Writing 2.2 – Getting it Ready

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The purpose of this is not to educate you or any other writer.  I don’t pretend to know things that you don’t because I’m actually hoping for the opposite – in that I am detailing this process in case someone knows more than me, has accomplished these things already, and can help me avoid the potholes in the road ahead.

With help, I revised for the fourth time.  That was Writing 2.0.  It also included cutting back on Facebook, humorous blog posts, movie reviews, and a few other things in order to devote more time to actual novel writing.  I discussed choosing to try traditional publishing instead of self publishing, but some misinterpreted me as criticizing self publishing.  To be specific, I didn’t say self publishing is a bad thing.  I said that writers should try traditional publishing first, knowing that they could fall back to try self publishing if traditional doesn’t succeed.

A handful of people reacted negatively when I said that “self-published” authors should not refer to themselves as “published authors.”  I never said that self-published authors or their books are not as good as traditional, but I did say there is a level of achievement that deserves recognition for going through the traditional process.  It is not easy to run that gauntlet, and it deserves distinction.  Of course I recognize that, although rare, one can make millions of dollars and sell millions of self-published books, but you literally (no pun intended) have a better chance of winning a lottery.  I also recognize that it is entirely possible that the greatest book ever written is sitting undiscovered on someone’s self-published Amazon link.  However, those who disagreed with me should recognize that I could take all the letters from fifty-seven Scrabble games, toss them in a pile, type whatever letter is chosen next, upload that to a self-published Amazon link, and then I have the same legal right to call myself a “published author.”  But should I?  No.

Then came Writing 2.1 – Polishing up the query and preparing the pitch to agents, and this is the main reason why some self-publishing writers are avoiding the traditional route.  It is better to make every possible effort to publish traditionally instead of self publishing first.  There is no argument that a greater percentage of writers would prefer to break into traditional publishing instead of resorting to self publishing, but there are still a great many writers who don’t give traditional a chance and instead go straight for self publishing.  Why?

Some do it because they fear losing control of their work.  Some fear giving up too great a percentage of money.  But some go with self publishing because they fear the rejection of traditional publishing.  They fear the pile of rejection letters or e-mails that say things like “this project is not the right fit for us,” and “I’m sure that you will find success, but it isn’t our style,” and other polite ways of saying “No thanks.”  There are other reasons that push writers into self publishing, but the fear of rejection is clearly the strongest, and I know that from personal experience.

Here’s a good place to get help on a query – 

http://www.writersdigest.com/wp-content/uploads/2012-WM_QLC.pdf

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Agents have what is called a “slush pile,” a stack of unsolicited submissions that they dig through, and that is where mine will be.  Many self-published writers fear their submission will go from the slush pile to the trash can, and most will, but that is better than not going anywhere at all.

Enough of that.  What I really wanted to do here was share more about the next step – pitching to agents.  I wrote a decent query (new version below), the letter sent to agents in which you boil down 75,000 words to a description of about two paragraphs.  Then you toss in some stuff about yourself and why the book will sell so many copies.  It also helps to do some research, find the names of other authors working with each agent who also write what you write.  So I might have a sentence something like, “This story compares to Screaming Dead Guy by Artie Schlumm published last year by Rigor Mortis Press.”  Once the query is ready, you then have to find the agents.  I chose www.writersmarket.com.

WM 1

It’s a database of many things involved with writing, but the main reason for me is to find agents.  I took some screen shots to give you an idea of what’s involved.  Above is the home page on which you can see the menus of information available, but I am mainly interested in the agents.

There are various criteria you can use for searching, such as state, fiction, non-fiction, etc., but the trickiest for me was the genre of the story.  My story is about ghosts, but it’s not really a “ghost story” in the traditional description.  I was hoping for there to be a “paranormal” option, but there isn’t.  The best choice there is “suspense,” but I’m still not 100% certain, and that isn’t good because it makes me feel as if I don’t know my own story well enough.

WM 2a

After searching, I ended up with a list of forty agents whose information gathered by Writers Market indicates that they might be interested in my type of book.  I now have to visit each individual website to follow their submission guidelines.  Some just want the query, others may ask for the first chapter or three chapters.  Some might want a one-page synopsis or the entire manuscript.  The most important thing is to follow each individual agent’s instructions.  Some are very picky, and if you don’t follow their directions, they won’t even read what you’ve sent.  They’re not all like that, but you can’t take a chance.  If they want those first three chapters in Times New Roman 12 or Courier 12, then you better do it accordingly.  If they do not want attachments, then don’t send attachments.

WM 3

So, time to take the mound and start pitching.  Most agents, when queried through e-mail, will reply in about a month.  So in about a month I will have a growing pile of polite “No thanks.”  Hopefully, very hopefully, a few will ask for the rest of the story.  I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, what I’ve also learned about writing is to always have two projects going at once.  While you are “pitching” one project, you should also be in the process of writing the next project.  That will begin as soon as round one of my pitches are thrown.  As for now, I have forty letters to customize.  So – time to get the ball and take the mound…

__________________________

Dear Person I Must Impress, 

Connecting Flight – 76,000 words, paranormal suspense

When a cross-country airliner crashes and all aboard are killed, two passengers resist crossing into the afterlife because of “unfinished business.”  Chris Babbage suffers guilt from not preventing the death of his 8-year old son.  Ann Camillo’s guilt is from abandoning her family for a failed modeling/acting career that became soft porn instead.  Additionally, both strongly suspect their spouses are having affairs.  These unresolved issues trap them among the living.  Together, these strangers struggle across the country, destined to complete a mysterious journey home to eventually discover that their unfinished business is secretly connected to each other.

Connecting Flight is about ghosts but more than a ghost story.  Chris, a pragmatic math teacher, and Ann, an earthy artist, occasionally help the living, including a suicidal single mom, a bullying victim, and a teen prostitute.  Each time they help the living, they learn more about their own lives, fears, and selves.  But they aren’t alone in this realm of the non-living.  Other beings with bad intentions are stalking and waiting to take them to a dark and different afterlife.

Connecting Flight combines the paranormal style of Neil Gaiman with the head-butting dialogue of Nora Ephron and reads like a hybrid of the films Ghost and When Harry Met Sally.  The combinations of love, anger, humor, and loss will easily touch a vast audience, especially women.  Marketing plans include book signings, nationwide appearances, and reaching thousands of people in my blogging network.

I have another paranormal novel finished that was a finalist for last year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and outlines for four more.  I’ve had five short stories published by Piker Press, dozens of film reviews published by CineKatz.com, and essays published on CNN.com.  After having retired from 25 years teaching writing, I would love for you to assist me with my second career.

Thank you for considering Connecting Flight, which is a simultaneous submission.  I limited this query to a letter and the first 50 pages as per your submission guidelines.  If you are interested in reading more, I will send it ASAP, without any layovers, delays or transfers.

 ______________________

Thanks again to Mike and Heidi for your help on this letter.  

Beer in the fridge.  Help yourself.  Sorry, Heidi, no soda.  😛

47 thoughts on “Writing 2.2 – Getting it Ready

  1. Helpful. Good luck with it. And if several self-published authors have their feathers ruffled so be it. It’s no big deal being criticized. Once they start collecting rejection letters they’ll grow a tougher skin.

  2. I ashamed to admit that I never had a chance to read any of your book when it was posted, but I am intrigued by your description of it.

    I would like to ask though, if you don’t mind answering, prior to writing a novel, what sort of preparations do you do? Do you write complete back-stories for your characters or make them up as you go? Is there a proper way to outline?

  3. Good luck, Rich. You might want to add into your letter that you’re a former English teacher and that you used your skills of lit. crit. while writing the book. Or you might not. I don’t know whether agents would be interested to know that you can tell the difference between a verb and a noun and use an apostrophe correctly or not!

    • I mentioned that in my original version, but someone who writes better than me than me removed it because the letter was just too darn long. But I will think further about it.

      Also, I owe you some chapters.

      • Personally, I’d include it, if only to say “I can write using correct grammar and spelling. This will not be a diatribe and it will not be another poorly written epic to take in teenagers and/or gullible women who cannot see abuse hidden under sex”. But that’s just me.

        And there’s no rush on the chapters, just as and when you’re able to send them.

      • I might have to find a way to include that and maybe cut something else out if it is still too long. This greatly demonstrates the importance of these posts. Sharing ideas and possibilities does not happen just anywhere. Thanks.

    • i think it’s about $40 a year. they also publish a series of books that have the same info but in print. if you buy the book, it comes with the one-year subscription to their website. the book is usually in libraries but in the reference section, so they don’t let you check it out of the building.

  4. I love your query – to the point and riveting! The first paragraph, though, I’ve heard you’re not supposed to do. However, I’m not in paranormal so take that with a grain of salt. 🙂

  5. I have a question, if you don’t mind.
    Did you go through a submission/rejection process with your (now published) short stories? Has that experience helped with this new adventure of marketing a novel?
    Ok, so it’s two questions.

    • two questions, but both a yes and no.

      the short stories were “published” on a literary website on which various things are also published, such as poetry, photography, film and book reviews, essays, etc. however, i never got the impression that it was at all difficult to get anything published there. they have published everything i have ever sent them. to me, that means one or more of the following: 1. they don’t get many submissions, 2. my writing is super fabulous, and/or 3. they publish almost anything that anyone sends them.

      as for the second question, has it helped, only in terms of being able to say that i have had short stories published. there was nothing helpful in terms of the process or business of writing. but it was – at the time – a nice boost in confidence, and it was a boost that everyone should get.

      if you’re interested, go to their website and check their submission link. http://www.pikerpress.com

      and thanks for asking.

      • I went through the rejection process for a couple of years with bound literary journals for academic and creative pieces, and then I stopped to birth a couple of children. I’m gearing up to do it again, and just thought I’d ask if you found the process to be beneficial for marketing your novel. Thank you for answering.

      • clearly you had more important things to do, and congratulations. meanwhile, i’m about to start sending these queries to agents. i will keep you posted through my blog of what’s happening. i wish i could offer more help, and maybe in the future i will be able to do so. good luck to both of us.

      • You’ve offered quite a bit of help. So long as you don’t take these posts down, I’ll have a reference when it’s my turn.

      • no problem. these posts are staying on the menu bar under “On Writing.” so far, it’s a three-part series, but i plan to add more as the process continues.

  6. Writers Market is a great source. I still have a couple of years worth of the books on my shelf. The submission process, no matter to whom you are submitting, is painful and exacting. I way again, your letter reads well and is a great pitch.

  7. I used a spreadhseets (actually, I used several) when sending out my queries to 102 literary agencies. That way I could track when I pitched, what I’d sent (leaving spaces in case thay asked for more), whether they’d replied and when, plus space for any comments.
    It might sound over-organised, but it helped me to see who’d replied, how quickly and whether or not I needed to follow-up in case of no reply.
    You could do the same with notepaper or post-its…I only used a spreadsheet because I’m mobile most of the week and have no desk. 🙂
    Hope this helps.

    • i set up folders in my computer in which i kept copies of queries sent out and answered. but i like the spreadsheet idea better. thanks. how did everything work out for you? any requests for the whole manuscript?

      • Requests? Ha!
        I queried 102 genre-relevant agencies and got 48 replies back. No takers. Some offered some very useful pointers, but others didn’t even include their name when they sent back my query letter. That’s where coding the inside of the return envelope with a single capital letter paid off! After a year I got cheesed off (and maybe a little impatient) and self-published on Amazon. I thought that I might try again a year later, but I’ve been so darn busy promoting the eBook that there’s been no time. I am now going down the route of utilising CreateSpace to print my books for me.
        Hope you have better luck and a few nibbles. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Writing 2.4 – Who Uses Outlines? | brainsnorts inc >.<

  9. I agree: good letter for perspective agent.
    I hope you won’t put that on the back of the novel as it has too many spoilers for me. But, you have to outline it all for the agents.
    Great job! Good luck!
    Scott

  10. I’m quite glad that I discovered your Writing 2.0 series early on in my writing career. I would likely have taken one or two stabs at traditional publishing… and that’s it.

    Now, I’m not so sure. I will probably need to read these posts repeatedly when I have a finished, shiny novel.

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