Bonus mini-interview! Cath cornered James Tiptree, Jr. Award co-winner Eugene Fischer at Wiscon and asked about his award-winning story.
Dan Koboldt is the author of The Rogue Retrieval and also the instigator of #sffpit, one of several novel pitching events on Twitter. Unlike sister events, #sffpit concentrates on genre fiction: science fiction, fantasy and horror. Join us as Dan gives advice and shares insights into the world of pitching, then join the event itself on June 23rd!
We will be posting our show about twitter pitching soon, and we will be eventually doing a show about pitching at conferences with actual, live people. Since you’ll be able to listen to a podcast about that, I thought that maybe now would be the time to transition to talking about self-publishing. But first, a word about rejection.
I have been thinking about rejection because a writing student at my college came to visit me last week, and we talked a lot about trying to publish her novel. She wasn’t obsessed with rejection, but it did come up as a painful thing. How can you avoid it? How can you get used to it?
Both self-publishers and authors who try a more traditional route are going to get rejected. Of course, editors, agents, and publishers will reject someone who sends out queries. How can a self-published writer be rejected? The cruelest cut of all, my friends, by readers. I think that in the case of the traditional route, most of the rejection comes at the beginning of things, and in the case of self-pubbing, when you are at the end of the process, after you have created your work and released it into the world, well, that’s when readers might choose to ignore you.
I have no advice to help you avoid rejection. If someone tells you they do, they are not being honest with you. Every writer at every level gets rejected. Yes, they do. If you throw Stephen King or Nora Roberts at me, I’ll say have you talked to them lately? 😀 Everyone is rejected. I know. You’ve written the best book you can and you believe in it. It’s going to get rejected anyway.
Here’s how I think it works. Sometimes, authors have epiphanies that their writing needs work. In that case, rejections are warranted, and off you go to ramp up your game. This is a good idea. Also, sometimes queries need revising. Or you need a more attractive cover for your e-book. Sometimes we can clearly see why we are rejected.
There is a point, though, where you’ve been writing for a while. Let’s say you’re on your seventh novel, and your craft is solid. Or you have created an ebook that glows like an emerald. You are pretty sure that this is an example of your best work, and it is as good as many things that are out there. Or your agent has a book that they are peddling for you, and it’s just not getting any offers (yes, Virginia, this happens a lot. There is no end to the ways they can say no to you in publishing). It is hard to not be disappointed, bitter, angry, frustrated when you know you’ve done a good thing and it’s going nowhere. Now, maybe years later you will cringe and figure it out, but let’s just go with the premise that the world is ignoring your genius. Why? WHY???!!!
Sometimes you just have to follow the current. Our carefully prepared show (which airs next week!) has been derailed to talk about all things comics. It’s on our minds, so there’s no use ignoring the illustrated elephant in the room. Reboots! Retcons! What’s our take on DC Rebirth? The new Comixology subscription plan? The carefully orchestrated shitstorm surrounding Captain America #1? It’s all here, True Believers.
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.
- They give you a sense of time, place and setting if they are different from usual life.
- They identify the main character.
- They describe the main character’s conflict.
- 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.
Creepy crawlies! We discuss all things horror: what scares us, who inspires us, what’s in store for the future of the genre (if it is a genre). Theramin courtesy of kirkoid at freesound.org
Books: The Exorcist, Little Girls, The Wan, Zombies and Shit, Apeshit, Metamorphosis, Merrily Watkins, The Shining, Pet Sematary, The Tommyknockers,The Shining Girls, Fitcher’s Brides, ‘Salem’s Lot, Hell House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Under the Skin, The Sparrow, Beloved, The Handmaid’s Tale, Head Full of Ghosts, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, Mongrels, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, The Loney, North American Lake Monsters, The Buried Giant, Here’s to My Sweet Satan…
Authors: Stephen King, Rudy Rucker, Lauren Beukes, Shirley Jackson, Damien Angelica Walters, Tanith Lee, Richard Matheson, Joe Lansdale, Ray Bradbury, Graham Joyce, Adam Nevill, Sara Gran, Paul Tremblay…
Movies and TV: Planet of the Apes, Pinocchio, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Poltergeist, Hangar 18, ‘Salem’s Lot, Nosferatu the Vampyre, The Dead Zone, Carnivale, The New York Ripper, Zombi 2, Tenebrae, Eraserhead, The Descent…
We’re now on Patreon! As part of the process, Taryn Arnold from Patreon tells us about building a community and reaching an audience. She provides insight into how Patreon can enable creators to do what they love. If you’re thinking of setting up your own page, this interview will explain the basics. And if you love the show, consider supporting us on our own Patreon page! Or at least check out the supporting video. It has a dog and a cat.