Friday, January 20, 2017

Flexibility Is Key

As someone with experience in the K-12 and college education system, I have come to understand something that, I do believe, a lot of writers struggle with. Flexibility is key to success! Things are not going to go as planned. Things will change. Plots will zig when you want them to zag.

One of the biggest things I have seen is the constant change of editors and agents. This year, Greyhaus authors saw a huge change in editorial guidance for their authors. For some, it was their first editorial change. For others, this was number ???? (we've lost count). But in each change, the authors' flexibility made the transitions from one editor to another very smooth.

Now, does this mean that being flexible means using this as a means to justify not getting something accomplished? Absolutely not! We know life will get in the way, but we find a way to overcome that obstacle and move on. We know that our computer may crash, so we borrow our kids and we keep moving. Do not make those sudden changes in plan a reason for not meeting deadlines, or getting your work done.

I have really admired one of my current authors. I will see a post from Amy Ruttan about being sick or some family crisis, and then, in the next day or two, she has jumped back to the computer, made up for lost time and charged ahead. This is how you are flexible.

Another author, Bronwyn Scott, lives an amazingly busy schedule. And yet, when she starts falling behind on a current work in progress, I will often get a FB Message post from her telling me she is starting a weekend of "doubles". In this case, she is taking care of 2 chapters a day to play catch up.

So what do you do to stay flexible? No Yoga doesn't count, although one of the trainers at my gym wants me to get to her Mixfit and Zumba classes to take care of my flexibilty (ummmmm, no). My

mental flexibility is more like Patrick Swayze but my physical flexibility is more like Chris Farley.

In any case, find a way to get flexible with your writing and take Patrick's image with you as a guide.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Benefits Of Back To Back Releases

When I am looking at new submissions for authors, one of the things I am always interested in are other projects that author may have available or in progress. There are several reasons for this. As an agent, we want to see that this author is forward thinking in terms of their career. We are also interested to see if, for example, the first book doesn't work, there are other projects that might be available. But there is also a marketing issue that many writers need to understand.

Back to Back releases sell really well!

We know that readers tend to buy books in streaks. These people will find one author, love that writing and immediately head out to find anything else written by that person. Seeing that name 3 months in a row really show dramatic increases in sales. If, on the other hand you write one book, and then don't do anything for a year, you are running the risk that those authors who loved you with book 1 will forget who you are when book 2 comes out.

Having a constant flow of books also works to your benefit with both the editors and your agent. The more we see of your name, the more you are in our radar. We are constantly thinking about you and your works. Now, what does this get you? If a new project comes along, let's say a team project, a promotion, or an anthology, we will push for you. When you disappear, that offer goes to someone else.

Here is a great example of this outside of swimming. This last weekend, at the swim meet I was officiating at, my son's team was putting together relay teams. As they were putting together the A and B relays, then ended up putting in one swimmer who has been pretty inconsistent this year. He's fast, but you couldn't guarantee a swim. They ended up taking 4th place instead of a 1st and 2nd place combo. Now, could they have done better? The answer was yes. One swimmer was spending a lot of his time NOT sitting with the team, but either up in the stands with his parents or outside in the hall with a smaller group of swimmers. The coach, after seeing him, AND after the swim made the comment, "Gosh, I completely forgot [swimmer x] was here today."

Although you might be someone who casually writes, or are someone who believes you cannot write multiple books in a year, understand there are some negatives that might come to play for you and your career. Keeping that constant flow will keep your career moving and keep those readers coming back for more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Enjoy The Small Victories

It is pouring down rain here in the Seattle area. In simple terms, it sucks! Driving anywhere feels like the day Noah left on his 40 day cruise. My dogs are even pretty upset. They look at me and say, "Are you really serious? You want me to go outside now? I think I'll hold it!" Even my son, who is a swimmer, is complaining about the water. Of course, he parked his PT Cruiser in a puddle and is afraid it may wash away! Now that would be fun to see! And that is the point I want to make today.

As writers, we will all face days where things are simply not going to go well. Words will not show up. Calls will come in non-stop preventing any flow of creative ideas. The computer will crash. The Internet will be down when you needed that crucial piece of research. Days will suck!

But as writers, it is imperative that you find a way to overcome these small obstacles. You have to take the time to find those small successes and then celebrate.

So what if you didn't make it through the whole chapter. Did you get that one scene written that you have struggled with for the last several days. Then success!

So what if one writer (who was clearly an idiot) gave you a 1 star ranking on Amazon. Did you get other's that say you were amazing? Then success! Besides, according to President Donald Trump on Jan. 17, 2017, "The polls are all lying!" So why worry.

My son had a huge swim meet this last weekend. Did he win? No. But you know what? He matched his best times without a "tapering time" before the meet. For you non-swimmers, this is that block of
time when athletes slow down on training to "peak" at the right time. For him, this meet was a success.

The key is that you have to plunge on with your progress and your writing. Be like my great friend Elizabetta Bricca in Perugia. "I am going to my studio to write and there, I said it all." This is the attitude you need. And by the way, if you have a chance to read any of her work, so so! Fantastic writer!!!

What will this get for you? Something that Greyhaus author Leanne Bristow got yesterday in the mail.
Her first novel showed up in the mail. Big Success!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why I Pass After Only A Query Letter

One of the common responses I hear from authors after I pass on a project is, "If you would just read the story, you would come to a different conclusion." While that might be the case, the odds are, I will still end up with the same decision, even after reading either a partial or the full manuscript. When we read the query letter, we are looking at many different things before deciding to read further. I should note that, yes, I know that many editors and agents just simply say to send everything with every submission, but in all honesty, I am not sure what the point is. A) our In-boxes will be flooded; and B) those stories will still likely get a reject with little reading.

So, the question is, what do I see in a project that would cause me to reject based on the query alone?

(Please note this list is in no particular order)...

The query shows a lack of professionalism. I have talked about this one in the past, but this is personally a big one for me. When I read a query, I am also trying to decide if this is a person that I am going to want to work with for a long period of time. As an agent, this is going to be a commitment. I am not going to see serious results until several books down the line (unless it is an amazing one hit wonder, and those do not happen much). If this person appears to be some random person who really has no clue, this will be more work than it is worth. Not only do I have to work on the project, and make it ready for market, I have to also teach this person to be a professional writer.

The story is not something I represent. Again, this is one of those things I complain about the most. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know this. Pop quiz here... What does Greyhaus Literary Agency represent? Answer: ONLY romance and women's fiction. The guidelines are clear. In fact, I am frequently getting emails from writers thanking me for being so specific. So, when you send me a screenplay for a collection of erotic poetry set in a sci-fi thriller atmosphere that is also a memoir, the answer will be no. Pubtip #1 - Read submission guidelines.

The premise has questionable material in it or things that I personally do not like. Because we want to spend time talking about the project to others, we have to like the content. This is an extremely subjective business and frankly, there are some things we are not going to like. For example:

  • I don't mind hot scenes but sex for the sake of sex is not going to work.
  • Adultery is not something I want in my stories.
  • Teachers getting it on with their students (I am also a college instructor and I am sorry to say this people, even grad students having a relationship with a professor will lead to A) loss of degree; and B) someone getting fired).
  • Psychic romantic suspense. Sorry but this is just an easy answer to prevent having to find the killer.
  • Etc... I think you get the idea. 

The story has a limited market. I want to create the most opportunities for you. If your story is going going to work for one line, or one editor and that is it, then we are over after that first rejection. Taking on a project like this means that we will spend a lot of time gambling on one thing only. Not worth the investment unless it is that one hit Great American Novel, and even then...

The author thinks he or she is the greatest thing since sliced bread. This one goes back to the professionalism, but telling me that your story is clearly one of the greatest stories ever, or that your story is better than that "Hack Nora Roberts" (and yes, I had someone say that once in a query) you will get rejected. Sorry, but just because you wrote a story does not mean you are a Nobel prize consideration. I had one author tell me Oprah was seriously considering his book. Look, just sending in the project to the company does not mean it is in consideration.

This also extends to those people who have been self-published and then claim amazing sales and followings. Look, being the #1 book on Amazon for romantic fiction set in the stone age with paranormal elements and in Manga form is not really telling us much.

The story is an imitation of other projects. When we read the story and say, hey, isn't this...??? If it is a time travel set in Scotland and the girl is coming from the 1940's, ummmm, I think it has been done. If it is a coming of age story set in a school of witches and the young girl is going to fight the greatest sorceress in the world,.. ummm, I think it has been done. And no, you can not say it is a variation on a theme.

You didn't follow the guidelines. While this is not a deal breaker, I have pretty clear guidelines of what I want submitted.

  • In an email, send just a query.
  • Using the form, follow the directions
  • Sending it snail mail, query, synopsis and only first three pages
When you attach the full manuscript, embed the first three chapters and synopsis, or fill the form out adding material that YOU feel is relevant but is not what I asked for tells me you have a hard time following directions.

The point is, that query letter and your premise do say a lot. Think before you send things out. Follow those directions and be careful. As the Head and Shoulders commercial says, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

Or, to quote the hit musical Hamilton, you don't want to "throw away your shot!"