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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Help is Out There

When you're a new writer, just flushed with the first joy of seeing a vague story line morph into a real manuscript, you're looking for any help you can find in getting this book into print.  That's why most bookstores have a shelf devoted to just those kinds of books:  how to find an agent, how to get your book published, how to write a query letter, how to promote your book. . you name it, some other author has already written a book about it--and gotten it published!


The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published pretty much says it all.  This book takes you from writing to promoting.   How to Get A Literary Agent is more specific, but it contains pages of good information on why you need a great agent and how to go about getting one.

And of course, don't forget the on-line sources.  Just search literary agents, how to get my book published or anything along those lines and see the hundreds of web pages out there.

The problem with all of this information is that it doesn't all agree.  Each source has a different take on writing query letters, for instance.  One instructs writers to be very business-like and formal, while another offers casual, off-handed letters as examples of a successful query.  And each swears that their letter is the only one that will open that elusive agent door.

Well, they might not all be right, but each book has at least some good advice.  And one time or another, one of those letters is going to be the right one with the right agent.  At least I hope so.  If not, I can always write another book:  How to Write a Million Query Letters and Still Remain Unpublished.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Query Me This

So I jumped back into the saddle today.

Actually, I had planned to tackle queries on Saturday. I sat outside and pulled up all my find-an-agent websites. I started listing names, query requirements and contact info. And the longer I looked, the more depressed I became.

I went inside to do laundry, thinking as I switched clothes from washer to dryer about my other options. I could just ditch the whole agent idea and start working on self-publishing. I could just publish it as an e-book.

Glumly I went back outside and clicked over to Facebook, where I saw that Anne Rice had just posted something. Her status read, "It has always been hard for new talent to break into publishing; but people are as hungry for new voices, new stories, and new ideas as they have ever been. The arts have never been easy. One has to be willing to try and try again."

Try and try again. Okay. So I took a deep breath and decided I would. . soon.

And today was soon. I found a new listing of agents, and then on one of my regular group sites, I saw a new agency. One of the agents seemed promising, so I worked for quite a while on a new query and emailed it off.

Each time a writer sends off a new query, it's like sending a little piece of her child out into the world. We all know the world is a hard, cruel place.

This particular agent prefers exclusive submissions, so I won't be sending another query out until I hear from him. . .or three weeks, whichever comes first. Some agents don't bother to send rejections anymore, so I don't hold my breath.

But it's a beginning. . .a new one.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alternatives

So we've established that the process of finding an agent can be extremely painful and discouraging. In days gone by, before the advent of computers and the internet, the only real option for a writer who could not find an agent or a willing publishing house was something called the vanity press--in essence, an early form of self-publishing.

Today, those vanity presses still exist, but self-publishing has lost much of its early stigma. It's easier to publish and promote your own book, thanks to a wide variety of web sites. These sites can guide a writer from the very first steps of editing through layout and publication, not to mention publicity and marketing. Sometimes this kind of self-publishing is just what a book needs to garner a bigger market; if an author generates sufficient buzz, an agent and/or publisher might be more willing to risk a contract.

Another choice is e-publishing. Publishing your work in electronic form is even easier than print self-publishing, and it's usually free as well. With the advent of all the electronic readers, e-books may open more doors for authors than ever before.

It's a bold new world out there. Writers need to be just as bold.

I've been looking at these options myself. It would certainly be easier on the pride than the query/rejection cycle. I haven't actually done it yet simply because at this point it still feels. . like giving up.

But give me a few more months, and I may be hawking my own self-published books!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Do I Need An Agent Anyway?

This is a very good question. And I can answer it inasmuch as it seems to me, and not without a certain amount of prejudice.

Once upon a time, authors who had completed manuscripts sent their treasured darlings directly to publishing houses. Editors would read the manuscripts and offer publishing contracts to those deemed worthy. Of course, those who had contacts--authors who were personally acquainted with editors or could be recommended by friends--had the advantage over others who were unknown.

The rise of the literary agent principally came about for two reasons: one, editors simply became too overwhelmed by the sheer volume of manuscripts received; and two, as the publishing world expanded and became more complicated, it behooved writers to have a professional representative to handle contracts and negotiations. So in the beginning, agents were designed to benefit both author and publisher.

And in a large part, agents today continue to represent the best interests of both parties. For the as-yet unpublished author, though, it can seem as though literary agents exist merely to confound her dreams--to be the stalwart guards at the gate to publication.

Agent Nathan Bransford states that "[they] are the baleen to the publishing industry's whale." True enough! And in order to slip through those filtering teeth, writers aspiring to be published must write the perfect query letter, summary and sample.

Consider that agents receive between 5,000 and 20,000 (or more) submission per year. Think about how distinctive a letter would have to be in order to catch the attention of this tired agent. Discouraged yet?

And yet. . .somewhere in the neighborhood of 170,000 books are published each year in the United States alone.

It can be done. But there are two important questions.

The first is, how is it done?

And the second is, should it be done?

Stay tuned for some thoughts about those questions.

Monday, April 5, 2010

So. . what's your book about?

I get that question quite a bit, and frankly, it makes me squirm a little. I'm not sure if it's because I feel silly writing young adult fiction when I am so obviously NOT a young adult or if it's the subject matter itself.

But the truth is, I'm proud of my books. I think they're well-written; I think the characters are interesting and well-rounded. I enjoy spending time with them. They've surprised me from time to time.

You see, I'm one of THOSE writers. I know I've read about authors who claim that they are in total control of every word that issues from their pens or computer keyboards. That's not me. When I first began writing Tasmyn's story, I only knew a little bit about her. I knew she had recently moved from Wisconsin to a small town in central Florida. I knew she was about 17 and had been raised very protectively. I knew that she was going to meet an incredible boy who would change her life.

But then some other characters began speaking. I met Michael, and it turned out he has two very cool parents who are important to the story. And some of Michael's friends have also become more vocal than I expected, especially two named Anne and Jim, who had their own little plot line in the first book.

And my original antagonist has not been exactly as I had planned, either. She's actually so interesting to me that I'm thinking she may get her own book some time down the road.

I may eventually post some chapters on here, depending on how my queries are going. Until then, if you're curious, ask me (there's a comment feature below) and I will answer any questions.