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    Entries in Agents (6)


    Query Letters

    You've done it! You've written, revised, rewritten, and revised again. You've gotten input from other writers and family members and scrutinized your writing until it doesn't even have meaning anymore. You're absolutely certain your book is the best it can be. Okay, this might be a little optimistic. If there's anything I've learned in my years as an editor, it's that no author is ever really done.

    As a side note, if you haven't done everything listed above (i.e., writing, rewriting, getting input from others), I strongly suggest you do. A first draft of a book is just that, and your book will benefit from being worked over a few times. I promise you won't regret it.

    Having said that, many authors are puzzled about what to do next. Well, whether you want to seek representation from an agent or go it alone and try to find a publisher for yourself, the first thing you need to do is write a killer query letter.

    It might seem like writing a query letter would be pretty straightforward and shouldn't require much effort, but if you think that, you're absolutely wrong. Your query letter is the first, and sometimes only, impression you are going to make on an agent or publisher. If it isn't well-written and attention getting, chances are you're not going to get to the next stage, which is when the agent or publisher requests sample pages. Always keep in mind that your book is only one of thousands an agent or publisher will see in a year. Your query letter really needs to stand out if you're going to be noticed.

    If you're wondering how in the world you're going to accomplish the feat of writing a perfect query letter, don't worry. There is help! There are many agent blogs that give great advice on query letters. One I particularly like is Agent Kristin Nelson's blog, Pub Rants. She has a ton of advice about writing in general and how to perfect your query letter.

    Another great place to get feedback for a query letter is a writing group. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Joining a writers' group is a great way to get feedback and strengthen your writing. Also, if your budget allows, consider going to a writers' conference. They are great places to meet editors and agents, hear advice about how to write a great query letter, and network with other writers.



    Don't Steal My Book!

     There is a strange phenomenon I have encountered in the course of being an editor, both in-house and freelance. The first time I came across it, I was dumbfounded by it, and it has become no less mystifying to me since then.

    What is this baffling occurrence? It's when authors send a manuscript for consideration along with a strongly worded letter warning the recipient against stealing the book.

    I once even had an author insist on a face-to-face meeting (another big no-no) who claimed that another publishing company she'd submitted her work to had come out with a book very similiar to hers right after she submitted her book to them. She was very distrustful and reluctant to leave anything with me to look at because she was afraid we might steal her work too.

    I can assure you that the other publishing company coming out with the book similar to hers was purely coincidental. I know this because first of all, she said they came out with the book a couple of months after she submitted her manuscript, and publishing companies work much further in advance than that. Most publishing companies have their schedules lined out a couple of years in advance, and there's no way a book would be ready to publish only two months after it was submitted. Second, after looking at her books, I can tell you with confidence that they were not ready to be published. She was a new author, and her writing was not quite up to par. 

    This phenomenon is confusing to me for a couple of reasons. First, an author presumably trusts that a publishing company is competent enough to edit, publish, and promote his or her book but doesn't trust them enough not to steal his or her work. That's just illogical. Second, most authors who have put any effort into learning about the process of publishing realize that publisher receive hundreds (and most of the time thousands) of unsolicited queries every year. They are not hard up for books to publish. If a publisher thinks your work is good enough to publish, you'll probably get published. If the publisher doesn't thinks so, it'll just pass on the work and move on. The likelihood of a publisher stealing your work is extremely slim. 

    By sending such a warning, you're starting off on the wrong foot with a publisher (or an agent, for that matter). It screams, "High maintenance! Hard to work with! Prima donna!" Trust me, this is not the message you want to send to a publisher you want to work with.

    So, you might ask, how can I protect myself from those rogue publishers and agents who are out there stealing authors' books willy-nilly? First of all, relax. I can say with a lot of confidence that this is not going to happen. Agents and publishers are interested in promoting authors and publishing books, not plagiarizing their material. If you must, you can mail your work to yourself in a sealed envelope. Having a date stamp on the material will show without a doubt that you are the author of your work by a certain date. It really isn't necessary to apply for a copyright until your work is being published, although you may also do that if it will make you feel better.

    But most of all, just take a deep breath, calm down, and realize that publishers and agents aren't out to get you (although it might feel like it after a few rejections). There are many other things you can spend your time and energy concentrating on, like revising your manuscript so it's the best it can be and writing a killer query letter.


    Well, this pretty much sums it up...



    To say that the plot had holes in it would be to imply that the work contained enough substance to contain such holes. It didn't.

    Ouch. That's an excerpt from a rejection letter a friend of mine who is an aspiring screenwriter received a few years ago. It's certainly one of the most brutal rejection letters I've ever seen. I can only imagine that the guy who wrote it was having a terrible day.

    Rejection. It's such a depressing concept. Nobody wants to be rejected, whether its coming from a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or an employer. It can be especially heartbreaking for authors. For many authors, their book is like a child to them. They have poured their time, heart, and soul into the work. It's like a piece of themselves that they're putting out there, and having it rejected can feel like a personal rejection of the worst kind. The sad truth is, however, that many authors are going to have to get used to rejection, especially for a first book.

    There are many reasons a book can be rejected, many of which can have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. In my first job as an in-house editor, one of my responsibilities was to wade through the slush pile and send out rejections. Here are a few reasons I had to reject manuscripts:

    • The book was obviously crazy. These were pretty few and far between, but occasionally I'd get a letter from someone who claimed God had told him the world was going to end in a week (too bad our publishing schedule was a year out!) or something similar. My personal favorite was the lady who claimed she was Jesus reincarnated and her daughter was the virgin Mary. I'm not exactly sure how that was supposed to work.
    • The book simply didn't fit in with what we published. The particular publisher I worked for had a very narrow focus, so 90 percent of the projects we received were things we'd never even consider publishing. This is part of the reason why it's important to do your homework before submitting your book. This applies to agents and publishers alike. You're just wasting everyone's time if you submit your mystery novel to a publisher who only does nonfiction.
    • I was excited about the book, but we didn't have a market to sell it to. Publishing is a business. Like any business, publishers aren't willing to put thousands and thousands of dollars into marketing, editing, designing, and printing a book unless they're reasonably sure they're going to get their money back with (hopefully) a decent profit. If you send your book of poetry to a publishing house that specializes in literary fiction, even if it's great, it's not a market they're familiar with, and therefore, they won't have the contacts and platform they need to sell the book.
    • The book was great and it fit our market well, but the author had no platform to promote it.The truth is that it's easier to get published if you're an author who is already doing speaking engagements, has a large base of followers who would read the book, or is an established expert in the field you're writing in. For a smaller publisher who might not have as much marketing clout, this is especially important. You can work on increasing your notoriety by writing a blog, going to writers' conferences, and booking speaking engagements.
    • The book was good, but the publisher wasn't on board with it, for varied reasons. Publishing is often a collaborative process, which is usually great. However, it often means that several people have to be excited about your book for it to make it to the final stage of getting a signed contract.
    • The book had strong points, but the writing just wasn't strong enough. This is, sadly, a problem many authors will encounter. If this is the case, don't give up hope. Keep writing. Get input from others. Rewrite your book or start a new book. As I talked about yesterday, the best way to become a good writer is to practice.

    The key in writing is to keep trying. If the first agent or publishing house you submit to rejects you, keep trying. Submit to more people. If you've exhausted every avenue with your first book, keep writing. The more you practice, the better you'll get. Try not to take the rejection to heart. Although it might feel like it, especially if you've gotten a lot of rejections, it's not a personal attack. And keep in mind, most famous authors have been rejected many times, so you're in good company.


    Sing to Me, Oh Muse

    "I've got an idea for a book!" Once people find out I'm an editor, that's almost always the first thing I hear. If I had a penny for every person I know who has an idea for a book...well, I'd probably have a few bucks. To go from having an idea for a book to actually putting your idea down on paper is a huge accomplishment that most people never get around to doing. If you've gotten that far, well done. You should be proud of yourself.

    Now all you have to do is wait for the money to start rolling in, right? Not exactly. Most people I've talked to have this strange idea that writing a book is some kind of magical process. You get inspired by an amazing, original, creative idea. The creativity fairy waves her magic wand and a wonderful, perfect book is born. All you have to do is write it down and you're good to go.

    The truth is that writing is a hard process. It takes practice, and lots of it, to become a good writer. Your first book is probably not going to be ready to be published by a traditional publisher. The same may be true of a second, third, or fourth book. Writers who make a living from writing novels are few and far between. Even successful book authors who make a living writing are usually those who write multiple books a year, and those cases are rare. People who make a living writing are far more likely to be freelance writers who write content for businesses, magazines, etc.

    And becoming a millionaire through writing? That's most likely a pipe dream. Certainly there have been authors who have done it (J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham, for example), but they are very, very atypical. Advances on novels can vary widely, but a first-time author should be realistic. Depending on the publishing house, the genre being written in, and the confidence in the project, you could see an advance of $1,000 to $25,000. Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but as you can see, the advance from one book is probably not going to be enough to quit your day job. Of course, that is not all the money to be made on a book, since you hope your book will earn out its advance.

    The process of getting published is also a long, arduous process. Querying agents and publishing houses is often frustrating. Not only do you have to find someone who represents or publishes your specific genre, but you also have to find someone who is excited enough about it to spend the thousands of dollars it takes to edit, print, and market a book.

    So does this mean you should give up writing as a waste of time? Definitely not! If it's your passion, do it. If you want to be published, keep practicing. Join a writers group, either locally or online, to get helpful feedback on your work. Write fanfiction, start a blog, or just write with no expectation of having someone else read it. Slow and steady wins the race! Writing is not something you should be in for the money (she says, as published authors the world over snort into their coffee). It's something you should do for the love of it.