The Shift of Publishing Towards the Writer

I was thinking… Well, I was feeling a little bit irritated, really, about the way a few things had turned out. But that’s neither here nor there, except that these musings brought a certain clarity to me about how the publishing industry has shifted the bulk of the work onto authors.

These thoughts came about, as many often do, during a scroll session on Twitter. People tweeting about querying and synopses and paying editors and “coaches” prior to even reaching out to agents. Hopeful writers agonizing over comp titles and the market.

Here’s the thing: not so long ago, writers didn’t need to do or know any of that. They didn’t need to spend money to query, except on the postage.

“All you need to do is write a good book,” we’re told, and that used to be absolutely true. It didn’t have to be a perfect book; it just had to be a diamond in the rough—something an agent could see the potential in. The agent would work with the writer to polish that stone and then shop it to publishers who would cut it into whatever beautiful shape suited that diamond best. Authors might have a sense of their work in comparison to other books “out there.” But they were not asked to position their books in the market or prove anything more than that the book itself had worth and merit, whether the value be in its entertainment, its beauty of craft, and/or the truth and knowledge it imparted.

But now, writing a good book is not enough. In order to sell enough manuscripts to stay solvent, agents and literary agencies must sell more. They can’t do that if they take the time help each author polish their diamond. So now agents demand that authors submit “polished” manuscripts. In fact, many agents don’t want to do any work at all on the manuscripts they accept; they want near perfection, something they can turn around and sell straight away. Let the editors at the publishers get to cutting.

But the publishers, too, don’t want to take too much time getting books out. After all, the longer it takes to publish a book, the longer it takes to make any money off said book. So editing cycles continue to get tighter, faster, and even fewer.

What does this mean? It means that the help an author used to be able to count on and expect from agents and publishers is… less than ever before. It means that, unless an author not only writes a great book, and possibly shells out money for a professional edit even before querying, and somehow also magically knows and understands the ever-changing market at any given moment… they probably won’t be able to find an agent. Authors cannot be diamonds in the rough anymore. They must not only mine themselves for treasure, but also polish that rock so that agents don’t have to look so hard to see the worth.

If I sound bitter, let me assure you I’m not. Systems change, and certainly we’ve become a society of instant gratification and shorter attention spans. Few agents and publishers have time to sink into any one project, the lifespan of which is questionable. Books are more or less immortal, but no one wants to wait to see if theirs becomes a classic in twenty to one hundred years. Publishers—and authors—want to see results and rewards sooner rather than later. They want a return on their investments of time, sweat, and tears. And, of course, money.

Unfortunately, the shift of labor towards the writer—the expectation of polished work prior to consideration—increasingly eliminates would-be authors who cannot afford things like editors. It bars entry to those who have no access to critique partners or other writer-reader resources that would help them hone their works and skills. For people already eking out their manuscripts on time stolen from other obligations, the hurdles and hoops push their dreams—and their stories—ever farther out of reach. If it takes all their energy just to mine the diamond, and they have no tools to polish, what are they to do?

I do think too much is being expected of the creators. I think agencies and publishers need to find other ways to help those creators take the rough-hewn product of their hard labor and turn it into something the world can appreciate. Some agents still call themselves “editorial,” meaning they will help promising authors polish their work, but more and more [in my experiences] agents have simply become salespeople. They love books, but they don’t have the time to help craft them. So maybe agencies need a department of people who can do that if the agents can’t or won’t.

I don’t know what the answer is, but the current system has created a world of independent authors who have decided that, if they have to polish the diamond themselves anyway, they might as well be the ones to cut it into whatever shape they like. If they have to learn to market, then they might as well keep the profits. But that doesn’t help the authors who can’t afford to, and/or don’t have time or resources to self-publish. The industry keeps eating its own tail, narrowing in on itself, leaving no room for others to enter or for itself to expand.

It’s easy to say, “But it’s easier now than ever to get published!” Yes, it’s easier than ever to put out a book. But publishing and getting published are two different things. I won’t say one is better than the other; they are simply different ways to a similar (but not identical) end. And either destination remains too far for those with no reliable form of transportation. Some creators end up at the bottom of the mineshaft, holding a diamond that will never see the light of day because there is no way back to the surface.

A Little Light Dream (and Life) Interpretation

Last night I dreamt about Anne Rice. I don’t normally dream about people who have passed away, so I always take note when I do. In this dream, Anne and I were traveling together—I recall passing a cemetery, in fact—to a school, I think? I remember a school being involved in some way, and there being difficulty about how to get places (missing a bus, not having a car, having to walk a long distance).

Dreams that involve transportation are often really about the journey of life. So a dream about not being able to get where you want or need to go… Well, it’s self-evident, I think.

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out where I am in my life and where I’m going. I’m not in a bad place—I have a very good life—but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably never be where I really want to be in terms of my writing, or even my lifelong desire to live abroad. If I can’t reach those goals, I should probably set new ones, right? But it gets scary to do that. What if I can’t reach the new ones either, and I just keep failing my way through life?

In the dream, we did eventually get a working car. Anne drove. (In dreams, someone else driving often means you don’t feel as though you are in control of the direction your life is going.) I wish I could remember what we talked about. I do recall some interestingly painted tombstones; they looked like modern art rather than anything traditional. One had a hissing white cat painted on it. I remarked on it, and on how weird it was to have a cemetery so close to a school, but Anne didn’t think it was all that strange.

Many years ago, in real life, Anne Rice told me that I had an interesting name and beautiful eyes. Maybe she appeared in this dream to remind me, encourage me. Maybe she drove because she’d been down this road and knew the way.

Looking Back and Forward

What did I accomplish in 2021? Well, I released a couple books. Went on a couple family vacations (remember those?). And tried to make peace with my health.

In spring of 2021, our schools reopened with a reduced schedule. Kids who wanted to continue learning from home could do so, but all three of our kids wanted to go back. Since I was part of the committee that planned the reopening guidelines, I felt fairly comfortable with the protocols in place. So the kids went back to school, which meant I was back to driving them around. Though, with my husband working from home, he was at least able to help out a bit.

Once vaccinations became available, things continued to open up quite a bit. Two of our three kids were old enough to be vaccinated, but we still had one that would need to wait a few months for his twelfth birthday. Even so, we made the decision to take a family trip to Vegas in June. We were able to meet up with my parents while we were there, seeing them for the first time since August 2019. Again, we never felt at risk, though not long after our travels, cases began to spike again.

Still, it was lovely to get away, and also to be able to meet up with friends again. We would meet at one another’s houses or dine outdoors at restaurants. Life wasn’t entirely normal—and I’m not convinced it ever will be, or really, I think “normal” has changed—but it was getting better.

There was a brief moment when I thought I might actually get to make my trip to Japan, but…

Also in June, I released Lost Pieces and Things with No Place. It’s an anthology of three stories and a collection of my plays.

Over the spring and summer, we tried to do a few day trips, like to local amusement parks. We went up to Jack London’s Wolf House, too. We’re fortunate to live in an area with lots to do. Meanwhile, the kids were able to do a few summer camps as well, and all their activities started up again: fencing, Taekwondo, horseback riding, vocal lessons… When they’re busy, I’m busy.

But I was also busy getting ready to publish my next book: The Ghosts of Marshley Park. I’d had a lot of interest from agents, but nothing panned out, and this was the year I decided to give up on trying to find anyone to rep me. The time sink, the constant almost-but-not-quite, the resulting depression over never being good enough—for my own mental health, I had to finally embrace being indie. And GoMP, which released in October, ended up being my most successful book launch to date. (If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll consider picking it up!)

I also gave Kindle Vella a try as it was launching. If you’re unfamiliar, this is Amazon’s platform for publishing serial stories (that can then be collected into full novels when they’re done). It didn’t work for me, so I will probably unpublish everything I currently have posted there.

In late August, the kids were going back to school. For real. Our youngest turned twelve the week before school started, so for his birthday he got his first vaccine shot.

Meanwhile, my health was getting both better and worse. Changes to my diet helped in a lot of ways, but my anxiety and irritation had gone way up. We were able to tie it to my problems with noise, and I was diagnosed with misophonia and phonophobia. I’ve been working with a therapist on these issues, and part of the therapy includes having sound machines all over the house, which I actually quite like. Still, I’m dreading the fireworks that are coming (even though they are illegal where we live)… While I understand this is my problem that I must learn to deal with, I wish people had more compassion and were less selfish in their behaviors. These past couple years have highlighted that on a grand scale, I feel.

We were able to attend a number of theatre performances this year, too, as things began to reopen. We took the kids to Hamilton again, I took our daughter to Jesus Christ Superstar, and my husband and I went to see the revival of My Fair Lady.

Our family was able to take one last vacation over the Thanksgiving break, during which we returned to Disneyland. It’s been a semi-tradition of ours to go there for Thanksgiving (and our oldest’s birthday always falls during that week as well). Once again, it seems we went just before a fresh wave of COVID cases. Though we were supposed to see A Christmas Carol, we decided to stay home instead, only to hear that the remainder of the run was being cancelled anyway. And while packed into a full cinema to see Spider-Man, for the first time since being vaccinated (and boosted), I actually felt uncomfortable and not entirely safe. (I didn’t feel at all that way while in The King’s Man because that auditorium was far less crowded.)

Still, as more news comes out, I’m feeling better and hopeful again. I do think life has changed, and that we need to accept that to some degree. But even a little progress is, well, progress.

As for 2022? My only real goal is to finish my current manuscript. I’ll still be driving the kids around a lot, too. And we have plans to meet my parents at Universal Studios for spring break. Whether I’ll finally get to go to Japan, though, remains uncertain. But I’ll keep practicing Japanese anyway! Hope springs infernal, as they say. Sometimes it’s all you have.

So here is to a hopeful new year. May your path rise and the sun shine upon you. Just remember to also wear sunblock. Because an ounce of prevention and all that.


Movies: Spider-Man: No Way Home


I’ve read a lot of rave reviews for this movie. And I’ve also read a lot of reviews talking about how great it is to see with a crowd. But my experience jibed with neither of these sentiments.

It was a packed house, to be sure. But a number of the people sitting nearby decided to pull their phones out multiple times during the show. Others felt it was fine to chat as if they were at home. And there were several very small children in the auditorium who clearly had trouble staying interested. One not far from us also had a loud and phlegmy cough that made me glad my family and I all kept our masks on (as many in the cinema did not).

So I have to wonder whether I would have enjoyed the movie more if it hadn’t been for all these distractions. It’s difficult to say. The first 45 minutes or so were actually pretty dull. No Way Home picks up where Far From Home left off—Spider-Man’s true identity has just been revealed to the world. But the tension of that moment fails to hold, and the situation itself seems to be handily dodged in favor of turning the story into a personal crisis when Peter and his friends fail to get into MIT. A crisis that, of course, takes on much larger proportions when Peter asks Dr. Strange to make people forget he’s Spider-Man so that colleges won’t reject his friends (because Peter is, naturally, too nice a guy to ask for a favor for himself).

Peter’s “nice guy” persona is tested throughout the rest of the movie as, because of his wanting to help his friends, things get worse instead of better. I won’t spoil anything except to say there are a number of cameos and a lot of nostalgia. In fact, that seems to be the point of the movie? The plot is really uninspired as a whole, and even the sets and effects feel cliche at this point. Like, they just borrowed the Inception set from Nolan, right? It’s not that impressive anymore.

I won’t say there weren’t good moments, but I actually found most of the movie pretty dull. A major death failed to move me in the least, but some smaller moments did. Still, there are so many characters crammed into this thing that no one really shines. Though the friendship between Ned and M.J. was nice to see.

Homecoming remains my favorite of this version of Spider-Man, largely due to Michael Keaton’s turn as Vulture. While it was fun to see old faces in this one, it somehow came up far short of the sum of all those parts. AND… The after-credit “scene”? Not a scene. Just a trailer for Multiverse of Madness. (But there is a mid-credit scene worth seeing.)

So… yeah. I’ll try watching this one again once it’s streaming and see if I feel any differently about it. But I have to wonder whether the distractions killed the movie for me OR… Was the movie just so boring that I was easily distracted?

Questions for Publishers

As often happens, a question arises on social media (in this case, Twitter) and I spend way too much time answering it via a long thread. So I thought I’d also put it all here in a handy, dandy blog post.

Does anyone read blogs anymore?

Well, just in case someone does, here’s the setup: I admitted that I once had a couple small publishers for my books, but that they didn’t work out for me. And that, if I were ever to consider another small publisher, I would have a number of questions before signing with them.

Without naming names, I’ll say that these publishers were fairly typical of their kind and did nothing illegal. They just also weren’t the best advocates for my (or other authors’) books, and that’s something I think a publisher needs to be.

So let’s say you have an offer from a small publisher. You’ve submitted directly to them; you have no agent to look out for your interests, so you’re on your own. I recommend you have knowledgeable people go over the contract, for one thing. If you don’t understand something, have someone explain it to you. It’s okay to ask questions, and if the publisher doesn’t like that you’re asking, that’s a red flag right there. If they’re rushing you, giving you some kind of deadline for signing, walk away.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot you should know about the publisher, too. Ideally, you learn all this before submitting, as there’s no point in wasting everyone’s time after the fact. But definitely have answers to these questions before you sign anything.

  • How long has the publisher been in business?
  • What publishing experience do the people involved have?
  • What is their process for publication? (What does the editing cycle look like?)
  • How long does it take them to go from signing to publishing?
  • How many books/authors do they publish per week/month/year?
  • Does the publisher pay an advance?
  • What is their marketing plan for your book?
  • Where are their books available? (Bookstores? Libraries? Only online?)
  • Will your book be in both print and digital format?
  • Will your book be in audio format?
  • Which rights are the publisher demanding? (If they’re asking for audiobook rights but don’t make audiobooks, for example, that’s a red flag.)
  • Which rights do you retain? (Can you have your own audiobook made? Can you sell the film or TV rights? Foreign language rights?)
  • How long is the duration of the contract? (Is there a rights reversion clause?)
  • Under what conditions can either you or the publisher terminate the contract?
  • What happens to your rights if the publisher folds?

These are the basics, and certainly not an exhaustive list, but a solid place to start. Remember that a publisher should only make money if and when your book sells. That means YOU, the author, should never have to pay for anything. A publisher invests money in books and authors it believes will make them a profit. It’s a gamble that, if the publisher is good at what they do, pays off more often than not and keeps the company afloat.

Some things I, personally, would avoid:

  • Publishers with little to no publishing experience and/or that have not been in business for at least a couple years (yes, this includes authors starting their own companies if they’ve never actually worked in publishing—writing and publishing are two different skill sets).
  • Publishers who churn out many titles and authors each week or month. This usually means they’re not giving any one title or author very much attention. They’re throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, so to speak.
  • Publishers who don’t do a serious editing cycle. If they only do a light proofread and copy edit, that’s not ideal. You want an editor, and an experienced one at that. (Yes, even if you paid a freelance editor before submitting!)
  • Publishers whose marketing plan includes YOU doing most of the work, by which I mean they expect you to post online about your book or try to hand sell to your local bookstore or library. Yes, you should expect to do some promotion, but a good publisher has distribution and contacts. Certainly, hitting up the bookstore to see if they’d promote a local author is a fair idea, but your publisher should have more up its sleeves than that.
  • Publishers whose marketing plan includes you shilling for their other authors (and vice versa). This is usually accompanied by language stating, “We’re like a family!” or something to that end.
  • Publishers whose marketing plan demands that you pay for things like a blog tour or other advertising or reviews. Your publisher should be the one setting those things up—and paying for it.
  • Publishers who grab more rights than they intend to exercise.
  • Publishers who create their paperbacks via Amazon. (I say this because I discovered that many of my local bookstores refused to stock my book when one of my publishers used CreateSpace to make the book.)
  • Publishers who take money out of your royalties to cover the costs of editing, cover design, etc. Again, the publisher should be paying for all that under the belief that your book will sell and they will make that money back. Otherwise, why would they publish your book? A publisher invests money up front, and that includes covering the costs of editing, design, and marketing.
  • Publishers who demand some kind of “buy out” if you ask for your rights back. On the surface, this might actually seem reasonable: they’ve put money into your book and either it didn’t sell or you’re not happy for some reason. Then you should pay them back, right? No. If the book isn’t selling, the publisher shouldn’t try to make up the difference by charging the author on the back end. That’s a hostage situation—they’re holding your book ransom just because their investment didn’t work out. If the book did sell and you’re unhappy for other reasons, then there’s no reason the publisher should charge you money for leaving. If the contract states you have to pay to walk away, walk away before signing!

Of course, only you can decide what you consider a deal breaker. Just don’t be so flattered and eager that you overlook any red flags. Do your research. Ask authors who have published with those companies about their experiences. (And again, if the publisher doesn’t want you to talk to their authors, run!)

And go in with a solid notion of what you consider “success.” If it’s selling a certain number of books, getting on a bestselling list, making x amount of money… Know that. And maybe ask the publisher what they consider a successful book (or author), too. What are their goals for you and your work? Do those goals align with yours? And are you agreed on how to reach those goalstogether?

Interview: Wonderland by Hand

A few weeks ago, I received a wondrous package in the mail: a cameo from Wonderland by Hand, accompanied by some amazing hand-drawn illustrations. (You can view the unboxing on my TikTok or my YouTube.) Such cool stuff moved me to ask the creators at WbH—mom and daughter team Jude and Larissa—a few questions:.

MPL: Your website mentions you are a mother-daughter team. At what point did you begin collaborating? What kind of dynamic do you have, working with family?

Jude: We began collaborating on projects about 6 years ago when Larissa asked me to work with her on an ecological art installation in Brooklyn that benefitted Oyster Reef rebuilding in NYC.  Collaborating is the way we work best together. It’s a natural extension of how we do work and have been encouraging each others creative selves for many years.

MPL: That is so cool; I’ve never heard of ecological art like that, but I love the idea of it.
You are clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland and similar sources. Can you name a few others? Favorite books, movies, etc.? Even if they aren’t direct inspirations, what books, films, TV shows, music do you feel fit your aesthetic?


Jude: Jane Eyre, Dracula

Larissa: Greek and Roman myths, Victorian sensational novels, Victorian Gothic novels, Frankenstein


Jude: The Corpse Bride

Larissa: The Velvet Goldmine, Edward Scissorhands, various versions of Alice in Wonderland, Jan Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay, classic horror and monster movies (Nosferatu, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Werewolf)


Jude: jazz, classical, Bowie, Cocteau Twins, the Cranberries

Larissa: Alice Cooper, KISS, Children of Bodom, Marilyn Manson, Cocteau Twins, Bikini Kill, Marvin Gaye, the Shirelles, Bowie, the Cramps, the New York Dolls, Cocteau Twins, the Cure, Brandy, Janet Jackson, Dolly Parton, Nirvana, Beyonce, Ellie Goulding, Elliott Smith, Antony and the Johnsons, Rasputina, Bobby Hutcherson, Wagner, Mozart, Yann Tiersen, Danny Elfman


WbH: Freaks and Geeks, Disenchantment

MPL: I want to hang out with you guys; we like a lot of the same stuff! (Myths and gothic fiction are particular favorites of mine, along with Bowie and jazz.) Which is one reason this Three Graces cameo enchants me so much! The detail work is amazing. What materials do you work with?

WbH: The materials are resin and metal, we also have porcelain and antique glass ones in the works.

MPL: Oooh, I have some recycled glass earrings that I absolutely love, but they are a bit heavy to wear for very long. Do you have a favorite piece, or favorite pieces you like to make?

WbH: The red rose one is our most popular piece.

MPL: How long, on average, does it take to make a piece?

WbH: Assembly time start to finish is about an hour to three hours. To make the cameos, including the resin setting is about 24 hours.

MPL: Larissa, the illustrations you sent me are amazing! What materials do you use for them? (Very fine pens, it seems!) Do you sketch first or freehand? Can any of your art pieces be found online?

Larissa: Thanks so much!  Yes!  I use very fine Micron pens to sketch them.  I do spot color with markers (I love Twinbow pastel markers).

My illustrations can be found on

MPL: Who are some of your favorite artists?

Jude: Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Klimt, Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois

Larissa: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Magritte, Leonara Carrington, Dali

MPL: Rossetti is one of my favorites, too, along with Waterhouse and Burne-Jones… all those Pre-Raphaelites, I guess, which is why Jade describes Julian that way in GoMP… But I digress. Any advice for aspiring artists or jewelry makers?

WbH: it’s really important to see what you’re working on as something you need to do. Not something shallow. So then you can connect with people and help their life with your product and work rather than just selling. Be open to what life is trying to give you. Love is important. See the beauty in everything (even dark thoughts and feelings). Stand up for yourself. Give people two chances, but not three!  If it isn’t what you want, don’t feel guilty about saying no, but consider carefully and say yes more often than not!  Have a plan. Do the work. Follow through.

MPL: Good advice for life, really.
By the way, do you do custom commissions?

WbH: Yes we certainly do!  I like working with customers to design and build custom pieces.

MPL: Awesome. Also dangerous, because I could come up with so many ideas for things… Okay, where can people find you online?

WbH: Our site is and our insta is

I want to thank Jude and Larissa for taking the time to answer all my questions! I hope you’ll check out their gorgeous work. My cameo is already getting lots of wear, and I also used it in a tarot video. (But don’t let that sway you when picking your reading!)

P.S. Wonderland by Hand was featured in Philocaly Magazine! And have been shown off by a number of Instagram influencers as well, including @vertig0o, @gracefpotter, and @laura_sophie_doll (whose post was reposted by @witches_and_cats, as shown).

Working Through It

This is just a story in which I try to make sense of, or come to terms with, yet another disappointment.

Late last year into early this year, I was querying agents with THE GHOSTS OF MARSHLEY PARK. I got such great feedback, and yet… ultimately, no one took it. Most of the feedback boiled down to:

  • This is great, but it doesn’t fit my list
  • This is great, but ghost stories are a tough market right now
  • I love these characters, but [no actual reason for rejecting the manuscript]

In fact, in a lot of cases, I received some form of “great book, but no thanks” without any explanation as to why. Maybe they looked me up online and decided they didn’t want to work with me? Sad, but possibly true.

But the one rejection that sent me into a tailspin said:

You have written a solid manuscript that was a delight to read. Unfortunately, I am reluctantly going to have have to pass… If my workload decreases, I will review your submission again to see if it matches my needs.

The Agent That Caused Me To Give Up

This agent (TATCMTGU) left the agency he was at a few months after that and went to start one of his own. At that point, however, I’d already begun the self-publishing process for GoMP. In fact, I’d hired an indie artist to do some original cover art for the book, and then had a designer use that art to make the gorgeous cover.

GoMP cover

And then… TATCMTGU signed the artist.

And, you know, good for her, I guess. And good for the agent, too. But I can’t help but have complex feelings about the whole thing. My ASD really demands that people be clear about what they say and do, and to be rejected so often without reason—to be told again and again that I’m actually a great writer, but that they don’t want my work (or to work with me)—is very confusing. Deciphering queries is impossible for me; what I’m being told (“great book!”) doesn’t match the agents’ actions (“pass”). It’s like being on a sports team, and the coach says, “You’re a great player!” but then leaves you on the bench. My neurodivergent brain does not understand that behavior, and maybe I never will. But, like a kid never picked for teams in school, I will continue to be hurt by it.