queries

Author Resources

73939_577048382318763_336731172_nHi! So I just got home from my first stint at a con as a guest! Thank you to CopperCon and all those who attended. Very special thanks to T.M. Williams and Michelle M Welch for sharing panels with me. And to Sharon Skinner for hanging out and talking. I've posted previously about using the internet/social media to promote yourself and extend your network. Well, I did that at CopperCon, too. If you were at my two panels today--Writers and Social Media and Author Resources in the Digital Age--I promised that I would post the links I talked about. Here, my loves, is that post.  Other authors, please feel free to add your own resources to this list in the comments.

Also, if we met at CopperCon, say hi!

-j.

Social Networks:

Twitter Facebook Google Plus (G+)

Media/Image:

Pinterest - image sharing site Spotify - music sharing, playlists Instagram - image sharing site Flickr - image sharing site

Writer-centric websites:

Book Country - a workshopping website for authors to share work, find crit partners, talk about the industry on forums. Now has self-publishing options Absolute Write Water Cooler - forums that are a HUGE help! Preditors And Editors - watchdog site Writer Beware - watchdog site/blog Query Tracker - good info on what agents to query, forums, organizational tools Goodreads - book reviews Publisher's Marketplace - profiles on editors, agents; lists of book deals; good info on current events in the industry Hey Publisher - database of markets for short fiction

Some Twitter Chats: #askagent #yalitchat #writerchat #pubtip

Blog Hosting Websites:

Wordpress Blogger/Blogspot Tumblr

Some Authors/Professionals I Follow*: Chuck Wendig - author Paul Cornell - author Karina Cooper - author Cherie Priest - author Sam Sykes - author Peter Orullian - author Jim C Hines - author John Scalzi - author Delilah S Dawson - author Kerry Schafer - author Allison Pang - author Lou Anders - editor at Pyr books, author Lee Harris - editor at Angry Robot books Sara Megibow - agent Laura Bradford - agent Colleen Lindsay - former agent, professionally Random Penguin.

Podcasts:

Writing Excuses 

 

*If I didn't mention you here, I'm sorry. This list of people I follow is in the hundreds. If you want a comprehensive list, visit my Twitter page and check out all the cool people on my "following" list. <3

An Offer I Can't Refuse?

As most long-time readers know, I've been actively questing to build a writing career since 2008. In October of 2010 I signed with a literary agent for my zombie novel. That ended abruptly in June of 2011.

For many reasons, I put that book away and wrote another one, the start of my Etudes in C# series. In December, 2011 I started querying it.

Here it is, April of 2012 and I can finally share with you what this latest foray into querying has been like. Sit back (this one is long) and let me tell you a tale, a tale of a fateful trip....

I started querying TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES in early December. That month, I saw a lot of rejections. I revamped the query letter a couple of times, but other than a single partial request from one of my dream agents (awesome!) December was uneventful. Right up until the end. I found out about open submissions going on at a small press. The acquiring editor there is someone I've followed on Twitter for a while and I really respect her work. The chance to get my manuscript under her eyes was priceless, so even though it's generally frowned upon to sub to both pubs and agents, I took the shot. A couple of days before 2012, I sent a partial and a query to Editor A (a is for AWESOME!), just barely skirting the submission deadline.

January opened with a bang. The year was only two or three days old when Editor Awesome requested the full manuscript. Two days later, Agent A requested the first three chapters of the book. An hour later, she emailed back saying, "That was fun! Send me the rest!" Yeah. An hour. My flabber was well and truly gasted on that one, so I sent it to her tout suite. The next week? Agent B requested a full and Editor Awesome made me an offer of publication.
Seriously, we weren't even 2 weeks into the year and already I was spazzing out with epic loads of fantastic.
Ultimately, I passed on the offer from Editor Awesome. I know. I can hear the screech of tires as you go back to re-read. You did what? You rejected an offer of publication?! WHY? Look. She is fabulous and her feedback was priceless. I really hope she and I can work together on other projects in the future because she really is that awesome. However, I had to make a decision based on what I want for this series of books I'm writing. So, I passed.
Agent A requested some minor revisions to the manuscript, and I got them back to her at the end of February. Honestly, February passed much like December: nothing to report. In March, Agent B left the agenting biz, but the agency said they would still review my manuscript and get back to me. Meanwhile, Agents C and D requested partials. With the revisions done, I decided to try again with a few agents who had rejected the piece in December. I sent out four requeries and got a partial request from one that ultimately ended in a no. While I'm doing this, a rocktastic friend of mine who is multiply-published sent me a private message asking if I'd queried her agent. I told her I had in December and got a form rejection within a couple of days. My friend was adamant: query her. Query her right now. So, I checked the shine on my query and fired off one more to her. We'll call her Agent E.

Flash forward to my birthday, April 6. Agent A gets back to me saying, "I love the revisions. Can we talk on the phone next week." *blink* Really? Did I just get the "Let's set up a call" email on my birthday? Woot! I did. We did. And on April 9 that phone call ended in an offer of representation. I hung up the phone, ate the last piece of leftover birthday cake and sent out a barrage of emails to all of the agents who still had queries or submissions. Agent B (or rather her agency) bowed out immediately and I can understand why. Agent D also bowed out saying that while she and her colleagues enjoyed the writing, the manuscript just wasn't a good fit. Which is more than fine. (Remember: Having no agent is better than having the wrong agent.)

A lot of people might think that getting The Call makes the decision a simple one. Why query if you're going to say no to an agent? Well, I've learned the hard way that it is something to think about even longer than you imagine is necessary. That experience has made me gunshy, perhaps excessively so. I stayed up late April 11 with a brain that wouldn't shut off. I kept mulling over the hesitations I had. Now, I've talked about going with your gut. Part of that, though, is learning when your gut is talking and when it's just your gutless fear. Fear is the killer. Don't mistake it for instinct. I talked to myself, tried to untangle all the knots that snagged my thinking process. When I came to a conclusion, I slept on it. The next morning, it still seemed clear as crystal. So I slept on it again just to make sure.

I woke up Friday the 13th ready to make my decision and act on it. I just had to wait on confirmation from Agents C and F that we were not going to move forward. When they both got back to me, I emailed Agent A to tell her my decision.

Many were the squees heard that day. Had to wait a bit to bust out with the good news so that ink and paper could make their way across the country. But now? Now I can officially announce that I am represented by Jennie Goloboy at Red Sofa Literary Agency. I am beyond excited to work with her and can't wait to see how both of our careers grow.

What really made the decision easy? Jennie's excitement for the project is palpable. She really loves the book, believes in it and I believe she will do everything she can to make sure it's sold. That enthusiasm is paramount. As I've learned, contacts can be built, but a genuine love of a story is golden and damn necessary. Otherwise, what's the point?

To recap:

Between December 5, 2011 and March 27, 2012 I sent a total of 75 query letters to 68 literary agents and two publishers. (Yes, five of those agents received two queries from me because they rejected an earlier draft and I wanted to try again. I'm tenacious like that.) Of those 75 queries:

14 went unanswered. This happens for various reasons. Maybe my query got stuck in cyberspace somewhere. What's more likely, though, is that these agents have a "no response means no" policy. 9 came back with requests for pages.

  • 4 requested a partial manuscript
  • requested a full manuscript
  • 1 partial request escalated to a full request
Out of those requests:
1 publisher made an offer of publication.
agent made an offer of representation.
The rest were all rejections. That tells you what you should've known already: I'm batshit insane to put myself through this kind of thing. BUT, in the end it's those last two numbers that count, isn't it?Keep moving forward.

 

Making A Book - Querying

Continuing to recreate my Making A Book series from memory, I'm going to skip over something rather crucial: WRITING. Now, I could spend weeks writing about writing. We could wax poetic about process and talk about craft, but there are others who have done that better than I. My best advice to you about writing: Tell the fucking story. When you're rough-drafting, just write the story. Get it out and polish the hell out of it in editing.We're going to skip forward past the writing to the next step. You've written a book. You think it's so awesome you want to get it published. Visions of book tours and movie deals dance in your head. So you dash off a query letter to the first literary agent you find in the phone book, convinced that your path to stardom begins now. Hold on there, Shakespeare, there's some stuff we need to talk about first.

Before You Query

  • Edit - You are not going to knock it out of the park on a rough draft no matter how talented you are. Every story can use editing passes--yes, plural--to look for grammar/word choice issues, plot holes, characterization issues, voice, pacing and a plethora of other blemishes on the face of your ingenue. Take the time to really read your work from an objective place and do some editing.

  • Beta Readers - Like the world to a Bond villain, your eyes are not enough. You need fresh perspective. You need readers. Some people use their friends, but this can get messy if you pick the wrong friends. You need people who will be brutally honest with you rather than blow smoke up your ass. It's the only way you're going to improve. So, what do you do? Well, you can shop online for some. Twitter, the Water Cooler and other writers' resource sites have forums that offer beta reading. For me, I started with thinking about what I needed. I needed the perspectives of readers--people who know their way around a book store and can't live without a book in their hand. My beta readers--fondly referred to as Attack Fish--are amazing people. Some of them are writers, too, some are just avid readers with a good sense of what works and what doesn't. Some are men, some are women. They range over many demographics. I also try to pick someone who normally *doesn't* read in my genre just to act as a control of sorts. Regardless of how you find them, betas are essential. You know the voices in your head pretty well at this point. You know your vision for the story. If you were just writing to hear yourself talk, you would be enough. But if you want to see if your story connects with readers and communicates what you're trying to get across...you need extra eyes. You need someone in your corner who will tell you when you're a bum and a punk, but also someone who will tell you to eat lightning and crap thunder. You need a Mickey.
  • Edit More - Take what your betas say and improve on the original draft. Polish your manuscript until it shines, but be careful not to pull a George Lucas and tweak your work to the point of soullessness.
When You Think You're Ready To Query
  • Sleep on It - No, really. Step back for a few days and let the adrenaline run its course. Come back to it with a more rational mind.
  • Think about what your career goals are. Do you want to just publish a book? Or do you want to be an author? Think about what it is you want out of this deal. Your goals may not be inline with traditional publishing. You might be better suited to self-pubbing. (From here on, I'll be talking about traditional publishing because that's what I'm familiar with. Self-pubbing is, at the moment, not conducive to my personal goals.)

  • RESEARCH - I cannot stress this enough. Research research research. Use online resources, friends, colleagues, any thing to get to know everything you can. Follow writers, agents and editors on Twitter or read blogs. Use websites like the Water Cooler or Book Country. Learn what genre standards are. Did you write a 300,000 word YA paranormal steampunk romance? Chances are, you need to trim it down. Find out what agents represent your genre. Do not send someone who specializes in non-fiction your regency romance. Use sites like QueryTracker and Agent Query to find out who represents your genre, what they're looking for and who they represent. Find their track record and vet them yourself. Use Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. Use word of mouth.
  • Remember that you are not accepted by an agent, they make the offer and you accept or reject it. You are interviewing people for a job, in a way. This is your career. Yes, the agents are seen as gatekeepers into the industry and you're about to open yourself up to a world of rejection, but in the end you are looking for someone to do the jobs that you yourself can't/won't. An agent is a navigator and partner. Choose wisely.
  • Write Your Query - Again, use the Internet and online writers' communities to learn what goes into a query letter. I cannot recommend the QueryShark enough. Find out what works, what doesn't and write a letter in your own voice.
  • Write it Again - Just like your book, you need to edit it until this letter sparkles. Agents are looking for any reason to reject you and clean out the slush pile, so don't give them a reason.
  • Write a Synopsis - Sometimes an agent will require you to send a "short synopsis" of the book. This can vary from person to person, but what I've found is one page minimum and five is the absolute max, and that's usually for some Game of Thrones level intrigue. Hit the major points of your story, the big plot moments, and yes, you give the ending. No cliffhangers in a synopsis. The synopsis is often the bane of writers. It's really hard to condense a 300 page novel into two. But, think about this: If you can't tell this story succinctly and hit the salient points in a two page pitch, how well do you know your story? This is where you strip it down to its most basic parts. Your heroine, her motivations, the problem at hand and how she gets through on the other side. Bam. If you're having problems with your own synopsis, step back and try writing one up for your favorite book, movie or fairy tale. Often, writing a synopsis will help you hone your query.
When You Query
  • RESEARCH - But, Jamie, you say, I just did that. Do it again. Find the agents you want to query and review their submission guidelines. Those rules aren't there just to make you jump through hoops, nor are they there for the plebian masses. They're there for you to follow. If an agent asks for a letter only, do not send an attachment of the whole novel. Follow the guidelines. If you can't find them, Google harder. Talk to other writers. OR--and this is my favorite--ask. That's right. Ask the agent outright. They don't bite. Usually.

  • Organize - Find some way to keep track of what agents and agencies you've queried, dates and materials sent, requests and submission information. Me? I've got a spreadsheet set up with multiple pages. One is just a basic database of agents. Names, submission guidelines, agency contact info and any other tidbits (Twitter accounts, authors they represent that I know or know of, blogs, etc). I've got a separate page for the queries I've sent. I list the date sent, the materials sent (per the submission guidelines), agent and agency name. If I sent this agent one version of my query and tweaked it before sending it to another, I make a note of what draft I used. Keep yourself organized because after a while, names and dates start to cross.
If you're not the spreadsheet type, might I point you in the direction of QueryTracker. You can basically do the same thing with fun point-and-click interfacing. Plus, you can spend hours obsessing over the query response statistics of each agent. (Don't do this. It wastes time. Time you could spend writing.)
  • Relax - Yes, we live in awesome times. Used to be snail mail and months before you'd hear back on a query. Now, you can be rejected in less time than it takes to make an egg. However, even if some queries come back to you with rejections or requests in a matter of hours, don't expect all of them to do so. In fact, pack a lunch. Be prepared to wait. Do not hover over your inbox (I know this is far easier said than done. I've refreshed mine three times while writing this post.). Get out and live. Hug your family, drink with your friends, catch a flick, take a walk, knit a sweater...do SOMETHING. Like many things in publishing, it is a game of "hurry up and wait".  There may be weeks where you don't get a nibble, not even a simple one line rejection that crushes your soul. And then there are some days where you get three requests. It happens. It can drive a person mad. I'm told. *twitch*
  • Keep Swimming - This part of the game sucks, to be perfectly frank. Rejections happen. A lot. Queries go unanswered and you're left to wonder, "Is this one a no-response a no? Or did my email get eaten by the spam filter?" There are days you want to tear your hair out, destroy your computer and stitch your fingers together so you can never do this to yourself or the world again. But keep going. This is what you want, right? Do what it takes to get there.
A lot of people bemoan the query process. It's archaic, it hasn't caught up with the digital age, it's annoying as hell because blah blah blah. Sure, it might have its flaws, but the query process is what we have. It's like a butterfly needs to be a shriveled mess for a while before it can fly. Or a sword needs to get beat up and tempered before it can meet its potential. The whole dance of daring to put yourself out there on the block, rejection... it's necessary in our journey as legacy authors.
It doesn't always happen, though. Sometimes, you have to put a project on the shelf and re-evaluate. Did you get any hits off your query? No? Then your query needs work. Did you get partials, but no follow-up requests? Fulls but no offers? These things can all tell you something. Listen to the feedback you're getting. Does the query need to change? The manuscript? Or is it just time to try something else for a while?
If you find yourself staring down the barrel of an agent offering you representation, don't jump right away. Graciously thank said agent and ask for a few days to think, hang up the phone and squee your brains out. Get that out of your system, have some chocolate and hug your family. Because now, it's time to get to work.
And that's where we'll pick up next time.

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I hate that phrase. Why did I just use it? Because, that's how I feel sometimes when I sit down to work on upping the wordcount and spend an hour on Twitter talking with other authors. Or researching locations for a scene I'm writing. Or working on my query materials. Or blogging.

At the same time, though, that's work, too.

Being a pre-pubbed author can be a full-time job in and of itself depending on what you want for your writing career. And that job doesn't exist solely on the page. Here are some of the things that I do regularly as part of my job.

Read I read books in my genre, books by authors that inspire me with crackling prose or dimensional characters. But, I also read online newsletters, agent blogs, writer blogs, fiction that other writers post...anything that will strengthen my knowledge of the business. I try to stay away from things that talk about trends, honestly, because that shit will drive you crazy. I'm neurotic enough and have my own moments of crushing self-doubt. I don't need more foisted on me with fickle hype.

Some of my favorites include Janet Reid, QueryShark, Vickie Motter, GalleyCat, Chuck Wendig and the many fine stories at BookCountry.

Blog As part of "building the platform", I've got this blog. It's a place for me to share fiction, every day stuff and connect with readers, professionals and colleagues. It's also a place for me to keep my writing skills fresh away from the Word Document and Work in Progress. And I get to vent here. I know some people shy away from blogging about political/sociological views when building a platform so as to not alienate half of a potential audience, but I've got opinions and have never been good at keeping them in.

Research Scour the interwebs for agents/agencies, publishers, editors. I learn as much as I can about guidelines, preferences, proper formatting, response time averages. I do everything I can to get ducks in their rows before I send a query. I also, double and triple check this research and update my spreadsheet (yes, I keep a spreadsheet with agent info... don't you?) to make sure everything is up to date. Nothing is worse than querying your dream agent only to find she's no longer in the business. Also, it pisses people off. Just ask Colleen Lindsay. ;)

When researching always always always include Preditors & Editors, WriterBeware and any guild sites (RWA, SFWA etc).

Networking This this this. A thousand times this. Networking is priceless. Also, it can be a glacial process. In a time of instant gratification, direct messaging and emails traveling at the speed of thought, it might be hard to think of things online still taking time. That's the nature of friendships, though. Yes, you're building business connections, but at the root of that is genuine likeability. If you're a total assclown, I'm not going to give you the time of day no matter how good your writing is. Follow Wheaton's Law and don't be a dick. It's that simple.

Also, "networking" is not code for "stalking". Keep it professional kids.

Use writer hashtags on Twitter (#amwriting #writing #WiP ... the list goes on), follow agents and authors. Get in on the chats they have. For instance, the Knight Agency just had a fantastic and informative hour long chat with all of their agents answering questions. That's gold, right there. Also, BookCountry has a chat every Thursday. A lot of times agents will spontaneously generate #askagent sessions. Twitter is an amazing resource for the emergent author. Not just because it helps you build your platform, but it helps you build strong industry connections. Sometimes, the most surprising people end up in your corner.

Twitter, QueryTracker, AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler...these message boards are exactly that: our water cooler. We can't all go to lunch with publishing professionals, or writer/writing/book conferences or fan cons. These sites, while no substitute for genuine interaction, are a great place to start building your network of minions friends in the business. I cannot stress this enough. If there's one piece of advice I ever had to give to someone wanting to "break in" to publishing, it would not, in fact, be RUN!!!! It would be "make friends". Pick the sphere of influence you want to inhabit and go there. Don't wait for an invitation. Jump right in, don't be a dick and introduce yourself. And some people say, "Fake it til you make it." I amend that to be "make it up as you go along, but be genuine." Be yourself.

Alright, that could turn into its own post. I'm just that passionate about it.

Anyway, these are all parts of the job. I have been actively doing all of the above since 2008. I know that some of you might be thinking, "Well, if you've been at it that long, why aren't you bigger than the Hunger Games by now?" To which I snort, pat you on the head and move on. In all seriousness, though, the work I do takes time. Not just the writing, editing parts. Not just the months of querying at a time. All of it. Besides, the aim of all this work, the end goal I'm striving for, is not some elusive Holy Grail called Publication. I'm not just in this to say I published a book and you can buy it on Amazon. (If that was it, I'd be self-published, wouldn't I?) No, this is about being a better author, having a career and constantly growing.

And that takes time.

525,600 Minutes

2011 has only a few hours left to it. As is tradition, I'm going to a party tonight with my Ohana. This is the same party where Sean and I became "us". Seven years ago tonight we both took a chance on one another and here we are. Every year we go and kiss at midnight to honor our anniversary. Another tradition at this party is the Year In Review. We started this seven years ago, too. Every year we sit around the fire pits with our nearest and dearest, start with January and go around the circle. We recount the good that happened in the year month by month.This year is weird. Good things happened. Bad things happened. Life changed irrevocably. People got married. Babies were born and conceived after much heartache of trying. A woman left this earth. A family came together. I wrote a novella, several short stories and the first novel in a new series. I lost something I thought I wanted/needed only to find that the loss was the best thing that could've happened. I lost an uncle. I almost lost my grandmother but had the chance to see her...and she made it through. I lost my sister the day after we started to mend fences. A friend beat cancer for the second and third times in his life proving once again that we haven't found all of the horcruxes. Tribe Ohana grew and got its own website. The tooth fairy came to my house a few times. I've made new friends and reconnected with old ones. Weird, I tell ya.

Right now, it's work to come up with good things for the year in review because everything is clouded with the fact that Nicki isn't here to add her voice. I'm tired. Even though it's only a Saturday turning into a Sunday, there's something about changing the calendar that refreshes me. On one side of midnight is an old skin I'm more than ready to slough off and leave behind. On the other is the promise of something new, undiscovered and full of possibility. I'm ready for 2011 to be over and done. I'm ready for what the future brings. I'm ready to hit the reset button.

In 2012 I will reconnect with myself. I won't let the love from October/November dissipate into apathy like it once did. I will get a new tattoo. I will write more stories. I'm going to keep querying on Etudes in C#, write more books of that series. I will write more short stories and send them to lit mags for publication. I will spin poi. Maybe I'll even spin fire again. I don't know when, though. I'm not ready to do that without Nicki yet. I'm going to vote. I'm going to read books, see movies and live music and sit around a fire drumming until my hands go numb. I'm going to laugh and cry. I'm going to play games and go to at least one Comic Con. I'm going to hold newborns and then gratefully pass them back to their parents. I'm going to read with my daughter and cuddle her and watch her grow. I'm going to snuggle the hell out of my husband. I'm going to live, love and laugh.

These aren't resolutions. They aren't plans. They're life. It happens.

2011, it's time to part ways. 2012...let's rock.

Have a safe and happy new year everyone.

Nerdmaste.