Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Slaughter Issue, Con't. . . .

After the last equine slaughter plant in the United States was closed down, the plight of unwanted horses actually became worse, not better. Unwanted animals were hauled even greater distances under appalling conditions to slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico where the process is not as well regulated as it had been in the U.S. The method used in Mexican plants is particularly grisly. As it turned out, a bill that, on the surface, appeared to help horses actually had the unexpected effect of making the end of their lives more brutal.

So, a new bill was introduced that would make the transport of horses for slaughter illegal in the United States. HR 503, the federal Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, would eliminate horse slaughter nationwide and prohibit the export of horses for slaughter. Seemed like a great idea.

The bill stalled.

Meanwhile, with the economy in a downward spiral, poor hay yields, and grain costs escalating along with everything else, the plight of unwanted horses grows more precarious with each passing day. More horses are bound to suffer.

Now, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Twelve state legislatures are considering measures to support or actively encourage the reestablishment of U.S. horse processing plants.

Resolutions opposing the HR 503 bill are either under consideration or have passed in:
North Dakota
South Dakota

Bills amending state law to promote slaughter plant development are pending in:

This about face was engineered by Wyoming State Representative Sue Wallis and South Dakota State Representative Dave Sigdestad in a resolution submitted to the National Sate Legislatures Agriculture and Energy Committee with the intent of generating jobs and addressing the issue of unwanted horses.

And that is the issue, really – unwanted horses. The key here is for each and every horse owner to think long and hard before breeding their animals.

The racing industry, in particular, is at fault in this regard as they seem to need to produce a whole lot of horses to come up with winners, but at least they are taking measures to curtail abuse in their own backyard.

Magna Entertainment Group has adopted a company-wide policy promoting the humane treatment of racehorses. Any trainer or owner stabling horses at one of their tracks who directly or indirectly participates in the transport of a horse to a slaughterhouse or auction house that sells horses for slaughter will be prohibited from having stalls at the track. Having stalls onsite is a big deal, so this is definitely a deterrent.

Magna Entertainment Group tracks:
Golden Gate Fields; Albany, Calif.
Gulfstream Park; Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Laurel Park; Laurel, Md.
Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie; Grand Prairie, Texas
The Meadows; Meadow Lands, Pa.
Pimlico; Baltimore, Md.
Portland Meadows; Portland, Ore.
Remington Park; Oklahoma City, Okla.
Santa Anita Park; Arcadia, Calif.
Thistledown; North Randall, Ohio

Suffolk Downs also has a zero tolerance policy. Track management will deny trainers stalls if they sell a horse for slaughter. They’ve also partnered with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and CANTER and have set aside ten stalls for horses that need care until they can be moved to a farm or retirement facility.

Finger Lakes Racetrack has its own horse farm and adoption program. Visit the link: http://www.fingerlakestap.org.

Legislation isn’t going to save horses. It’s up to each horseman to make smart decisions and take responsibility for their horses.

They give us so much. It’s our job to look after them.

Happy reading,

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Road to Publication, con't. . . .

During my “Road to Publication” post on January 27th, I mentioned that I’d provide some specific pointers and ask some hard questions for those looking to get published.

What follows is a list I compiled and saved in an email draft because I receive so many queries from writers who want advice on how they can break in. One question (complaint, really) that I hear time and again is: “How can an agent or editor make a decision about my work based solely on a one-page query letter? They won’t know how well I can write unless they read the whole manuscript?”

Believe me; I understand this sentiment and sympathize with the writer’s frustration, but once you look at the other side of the equation—what it’s like to be the gatekeeper—you can see the validity of the “query only” limitation that is often part of the submission process.

A query letter serves the purpose of letting the agent or agent’s reader know if the project is something they’re interested in pursuing; therefore, it has to be extremely well written.

Editors and agents are swamped with submissions so, imagine if you will, the office receiving 200+ manuscripts a week instead of 200+ query letters. Query letters are a necessary evil of the publishing business because the competition is so fierce.

There are many things every writer can and should do to improve her odds. Ask yourself:

• Have you edited the manuscript many, many times?
• Have you studied the rules of grammar? (You need to understand them before you can break them for effect.)
• Have you learned the industry’s conventions such as proper manuscript format?
• Has your manuscript been through an objective critique group?
• Have you hired a professional freelance editor to give you input? (Get references if you go this route.)
• Have you had a lot of readers, who are familiar with the genre you’re writing in, read the manuscript and give you feedback?
• Is the manuscript as perfect as you can possibly make it?

The Query Letter
• Have you attempted to get writing credits to include in your query letter by entering contests or publishing short stories in genre-specific magazines?
• Have you studied what should go in a query letter?
• Have you polished your query letter ruthlessly?
• Have you shared different versions of your query letter with your critique group to see which one is most effective?
• Have you studied books on querying agents? (The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Lyons is a good one. So is a book by Kathryn Sands about making the perfect pitch.)

Selecting An Agent
• Have you researched possible agents carefully?
• Do you know how to select the right agent for you?
• Have you looked through the acknowledgements pages of books similar to yours so you can determine agents who like the kind of thing your write? Oftentimes, an author will thank his or her agent in the acknowledgements.
• Have you gone to writing conferences where you can verbally pitch your book to agents?
• Check out a website called Predators and Editors that lists agents to avoid.

Acting Professional
• Have you joined the organizations relevant to the genre you’re writing in so you can become familiar with the publishing industry?
• Have you attended conferences in order to network with other writers, authors, and industry professionals?

I highly recommend that you go to Miss Snark’s website. She’s a New York literary agent. This site is no longer active, but there’s a wealth of information here. Beginning with this link, you can see how she evaluates the hook in a query. What gets her interest, etc. This is very insightful for seeing what works and what doesn’t. Here’s the link where the hook evaluation begins: http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2006_12_10_archive.html. Also, search this website because you’ll find a lot of useful information about the industry in general.

It takes talent, luck, and perseverance to get published. The best way to deal with the query process is to start on the next book while you’re doing it so you don’t become obsessed or depressed by the process. And you’ll be glad you have another book that’s partly done when you do get published, because once you are, you’ll have to promote the first book while you’re writing the second.

Good luck!