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Almost every horror movie contains something shocking. The most shocking thing about 1984’s Ghoulies is how little the Ghoulies appear in it.

Ghoulies isn’t even really about Ghoulies — it’s about Jonathan Graves, the son of a self-avowed Satan worshiper who inherits his father’s home, book collection, and interest in the occult. (Jonathan was only a baby when his father tried to sacrifice him during an evil ceremony; fortunately, he doesn’t remember that.) At a housewarming party of sorts, Jonathan, his girlfriend Becky, and the rest of their friends decide to hold a seance using the old books found in the home, because hey, that’s what people did in the 80s at housewarming parties. The seance appears to fizzle and everyone leaves while mocking Jonathan, but moments later we as viewers discover that it did actually work as an evil puppet materializes.

Fast forward a few minutes and we find Jonathan — now with glowing green eyes — dropping out of college and spending all of his free time reading books on the occult and practicing incantations. Eventually his hard work pays off and he conjures up “the Ghoulies,” most of which look like slimy Creature from the Black Lagoon babies, but a few of which look like rats. While there are a few variations of Ghoulies, they all look like really bad puppets. Remember the first time you saw Gremlins as a kid and wondered, “How did they do that?” You won’t be wondering that while watching Ghoulies. You’ll just think, “Huh, look at all those puppets.”

Eventually Jonathan conjures up a couple of little people wearing brown coats and metal helmets named Grizzel and Greedigut, two names so awkward to pronounce that even they have trouble saying them at times.

Grizzel and Greedigut, along with Jonathan and all his old friends, perform another seance. This time, Jonathan’s father is resurrected from the grave. And not to make things obvious, but Jonathan’s father’s name is Malcom. Malcom Graves. Subtle, the film is not.

Malcom takes control of the Ghoulies and uses them to kill all of Jonathan’s friends, which is not a particularly nice way to thank people for bringing you back from the dead. He then attempts to sacrifice Jonathan to the devil, again, but things won’t be so easy as Jonathan is joined by Wolfgang, a good sorcerer who also happens to be the caretaker who has been watching over Jonathan his whole life. Just go with it.

By the end of the battle, excluding Jonathan, everyone involved in the battle is dead and everyone who was dead prior to the beginning of the battle is now alive. This includes a few of the Ghoulies, who show up near the end to let us know there will probably be a Ghoulies 2. And there was, followed by parts 3 and 4.

Ghoulies was part of a wave of movies that capitalized on the success of Gremlins, including Critters, Munchies, Troll, Hobgoblins, Beasties, Kamillions, and others. All of these movies copied the “little creatures attacking people,” but none of them were able to capture the wit or charm of the original.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

“The astronauts were killed for food. The alien ate their flesh and drank their blood. And that is a real problem!” -Professor Hertz

I can’t remember who first introduced me to world of Troma and their horrible stable of films, but once I had seen one or two of them I went directly to eBay and purchased 25 of them on DVD. I probably have 50 Troma DVDs now. Most of them were not filmed by Troma but rather simply released by them, but regardless of whether we’re talking about Redneck Zombies, Beware: Children at Play or Igor and the Lunatics, if it has the Troma logo you know it’s going to be a terrible film. In a good way.

This review feels disjointed. The movie itself is disjointed. I’ll do my best to tie things together better than the movie does.

The film opens with a shot of a cardboard spaceship and is followed by 90 minutes of cardboard acting.

In the beginning of the film astronauts make contact with a “massive” alien ship. One of the aliens hitches a ride back to earth and begins eating the fine people of New Jersey. On the monster’s tail is the local police department, Riggs (the astronaut that inadvertently brought the creature back) and Sandra Lynn, a psychic who has visions each time the creature kills. Which is a lot.

The director loves close-up shots and many times while people are speaking their face fills the entire screen and then some. These extreme close-ups make the bad acting hard to avoid. The acting in this movie is so bad that not a single person utters a single line that sounds like normal conversation. When a couple thinks they may have hit a pedestrian with their car, the wife says “I hope you didn’t hit anyone,” with the same amount of enthusiasm one might utter “I hope it’s not cloudy three years from next Tuesday.”

And if the acting is bad, the dialogue is worse. My favorite line in the film comes when two police officers discover a severed head lying in the middle of the road. Says one cop to the other, “We better call this in.”

You think?

In this middle of all of this, a convicted rapist and murderer named Savino Fink (aka “Chop Chop”) escapes from prison and is picked up by a couple of boneheads who mistake him for John Belushi, even though they acknowledge that John Belushi is dead. The hitchhiker cuts his arm up with a razor blade before stealing their car. What does this have to do with the plot? I have no idea! It would be literally as if you were speaking with someone and for no apparent reason they began rattling off the ingredients of their favorite pizza in the middle of your conversation.

The creature eventually makes his way to a local heavy metal club where he eats a series of male and female headbangers. And I don’t care what year this DVD was released, this movie was filmed in the mid-to-late 80s, I’d bet a dozen severed heads on it. There are a lot of silly scenes of fake-looking violence here. There’s also some nudity as many of the girls take long showers before going to the club and after coming home from the club.

I hope you get all your laughs out of your system because ten minutes later Sandra the Psychic gets raped by her boss, her daughter gets killed, and Sandra slits her own wrists. And the most tragic part of all is she didn’t see any of it coming, which means she is also a terrible psychic.

In the last sixty seconds of the film, the creature eats Riggs’ brain and Sandra detonates a small nuclear device that destroys the monster, herself, and much of New Jersey. If knowing that makes you feel like you now have to reason to watch this film… you’re welcome.”

Did I mention Flesh Eaters from Outer Space was filmed on video? There’s also a sequel, Invasion for Flesh and Blood, although based on how the first one ends I can’t imagine it features Riggs or Sandra the Psychic. Or New Jersey. I found copies of both films bundled together on DVD for $3.93 on Amazon. Sounds high to me. The DVDs actually contain commentary tracks and several documentaries about the making of these films, so if you’re into learning about how low/no-budget films are made, it might have some insight for you.

Also, this film only contained one flesh eater. Singular. That bugged me.

Recommended for fans of B (and C) movies only.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

As a kid I never completely understood the relationship between the first two Evil Dead films. Was Evil Dead II a remake? A re-imagining? A sequel? Who knows. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter and I should just enjoy the films on their own merits.

Twenty-one years after the third Evil Dead film (1992’s Army of Darkness) fans were treated to a fourth: 2013’s Evil Dead. Is Evil Dead (2013) a remake? A re-imagining? A sequel? Who knows. I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter and I should just enjoy the films on their own merits.

In Evil Dead (2013), a group of twenty-somethings staying in a remote cabin in the woods accidentally summon an uncontrollable evil force by reading a passage from the Necronomicon. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, this is the same plot as both 1981’s The Evil Dead and 1987’s Evil Dead II. If viewers learn but a single lesson from these films it should be to stop opening opening books wrapped in human skin and randomly reading mystical words written in blood over pictures of the devil found within.

This time around our five victims have gathered to support Mia as she attempts to kick her drug habit cold turkey. Joining Mia in the cabin is her brother David, David’s girlfriend Natalia, and their friends Olivia and Eric. Fortunately the five of them each have unique hairstyles so they are easy enough to distinguish as they are being extinguished. Also joining the quintet is an ancient evil that enjoys possessing them one at a time (beginning with Mia) and alternating between attacking the body it has possessed and whoever happens to be nearby. Fortunately whenever the evil spirit possesses someone their eyes turn yellow and red, which makes it easy for us as the audience to tell who is evil and who isn’t.

Similar to Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead (2013) forces characters to kill people they were once friends with. At least with zombies the person’s personality is gone and all that remains is the person’s shell. In this film, the evil spirit knows what the possessee knows and uses that information to tease and torment his/her/its victims. I’m not sure any of us really know how we would react if a family member became possessed and tried to kill us, but if their eyes turn yellow and red and they begin speaking in a demonic voice while shooting a nail gun at me and it begins to rain blood, I’m going down swinging.

Evil Dead (2013) delivers blood by the bucket. Knives stab, heads get smashed and blood squirts. Limbs are removed. In fact, two people even remove their own limbs. And, the chainsaw from the original three films even makes an appearance. This film pulls few punches. If you’re not into blood and gore, this one’s not for you.

The most important survivor of the film is the Necronomicon, which no doubt will be found (again) by a group of unsuspecting victims (again) who will read the spells contained within (again) and summon the evil force (again) with which they will do battle (again).

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

I’m starting to get deja vu every year at Yukon’s Czech Festival. Except for the years I was out of town for work, I’ve attended pretty much every Czech Day Parade since the early 80s and I have to tell you, they doesn’t change much. After I got home from this year’s parade I decided to compare some of my pictures with ones I’ve taken at previous parades.

Here’s a picture I took this past Saturday of the cannon they fire off each year to mark the beginning of the parade:

…and here’s a picture I took in 2007:

Here’s a picture of the 2014 Yukon Pom float:

…and again, from 2007:

Deja vu indeed. Of course we don’t really go to see floats — we go to support our community, to see old friends, and now, so our kids can see their friends.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures I took of this year’s parade. After the pictures you’ll find a link to all the pictures I took.

Link: Czech Festival 2014 Photos

Despite the fact that I’ve seen dozens of zombie films over the years, somehow I missed this one — the one that turned Night of the Living Dead into a series. 1978’s Dawn of the Dead is the second film in the “Living Dead” series of films by George Romero.

In Dawn of the Dead, the zombie apocalypse that originally began in Night of the Living Dead has continued to grow. Now, major cities have begun to fall under swarms of zombies — the recently dead who have become reanimated and have only one thing on their mind: eating human flesh.

This film follows the story of four people: Roger and Peter, members of the Philadelphia SWAT team dealing with the hoards of zombies, and Francine and Stephen, two Philadelphia news reporters. Stephen, pilot of the station’s news helicopter, plans to escape the city before it completely implodes; Francine (Stephen’s co-worker and girlfriend) and the two SWAT team members join him.

Just outside of town the film’s four protagonists discover an abandoned mall. The mall turns out to be a great source of material goods like food and water and guns, but first it has to be secured. This is done by first sealing off the entrances and blocking them with large trucks, and then ridding the mall of all remaining zombies one bullet at a time.

Just when our four heroes have settled into their new reality, the mall is attacked by a roving motorcycle gang. Initially the gang seems more interested in simply looting than anything, but after Stephen begins firing shots at them, Roger realizes that they have just declared war. In addition to the battle between the two groups of survivors, the biker gang also manages to let hundreds of zombies re-enter the mall.

More than simply a zombie flick, Dawn on the Dead pokes at society by having the undead return to what they knew in life — shopping. Even in a world left with no economy, the biker gangs steal money and televisions from within the mall. Even a few of the zombies are seen wearing stolen jewelry from the mall.

The film’s make up and effects, done by Tom Savini, are simply over the top. Severed arms, legs, and corpses litter the mall everywhere you look. The only way to stop a zombie is by putting a bullet in their brain and our four heroes dispense hundreds of them on screen. If forehead-mounted bullet squibs and brain-splattered walls aren’t your thing, this film is not for you. The film’s effects were shocking enough in 1978 that the film, unable to avoid an NC-17 (“X”) rating, was released without any rating at all.

Also shocking is that not all the protagonists survive. In the original script none of them did; on set, Romero had a change of heart and let half of them walk (fly) away.

Dawn of the Dead is a worthy successor to Night of the Living Dead. It deserves respect not just for what it did for the genre, but also because it’s a good survival horror film. You’ll never walk through a dark mall without looking over your shoulder again.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

For the letter “C” I considered watching C.H.U.D. (which I’ve never seen) or Chopping Mall (which I’ve seen a hundred times), but as I thumbed through my horror DVDs I realized I haven’t watched the original Child’s Play in probably a decade and I was curious to see how the film stands up today.

For half a century, the horror genre was represented by a small handful of iconic characters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. With the rise of the slasher genre, my generation’s four-pack of bad boys became Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and the baddest doll of them all, Chucky from 1988’s Child’s Play.

Child’s Play opens with Detective Mike Norris in hot pursuit of two criminals, Eddie Caputo and Charles Lee Ray. After Caputo ditches his partner in crime, Ray and Norris duck into a nearby toy store while exchanging gunfire. Ray, mortally wounded in the exchange, quickly performs a black magic chant and transfers his soul into a nearby Good Guy doll, giving birth to both the film’s villain and an entire franchise.

Through somewhat questionable logic Chucky climbs back into his Good Guy packaging, ends up in a hobo’s shopping cart, and allows himself to be sold to one Karen Barclay. Karen unknowingly purchases the possessed doll as a birthday present for her six-year-old son, Andy.

Once inside the Barclay’s home Chucky wastes little time in driving a hammer into his first victim’s head, Karen’s friend (and Andy’s babysitter) Maggie. While Andy puts two and two together pretty quickly, he (logically) has a tough time convincing the adults around him (his mother and Detective Norris) that Chucky is alive.

The film briefly toys with the audience in making us think that Andy might possibly be the killer, but it’s abandoned pretty quickly as we begin to see Chucky walk and talk on his own. After disposing of Caputo (his former partner who abandoned him), Chucky is wounded in another altercation with Detective Norris. Chucky’s then visits his former Voodoo teacher, Dr. Death, who explains to him (and us) that his (Charles Lee Ray’s) soul will soon be stuck in the Chucky doll forever unless he can transfer his soul into the first person he revealed his true identity to. That, of course, turns out to be six-year-old Andy.

This is turning out to be one crappy birthday.

Like most horror villains, it turns out Chucky has a weakness; his heart. And I don’t mean emotionally, I mean literally, you have to shoot him in the heart. (If you just had a visual of a human heart and circulatory system somehow developing inside this plastic doll, you’re overthinking the film.) The visual of a burnt and partly dismembered Chucky fighting to the end* mirrors Sarah Connnor’s final showdown with the T-800 in 1984’s Terminator, and like that film, the protagonists here are forced to stop what appears to be an unstoppable force.

(*There are six movies in the franchise; Chucky’s “end” is somewhat relative.)

Prior to the release of the sequel, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened after this film ended. Maggie’s death has been ruled a homicide (she did take a hammer to the face), and two detectives will have to explain back at the station why they pumped a burnt up doll full of bullets inside an apartment building.

The film’s special effects are surprisingly good. The change is readily apparent each time Chucky changes from a puppet to a guy in a costume, but the doll as a practical effect works. While some part of this is due to the special effects crew, a big part is due to the wonderful voice work of Brad Dourif, who completely sells his performances, both as Charles Lee Ray and Chucky.

Like Freddy Krueger, somewhere along the way Chucky lost his edge and began delivering more snarky one-liners than stabbings in later sequels. In the beginning though, Chucky was downright evil although not particularly prolific in his killing. Child’s Play delivers a total of six deaths, two of which are Charles Lee Ray’s and Chucky’s!

While Child’s Play delivers a few jumpy moments, it’s hard to be scared by the film at this point. More scary, I think, is the thought of experiencing something with no rational explanation. In the film’s sequel we learn that that Karen Barclay ended up in a mental institution, and why shouldn’t she? Nobody will ever believe her story, despite the fact she knows it is true. It’s a life-changing and permanent paradigm-shifting event that would probably drive any of us mad.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

I love the awkward juxtaposition of setting a horror film during the Christmas holiday season. Black Christmas uses this to its advantage by creating several awkward and haunting moments. There’s a scene in the film where a sorority girl is being murdered upstairs while children sing carols downstairs at the front door. It’s disturbing and uncomfortable to watch, which is what makes horror movies great.

In Black Christmas, a sorority is under attack by a mysterious and creepy killer (“Billy”) who taunts the sisters with obscene, threatening, and occasionally unintelligible phone calls. With a body count of seven the film is often referred to as the first slasher film, but it doesn’t feel like one. The film’s pace is slow (like, 1970s-horror slow) and spends more time building tension than spilling blood. In fact, of those seven murders, one takes place within the first five minutes and four take place in the last five, with roughly an hour and a half between killings for viewers to ponder “who is the killer” and, more importantly, “who’s gonna get it next?”

I’m about to spoil the ending to a 40-year-old movie in the next paragraph. You have been warned.

The twist is that the calls are coming from inside the house. Black Christmas, released five years before When a Stranger Calls, appears to be the first full-length movie to use this gimmick, based on the urban legend that dates back to the 1960s. Here, the gimmick is milked for all its worth with police listening in on a remote handset as a phone linesman rushes down rows of clickity mechanical switches, manually searching for the one that will reveal where the calls are originating from.

Unlike modern horror films in which writers, directors, and perhaps audiences need to know more about the killer’s background, vintage horror wasn’t always that way. While Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween dedicated much of the film to Michael Myers’ childhood, the original attempted to do the opposite by stripping all personality away from the killer (even simply referring to him as “The Shape”). And while the 2006 remake of Black Christmas apparently delves into the killer’s background, the original does not; in fact, other than his hands in a few POV shots and one creepy shot of his eyeball, we don’t see the killer at all. We don’t know his motivation, his background, or his mindset. We don’t know why Billy has ended up in the attic of a sorority house, why he is making crank phone calls in different voices, or why he is killing these young ladies. All we know is that he is, and in this film, it’s enough. And part of that is what makes the film scary — that you could get killed by a random guy who decides to move into your attic and barrage you with crank phone calls for no reason other than the fact that he’s crazy.

Plot wise, my biggest problem with Black Christmas was with the shoddy police work. Our killer’s first victim ends up with a plastic bag wrapped around her head and placed in a rocking chair next to a window in the attic. We (the audience) can clearly see her from the street — why can’t the police? And why didn’t they search the attic? I also didn’t understand how Billy could yell into the phone repeatedly during his calls and yet no one inside the house could hear his voice coming from the attic. Unless you can’t hear someone yelling in your attic, in which case attics just got a lot scarier.

Black Christmas was rated R for violence and language, although today I suspect the violence would barely get it a PG-13 rating. The language however is strong — occasionally, shockingly so.

The influence Black Christmas had on films like Halloween and Friday the 13th and countless others is obvious and undeniable. While not without its flaws, it’s obvious that this film set the bar for (and perhaps invented) the genre.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, released in 1975, left more than blood and several bad sequels in its wake. The idea of hiding a practically unstoppable killing machine from the audience as it snacks its way through a long list of extras before meeting its demise inspired dozens of copycat films. Some of these copycats like Orca: The Killer Whale (1977) and Great White (1981) also took place in the water, while others took place in new locations like the forest (1976’s Grizzly) or outer space (1979’s Alien). 1980’s Alligator took the action to the sewers, the streets, and a wedding party.

In the first 30 seconds of Alligator we see a trainer at an alligator farm tourist trap get attacked and almost killed while performing in front of a live audience. A young girl named Marisa Kendall witnesses the attack and for some reason is inspired by it to get her own baby pet alligator. The following morning her belligerent father takes the alligator and flushes it down the toilet, sending it down into the depths of the Chicago sewer system. (While Wikipedia states that the movie takes place in Chicago, it was filmed in Los Angeles and there are hints that the movie takes place in Missouri.)

Later in the film we learn from the famous herpetologist Dr. Marissa Kendall (yes — the same person that originally owned the alligator) that alligators in captivity don’t typically grow to full size, and one living in the sewer would be even smaller than that. Unless of course the alligator was feasting on the carcasses of dead animals which were being injected with growth hormones by an unscrupulous medical company and tossed into the sewer. If that were to happen, you might just end up with a “30 to 40 foot long alligator” with an insatiable appetite… FOR BLOOD.

Alligator stars Robert Forster as officer David Madison. When random body parts begin showing up in waste management plants, officer Madison is convinced there’s a serial killer on the loose. Madison has a hard time convincing anyone to go check the sewers with him after the untimely death of his last partner, but eventually he persuades rookie officer Jim Kelly to join him, which leads to the untimely death of a new partner. Madison wakes up in the hospital, but neither Chief Clark nor sleazy reporter Thomas Kemp believe his story of a giant alligator. When Kemp decides to brave the sewers to see what he can find, he too joins Officer Kelly in the belly of the beast (literally), but not before snapping a few photos and leaving his camera behind. After the film is developed, Madison is vindicated and the hunt is on.

The comparisons to Jaws are unavoidable. A Jaws-like tune is played as we see the alligator (from a POV shot) stalking his victims. Apparently the filmmakers also had problems with their mechanical alligator. The mechanical stand in is used for shots where the gator chomps on his victims. Other times, a regular-sized alligator makes his way through miniature streets at night. The pre-CGI special effects may not seem that special today, but I found them to be a treat. Despite the lack of computer-aided special effects, there’s no lack of fire. I counted two car explosions, one boat explosion, and one alligator explosion.

After the arrival of big-game hunter Colonel Brock, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Lake Placid was to this film. Colonel Brock is played completely over the top. He’s not around long enough to dislike for too long. The first time Brock meets the alligator is also his last.

Eventually the alligator gets so big and so hungry and he literally busts up through a sidewalk and onto city streets, and that’s where the real fun begins. Along with Brock, the alligator gobbles up lots of innocent bystanders and at least one kid in a swimming pool. Eventually he ends up at the wedding party where he eats the mayor and several other socialites. In the end it’s up to Officer Madison to redeem himself and lead the alligator back down the sewers where the two of them must face off one last time, man to gator.

I don’t know that Alligator made me jump, but it did make me laugh. After discovering a few limbs floating in the sewage treatment plant, Madison comments that if he finds any more he’s “going to open a spare parts shop.” Later, after finding a dismembered arm, he notes they’ll need a small casket.

The film was written by John Sayles, who had just churned out Piranha two years prior, and directed by Lewis Teague, who also directed Cujo and Cat’s Eye. The film did well enough to warrant a sequel (Alligator 2), which bombed. Roger Ebert gave the original one star and suggested people flush the film itself down the sewer.

While not scary or particularly gory by today’s standards. Alligator is a fun romp through the sewers with a reptile whose only crime is that of being hungry.

(This review is a part of my month-long October 2014 A-Z Horror Reviews.)

Every year for the past ten years (at least) I’ve talked about watching 31 horror movies in October (one a night). Every year I come up with a reason not to do it. I can’t come up with a reason not to do it this year, so I’m going to try it.

To add a twist to things, for the first 26 days of October I’ll be working my way through the alphabet. If you have movie suggestions you can leave them here or on Facebook — no guarantees, but I’ll consider them. I’m not sure what I’ll do for the last five days of the months, but it’ll be REALLY SCARY.

Now it’s time for me to get back to a horror movie that starts with the letter A!

EDIT: You can find all of this month’s horror reviews by clicking this link!

I spent quite a bit of last week contacting literary agents in hope of finding one interested in representing our new book Gastric Steps. Here’s how that went.

I suppose first I should explain why I would want or need to connect with a literary agent in the first place. If you want to have your book published by a real publishing company (as opposed to self-publishing), you pretty much need to have an agent. I self-published both Commodork and Invading Spaces and while I don’t regret the decision, I feel like Gastric Steps appeals to a wider audience than those books did.

Agents serve many purposes, like helping you make your book more marketable and giving you advice, but the primary purpose they serve is negotiating a deal for you with a publishing house. For this they get a percentage of the deal — and that’s a good system because they then have a vested interest in getting you the best deal possible. So you get some money, they get some money, the publishing house kills some trees… everybody’s happy.

Believe it or not, writing a book is the easy part. The hard part is finding an agent interested in helping you get it published. Finding agents is simple enough: you can either use the current Guide to Literary Agents or you can use Google.

After finding a huge list of agents, your first goal will be to rule most of them out. Based on a list of conventional genres, Gastric Steps is a non-fiction health memoir. With that, I limited my search to agents who represent authors of non-fiction books, and ones interested in both memoirs and health-related titles.

Another criteria used to limit my search was whether or not the agent accepted submissions via e-mail. Some only accept submissions through snail mail and require a SASE if you want a response. I’m much more digitally-grounded and ruled those out, looking instead for ones who accept submissions via e-mail. Most agents that accept e-mail submissions state that they don’t contact authors whose works are rejected. Instead they post a time limit (“if we’re interested, we’ll contact you in 4-6 weeks”) and if you don’t hear anything by then, you can assume they’re not interested.

Based on all of those factors I narrowed my list to five potential agents.

The next step involves checking the agent’s website and carefully reading their submission requirements and guidelines. While all five of the ones I submitted to were similar, all of them had slightly different requirements and I suspect following the rules to the letter is a “test” — in fact, some of the agents’ websites state up front that submissions missing materials or sent in the wrong format will be discarded.

Some of the agents requested query letters while others require full proposals.

Query letters are formal letters asking agents if they might be interested in representing your book. For the most part they consist of three parts: a hook, a description of your book, and an author bio. They should fit on a single page. Here’s a link to 23 examples.

Proposals are much larger letters. This page says that you should include the following information in a proposal: Overview, Marketing , Promotion, Competing Books, About the Author, List of Chapters, Chapter-by-Chapter Summary, and Sample Chapters. This is your one shot to convince a potential agent that your book will be successful and that they should want to represent it, so the more detailed the proposal is, the better.

For what it’s worth, none of the five agents I submitted to asked for the exact same things. One asked for a query letter, one asked for a proposal, one asked for a query letter and a proposal, one asked for a query letter and a proposal in a different format, and the last one had their own e-mail submission form. Based off of that experience I split my submission application into modular parts and used them to create what each agent was specifically looking for. Unfortunately these minor differences in submission formats prevents any attempts at further streamlining this process.

The next step appears to be… wait. Based on my records, the soonest any of the potential agents might respond might be in two weeks, with most of them requesting “up to a month” to review submissions. And again, if my work is rejected, they have already told me they won’t respond. I’ll let these five proposals expire before sending out another five or ten.

I’m not really sure how many times I should send the book out before deciding to self-publish it. Ten? Twenty? Fifty? I’m not sure. With an almost finished product in hand I am ready to get it out the door and the legacy publishing world simply doesn’t work that quickly. For now, I’ll wait and see what happens.