The paint dries

By on November 27th, 2010
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I’m in the waiting room of Operation: Get a Publisher. I sent out twenty query letters to small-to-medium-size presses and emailed four literary agents. All were contacted on September 17. Two months later, where do I stand?

2 literary agents said, “Thank you, it’s not my genre.”
1 literary agent never replied (I just emailed a follow up.)
1 literary said, “Sounds interesting, send me the first 10 pages.” That was on. 10/6. Nothing since. (I just emailed a follow up.)

12 presses sent me no response whatsoever. Not a word. Nada. Bupkis. Zip. Silent treatment. Cold shoulder. I’ll just shut up now. (Like them.)

2 presses sent me a polite, “Thank you, this does not fit our interests at this time.”

2 press sent me a polite, “Thank you for submitting, we’ll get back to you.”

1 press (Soft Skull Press) sent me an email on 10/15 saying, “Thanks for submitting. We changed our policy (and closed our New York office). We no longer accept un-agented submissions.” Skull-fuck you, Soft Skull. Just kidding.

1 press said, “We’re sorry, we’re not considering new books until 2013.”

1 press said, “We’ll take a look, but just so you know, we’re now looking at books for 2012.”

And 1 press responded on 9/22, “Thank you for your interest in XXXXXX Press. We’d like to take a further look at your manuscript. I love fairytales, and psychedelic ones are even more exciting. “ I’m censoring the name because I don’t think it would appropriate to publicize it here, but…yeehaw!!! I consider this quite a victory. Even if they don’t publish it, I’m still quite pleased that I got past the query letter with one of the presses. They indicated that they take about six months to evaluate a book so I won’t hear back until March.

In the meantime, I’m living up to my recommendation that a writer should never sit on her heels while waiting to hear from a publisher. I haven’t started my next book, but I am following the self-publishing path just in case I don’t land a publisher. I’ve managed to come to an agreement with a designer to design my novel for publication. He’s a friend who also designed this website. I got a friend discount, but at the same time, my book will be quite complicated to design because there are multiple fonts, visual text poetry, images, and a couple scenes where several conversations are occurring simultaneously. So it will be a bear to design. But if you’re wondering how much it costs to hire a talented designer, I’m paying $1500 in three installments—each time we’re done with 1/3 of the book, he gets $500. My book will be roughly 300 pages long, but I would assume for most authors interested in self-publishing, they could probably get a cheaper rate if they don’t have fancy formatting.

My goal is to have the book ready to send to the printers by May. If I haven’t gotten a solid bite from a publisher by then, I’ll be ready to pull the trigger and my book will be out by the summer. A great beach read. If you like to trip balls at the beach, that is.


My book is going nowhere, and I like it

By on May 10th, 2010
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Book ‘im, Danno. Book that guy because his book isn’t going anywhere. But before you do, tell me what the heck kind of name is Danno, anyway? Is that really a name for a grownup? Let’s not dwell on it. And also, don’t dwell on your novel when you are playing The Waiting Game. (It’s like The Crying Game except with more crying.) I’m being obtuse so permit me to be a(bit)cute instead.

My second novel is at a standstill because I’ve handed it off to two of my friends to read. Cheers to friends! As I’ve said in several previous posts, whether you’re trying to land a publisher or you’re self-publishing, getting outside feedback before you submit is essential. I spent six years in my own head—now I want to see how my head bounces off some other folks in case it bounces a little wonky here or there. Is that metaphor strained? So is my neck. Several bits may have been left in my brainstem instead of on the page.

I will probably have all notes back from my wrecking—I mean writing—crew by the end of May. So far, the one I’ll call my first friend merely because it’s convenient to number him as first (who is a writer and literary critic) has provided me fifty pages, and he’s got another fifty or so waiting for me to snatch and grab. My second friend (who is a writer and editor) read the entire book through without making notes and is now going back a second time. He sent me a wonderful email as follows:

I didn’t get as much done while in Iowa as I’d planned, but I did get the whole thing read through once. It’s REALLY great–I like it a LOT. Just some really beautiful stuff in there. So now I need to go through it and mark my thoughts, reactions, editing stuff…But first reaction is WELL DONE!

So, yay to that! What am I doing in the meantime? How should one fill up the Waiting Room of Eternal Writerly Frustration? Here’s the advice: don’t let the dust settle, work on your next book. Whether you have submitted 20 query letters and have to wait six months for a reply, or you have your book with a proofreader for two weeks…wherever it is in limbo-land, don’t stop writing. Move on to your next piece, which might be even better than the one you just completed. I’m currently working on a children’s book with two collaborators—an art director and an animator. And I’m nearly done writing it, too, while waiting. It’s actually going to be an interactive children’s book. We’re going to build a demo of a couple sections of it and then pitch it to publishers. My advice, keep writing. I’m always pullin’ shapes, you dig?


To query or not to query, that is the query

By on February 15th, 2010
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My latest blog entry has been a bit delayed because I’m still waiting on the final illustrations for my book. But finally! I’ll be receiving the last two pencil drawings tonight, providing feedback, and then getting the inked version later this week. I’ll have all the images I need to add to the book so I can finally share it with a small number of readers/writers to get feedback.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my query letter. For those who don’t know, a query letter is the preferred method of approaching publishers. It’s intended to be a single page cover letter that serves to introduce your book. It follows a basic structure. Deviate from the format at your peril … publishers and literary agents have little time for shenanigans. Any mailing that tries too hard will likely head straight for the recycling cabana.

The anatomy of a query letter:
Introduction
Synopsis
Biography and closing

That’s it. Deceptively simple. Yet quite difficult in its own way.

The introduction should include a few key elements. It absolutely should include the title, page count, and genre. Even if your genre is ambiguous, you should at least classify it as “literary,” or “literary fantasy,” “alien romance police procedural,” “cook-book horror novel,” whatever you can do to help the editor or agent understand what type of book it is. Beyond that, there are a couple other elements you might consider:

Comparisons to other existing books or authors (as long as you’re careful not to come across as too presumptuous: “My novel, Dumby Spanks the Monk, combines the poetic artistry of Baudelaire with the wit of Oscar Wilde.”)

Discussion of the period or setting. Showing your knowledge of the milieux will help give you cred.

Description of a key theme. This is a more sophisticated approach and shows your book may not be mediocre.

A dramatic leap into the story. This is a risky choice. Bold, but it must be done right or it will flop.

Awards received and significant author credentials such as previously published works.

The synopsis is probably the hardest part. You need to boil your story down to roughly two or three short paragraphs. If you think your synopsis is too long, it is. If your book features a main character, then let the evolution of that character drive the synopsis more than a plot blow-by-blow.

Biography and closing is where you provide relevant information about your writing experience and any details that help qualify you for writing your book. For example, if you were once tortured by an accupuncturist, then it might be appropriate to mention that if your book is set in a political convention.

The last thing I’ll note is that as much as you should get outside feedback on your novel, you should get outside feedback on your query letter. I took a $70 webinar from Writer’s Digest here, which was a nice overview of the query letter structure, and the editor personally critiqued every single query letter submitted. She emailed me a pdf with comments and editorial suggestions. It was primarily helpful to me for the synopsis portion where it’s easy to describe too much. You need to get to the heart of the story in the synopsis.

And that is the heart of the query.


In Hunter-Gatherer mode

By on January 3rd, 2010
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I’m reading (and reviewing)
• Four books on self-publishing The Well-Fed Self-Publisher, Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual 16th Edition, The Self-Publishing Manual Volume 2 and Indie Publishing: How to Design and Publish Your Own Book
• Two books on finding publishers or literary agents Give ‘Em What They Want and The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit

I’m tracking
• Steps I need to take to self-publish by creating to-do lists, short and long term (3 pages so far)
• Authors who might like my book—from whom I will request promotional blurbs if i can reach them
• Publishers of surrealist, experimental fiction and literary speculative fiction
• Artists for cover art
• Expenses (anything writing- or publishing-related is tax-deductible)

I’m scribbling
• Hooks…the first sentence of my query letter.*

I’m surfing
• Research sites for writers and self-publishers. Some great ones include: SelfPublishingReview.com (tips and advice), duotrope.com (for identifying smaller publishers), Poets & Writers (pw.org), writersmarket.com (for identifying publishers, but does require membership fee – $39.99/year)
• Publisher submission policies on publisher sites
• Joining online small press organizations (Independent Book Publishing Association at ibpa-online.org and Self-Publishers Association of North America at spannet.org)
• Publishing blogs and self-publisher message boards (such as the Yahoo Self-Publishing Group, which seems to have much more activity than any google publishing group I can find at http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/Se…)

The quest continues.

Coming soon: The Query Letter in detail

*For those who are unfamiliar, a query letter is a one-page letter typically sent to literary agents and/or publishers to land representation. They are intended to grab their attention, convince them your book is worthy of consideration, introduce your credentials, and gain a request for your manuscript.


Where am I write now?

By on December 6th, 2009
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I am write, my friends. I am write.

1) I’ve completed my first final draft! ?!?! (See 3 below)

2) I am waiting on my illustrator. One scene in my book is fully illustrated (without text), and I’ve reviewed about 90% of the sketches so far and received about 2/3 of the final ink drawings.*

3) I will be soliciting some feedback (as well as submitting it to a professional proofreader to help catch any typos–it’s so easy to read your own material a hundred times and miss something because what it’s supposed to say is actually more in your head than on paper) and then making revisions as I see fit. After feedback revisions, I will have my second (and hopefully final) final draft. I like to name these drafts because when a process takes six years to complete (as this one has), counting drafts has allowed me to feel like I’ve made some progress. It’s an affirmation. After a few years of writing story material without needing to shape it, I went through eleven drafts to get where I am

I believe it’s important to solicit feedback, especially as a self-published author. I’m quite happy with the book as it is … actually I love it … but I would like to get reactions from a handful of other writers and friends before I start sending out query letters to publishers. I will consider all feedback (What is confusing? What did they love? How did they interpret/misinterpret some parts of it? etc.) and decide what, if anything, I want to change from there. I am comfortable with quite a level of misinterpretation of my themes and visions, but there may be certain things (wait…I didn’t want anyone to think that) that I want to revise. This feedback will be limited but useful as a sounding board.

4) I am waiting for a friend of mine to build a single-page mini-website for me (based on my design) that will function to play a song that I composed with a sound engineer and three musicians. This is the last piece of my book puzzle. There is a scene in my book where several characters play instruments together … a web address is mentioned indirectly, and if you visit the website, you will hear the music that the characters are performing.

5) After completing the next draft, and adding the illustrations and posting the song, I will write query letters to publishers and literary agent and pursue the self-publishing process simultaneously. Onward, ho! (And stop calling me a ho.)

* I essentially worked with the illustrator as a writer of a comic book might: I wrote a description of every image in detail and even took photographs of friends posing in every position I wanted represented. Then I worked with the illustrator for about a month to get the character sketches to a place that captured my vision. She has sent me pencil sketches of each frame, and I commented on them before she did the final ink drawers. They have actually come out quite beautifully!