use of what were to me perfectly ordinary words would upset and draw the derision of my classmates; what I did not expect was that it would have a similar effect on the teachers, who had to have it proven that the words I used were not made up nonsense syllables but perfectly good – if not really common – English words. For several years I had to make it a practice to always carry a large dictionary with me. That was only one of the things about public education which earned my (well-deserved) contempt. I have never suffered fools gladly.

Anyway, that is an overly long explanation for why I’m on several word-a-day type daily emails. About half the time the words are too common to be much noticed, but every so often there is a really good one. Today I received the word velleity, which means “a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.”

Wow! Who hasn’t felt like that at least once if not many times?

We all know those people who say “I want to write a novel” but never actually do anything toward it. Then there are those of us who do write who say “I would like to do a book about … (whatever subject is currently teasing our mind)” but the project never goes beyond a vague wish. There are millions of possibilities, and everyone indulges occasionally. My grandmother would have called it daydreaming.

And that’s okay. We all work on many levels at all times, and not all ideas/wishes/concepts are destined to bear fruit. Sometimes it’s little more than ‘play-time’ for our minds, which probably need it more than the rest of us. Nothing can do work all the time, and play time is essential.

It also goes beyond writing. Multiple times I personally have expressed a wish for some unknown reason to learn how to crochet, once even going so far as to buy a hook and some yarn. Both of them are now gathering metaphoric dust at the bottom of some drawer or other, as that is as far as I have ever gone. Velleity in action. The same goes for reorganizing my kitchen (where I usually spend as little time as possible), or creating an herb bed in the back yard (when I sadly possess a black thumb invariably deadly to all living plants), or any number of momentarily alluring but basically low/no priority daydreams.

However, I am a true believer that energy is never wasted, even the ephemeral energy of a transitory daydream. It merely changes form. Case in point, the herb garden. I actually did some reading on herb gardens and while a real herb garden never appeared in my life, it did in one of my books, enhancing it greatly. See? Energy really is never wasted.
So, dream your dreams – just don’t let them take over your life. You might never bring them to the fruition of reality, but someday somewhere somehow they might be just the thing you need to complete some other venue.

Now I must go, because I’m thinking about how nice it would be to paint our guest bathroom…

Silver Linings and Simple Pleasures

by Janis Patterson

Update – we still don’t have our new refrigerator despite two unkept promises of delivery dates (thank you, Lowe’s!) and someone finally had the decency to tell us that it wasn’t even in the country yet (thank you, GE!). And yes, I’m being very sarcastic, but my true thoughts on both these entities are not fit for public pixilation. I’ve quit calling Lowe’s for updates and go over to the store to trap the salesman and occasionally his manager for an eye-to-eye confrontation. This last time I was promised (which means nothing, as every failed delivery date was a promise) that I would have my white, basic French door refrigerator by Christmas. (This was after he was telling me the not heartening news that another special order refrigerator had taken 18 months to be delivered.) I looked him square in the eye and asked if he meant Christmas, 2022. It was not encouraging that he said nothing.

Sad thing is, I could have had a bright pink refrigerator within a week of ordering. (Wrong color, wrong size, wrong configuration, waaaay wrong price, though.) I still don’t understand why a basic white refrigerator has to be a special order!

On to other news. Everything seems to have gone wonky this fall – except for our glorious trip to Egypt (and my trip diary is available to read for free on my website). Some backstory on the most painful problem – during his last Iraqi deployment several years ago The Husband injured his left shoulder. It healed pretty much, though it has given him some trouble from time to time, but while in Egypt he had the bird-brained idea to go down in the Bent Pyramid – perhaps the hairiest and most dangerous pyramid available to tourists. Why he went, I don’t know, as he has done it before.

Well, sometime in the tour he reinjured that same shoulder and it has been giving him terrible pain ever since. We’ve been to a doc-in-the-box, our personal physician, an orthopedic specialist, several multi-week rounds of physical therapy, an X-Ray and an MRI… and his shoulder is getting better, but very little and very slowly. (I think I told you that I told him if he ever even mentioned going down in that pyramid again I would sit on him until he gave up the idea or passed out from suffocation!)

However, I have always believed that dark clouds have silver linings. With his shoulder The Husband cannot drive, so guess who gets to be his chauffeur – driving him to his various appointments, waiting while he takes care of things and then taking him home? Right… However, this has been an unexpected blessing in two big ways. If there is grocery shopping needed, we stop at a conveniently located Aldi’s on the way back – and he has to give some input into what we eat for the next few days. (And often he just looks around and suggests we go out, which I like…)

Perhaps the best benefit, though, is that while I’m waiting I read. There’s not enough time involved for me to be expected to take my computer and write, so I just sit and read, both of which for me are rare luxuries. I’ve always loved to read – hey, I live in a house with three dedicated libraries, so that’s a given – but between writing and all its attendant duties of rewriting, publishing, publicity, et al, care of extended family and now The Husband, housework, etc., etc., etc., there has been precious little time for just pleasure reading. Thank goodness for reading apps on my phone!

Which brings me to the important part of this little screed – never underestimate how important it is for writers to read. We become so bogged down in our own work, making sure that our characters and situations are real, that action is always logical for the world we have created, even keeping track of hair and eye color and the time of day, that our word choices and grammar are acceptable, sometimes we forget the simple, overwhelming magic of the printed word. By reading the work of others we learn. Sometimes their work is incredible, opening doors and windows into realms we have never known, or may have once known but time and other things have obscured. Sometimes their work is so bad that it is a salutary lesson in what not to do. And sometimes it is so incredibly bad that it isn’t worth my time to read more than a few pages – but there are still lessons in those few awful pages.

I do sincerely hope that The Husband will soon recover fully and go back to having at least a portion of his own life. On the other hand, it would be a lie for me to say that there has not been at least a sliver of silver lining in my time spent in various waiting rooms. I got to read for pleasure without feeling guilty that I’m taking time away from working and other responsibilities, and that’s always good.

It’s November Again

by Janis Patterson

Yes, the dreaded month of November has stomped onto our calendars again, darn it. No, I’m not talking about the approaching gluttony of Thanksgiving or the terrifyingly few weekends left until Christmas, though both are swiftly oncoming realities.

I’m talking about the annual National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo or even NaNo, where for years now people have been encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. It is called an exercise in accountability, or a time of group encouragement, or any number of other pleasant and positive euphemisms. While I can see that both the former can be regarded as sort of desirable for writers, what disturbs me is the number of absolute tyros who will regard this as their ticket to literary fame and fortune.

Perhaps a few of them will learn what plain old hard work it is to string 50,000 +/- words into a cohesive story and there is a lot more to creating salable stories than just writing down the requisite number of words… but most of them won’t. They’ll pound out the words in a blaze of literary fervor, many truly believing that their prose is both deathless and special. Most of it will not be.

And to this point that’s fine. It’s supposed to be a learning experience. What bugs me is that most of the tyros won’t learn from it. Many of them will take their ‘masterpieces’ and send them off to agents and publishers and wait impatiently for large contracts. Many of those manuscripts will not be edited or, on some sad occasions, not even be read through. Then, when the inevitable rejections occur, said novices will declare that the publishing world does not recognize their genius and will self-publish.

I do wish that there were some sort of law forbidding any non-professional writer to submit a manuscript done for NaNo. It would be so much kinder to everyone involved. Writing is just about the only profession where someone with no training or education in the field and no discernable skills in grammar, punctuation or story structure wakes up one morning and decides he is going to write a novel, then is surprised when the rest of the world does not acclaim the genius of his work. But hey – he wanted to write a novel so he did. I guess we should all be grateful he didn’t wake up, decide he wanted to be a brain surgeon or aerospace engineer and act in the same way.
And that’s my opinion of those who have a skewed and unreasonable view of NaNo. What about the working professional writer?

Properly used, NaNo can be a marvelous tool of discipline and accountability. I’ve worked under various writing contracts for the majority of my adult life, but as I get older I have noticed that I am not only slowing down, I am becoming much more easily distracted. For example, while in Egypt a couple of weeks ago – after vowing I wouldn’t do another book set in Egypt – I got the idea for a wonderful mystery and began writing it. Normally a couple of years ago I would have had the first draft already finished. It isn’t.

I’ve never done NaNo, so this year – since I have no overhanging contracts or deadlines at the moment – I decided to try it. It’s a wonderful thing. Every day I have to post to a certain site (this NaNo is being facilitated by one of my writers’ groups) how many words I have done that day. Sometimes it is embarrassing. Sometimes – when I exceed my allotted number by a respectable amount – it is a source of pride. I like it. Accountability is a good, positive thing.
Some say that NaNo is at its heart a learning experience. I can agree with that, and can also agree that we should never stop learning.

REFRIGERATOR UPDATE – I told you about my woes of buying a new refrigerator. All we want is a very simple refrigerator – French door, bottom freezer and ice/water on the outside of the door. And white. White was the problem; white is not standard any more, nor even available on most models. It has to be special ordered.

So we ordered it the day after we returned from Egypt and were told we could have it some three weeks later on 23 October. On 22 October I called Lowe’s and asked for a time frame for delivery; between 8-12 on the 24th, I was told. Well, October 24th came and went with no refrigerator, so I called and after being routed through two idiots who knew nothing finally got a hold of a manager, who after some investigation told me the refrigerator was not only not in Dallas, it was still at the factory and had not even been finished.


With admirable self-restraint I asked why Lowe’s had not told me the truth and had not told me a real date for delivery instead of giving me a big chunk of blue sky. I also asked why no one had had the courtesy to call and say the refrigerator was not even in Dallas yet. (Needless to say, the refrigerator was fully paid for on the day we ordered it.) The man had the good grace to be embarrassed and said he didn’t know. Then he gave me the delivery date of 25 November. I asked him if that was any more true than the first date had been. He didn’t answer.

So – heed my sad little tale and be very careful where you buy a refrigerator or any other appliance unless you will let the store dictate what you will receive.

Of Very Big Trips, Layovers and Refrigerators

by Janis Patterson

Well, we are back from our Very Big Trip, and a Very Big Trip it was, too. Two and a half weeks cruising the Nile from Cairo to Luxor. Our ship was modest but still luxurious and only for our group, the staff eager to please, the food 4 star delicious, the accommodations more than comfortable. We were met at the airport in Cairo and when the tour ended in Luxor flown back to Cairo on a chartered plane to begin our trips home. Our ‘shore excursions’ were spectacular; even though this is my seventh (and The Husband’s eighth) trip to Egypt, we saw things we had never seen before, such as the ruins of the Hawara Pyramid of King Amenemhat III (currently scholastic frontrunner to be the Pharaoh of Joseph) and the gloriously painted images of the foreign dignitaries in the tombs of Beni Hassan. We were accorded the rare (and almost never granted) privilege of going down into the Sphynx precinct where we could stand between the paws (almost twice as tall as I) and touch the Dream Stela of Thutmosis III. This was The Husband’s and my second time in this carefully guarded area, as before we were married my darling friend Zahi Hawass had given us permission to explore. And of course we saw the must-sees of Karnak Temple, Deir el-Bahri, Amarna, Abydos and the Ramesseum. And more.

If you would like to know more about our incredible trip, you can go to my website ( and subscribe to my newsletter, where I will write about it in more detail. Originally I intended to do just one newsletter about it, but it looks like it might become two, because my personal Trip Diary is now topping 40K words and even a truncated version will be most healthily-sized!

However… lest you think life is perfect, my life had problems. About ten days before our departure, our aged HVAC went out, for five days leaving us with no AC during the early September heat of Texas. Worse, my hot tub (a necessity for my arthritis-ridden body to exercise) died. Our similarly-aged refrigerator died. Even our landline phone needed work! We soldiered on, though – the HVAC was replaced, my wonderful hot tub man had it fixed, filled and ready for me to use when we returned, the phone was taken care of, and we had decided to leave the fridge problem for when we got back.

Then two days before departure Lufthansa cancelled our DFW/Frankfurt flight and switched us to United (meh – not my favorite airline) for DFW/Houston/Frankfurt. Well, okay… except the DFW/HOU flight was ONE AND A HALF HOURS LATE taking off, giving us just 26 minutes to get all the way across the Houston airport. We managed, though – barely – and made the HOU/FRA flight with four minutes to spare. Once we finally arrived in Cairo everything was fine.

Our return flight was not cancelled or rearranged (thankfully) but because of the screwy flight schedules we had a 14 hour layover in Frankfurt. For years and years I have insisted that Frankfurt airport is one of the seven circles of hell, and this trip just underscored my belief. Rather than book into the airport hotel, we decided to save the $250+ it would cost (saving it for our next trip in 18 months or so) and just find a comfortable customer lounge to wait in. Except we came in after midnight and landed in one of the most remote and unused terminals. The train connecting the terminals had stopped running, there were no food or drink kiosks and no customer lounges… just a small customs station which would take us out of the security area and miles of brightly lit marble halls. Oh, the AC was on full blast and it was both chilly and raining outside.

A kindly driver of one of the little electric trams in the terminal was off duty, but he volunteered to take us to an area several floors up where passengers and short-layover crews could sleep. Good on them if they could sleep there, because I barely managed a short nap. This was a hallway, a plain open hallway, with about 20-30 army-style cots. No pillows, no blankets, no nothing but a bunch of very uncomfortable cots. And no people. After the tram driver left we saw no one until after 6 am except a Japanese couple who appeared to be in the same fix we were. There was a restroom, though, some 50 yards and two hallways away. It was sort of like being in one of the grimmer Twilight Zone episodes.

Now it’s a funny story to tell. Then it was pure uncomfortable, teeth-chattering misery.

So how does this all relate to writing? It’s obvious – when you really really really want something in life (writing or anything else) you do whatever you have to do, endure whatever you have to endure in order to get it. This trip to Egypt was important to us, and whatever the gods flung at us we handled because that was the way to get what we wanted. And it was worth it. If you want to write, you must write, no matter what life throws at you. Only you can decide if your writing is a hobby you dabble in when the conditions are perfect or if it is a career where you forge on through in spite of everything. Your choice.

By the way, The Husband bought me a refurbed MacBookAir (which I promptly named Maxine) to take on this trip mainly so I could keep a comprehensive trip diary to share with my readers. I wasn’t going to write a book; I was going to take a rest, as I don’t have any contracts starting until January. I don’t have to tell you what happened, do I? And I’m already 8K words into a new story about a murder on a Nile cruise ship…

A final word about our dead refrigerator. The day after we returned we went shopping, not illogically expecting to have a new refrigerator within a couple of days. My kitchen is very bright and light, so of course I wanted a white refrigerator. We were shocked to find that all the off-the-floor ones with the features we wanted (French door, bottom freezer, ice and water in the door) are available only in stainless steel or rarely in black. Well, that’s fine for those who don’t mind looking like they live in a laboratory or a morgue, but I wanted white. Finally after a day of searching we found a place that agreed to special order a white one for us. White – a special order! (And at a cost roughly twice that of my first car!) Who would have thunk it? As you’ve probably guessed, I will do what is necessary to get what I really want, so we’ll have our new refrigerator in three weeks.

The next three weeks are going to be interesting.