What to Do When The Book Is Done

You’ve heard the old line, hurry up and wait. Well, when you’re a writer, you will learn the meaning of that term, I promise you. You do all that work, making your manuscript shine, suffering over your query packet. Then after days and nights, maybe years of work, you send your manuscript to a market.

Maybe it’s a literary agent. Maybe it’s a magazine. Either way, one thing remains true; you will have a very long wait before you get a response. If you ever get one at all.

So, what do you do while you’re waiting? Well, first you take a pen and write the date you can expect a response by. This should be available somewhere in the submission guidelines.
Now, here’s the hard part. Forget the thing exists until you get to the day you put on your calender.

There’s an episode of Castle with Dean Koontz. He’s playing poker with the main character, Rick, and a young writer who’d just sold his first book and was being rather boastful about it. Koontz looked at the young man and said, “Do you know what I did after I wrote my first book? I shut the hell up and wrote another one.” You know what I did after I finished my book, (not Broken Patterns, the really bad one I wrote before that) and started sending it to agents? I sat down and started on Woven. Which is a really good thing, because as I just mentioned, the last book sucked a whole lot.

I also wrote a lot of short stories, some of which were published. I started this blog. I wrote poetry, and journal entries.

When I got a rejection letter, and I got a lot of rejection letters, I’d save them and send the book out again. I spent time with my family and posted on Twitter. And I wrote. Twice I revised my query pack, when I saw it wasn’t working for me. That got more requests for the manuscript. Basically, I worked like I’d never sent a book to an agent.

What I’m saying is this; don’t wait around for your book to get an agent. Get it out there, and get back to work.

To sum it up, here’s a handy list of things to do while you’re submitting your work to an agent or magazine.
* Write another one.
* If you wrote a book, write some short fiction.
* If you wrote a short story, maybe think about writing a book.
* Write some poetry.
* Make play dough with your kids.
* Write some more.
* Start a blog. Write some blog posts.
* Consider the rain on the windows of a coffee shop, then write some more.
* Clean a little. The house is probably trashed if you just came off a big project.
* Write some more.
* Write a non fiction article for some magazine you’ve never heard of.
* Write again.

The writing’s never done. We can’t all be Harper Lee. So, you’re book’s done? That’s great. Shut the hell up and write another one!

Making Your Own Kick Ass Submission Packet

Alright, so you’ve finished your book. You’ve spent months, maybe years going over each and every word until it sings. Great job.

Now, it’s time to get your submission packet together. Don’t panic, you’re going to get through this.

See, most agents and editors ask for the same things. A query letter, one page synopsis, maybe an author’s bio and a certain number of pages. Usually the first ten pages, first two chapters, something like that.

Are there agents that will ask for other things? of course. I’ve had agents that wanted me to fill out a specific questionnaire instead of sending a packet at all. I’ve had agents that were very specific about what they wanted in their query letter. But for the most part, I send some combination of those three pieces. So, let’s look at these each in some detail.

The Authors Bio

Interpret this as resume. You are giving your potential business partner information about you that will help them decide if they want to work with you. How long have you been writing? What were your inspirations? What have you published? Do you have a website? What has happened to you in your life that might tie into your writing? Do you have any formal writing training?

Do not list where you went to school unless you went to school for writing. Do not give a list of all of the jobs you’ve ever had. Do not make it more than one page, whatever you do. Remember, this is a snapshot, not a photo album.

The synopsis of the story

When you’re writing your book synopsis, just remember to K.I.S.S. You might have heard of this before, but the first time I heard it was from my ROTC instructor. It means keep it simple, stupid.
Your synopsis should give an outline of your story. You should meet the main character, the antagonist, and get a general idea of what’s going to happen to those people. You might even give away the ending. Remember, the agent is reading your book to decide if they want to sell your book, not to be super surprised by your killer ending. She should be super impressed by your killer ending. And since she’ll read your synopsis before she reads it, you should start impressing her as early as possible. And again, this should be one page long. Agents are busy. If you can’t explain your story in one page, they do not have time for you.

And finally… The query letter!

I have never sent a piece without a query letter. It is possibly the most important piece you will ever write, because it must be stellar to get anyone to read anything else.

The query letter should be three paragraphs.

* “Hello. I am blank, and I’ve written a book that I think would be a good fit for your agency. Here are some reasons why. I read a book that your sold, and it was the same genre. I see by your website that you’re eager to represent books about rabbits in space, and that’s just what I’ve written. I notice that you often sell to this publisher, and here are some books in my genre that they’ve published that I really liked.” That should be your first paragraph. Show the agent that you did some research, and didn’t just throw darts at a copy if Writers Market. Show them you know the genres, know the field and you’re not going to waste their time with a book in a genre they don’t represent.
* Paragraph two gives a real quick overview of your story. Condense your synopsis. Here’s the main character, here’s how his life goes to hell, here’s how he fixes it again. Then shut up.
* Paragraph three is your credentials. Any published credits you have, any good things you’ve done worth mentioning. Things like that. If you have a website that has something to do with writing, this is the time to mention it.

Now, when it comes to your bio and your synopsis, you can pretty much write those and send them to any agent who requested them. The query is different. Paragraphs two and three can stay pretty much the same. But you’ve got to rewrite that first one for every single new agent.

Before we go, here are just some over all tips for your submission packet.

* Proofread everything. Every single line on every single part, I mean it. If an agent sees a misspelling or grammar issue in your query letter, they know your book is going to be full of them.
* Keep in mind that your packet, and especially your query letter, will be the difference between an agent who reads your work and an agent who deletes it.
* I say this every Friday when I post a market. Read the submission guidelines. Often an agent wants some specific piece of info, or they only accept submissions certain months out of the year. Read the guidelines, and follow them to the letter! Otherwise there’s no sense wasting your time sending your packet at all.
* Take your time on this. You’ve got no deadline other than that you give yourself. There’s no sense rushing something this important to your writing career.
* If at all possible, get someone to read over it for you. A second pair of eyes will catch what you missed because you’ve read the damn thing fifteen times already.

Any other tips for submissions? What do you send when you’re pitching to an agent?

Writing Prompt Saturday- Reject your own work

Are you all doing the Writing 101 program?  I’ve been doing it, if you can’t tell by the daily free writing posts that have been going on since Tuesday.  That’s going to be going on the whole month.  So if your not a huge fan of my unedited ramblings on the site, sorry.  If you do like it, then great, you’ve got a whole month to go.

The point is, you might be really sick of writing prompts at this point if you are participating.  If that’s the case, feel free to store this one away for May.  Hopefully this helps us all get into the free writing habit.

So, back to our theme for the month, submissions.  I’m sure you know that submissions lead to two things, sales and rejection letters.  Rejection letters are far more common.  So long as we all understand that, let’s have some fun with it, yeah?

Pretend you’re an editor for a literary magazine, or a publishing company.  Now grab your most recent piece, novel or short story.  It’s just landed on your desk.  Reject it.  Write your rejection in a letter format.  What would you, the editor, tell you, the writer, about why this piece didn’t make it to print?

You can play it funny, really have some fun with it.  Or, you can take this as a chance to do what my grandma always told me to do.  Whether cleaning my room or editing my own writing, the advice is the same, “Look at it like it was done by someone you don’t like, and you want to get them in trouble.”  In this case, look at it like a tired editor who wants to stop reading your piece, and is just looking for an excuse.

If you do get around to responding to this prompt, feel free to post it in the comments below.  Have a great weekend, everyone.

The Writing Life- Orginizing Submissions

You should know by now that I have a thing about organization. Especially when it comes to my writing, keeping order is keeping my sanity.

Submissions are a pretty big thing to keep organized. If you haven’t started yet, start right now. If you’ve only got one submission, set up your process anyway. Those suckers will multiply like ferrets if you’re doing your job right. Get ready now, because you need to keep track of a lot.

Who did you send this project to? This is a no brainer. If you sent your manuscript to an agent and they politely pass on it, they are going to be less polite when you lose track and send it to them again. You have wasted your time and theirs.

Now, an often overlooked portion of this step is making a distinction between the agent and the agency. When you submit a manuscript to an agent who is part of an agency, they probably showed it around to their fellow agents who might also want to look at it. So don’t, unless informed otherwise by the submission guidelines, send that same work to a different agent. You also need to keep a list of agents by name. It is absolutely plausible that when you sent your manuscript to agency A and agent 1 read it there, then moves to agency B, they still read your book already.

You will also want to track what sort of reaction you got from agencies and publications. If you have a lot of short stories you’re selling at once, you’ve going to have some cross over. I have a few markets that I often send my work to. When you do that, you are going to see some trends. This magazine likes your work, but this one never gives you a positive response. Maybe it’s time to look at magazine B. Either you need to step up your game, or decide that this isn’t the market that’s going to appreciate your voice.

If all this isn’t enough to keep track of, I’ve got one more important piece of data for you to track. How many submissions did you send out in a month? When I’ve got a lot of active projects, I love to play the beat my own high score. Remember, when you’re a writer, you are your biggest competition. Don’t worry about what any other writer is doing. Be a better writer than you were last month. So, try to send out more work this month than you did last month.

Now that we know what we’re tracking, we have to have a system to track it. Now, this is something that I have struggled with over the years. I started out tracking agents on index cards. That was concise, but messy. Then I tried to incorporate cross indexing, and it was such a mess.

Then, when I tried and failed to sell my murder mystery, I wrote down every agent I sent it to by the month. At the same time I had this complicated, color coded chart of short fiction, markets and reactions. It was a huge ball of highlighter

So now, I am working in Open Office to create a super simple list. I love this because it is searchable. I can look up an agents name with a simple control F. I list the title of the project, then under that the market, date I sent it, date I got an answer and what that answer was. It is taking a lot for me to do this, because I am really addicted to paper. But it is so much easier, that I’ll just have to get over it.

Whatever style you like now, don’t be scared to move it around and change it up. The important part with this is organizing data. You need to see the patterns this data will make to make better decisions about your writing business.

This week’s affiliate sponsor is Share A Sale. If you want a great starter way to incorporate adds in your writing that’s not pushy or skeevy, check them out.

How do you organize your submissions? Are you happy with it, or do you think it could be better?

Don’t Do This When Submitting Your Writing

If you’ve been a writer for more than an hour, you know that there are a whole freaking lot of reasons why an agent or editor will reject your work. There are a lot more reasons for them to reject you than accept you. To start with, anything in their huge pile that’s better than your work.

Maybe it’s too long, too short, not in a style that’s consistent with the rest of their magazine. They’ve already been pitched three other books about carnivorous office supplies this week, and yours isn’t as creative as the first three. There’s just no end to that list.

That’s all really subjective stuff, though. If you’re rejected because your work isn’t the right fit, or because there were others that were better, that’s not a negative reflection on you. It’s just part of the game we play as writers. They say getting published is like winning the lottery. If you play, you really might never win. But you’re sure to never win if you don’t bother playing at all.

Of course, you’re also sure to never win if you buy a ticket and then toss it in the river. Or finger paint on it. At this point in the metaphor, I might have lost you. What I mean is, there are some sure fire ways to make sure your submission gets tossed, deleted, and possibly even scorned. So please, if you ever want to stand a chance of getting published, don’t do anything on this list.

* Don’t send your submissions in on anything at all besides regular white paper onto which you have printed your work in regular black ink. Do not send drives, no sensible person would put it anywhere near their computer. Don’t use some fancy stationary, don’t use any color but black ink. Seriously, this is a business venture, not a letter you’re sending to your buddy from summer camp.

* Don’t send anything an agent or editor didn’t specifically ask for in their submission guidelines. Usually they want a query letter, synopsis and maybe a brief author’s bio. They do not want pictures of you, little ‘gifts’ or really any other creative thing you might come up with. Just send what they ask for, because I promise you it is all they want to see. This also means things like perfume. Don’t spray your letter, manuscript, or any other thing you’re sending with anything. At best it’s annoying, at worst it’s an emergency trip for an agent with an allergy.

* Don’t do anything stupid with your manuscript. This was one I didn’t even know was a thing until I heard an editor complaining about it on Writing Excuses. Apparently some writers will do stupid things like turning a page of their manuscript backwards. I guess this is to see if the agent has read that far. I imagine that if I were an agent, and I was reading a manuscript, and I found a backwards page, it would just piss me off. You really don’t want an agent to be pissed off at you.

* Don’t fail to read the submission guidelines before you do anything else at all. Read them, take notes, and make sure you abide by them to the letter! There is lots of room for creativity and spontaneity in our field. This is not one of them! If an agent says he only accepts non fiction, don’t send him your fantasy novel. If an editor asks for paper submissions and you e-mail yours, it will be deleted, not read. If you send your full manuscript when the agent asked for nothing more than a query letter, it will be tossed in the trash and you will have wasted a whole lot of time and ink.

* Don’t pester people. If an agent hasn’t responded to you in the time she said she would, and she did not specifically say it was alright to contact her, don’t. While there is a chance that your manuscript got lost in the shuffle, it’s far more likely she read it, decided to pass, and didn’t have the time to send you a letter. That’s why most agents put on their site how long to wait. So you’re not waiting around for nothing if they just don’t have the time to respond to you. They’re just not that into you, move on.

* Don’t try to bribe them. Just don’t. It won’t work, it will make you look like a pathetic fool, and you will have burned a bridge before you ever set foot on it. If you really want to spend money to get published, just self publish.

* Don’t call an agent or editor, unless they specifically say it’s okay. Spoiler, they probably won’t. From the perspective of an agent, this marks you as a problem client. They assume, and they might very well be right, that you will be the sort of client who is a huge pain in the ass. Agents want to work with professional artists, not huge pains in the ass.

* Don’t go crazy with the fonts. My preference is the good old fashioned times new roman size twelve when I send in work. It doesn’t need to be that, but it should be professional. If you’re not sure a font is professional, don’t use it. Simple as that.

* Don’t tell an agent how much your sister, aunt, babysitter, best friend, husband liked your book. He doesn’t care how much some unnamed person liked it. Yes, your loved one is an amazing human being, and you feel for them the way Leslie Knope feels about her best friend Ann Perkins. No one else cares, unless you’re uncle edits The New Yorker.

* Don’t send a perspective agent your whole damn life story, unless you’re writing an autobiography about how you worked with Green Peace to paint peace signs onto baby seals to save them from the clubers. Many agents will ask for a bio, and that’s great. Give some colorful details about how you became a writer, and list some of the things that drove you to write this book. Then stop. Save the story for Ellen when she’s interviewing you.

* Don’t mention any work that hasn’t been published, any contests that you entered and didn’t win, or any of the agents you’ve sent your book to that passed on it. Never be ashamed of your failures, because it’s so much better to fail than to not try. But you do not need to brag about all of your attempts to a new business partner. On a similar note, don’t mention any books you’ve written other than the one you’re trying to get representation for. Lots of writers have written several books that just weren’t up to scratch. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’ve got three of my own. No agent will ever hear about them. If I mention them, an agent might be afraid I want her to represent them, instead of the awesome book I’m presenting her with today.

* Don’t lie, mislead, or try to over blow your accomplishments. It’s unethical, sleazy, and you will absolutely without a doubt get caught. You will also get blackballed.

* And finally, don’t send anything to an agent that you haven’t checked, rechecked, run by a friend, and then checked again.

The good news is this, if you avoid these fifteen things, you’ll present yourself as a professional writer who’s not going to be a huge pain in the ass to work with. Believe me, that will make you a very appealing prospect.

Plans for April- Submissions

Alright, so we’ve talked about a lot of things.  Characters, and organization, and planning and plotting.  We’ve talked about getting inspired, and what to do if you’re not so inspired so you get your ass in your chair and write anyway. I’m ready to talk about the next step now.  I’m ready to talk about submissions. After all, it doesn’t matter much how star spangled terrific your writing is if you never send it anywhere.  Kind of makes sense, right? This month, we’re going to talk all about the scary, crazy, frustrating, intimidating, amazing world of fiction submissions.  For me, they’re kind of like a job interview and a blind date mixed together, where his parents might stop by to visit. The submission process is the where you set aside your artist hat, and put on your business hat for a time.  You’ve created a product.  An amazing product that no one else could have made, your story.  It deserves to be presented in the best of packaging. This month, we will-

  • Break down exactly what goes into a submission packet.
  • Learn how to write the perfect query letter.
  • Talk about what you should, and absolutely should not do when sending queries.
  • And talk about rejection letters, because I don’t care if you’re the next Tolkien, you’re going to get rejected.

Any opening thoughts about submissions?  How excited are you to send out your work?

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