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.

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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.

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.

Writers and Agents

I've recently had advice from an agent (who didn't sign me) concerning one of my novel manuscripts, and my pal Lyn is deep into negotiations with her agent over her novel's structure.

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image via altongansky.typepad.com

What seems clear from both conversations is that agents are, for the most part good to excellent readers. However, most don't seem to know the subtleties of writing as well as any writer who can put a serious manuscript before them – they can either tell you they like what they see (read: it will sell ) or not. They may be able to isolate something about your story that will render it unsaleable, but they can't necessarily tell you how to change it.

This is where the relationship has to be simpatico: you have to be able to keep from compromising your story and style of writing in order to sell, and the agent has to be able to understand what you're doing and be capable of selling it. 

You Takes Yo’ Lumps

I had a novel manuscript I was particularly proud of and when my writing pal, Lyn, mentioned the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, I said what the hell, and I entered. Mine went into the general fiction category, and Lyn, who has written a bang-up young adult novel, entered the YA category. 

The first cut was made today, following a review of a "pitch" made by the authors for their novels, much as one would send as a query to a literary agency. Lyn paid attention to the criteria for said "pitch" and so did I – – up to about an 80% point. She made the cut – I didn't.

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The moral of this fable is this: when you're in competition with so many other writers, the absolute minimum you must do is follow the directions. This is the difference in having your query read by an agent and having it ignored. Each agent wants to see certain things in a certain way – no matter how irrelevant it might seem. Give it to 'em, and you'll get that serious read. 

Homing In

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Twice this week I've received replies to queries – one from an agent for a novel manuscript, one for a short story submitted for publication. Both were turn-downs, but both complimented the writing. 

That settles the quality aspect, more or less, leaving open the most challenging problem for writers these days. There a plenty of markets out there, but hardly as many as the droves of writers. So agents, editors and magazines can afford to deal in specific markets. 

Our challenge as writers seeking publication is to do a better job of matching markets to our writing.