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.
Trina Marie Phillips is the editor of the brand spanking new anthology, The City of the Future. This new release from SciFutures explores metropolitan life in near future and how it could impact humanity. The book features a short story from our own Christopher Cornell, L.A. Loves You. Chris and Trina discuss the project, futurism and science fiction prototyping.
Laura Anne Gilman writes across many genres, from mystery to science fiction to urban fantasy. Her latest novel, Silver on the Road, kicks off the new series The Devil’s West. She joins us to talk about the process of writing, reading as inspiration, alcohol, pets, and anything else that springs to mind. Find out more at her website and join her Patreon account to enjoy the Adventures of Duchess, P.I.
Full disclosure alert: A certain Unreliable Narrator has a story in Mosaics 2, which releases on May 1st! They discuss intersectional feminism, the editing process, Nicki Minaj, selecting stories, and working on what you love.
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.