Friday, November 19, 2021

Why So Many Authors Fail

I really do hate talking about failing, but, I always hope, that by providing people with what people are doing wrong, could be a learning tool to assist other authors to be successful. 

As an agent, it is always difficult to hear the number of authors complaining about "the system" and why the publishers and the agents are not open to stories. It always seems to be the fault of anyone, but the authors, as to why no one is buying their stories. Now, I will openly admit that the market is tougher now than it was in the past. The number of slots available for books is just not there any more. Those brick and mortar stores are just not there now. The number of small book stores just cannot keep the surplus to be profitable. The number of readers out there is also declining due to the huge push for watching movies and streaming services. People would rather watch a movie than read. Even in schools, the education system is just not pushing book reading any more. I remember when I first started in education, we would red close to 8 books a year. Now, schools may read 1 a year. Even my kid's AP Literature teachers didn't have them reading full stories, and opted for watching a movie, or just reading excerpts.

Still, when it comes down to it, the number of people I reject due to, what I will call "user error" is huge. These are all things that the authors have complete control over. These are errors that can be fixed, but first of all, the authors have to admit that it is an issue that they need (and want) to fix.

First of all, writers need to learn to write. Being an author is not just sitting down at a computer and typing words. This is a craft that requires taking the time to learn and grow into. Yes, some people are natural born storytellers, but the ability to turn those stories into a written document is a lot harder than many think. 

Much of this belief, I honestly believe, comes from the self-publishing companies that proclaim how easy it is to publish your book. Just send it to us and within hours, you will be on the shelves and people can buy your book! Sure, I can do the same thing by going to Fed-Ex an printing it off and then selling my book on my website. Is this really writing? I don't think so.

Authors also need to take the time to learn how the business works. Again, I can't tell you how many people send me their stories and think I print the books for them. They talk about how they want me to get their books into book stores. They ask me to be their PR agents. I would also add that many authors seem to feel that they can make a living off of selling their one book. 

One of my authors recently taught a workshop and over half of the people in her session truly believed that their first book would easily sell for 6 figures or more and they could retire. They talked about royalty checks showing up monthly in the 5 and 6 figure level. 

These same people are shocked when they hear that it takes months to get that book through the publishing pipeline. They are shocked that they have to do any work in marketing their books. Even the self-publishing people are amazed at how much money they have to put out to even get that book available for the general public. 

Let's talk also of the number of authors submitting stories to the wrong people and then complaining that they didn't know what they could send. This is really an issue of reading and researching. going to a website that the agents and editors have put together doesn't take that much work. And still, I get authors who submit things to me, on the form I have on my page, with stories that I don't represent and then are shocked that they did not know. Others will email me, again from the website, saying that they don't know what my submission guidelines are. Ummmm, reading skills?

Yes, creative writing IS a hobby. It is something that we all can do. But to be a successful writer and author takes the time to learn the skill and the business. Like any other business we enter into, we go to school, we take training and we learn it before we start it. We don't just wake up one morning and start a job without the training. This is why so many authors fail. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

#MSWL Great Stories Not Hot Trends

I know a lot of authors love to hear the projects that editors and agents are looking for. When the infamous 

#MSWL

shows up, people go crazy! Ohhhhhh, that's my story. 

And yet, the interesting thing is that editors and agents also tell writers, at nearly every conference during those editor and agent panels that we want:

  • GREAT STORIES
  • GREAT CHARACTERS
  • GREAT PLOTS
  • AND GREAT WRITING
Still, when those #MSWL "all calls" go out, writers wonder, after they submitted exactly what that editor or agent said they are begging for, why they got that rejection. And it all comes down to those 4 things we kept telling you on those panels. 

I don't care if your ticking off all of the boxes of the types of stories we would love to see, writers have to learn how to write, how to craft a story, how to find topics that truly the readers want out there. 

Time and time again, I find myself reading submissions that clearly the writer is trying to push the latest trend on me. I should sign their story because it is the hottest trend, or they are an author in a unique group, or their story focuses on issues that are extremely important in today's society. And yet, the projects, are often poorly written. Plots are forced, writing is flat, characters are two dimensional, or, more often than not, the stories are just a rehashing of something we have just seen in the news. 

Great storytelling is not just following a formula of having a specific type of character, or having the requisite word count. Great storytelling is about drawing the reader into a world that they can recognize as their own, to be immersed in it, and share the experiences to fully understand our world and our own life. 

And to do this requires knowing how to write. These are not skills that can be picked up in a weekend workshop or reading a book. 

So, when you see that #MSWL, ask yourself if you have really learned how to write first before sending out that project. I want to see people succeed, but if you are sending things out before you or that story is ready, success will not happen. 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Diversity May Not Be The Reason For Your Rejections

There have been a lot of discussions lately about diversity in writing, specifically in the romance and women's fiction genres. Many are looking at the lack of or limited number of authors of diversity out there. While this is true and there are a limited number of authors out there, we have to slow down a bit to say that it is BECAUSE they are coming from these diverse background and that is why they are not published. 

I want to look at this from the point of view of an agent who reads your submissions. 

When I get a submission from an author, I get a query letter or they used the standard form I have on my website. What I get, for the most part, is the following:

  1. Title
  2. Genre
  3. Word count
  4. High Concept
  5. A brief blurb about the book
  6. Maybe a bit of a bio

That's it! 

I do not ask for the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, or even their gender. I am just looking at the story concept and their writing. Let's assume I ask for a synopsis, a partial or a full manuscript. Again, I am just getting the same information as that query and now I look to see if their writing is quality, if it is something I represent, and if it is something that I can sell.

Just a a reminder, no decision is being based on the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, or even their gender. It is all about the writing. 

Now, if the story is focusing in on characters with those diversity issues I will still look at the project and making a decision based on the quality of the writing, if it is something I represent, and if it is something I can sell. 

Several months ago, I made a big push to look specifically for diverse writers and diverse stories. This went out on the blog and on social media. I received very few submissions. I will say I did sign one author but she was writing Bangladeshi stories. I did pass on many of the others simply because the writing was just not strong. 

I think it is important to remember a couple of things. First, the market is really tough right now. Even Harlequin, with all of their smaller lines often sign no more than 20 new authors a year. Smaller independent presses are likely signing even smaller numbers. This means the writing has to be UNBELIEVABLY STRONG! Secondly, publishers of all size are making big pushes to find authors with great stories. This all means that you have to be a great writer. Stories cannot be mediocre. 

So, if you receive a rejection, or you don't win a contest, be careful jumping to the conclusion that it was a result of discriminating against you because of diversity issues. It might have been that, but their is an even higher chance it was about your writing. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

How Long Do You Have After You Received A Request For More>

You have written that story and sent out your queries to you top editors and agents. Then, you are lucky enough to get a request back for a partial, or even a full manuscript. So now the question comes, how long do you have to get that back to the editor or agent. 

I am only speaking for myself here, and I do know editors and agents have a lot of different approaches, but I do believe, that many, would agree. The manuscript goes out immediately. But let me break this down for you to see a couple of different perspectives.

I have been at conferences where an editor or agent says to a writer, after the pitch, just send it to me when you think it is ready. While this sounds VERY accommodating and certainly gives the impression they want to see "the best you have," this also sends the message that they are willing to look, but nothing significant is jumping out at them. I would also add that when we are at conferences, we see a ton of authors, and the odds are we will not remember what we thought about that manuscript. Sending it to us while it is still fresh in our heads, is the best approach. 

But what about those email queries? Again, this is an issue about staying in our head. If we just read a project, liked it and wanted to see more, it means that something sounded interesting. Keep that enthusiasm going! Keep us wanting more. 

This also demonstrates something beyond the quality of your writing. It shows us that you are professional and ready to go. It shows us that when your editor sends out revisions, you will get those revisions back to them in a timely manner. 

You need to also remember that sometimes, we are really looking for a specific type of project, and if your story is meeting just what we want, you have now increased your chance. Delay in sending that project, and you will have likely lost that slot to someone else. 

Before you even start the query process, your story needs to be 100% ready to go. The story needs to be finished. The story needs to be cleaned up. You should not be at this point that you just typed THE END and then feel you are going to send it to your critique partners AND THEN revise. This means you are not ready. 

Unfortunately, this business is a hurry up and wait business. If we see something we jump on the project. If you are working with editors, you may have a story in months before it is going to press, but if you are ahead of those deadlines, you are demonstrating you can be counted on.

So, the big take away is:

  • Send that project immediately after a request
  • No excuses
  • Show you are professional