What Kind of Publishing is Right for Me? Querying Agents and Publishers

May 23, 2016 1

Last time in this series, we talked about getting your book ready. At this point, you’re thinking okay, I’ve written the best book that I can. What do I do with it?

Lucky you! There are lots of options in today’s publishing world for you to think about. Honestly, no one path is better than another these days, and sometimes you have a project that just screams for one kind of venue. But let’s assume for the sake of this installment that what you want to do is get a literary agent and submit with an assist.

Disclaimer: As of May 14th, I am repped by a literary agent, so I might have some bias in this area. However, I will state again that this is not your only path.

One of the things writers hear in the age of self-pubbing is the question of whether you need an agent or not. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you write works that are shorter than novel length (most people consider that to be around 80K, although middle grade and YA can be shorter, and epic fantasy can be longer.) If you write shorter works, you probably don’t need an agent. Do you have a legal background in publishing? There are some writers who negotiate their own contracts and have savvy to do so. If you’re like most of us, you need an agent. You really don’t know all the ins and outs of the publishing world. You can learn them, but it’s hard to learn by making mistakes.

A lot of people start querying with agents, as many publishers will not look at works not submitted by an agent. However, some are open all the time and some have special calls. You might prefer to work toward getting an editor first. Much of this advice applies whether you are seeking an editor or a publisher.

Your book is done! Yay! Now you need…a query letter and a synopsis. Most writers really hate writing these. It’s not easy to cram a 464 page book into one or two pages. Or one paragraph, if it comes to that. It’s also not as much fun as creating your masterpiece. But it is vital.

When I was beginning to send books out, the Ilona part of Ilona Andrews gave me some great suggestions on how to write a query letter. Our friends over at Writer’s Digest have lots of excellent instructions. Chuck Sambuchino runs a series regarding successful queries. There are some  commonalities regarding these queries as they describe the book.

  1. They give you a sense of time, place and setting if they are different from usual life.
  2. They identify the main character.
  3. They describe the main character’s conflict.
  4. They talk about the stakes of the conflict.

A query letter should pull in a reader. You don’t want to give it all away in the query. I’ve also heard questions are discouraged. Rather than: “Will Eleanor succeed in completing her mission?” something more along the lines of  “If Eleanor doesn’t complete her mission, she will never get back to her family.”

The query letter should contain deets about the book. How long is it? Where does it fit in the market place? Can you compare it to similar books? Who do you imagine is the audience? It’s unwise to compare your books to Neal Stephenson or J.K. Robb. That’s kind of lazy because it’s easy. Know your genre. Know your marketplace. Show you read.

Applicable credits, such as publication credits, relevant experience, or awards might come in your bio. List things that will impress, not that your work has been in your college’s literary magazine (hey, that’s cool, but what will show the editor or agent you’re serious about writing?). If you don’t have this kind of cred yet, you don’t need to put in bio information.

Make it easy for the agent or editor to get in touch with you by putting your personal information on the manuscript and in the query letter.

What about a synopsis? Here’s the Chuck Sambuchino with a great checklist.  (And no, Unreliable Narrators nor myself are getting any kind of kick back from Writer’s Digest. They just have good stuff for people who are in writing.)

When you have these materials ready, you’re ready to query. So, how do you find those agents and editors? Well, you can dig around in books, search the Internet on your own, and ask about. OR you can just go to querytracker.net , which has seen me through queries for about 4 novels. If you pay for the $20 upgrade the features are more complete, but the free version works well too.

What if you’re interested in meeting agents LIVE and IN PERSON? Well, then it might be time to visit a conference and do some pitching. Unreliable Narrators is doing a podcast about pitching soon, so I won’t cover that here, but if you’re good at speaking, I think it’s a great way to go. Also, there are twitter pitch contests, and I think we’re going to cover those on the pitching show.

This is a start. After we do our pitching show, I’ll write about other venues, such as self-pubbing and small presses. I’m not an expert. I’m just a writer. Still, if you have questions, I’m happy to answer them.

What Kind of Publishing is Right For Me? Preliminaries

May 1, 2016 0

With all the options available for publishing now, it’s a great time to be a writer.  You can quite literally pick the best way to get your work out there, and you can do it from project to project. In taking a look at the ins and outs of publishing, the first place I want to stop are the preliminaries.

So, you’re a new writer, and you want to get published. What are those first steps?

Please make sure you’ve written the very best book you can write. Let’s look at that under a microscope a little, because this is a bit tricky. First of all, is your book finished? Did you write a whole book? I cannot emphasize how important this is. If you have a whole book done and someone wants to see it, voila! you can ship that bad boy right out. If you don’t have a book done, well, there could be a rough all-nighter in your future, or you could hurry and send a book that is not reflective of your complete abilities, with revision process attached. So, before you query, get your book done. I know you’re excited by your project and you want to share that with others, but others won’t be excited unless they can see your whole vision. Again, I know why you want to send it out before you’re done. I don’t think there’s a single writer who’s not made that mistake. But it is kind of an amateur thing. My fellow narrators might disagree.

Now, in order to write the very best book you can, did someone else (besides your immediate circle) look at the book? It’s hard to get that right mix of readers for your work–people who are supportive, but will push you to do better. However, you need to find those people, and you’ll know when you find them. Patrick Rothfuss taught me (he doesn’t remember. He was on a panel, I was there.) about reader readers and writer readers. Reader readers are like the people who are going to buy your book and read it for fun. You need some of those, and I have 2-3 really solid reader readers, including my husband. And then you need writer-readers who can help you with the nuts and bolts of your story. Obviously I have unreliable friends and other VPXIIIers, and some friends from Taos Toolbox. You need to get readers to help you. Never send it out when you just finish. Never send it out at the end of NaNoWriMo. Let the cake cool, and let some friends look at it from all sides just to make sure you’ve frosted it evenly.

There are two more things that I should mention in preliminaries. Did you really write the best book you could? I sort of mean for now. You’ll get better with practice, experience, and if it interests you, education.  But do what you can within your current scope of skill to make the best effort to get that book out there that you can. Next, please expect to be rejected, and please learn to not let it get to you. Because that’s going to happen, and yes, that’s going to suck, but that’s going to happen, even if your book is beautiful and skillfully written. It’s the rare writer that gets a contract or agent with their first novel. I’m on something like my 8th, and I’m not there yet. The first 3 were total crap, the 4th and 5th ones not too bad, the 6th one was a hot mess, and the 7th one is my best yet. However, I am still unagented and unpublished. That’s not meant to depress you. That’s meant to give you a feeling of scope. It’s been a near miss with a couple of them. Be prepared for a long battle.

One more preliminary, and we’ll get down to how to approach agents and publishers next time. You will have people show interest in your work. When someone tells you that they want to see something from you, still take your time to write the best book you can and complete it. Still take the time to let your friends look over your work. I speak from experience when I tell you that an interested agent or publisher will still be there after you’ve taken the time to write the best book you can. Book 6 was a hot mess because Book 5 had an agent interested and I rushed it. I lost an opportunity there, I think. I learned from my mistake.

And that brings us to this: you will make mistakes. Not only will you get rejected, but you will also make mistakes as you learn about publishing. How can you avoid them? Well, you can’t, but that writer education does help, as well as hanging out with writer friends and asking questions. You’ll get better at it as  you go along.

Okay, so you have a book! It is a complete book and you’ve rewritten it by yourself a few times and gotten some guidance from good readers. You’ve proofed it, maybe even hired an editor (a few writers do this). Now it’s ready to go out into the world. What happens next? Well, that’s next time.

Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing #322: Jim C. Hines

March 29, 2016 0

Brent Bowen is one of our Viable Paradise XIII classmates, and is one of the dynamic duo that hosts Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing, which was, in fact, nominated for a Hugo last year. 🙂 Back when he, I and Chris were hanging at Icon this year, I speculated that it might be fun to podcast, but I was a bit shy about the whole thing. Brent encouraged me to do an interview for AiSFP. By the end of the convention, I had talked and untalked myself into it a few times.

Jim C. Hines is our Icon toastmaster every year, and I suggested that I might interview him. Well, that was sort of the icing on the cake. Jim was a very easy interview and is very entertaining and earnest.

So then, several things. First of all, go and check out Jim C. Hines‘ books if you haven’t. Go visit Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing if you haven’t. And enjoy my interview with Jim C. Hines.

Several Unreliable Narrators interviews later, I think everyone can agree that Brent did me a favor. 🙂

Oh. And you’ll probably hear from Brent himself during our live from Shohola writing retreat podcast. At an undisclosed time and location.

What Kind of Publishing is Best for Me?

March 21, 2016 0

It was and still is my hope to post every two weeks here.  My apologies. February and March have been particularly hard months in terms of germs and well, other biological haphazards.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-publishing. The short version of a very long story goes something like this: I’ve been approached by a couple of hybrid publishers about taking on one of my novels. My friends who self-publish asked why I wouldn’t, and while those books undergo scrutiny with the hybrid publishers, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions. I thought maybe some of you might be asking those very questions.

There are no easy answers, and part of the reason I was keen to undertake this podcasting adventure with my wonderful Narrator friends is because I wanted to at least look at some answers and talk to some people who could keep us informed. For example, we’ve already talked to someone who has published small press, someone who’s huge on Wattpad, and someone from Gumroad. Soon, we’ll have an interview with Patreon, and in our New Books by New Authors series, we’ll talk to people who have published themselves, someone who is with an Amazon imprint, and someone who is taking a more traditional road.

I have friends and acquaintances who have had incredible success with a traditional path, and others for whom the traditional path has been very frustrating. I know people who have gained agents and access from putting out quality self-pubbed books. It seems that the best way to answer the question of what kind of publishing is best for me is to think about some of the goals of my writing.

So, I’ll be working on a series of posts as I work toward my research and try to figure out my decision. Currently, I will continue to send my novel to traditional agents. Next post, I’ll talk about that submission process and what that’s like for me. There are some serious advantages to pursuing traditional publishing, and though I am wondering if my current project will be best at home there, I want to talk about them.

Soon, I hope.

Fan Girl Listens to Method

February 24, 2016 1

Hey listeners! I gotta plug this.

I’ve emerged from the fog of my college’s official cold (no kidding. Everyone’s getting it) to see that Chris Cornell has posted Method in the fiction section. I am excited that this story is up.

Chris read this story at the first Paradise Icon he attended. One of the things Chris does really, really well in his stories is he walks that fine line between genre story and literary story, and he often does it with a lemon twist of humor. This story begins like a Hammer film and teases those tropes out to a compassionate human place. We are very, very lucky to have this story up, and you are lucky to hear the man read it.

So, that’s it. I gotta gush. I gushed. Chris doesn’t know I’m gushing. Won’t he be surprised when he sees this?

Do yourself a favor and listen. Yeah, you.

The Year of Two Novels

February 4, 2016 0

This year is going to be the first year I write two novels. Yes, I say that after a January where about everything that could interrupt me did, but I have decided to make myself write faster this year.

Complete disclosure. One of these novels was a hot mess that I wrote a couple of years ago. That novel is dreadful, but elements of that novel might make a pretty good story. So, I’m going to rip out the bones of the thing and write from just those bones. For more information on how to do that, look at Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer and see his diagram of the rotting story and how new stories arise from it.

Book number one is The Pawn of Isis. It had a pretty bad draft during NaNoWriMo, and now that all the brush is out of my head, we’re writing a solid draft. This book seems to be writing itself in chunks. I’m revising the first quarter because I know what happens up to the first incident. I have four tent pole scenes, and I’m aware of all the big scenes, like the two inciting incidents, the climax and the ending. Getting to all of that, well, that takes some planning, and I’m planning it a chunk at a time. Elizabeth Bear suggests that every book is written a bit differently, and this one is in fact the first book I am writing this way.

Book number two is a YA teen romance book, a love triangle between two troll brothers and their female troll friend bestie. It’s meant to be a one off, but set in a universe that I’ve written in before. It will take place in Decorah, Iowa and while the teens deal with their angst, they must also keep the casket of eternal winters closed. The emotional plot and the action plot are set, but the antagonist in the main story could be a couple of people from the old tale. So, I’m letting my unconscious mull that over. I think the working title will be Stone Hearts, because that’s better than That Troll Novel Set in Decorah.

I will update here or over at my blog from time to time, because I thought it could be fun to see a writer go through the same stages as other writers.

By the way, the writing is going well currently, so I am a writing god. 🙂 No doubt when I see you next time, I will wonder why on earth I thought I should ever write at all.

Unreliable Mail: How do I become a writer and a podcaster?

December 31, 2015 0

Dear Unreliable Narrators:

For my 2016 New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided I want to grow up to be a writer and a podcaster, just like all of you are. What are my first steps?

***

I’m glad you asked that, Unreliable Listener! This is Cath, and the other Narrators can respond in their own unique way, but I have a couple of ideas on the subject.

The first thing you have to do, aspiring writer, is to write. You have to write a lot. And you have to write a lot of crap. Words do not come out of your pen fully formed like Athena in her armor. Even when you’ve written a long time, the first words you birth will be scabrous and malformed. It is essential at this point that you write some more. All writers will tell you that first drafts are formative. They do things to your self-conscious. They deviate from outlines. They are as wiggly as worms on a fishing hook. But keep writing and don’t be critical of yourself until the right time, which is when you feel a first draft has given you as much as it can. For some people that point is at the end. For others, it’s a constant scouring of the last section they wrote before they move on to the next one. Most people are somewhere in between.

Find a way to separate the creator from the editor. Don’t do both. I’ve pretended that I can create and edit at the same time, but I was just living a lie.  If you let the editor look at your work too soon, you might not be able to stomach your scabrous words, and quit, or you might lock yourself into a structure which keeps your story from bearing fruition. However, if you don’t let the editor in at all, your words will remain nasty.

My process varies from book to book, but usually I write a first draft, which usually collapses to almost outline form by the end, and then I laboriously go back in and unpack a lot of the stuff I wrote before. I also think through changes and re-outline. I also talk to my friends a lot about what I’m doing (a good writing group is another post) and bounce ideas off my husband. Sometimes an inspirational light bulb will appear above my head when my subconscious makes me realize something I’ve been doing all along.  Eventually the mass of words comes to resemble a short story or a novel, or whatever it is I’m groping towards.

The point is to write, write often, write with freedom, expect little from those first drafts, and turn a critical eye on the beastie when the time is right, but not before. As you come to know yourself and your writing, you’ll come to know when the time is right.

Now, I’m sorry, aspiring writer, all of this does not guarantee that anyone else will care about your magnum opus, or that you will get an agent, or riches.  But it does mean that you will engage in an art form and produce the stories you want to produce, hopefully your level of skill improving as you write and write and write and write and, well, you get the idea.  There’s a whole ‘nother part of this, the business end, but again, that’s another post.

As for being a podcaster, well, that one’s a bit easier. You get some friends and a tape recorder, you sit around and talk and put it on line. We usually line up topics in advance and appoint a moderator, but you don’t have to.  If you’re very lucky, one of your friends will make a swell theme song and another will do liner notes and all you’ll have to do is contact the occasional person and write a snarky post or two on the blog. At least that’s how I did.

Hey, let us know how you’re doing out there, Unreliable Listener! On the eve of 2017, you should write back and let me know how it’s going with that first draft. Or you could talk about it on your podcast.

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