Friday, April 19, 2019

Finding Success In Writing

I stumbled across a quote yesterday that I through would be totally fitting for a Friday! "Success does not come to those who wait. You have to go and get it. You have to work for it."

I think most of us would completely agree with this, and yet, there are a ton of writers out there forgetting this when it comes to their writing careers. For many, they seem to think that success will just fall in their laps because they have dang good stories.

Nope, not going to happen!

Those of you who just throw your stories out to contests and believe this is the key to success are missing the point. While this MIGHT get a project in front of the eyes of an editor or agent, you need to do much more. This is simply throwing darts and hoping something sticks.

Those of you who wait for your favorite social media blog to offer an "open house" for editors and agents where you just post your pitch and wait, are missing the point. Yes, we do help out writing chapters with these promotions, but the majority of the time we simply are not going to find anything!

Those of you who do get that book published are not going to find success in the hopes a lot of readers will discover you and buy your book. YOU have to market! YOU have to promote! YOU have to get out there and do something.

For those of you who are waiting for your writing chapter to bring in a guest speaker you have liked will be waiting a LONG time. You need to do more than throw a name out to the chapter president and hope something happens. You need to step up.

And finally, those of you who are still whining and complaining about contests like the RITA, I want to know what YOU are going to do about it? Saying you aren't going to participate is a cowardly thing. If you want to see changes, step up and offer to help. Step up and contact the RWA Office and tell them you want to help. I was even nice enough to give you the link.

Now, get out there and do something. I dare you! I challenge you!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Think Before Resubmitting To An Agent or Editor

The question I think most editors and agents hear the most is whether or not it is OK to submit again to an editor or agent if their first story was rejected. The answer almost always is a resounding yes. But, before you immediately go out and start hitting send on all of those other manuscripts, it is important to stop and think.

When I read a project, I log my thoughts in on a database about what I thought about that project. Might not be a lot of information, but it is enough to know I have seen this person before and, if I passed on that project, what the problem was. This is important, because when you submit that new project, you better not make the same mistake again.

This means that whenever you get a rejection from an editor or agent, keep a record of the thoughts and comments (assuming the editor or agent said anything). If there was any nugget of information in that rejection letter, make sure that the new project is not making the same mistake. Let's consider a few of the reasons I pass on a project and what you should be looking for in that new manuscript.

Just not what I was looking for (the generic not right for me)
This is a tough one and, unfortunately, the one I send out the most. This is also the one that is probably most common for most editors or agents. There needs to be a strong connection through the writing for that editor or agent. It isn't that the writing is bad, but it just is not our favorite.

THE SOLUTION: Spend time reading other things that the editor or agent has signed. Spend time on social media seeing what that person comments on. In other words, do some research.

Conflict not strong enough
This is where you need to examine how you write your story. Too often, we see some great writing, but, in the end, there is just not a lot there keeping the characters apart, other than external complications. This is where we talk about "high stakes." We want to see that conflict of the characters wanting to get together but then seriously struggling with why they cannot be with that person.

THE SOLUTION: Look at what you believe is the conflict. If this is just a matter of the characters giving themselves permission, then it is not a conflict. If it is something on the outside, for example, they work for the same company, but one can easily change jobs, then this is not significant.

Character and plot depth
In this case, I have passed on your story because it is really 2-dimensional. You have a plot, you have characters, you have a setting, but in the end, it is just like reading a Wikipedia entry. For stories like this, I have to honestly say "adding more" is not enough. This is more of an issue of the writer still learning to tell a great story and learning to write.

THE SOLUTION: Spend time learning the craft. Again, DO NOT just add more. You can also take the time to read the story as if you are someone on the outside. Is there really enough to see a full picture in your head? Are you assuming your reader will get the big picture?

Story length
This is very much like the character and plot depth issue. Too often, authors tell me they are writing this amazingly complex story (after seeing the synopsis) but then have a story that is too short. This means that the person is not developing the story enough. In this case, there is a pretty good bet that adding the depth may help. There is also another side of this and that would be stories that are too long for the style of writing. I see this a lot with authors who have a category voice but trying to write a single title story.

THE SOLUTION: For too short, look at the earlier Depth Solution. For stories too long? look for repetition.

Voice not strong
This is all about the writing. Have you ever read a story where there seems to be no emotion or passion in the story. Sure, the author has used adjectives and adverbs to describe the emotion, but that is about it? This is the voice issue. When we read a story, we want to be drawn into the lives of the characters.

THE SOLUTION: Unfortunately, this is an issue of a writer being new at the craft. This is where you need to keep practicing and keep reading the writing of other authors. Dissect that other writing and see what it is that made you laugh or cry. It will be something beyond the plot of the story. 

Forced plot or writing
This is where the author is trying too hard to make the story work. When it comes to the plot, the authors are often putting in random plot devices just to make things work. When it comes to the writing, they are often inserting techniques they probably learned at the latest workshop. This is also about the writing being natural.

THE SOLUTION: Unfortunately, this is also an issue of a writer being new at the craft. This is where you need to keep practicing and keep reading the writing of other authors. In this case, you have to know WHY that technique is necessary in the story or WHY that plot device is necessary. If all you are doing is using that scene to move the characters from one scene to the next, it is forced. 
Not genre represented
Pretty basic. Did you bother to go to the website and do your own research? Probably not

THE SOLUTION: Duh, do you research

More of fiction and not quite romance or women's fiction
In most of these cases, this is an issue where you really do not know what to write. You have written something and waited for someone to tell you what genre it really is. Big mistake. You need to know what genre you are writing BEFORE you write it.

THE SOLUTION: Go to the bookstore and read those genres. If it is romance, would your story really fit on that shelf? If not, then it is not romance!

What Agents Advertise IS What We Acquire

I have ranted about this in the past, but I think it is time for another rant.

When agents and editors post what we are looking for in terms of genres, in other words, what we acquire and what we don't acquire... wait for it... it is the truth. There are no hidden secrets here. We are not like those "hidden menu items" we hear about at local restaurants. And yet... there are a ton of authors out there, and you may be one of those people, who think, "I know Scott says he only takes romance and women's fiction, but my memoir is so unique, he will think differently!"

Sorry, but no!

Look, I get you all hate getting rejections. I will tell you that editors and agents hate writing rejections. Not only is it tough to tell someone no, but it also takes time to open the email, read the email, record the submission in our databases and then answer the email. But now, when we have to answer submissions from someone who openly admits they read your guidelines and decided to submit later is VERY frustrating. The phrase, "I thought I would take a shot" is not an answer.

Now, if you are someone still frustrated with what editors and agents want in their submissions, the solution is easy. Do your research. Quit living on those database sites such as Agent Query and just submitting to everyone with an email address. Get on the Internet, visit the websites of the editors and agents and do your research. I would also add that this works for publishers as well. If that publisher says they only want "agented submissions" and you don't have one, DO NOT think they will deviate from that thinking. They will not read your submission. I don't care if your story is the next Great American Novel, you did not do your research.

Just a reality check for a Wednesday!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Speed and Novel Writing

I just saw a post for a conference where one of the speakers is talking about writing your stories amazingly fast. This got me thinking about the idea of how fast should you write your stories. I have heard authors talk about this from both sides of the equation. What I have to say is that in the end, it is not the time you have spent writing your story, but the quality of it. However, I do have to say, there are some positives and negatives about each.

Let's start with the writers that take a long time. I will often get submissions where someone tells me they have been writing this story for three years or so. These authors want to make us think that they have really worked hard at this project, trying to make it just the perfect fit for what the market wants. However, if you do the math, this is pathetic. Consider...
  • 52 weeks in a year
  • 3 years to write the book
  • This equals 156 weeks
  • Assume a 100,000 word manuscript (most of these Great American Novels are around this length)
  • This means that each week, you have written 641 words.
  • That's about three pages, 12 point font and double spaced.
This is not going to get you anywhere.

But, if a story does take a year to write, and it is a full level, single title, book club worthy, NPR level discussion level, with extensive research... this might be fine. 

When it comes to marketing, however, and if you want to be a novelist who writes for a career and not just the one-hit-wonder, it requires name recognition. Readers will not remember your name and your first book after a year or two. Remember that if you do write that book, it still takes close to 6 months to get that book through the editing process and on the shelf.

Now, let's consider mass market books. These are hitting the 50,000 (for series/category) to 80,000ish. For these, you should be considering getting several done in a year. This is where I get frustrated with authors who do take a full year to write something in that 60,000 word range. This comes out to about 1000 words a week. While this might seem standard, but that is only about 5 pages a week. Really, you only wrote 1 page a day??? ( I gave you the weekend off).

Again, in the end, we want a really strong story, but please understand, as an agent, we are looking for a professional writer to be producing and for us to have product to get to those editors. 

Just a number thing to consider for a Tuesday!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Understanding Advances

Just a small lesson today on advances in traditional publishing.

If you sign with a traditional publisher for a traditional print run, you will hear the term "advance" come into the conversation. This is simply the money that the publisher pays to the author for the rights to publish his or her book. Depending on the publisher, line, etc., that advance can really vary in terms of the amount.

This advance is a "prediction" on what the publisher thinks this book is worth and will sell. The number is based on a lot of different algorithms the marketing departments have put together on that type of book. The publisher has looked at trends on similar books (comps) and have calculated that figure. It isn't just some fixed number they have created (although many will think it sounds like that).

After you have sold through your advance, now you are looking at earning royalties on that book. So, let's say you sold your book for $10,000. That money is given to you up front (I'll explain splits here in a just a second). Once you have sold $10,000 in sales (after all of the cuts for publishers, books not sold, etc.) the second portion of your contract comes into play with those royalties. These have different percentages based on those initial negotiations you or your agent made when you signed that contract. This could be for foreign copies, large print, audio books, film rights and so forth.

That advance can also be split in various different combinations. This could include on delivery of proposals, full manuscripts, signing of contracts and so forth. So, let's go back to that $10,000 advance and look at a potential split:
  • $2000 on signing of the contract
  • $4000 on delivery of a partial 
  • $4000 on delivery of the final draft
If you are someone who is working in self-publishing, you obviously won't have an advance. In cases of many digital only publishers, there won't be an advance but just a split of percentage of sales once that book is sold.

Hope that helps!!!!!