Submitting Submittable Submittals – Part 2

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The last post here was all about the Good Old Days, when writers dealt with the business end of things via the Post Office, and not a small amount of clerical work in making submittals to agents and editors.

But things have changed. Drastically.

First, the publishing industry has changed and that affects all those persons downstream from the published manuscript. The larger publishing countries are now run by corporate entities. They don’t spend  time developing writers any longer. Business dictates that profits be maximized and maximized quickly. So now, when editors at these corporations meet, each one’s job is to persuade the rest that his/her client’s “product” is the most valuable among all the others vying for preferential treatment.

This means that any necessary development of a writer will happen through a literary agent’s relationship with the writer. I’m sure that this is occurring in some agent/author relationships, but I’ve not heard of them personally. What I DO hear is that agents will work with writers on specific manuscripts, not in the context of the writer’s overall development. And what I hear in that regard as well is that agents will ask a writer to tailor the manuscript to the corporate standards of characters, genre, story flow, point of view and style of writing. Clearly this retards creativity and innovation.

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But be that as it may, there may be a tremendous amount of time expended between the agent and writer, and the writer may be asked to spend a great amount of money resolving issues with the agent. In the best of cases, however, most agents are accepting digital query letters, and many of these receive quick turnaround. In many cases the writer may receive a reply to the e-query within one to three days. And many of these agents will accept electronic manuscript files, again saving  the writer a great amount of money and a not insignificant amount of time in negotiating this hurdle on the way to publication.

But this applies mostly to the largest, most prestigious publication houses. In submitting to the smaller houses, the writer may very well be dealing almost completely with the publisher/editorial staff. And these are more open to innovative structure, writing style and type of style, including hybrid genre manuscripts. In these cases it’s not unusual for a capable writer to be signed immediately to a publication contract.

So the digital revolution and the corporatization of publishing are remarkably different in nature now than then. Some of these changes are good, some bad, for everyone from author to reader, and what this implies is that the digital revolution as it applies to writing and publication is not yet complete.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Submitting Submittable Submittals – Part 1

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In the glory days of pursuing a publication contract for your story collection, novel, non-fiction book and, yes, even poetry anthology, you faced a long and agonizing process. So long and agonizing, in fact, that once your manuscript was thrown over someone’s transom, you were likely advised to start work on another project. Which you might or might not finish before you heard back about the first one.

And it could be a costly process, too. You were surely advised to have a freelance editor look it over, and that cost could run from $600-$300, depending on the detail of work needed. Time cost? All too few editors were available, and that could mean as much as four months. Then, if you had spent some of that time fashioning a query letter, advice dictated sending queries to as many as 100 possible agents or small press editors. Cost for sending those out would be around $50 to print the queries and mailing labels. And if you chose not to do your own agent/publisher research, companies such as Writer’s Relief were there to help. Cost? Well over $100. Time involved? At least two weeks, and you have to assemble the packages to send in. Some agents would want manuscript samples, too, and that could double the cost.

Okay. You’re closing in on six months by now. You can breathe easily while waiting for replies, so you return to that second manuscript. Replies pour back in to the tune of maybe two per week. All rejections, the replies canned letters, with no commentary on whether the agent/editor liked your work, cited reasons for the rejection. Some of those you sent queries to didn’t say so, but their practice is not to reply unless they want to see more.

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Finally someone bites, and you send them the first 100 pages. On paper. More printing. More time elapsed.

This agent writes back three months later. Your use of a prologue was ill-advised, the agent writes, and more context could have been supplied had you written it in third person instead of first person. However, your main characters are sharply defined and interesting.  you scratch your head over this, and come back to it for the next three days. You decide to reply to the agent: If I make these changes, will you represent me? You wait for another three months and then you summon the nerve to call. No, the agent’s reader tells you, you can consider your manuscript rejected; we just thought we should give you that feedback from the three houses that read your work.

Well, don’t I feel the perfect fool now, you think as you hang up. By now even you don’t like the first manuscript, and you begin work anew on the second one.

The next post will cover the way – and costs – you might submit for publication in the 21st century. Note: The graphics shown above aren’t meant to be construed as recommendations.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Turning Point

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My third book, The Blue Bicycle, proved to be a turning point, both in writing and in publishing. As I wrote in my last post, while there’s always something to learn, voice and style to smooth out in a piece of creative writing, I was beginning to doubt whether I could compete with accomplished writers in attracting publishing contracts. So I set out to find out whether my writerly chops showed promise or not.

I spent the better part of six months writing a novella consisting of four parts, about a young boy abandoned by his parents and living with a colorful old man – his great-grandfather – who proved to be both enlightening and dangerous. Each of the four sections was written in a different tense and varying point of view. My logic here was that in writing something as complex as this, any holes in my writing ability would be glaringly obvious.

With the novella finished, I decided to submit it to a professional editor to see just what I and it were made of. A month or so following my submittal, the editor called, asked me to visit her and we could go over the manuscript face to face. She lived in another North Carolina town not far away, so I swallowed hard and agreed. In short, she only had three major complaints with the manuscript (I say “major” in a relative sense), which were easy enough to fix. Most of her comments, however, were laden with praise.

At about this time, I was awarded a gift – a summer-long writer in residence position to work with the famed Doris Betts. Over that summer, with her critiquing both short and long fiction projects I was working on, I gained from her enough insight into fiction writing to to eclipse a full decade of struggling to learn how to write on my own.

But back to The Blue Bicycle.

I accommodated the editor’s few comments, cleaned up the manuscript, and decided to hit a few agents with it. My second or third submittal brought a response back from a widely known New York agent. He really liked the story and was sorely tempted to represent me. But, he said, its complex structure would make it very hard to sell. And novellas were looked at by traditional publishers during that time with jaundiced eyes. So no, he wouldn’t represent me. Sorry.

A month or so later my good friend, songwriter and performer Eric Taylor, hit town and while we had a beer, we talked shop. I told him of the near miss with The Blue Bicycle. The trials of music publishing apparently aren’t that far removed from  those of books -Eric’s comment: “So this guy told you that you’ve done your job with this manuscript, but he couldn’t do his.” A unique perspective that, and bitingly humorous.

I shopped the manuscript around some more and eventually decided to do the
CreateSpeace thing again. Not an especially good choice, I subsequently discovered, but the readers who have found The Blue Bicycle  loved it. In fact, it’s been my bestselling book world-wide.

Oh, and by the way, American publishers may not like novellas, but European and British readers do.

Next, my writing bears fruit. Serendipity prevails in my favor.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A PLACE OF BELONGING. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Square One, Over and Over

My second novel proved schizophrenic in several ways. I wanted to write something in the vein of the Tony Hillman mysteries and, in fact, in researching for it I drove many of the roads mentioned in the soon-to-be novel, which was originally named The Good Road. I signed it, via my agent, with the Canadian publisher who launched my first novel. When the Canadian firm went under and before the book could go through the editing process, I also lost my agent, whose husband had created some unpublicized malfeasance that killed the agent’s career.

So back to square one.

I shopped the manuscript around myself and eventually signed with a second agent for a six month period. She did nothing with it, and I moved on. At this point I began being interested in small indie publishers. I signed with one in Texas, and a year or so later they wrote me that they were folding; they would no longer be in business. Then I was fortunate, or so I thought, to sign with another small indie in Florida. Another year, another fold.

I scratched my head. Was I jinxing these publishers, or was it the other way around? Three years passed during which I began to doubt my ability to write a salable novel. I began to grow desperate; I panicked. I wanted to get the manuscript in print, and I agreed to have iUniverse publish it. Not quite vanity press, not quite “legitimate” publishing. To give the company its due, they did assign an editor to my work and made some substantive  editorial comments, which I accommodated. The print setup, with a good font, good leading and margins and paper quality, produced the best production quality I’ve seen yet for my works.

Then there was the cover. I described my idea for a cover; they took my suggestion and ran with it. But the art quality was about what you’d find in a sixth grade art class. And the title: my editor really didn’t like The Good Road, said it represented too little of the storyline and theme. Better, he wrote me, something like A Place of Belonging, and I had to admitalthough bland, that did a better job of representing the novel. The book launched under that name and drew comments mostly on how terrible the cover was. Okay, a cover helps sell a book. The text had a number of typos,and I realized it needed some serious editing.

Back to square one again.

I was learning a lot at this point about how to write, so I cut some, added some, made it a better manuscript.  I decided to design a new cover, too. With such fundamental changes, I had to pay iUniverse to re-issue. This time the cover (below) drew much better comments.

 

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So, a learning experience. I still like the story and characters, though. In fact, the novel has drawn positive comments from readers, like this comment posted on Barnes & Noble:

“Bob Mustin crafts an intriguing novel of adventure, mystery, temptation and passion with a bit of intuition and historical perspective that keeps you involved in the suspense.”

But I realized I knew abysmally little about book design and marketing. Meanwhile I was taking a writing course or two and discovering that some things I was writing were good but only by gut feel, and other things could use shoring up technique-wise. My learning curve needed to elevate.

In a sense, back to square one again.

But the greatest leap forward in my ability to write fiction was soon to come.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information and a book trailer for A PLACE OF BELONGING. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Refined Feelings and Otherworldly Writing Locales

I’m starting to look on P&W with more than a touch of whimsy these days. Maybe that’s because I’ve grown as a writer, or maybe I’ve grown more ornery as I’ve aged. Still, much of what the mag has to offer  makes me smile crookedly where it used to inform. Of course, P&W is still a valuable magazine to students of writing as well as those just now jumping into writerly waters on their own.

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This issue of the mag has newsy things, and advice from agents and editors. It has an inspiring piece about three writers who darn near gave up on the craft – but didn’t.

Nate Pritts talks about the role of sentiment in writing – this in perhaps the most cynical of ages. Sentiment in his view is something he calls “refined feeling,” something that appears when we pare our feelings down to the point where they can have communicative expression.

And reading about Amy Einhorn is a breath of fresh air; here’s an editor who looks askance at MFA credentials. Who reads the manuscript first, rather than trying to parse one’s “platform.” Who believes in a writer’s unique voice.

But I have to ask, upon seeing the cover piece about writers who have to escape to Alaskan fijords to write, who have to go to Antartica, for crying out loud, why it’s so hard for these folks to write. Maybe they’re trying on the wrong profession. I certainly did, prior to finding the craft of writing.

There’s much more, as always, so if you subscribe, use the magazine to your best benefit. If you’re not and you have doubts about the various aspects of your own writing, it might make sense to check this fine magazine out.

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Book Publishers Scramble to Rewrite Their Future/Underwire

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This is it. This what you have to do to get the book pub biz’ attention”

  1.  You have to come up with a great idea for a book
  2. You have to commit it to the page with excellent writing skills
  3. You have to develop you own cover and publish the book
  4. You have to market it well
  5. You have to make a ton of money from it, really fast.

Then the book pub biz will contact you and want a piece of the action you’ve spent so much time, effort, and money developing.

Wired

 

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Reblog: “A Right Fit”: Navigating the World of Literary Agents/The Millions

Writers: Does any of this reblog sound familiar? It's about as accurate an assessment of the current road to publishing as I've seen. 

 

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Imagine that one night you have a dream in which you are in an enormous bookstore lined with shelves upon shelves of books, each bound in the same plain white cover displaying only the author’s name, the title of the book, and a brief description of the book and its author. This is an anxiety dream, so it turns out that your livelihood depends on your ability to search this enormous bookstore and figure out which books are good and which aren’t. The thing is, in this bookstore, the vast majority of the books are bad - trite, derivative, poorly written, or simply the sort of book you would never read in a million years. You know there are some really good books in this store, maybe even one or two genuinely great ones, but from the outside they’re indistinguishable from the terrible ones.

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See Bob's Web Site here.