Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Sorry Male Authors - Male Privledge Does Not Let You Ignore The Guidelines

This weekend, I found myself rejecting a ton of authors who simply didn't seem to know how to follow the rules and guidelines. Let me explain the situation.

As you know, the Greyhaus Literary Agency ONLY represents romance and women's fiction. It has been that way since I opened the agency in 2003. And yet, time after time, I find myself rejecting authors who seem to think the guidelines on the website are not really what they seem to say. In other words, despite the fact that we go through hours of setting up clear guidelines, these are not really what we want. Now, here is the thing I notice. Over and over again, these submissions are coming from male authors.

I will just say, I don't get it.

These authors will submit from my website, quote things from my website and blogs, and then submit projects that are, in no way, romance or women's fiction.

Maybe this is a gender communication thing. Maybe these authors are simply looking at the
submission guidelines as Capt. Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean states, these are not actual rules.

Ahhh, but these are rules.

We establish the guideline because these are the stories that we represent and we are looking for. It is as simple as that.

Come on guys. Quit thinking that there are loopholes to everything and really this is a free-for-all when it comes to the publishing world.

Follow the rules and you might find more success!

Monday, October 30, 2017

There Are Not Many Ways We Can Say No

I feel like I have written about this in the past, but it really hit me this last weekend as I was working my way through submissions. As the title suggests, there are just not many ways we can say no to a manuscript. I really wanted to bring this up because I know so many writers out there really had the form letter response.

In this last round of submissions I wrote, I found myself answering these submissions in really a limited number of ways. These came down to the following:

Not a genre represented
Not something I was interested in
Not developed enough

Now, here is the interesting part. There were over 80 submissions I read this weekend and out of all those, I passed on the majority of these projects for those reasons.

As agents and editors, we try our best to not send out form letters but as we write the letters, we find ourselves coming back to the same phrases and the same sentences over and over again.

As agents, we know exactly what we are looking for and stories will either fit that mold not the stories will not fit that mold. As I read stories I will see if the story has the potential of fitting the mold. If so, I request more. If not, the author gets the rejection letter. 

This is pretty simple but that is what it comes down to.

If you are someone who feels you are getting nothing but rejection letters, I encourage you to think through this idea. I would also encourage you to review those letters and see if there is a pattern. If so, that might just be the clue you have been looking for to advance your career. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What Your Query Should Be Doing

It's time to talk about those nasty query letters. Hey, what better thing to talk about on a Wednesday. Still, I do think this is something we need to consider.

First of all, I understand that many of you have heard that editors and agents really do not look at the query letters (or even the synopsis you were sweating over). But, I have to say, they are going to look at these and those letters will have an impact on the way they see you or read your submission.

It is important to remember that the query letter is the first impression you are making with that potential editor or agent. As they read that letter, they are already formulating thoughts about whether or not they will like your writing. No, they are not really considering the story at this point; this is all about their decisions of you as a person.

Your goal is to show the editors and agents your level of professionalism and your knowledge of the business as a whole. They want to see how much work they are going to have to put in with you. Are they going to have to spend a lot of time teaching you the business, or are they going to be able to get right to work on building your career and your writing?

With that said, do not spend the time telling us that you are new to this business. Do not spend the time going on and on about how you have attended all of these workshops just to learn the business. You might think that you are showing us that you are invested in the career; however, what this is really showing us is that you are still learning the business.

Your query letter also needs to show us a complete picture of your story. Again, I know that many have been told that the blurb about your book is similar to those that you find on the back of the books. While this is heading in the right direction, those blurbs are meant as teasers for your book buying readers. Of course, with these people, you will not want to give away the ending or a lot of the little twists and turns of your story. But for editors and agents, we need to have a complete picture. We really need to see the following:
  • Plot
  • Character
  • Setting
  • Theme
Yes, this is the basics, but we need to have all of that information. It is that little snippet that gives us an idea of the story is something we are going to be able to work with. We know that the specifics of the story will come out in the synopsis and the manuscript. The key is to focus on the content.

Finally, it is really important that you demonstrate to us that you have done your research on the agency and publisher. It is your goal to show the editor or agent why you are contacting this person as well as why your writing is a perfect fit for that person. If you think about applying for a job, your cover letter tells that employer why you are a perfect candidate.

Where I see a lot of authors mess this up is that they simply focus on the fact that the agent or editor acquires that genre. It is more than that! We are looking for you and your writing being a perfect fit.

I want you to really read your query letter today and ask yourself, based on what you have written, would you hire yourself? Read it as if this is the first time you have read your query letter.

Have fun!!!!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Not All Stories Are To Be Published

I was thinking about this recently as I was working my way through submissions. I read some projects that really left me questioning why this author believed the project should be published. This was not an issue of the quality of the writing or the passion of the author. It really came down to the concept of the story and whether or not this was something that "needed" to be published.

I have always said that writing is one of those few areas out there where everyone has open access. Some of us are just not athletes or artists or musicians, but we all have the ability to put words together to convey an emotion or thought. But, with that said, while the publishing world is really open to EVERYONE out there, this does not mean that EVERYONE should be published.

I know what some of you might be thinking here. This is just another way to exclude some writers, or that this is just the publishers only wanting to make a profit. This is far from the case. There are simply some stories that just don't make it out there to be sold. Again, this is not just the "establishment" trying to prevent people from telling "their" story, but projects that might be more of a story meant for private consumption.

I do not want to make a list of "topics" not worthy, but look at this from a broader concept. Maybe these are topics that are venturing into areas that really are private matters. Maybe these are stories that the timing of the project just is not right? Maybe these are stories that are "crossing" that line of ethics, morals and what not. I know I am being pretty broad here but I think you get the idea.

I am not here to say that we should not push the boundaries and/or prevent people from writing. I am saying, however, that maybe authors need to stop and think before they start writing that project that might be in one of these areas. Is there a better way to convey that message? Is this really something that needs to be written and not published?

Just a thought. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Why Deadlines Matter

For new authors, having deadlines is simply not an issue. You write your story when you want to and when the mood inspires you. Sure, you set for yourself smaller goals, but if you don't make it, there is no harm. However, if you are someone wishing to write professionally, or you have made that leap, then deadlines CANNOT be taken lightly. Those dates are there for a reason.

I fully understand that some authors think missing that deadline by a week is not that major of an issue. You know your book is not to be out for another 6 months so why worry? The issue here, is that those authors are only thinking about their own lives. They are not realizing that there are other people involved.

Let's start with some basics.

Although your book might not come out for a year, it has to be put into a release schedule along with all of the other authors that publisher works with. This also means that your editor is not just working with you, but also working with a lot of other authors. Your editor has to read, edit, and write up all of those revision notes for you so that you can get things done. Remember there is only so much time in the day to get this work done.

Now, we add to the fact that your work also has to get to copy editors, the art department, the business department and potentially other editors for review. This now impacts a lot of other individuals.

Your editor is blocking out their calendar to work on your work. If you miss that deadline they cannot simply go to work on another author's work, unless that author is ahead of schedule. Sure, they might like to get to that work, but that is not always the case.

Those publishers are working hard to position your book for the best release time. This might be having books coming out in a series of consecutive months, or even situations such as Christmas releases for those themed books. Miss that deadline, you will be looking at a release date that might be 2 years away now.

I just want you to really think about the people around you. Miss that deadline, you are putting pressure on others. Miss that deadline, you are hurting your own career in an already competitive industry.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Write What You Know, Not What Is Hot

I think a lot of writers really get hung up on trying to write in genres that are the current hot trend out there. The problem with this approach is that, due to a lack of real understanding of that new genre, the writing often ends up failing, the author has wasted valuable time, and, worse yet, the writer now feels discouraged.

I do understand there is a value in trying different genres. For new authors, this is also a great time to discover his or her true calling. However, when an author does find that niche, the author needs to stick with it and learn to grow into the genre. Jumping around after the first failure, or when the author hears of a new genre is not going to work.

In a lot of ways, I see this much like many of today's parents approach getting their kids involved with activities. A new chance shows up and the parents pull the kids from one activity to get them exposed to something new. Although the intent is good, the kids just do not get a chance to get good to really succeed.

For some of you out there, your real talent might be in a genre you really didn't want to write, or maybe you didn't like when you first started. You might have had other plans. At this point, you really have two options. The first is to write in the genre you are supposed to be writing in. Learn it well. Dissect other authors in that genre and really succeed. This is the faster option.

The second option is to jump into the new genre. Understand that you are now starting at ground zero. It will be similar to you as a 100% novice writer trying to learn the craft. Expect that you will hit a lot of failures along the way. Expect that you will be looking at, most likely, double the amount of time before you are ready to make the move.

It is a tough decision, but one I think many authors really need to think about.

Monday, October 16, 2017

What it means to "Raise The Stakes" for your characters

The concept of raising the stakes relates to the idea of conflict in the story. It is a relatively easy concept to understand, but when writing, adding this element can often be difficult.

When we think of the conflict in the story between your hero and heroine, we are talking about the thing that is keeping the two of them apart from that wonderful happily every after (yes, I am talking about romance writing here in case you didn't figure that one out). As an agent, this is something I really look for in the story.

It is important to understand that the conflict cannot simply be a miscommunication issue. This would be considered a complication. If you think of most sit-coms on TV, the problem in that 30 minute episode is generally considered a complication. This would be when one character overhears a part of a conversation and assumes they know the full story. In this case, it is a complication because the solution comes down to simply getting the full story. A conflict, however, needs to have something more than a quick conversation to solve.

Now, we get to the tough part - how to "raise the stakes."

What we are talking about here is what the characters stand to lose. If the two characters are meant to be together and there is nothing really big getting in the way, then the stakes are too low. Let's use a Regency romance for example. Let's say that a son of a lord is expected to find a good girl and get married. He finds someone he likes but she is not of the same social class. If this is the only issue, then the stakes are pretty low. Now, let's add to this. The girl comes from a family that may have once had power in the Ton, but due to an indiscretion from her father or uncle, they have been made outcasts. Now, someone dating her would also be drawn into that scandal. The stakes have just been raised. Add to this more that the son's dad is determine to make a statement of this and will disinherit him unless he marries someone the dad chooses. Now the stakes are up there!

If he decides to proceed with the relationship with the girl, he could lose family, name and money.

Does this make sense?

It is important to remember that we don't want to add a ton of extra back story and plot twists to the story. That will simply overly complicate things. Stick to what you have in the skeleton of the story and you build with that.

It is also important to remember to not make the situation impossible to fix, or something that only an act of God can fix. Keep it to something that the characters can resolve with a little critical thinking skills.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Reviewers May Hate Your Book - Suck It Up!

Look, I will begin by simply saying that a bad review sucks! You worked your butt off on that story and darn it, someone tanked the story on a review. But here is the thing. That is going to happen.

We are in a subjective business. Publishing is a world of people liking things and hating things simply on gut instinct. And you cannot say this is something that should change. Everyone does this. Do you, as a reader, like EVERY book you read and only give it favorable reviews? Do you even have some of your favorite authors who have written books that have left you questioning their ability? Sure!

Maybe this expectation of amazing reviews comes from our present society that rewards everyone for everything they do. Schools make sure EVERY kid gets an award. Even some sports have eliminated the concept of 1st, 2nd and 3rd so we don't hurt little Billy's feelings. I don't know. The reality is that there may be times when your story gets a bad review...so suck it up!

I heard an author lately complaining about a bad review. Instead of looking to the comments the person made about the books, the shift was immediately shifted to other reasons and ideas:
  • The reviewer was a complete idiot.
  • "You know, that entire website doing reviews only likes a particular genre.
  • I am sure the person didn't read the entire book.
  • What is this person thinking? All my Beta readers loved the book
But consider this. Maybe, just maybe the reviewer wasn't a complete idiot and your beta readers don't know their butt from a hot rock. Maybe, just maybe, someone finally had the nerve to tell you the story was not good.

In other words, your book really may suck!

Maybe the reason all of those editors and agents were passing on your book really did come down to the quality and they were trying to save your feelings and not telling you the truth?

The point is, if you get a bad review, own it! Learn from it! Grow! You might find the next time you write a book, that good review will come your way!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Small Picture and Large Picture Editing

I know that writers work hard at editing their stories. They want to have the best product out there and often go over those stories time and time again. They make tweaks. The change plots. The re-write scenes. When they go back and re-read what they just did, the writing is AMAZING! As they close down their computers for the day, they head off into their other world really feeling a sense of satisfaction.

And yet, for many, the work they did is not always going to work as well as they think. This comes down to an issue of the small and large picture editing.

Too often, writers make changes on their story and the work they do, really is good. It works great for that scene. But, the work often contradicts issues in other sections of their story. In some cases, although that individual scene rocks, it forces changes that will need to be made in the rest of the story, and sometimes, those changes never get made.

As you make changes in your story on those individual scenes, make sure to constantly think about how those changes work with the rest of your story. I often use the analogy of the thesis for an academic paper. You might add a section to that research paper that seems interesting and you might think, at that point in the paper, the readers would like to see this, but if that work is not something that supports the thesis, the work you do is not going to help you.

We aren't just talking about plots here. We are also talking about adding or changing internal and external conflict elements, or even those nasty GMC's (goals, motivations and conflicts) of the characters. For example, maybe you have written a scene where you wanted to increase the sexual tension of the characters earlier in the book. Although that might increase the heat for that moment, you now have to add the sub-story of the characters having to adjust and work through that sexual encounter. If that line is going to get in the way of the main story line and detract from the story, maybe that change should not be made.

Just something to consider.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Russian Hacking, The Internet and Professional Writing

No, I am not going to launch into politics here and start taking sides on the Russian hacking thing going on right now. But, I do want to take a look at how the latest revelations that came out this last week have to do with quality professional writing.

If you have been following the story lately, we have found out that much of the "meddling" in the election came from a disinformation campaign. It seems that the Russian government, through the use of social media simply started to shape how the US population thought about things going on in the world. Their approach was simple. Through the use of well-placed hashtags, great lines and fake accounts, information spread like wild-fire.

Now, here is the twist that I want to look at. Why it spread?

The answer is quite simple and also quite frustrating. There are a lot of people out there who believe in the power of technology and seem to think that when we see it on the Internet, it must be true.

We all remember this commercial and laughed at it...

But, the scary thing is, we continue to do this.

The reason this approach taken last year worked so well is essentially due to the over-all ignorance of the American people and their use of technology and the Internet. Yes, I fully admit I am using a hyperbole here, but this is what we are seeing. We get something and we simply "SHARE IT".

My father does this all of the time. He also has a lot of issues with computer viruses on his computer. He gets and email from someone, who has also passed the information on and immediately wants to share it. Of course, while he opened that email, he infected his computer with a virus. But, he got it from someone he trusted? Yes, but without taking the time to investigate the initial source, the "sharing" did its damage.

As someone who teaches research writing at the college level, we spend a great deal of time discussing getting quality information for our papers. We talk about doing your research and not simply relying on a "gut instinct" or even what many junior high and high school teachers taught our kids that "If it ends with an .edu or a .org,, or a .gov, then it can be trusted." The problem is that anyone can use those endings. You still have to do your research.

I am seeing a lot of the same things in the publishing community. Writers get out there on their discussion forums, their Facebook groups and even in their writing chapters and groups and simply just "share information" with each other without taking the time to really do the research and trust what they hear. 

The writing community really seems to be notorious for this type of information transfer. Someone hears news about an editor, agent or publisher decision and immediately the information begins circulating like wildfire. You get that information and immediately trust it because it came from your critique partner or your chapter president and they can always be trusted.

But where did they get it from.

When I get information like that passed on to me, I immediately go to the source. Not the one I just heard it from. I do my research.

I tell my students and writers to always question the source. This is not questioning it because we think it is flawed in some way. We are questioning to insure the authenticity and the quality of the source. 

Are you doing this?