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

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Why Holiday Stories Are A Tough Sell

We all love 'em. We might publicly tell people something other than that, but when Christmas rolls around, we gather around the tv with our hot cocoa, cookies and Hallmark Christmas movies. Every year, I get a ton of submissions from new authors knowing that these movies are hot commodities and their latest novel is clearly heading straight to the movie screen.

Unfortunately, probably not. Let me explain.

Those holiday slots are prime time slots for authors. Editors work really hard every year on their schedules to find the right author for that slot. They look at sales and they look for those dedicated authors who have been there throughout the year with their stories ready to go. They look to those authors who have not missed deadlines. And that is just for the book.

As for those movie contracts, the production companies are not just grabbing every story. They have to find those projects that are easy to produce, bring a unique twist, and yes, even dealing with the latest current social issue out there. 

For new authors, you simply have not proven yourself yet. Sure, you may have written a lot in self-publishing but it is still an extremely uphill battle to even prove you would deserve that slot over those established authors with a following. 

Now, are there people out there who have been successful with the holiday story as a "newbie?" Yes. But those are the anomalies I always talk about here. 

My personal recommendation. Write those great projects that ARE NOT the holiday stories first. Go with the traditional projects. Get yourself known, and then drop that great holiday project on your editor. You'll have a better chance then! 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Let's Talk About Your Character's Ethics

This is actually a huge problem, I believe, for many authors out there. In an effort to create drama or conflict  in their stories, or simply a way to enhance the plots, they take their characters into an area that is likely hurting their stories. Their protagonists end up being unethical. Now, let me stress here, I am not talking serial killer level here. I am talking about things that your characters would likely complain about. These are also issues that many in the general public (specifically your readers) may not agree with.

I want to start with a big one for me. It is amazing that I even have this listed as a topic I will not acquire, and yet, so many authors continue to submit. 

A common theme in women's fiction, especially contemporary women's fiction is a wife having to deal with an unhealthy marriage. The couple have been married for a while, maybe kids, but they have pulled apart. She even suspects he is cheating on her (we almost always find out that he was). In an effort to make sense of all of this, she takes a trip (often a cruise to a tropical island) with her best friend. Along the trip, she meets this guy who she really falls for. He ignites passions in her she has not felt in a long time. She sees life in a new way. She sees herself in a new way. Wow! We're talking huge transformation and growth for her! 

But here is the problem...

She is doing EXACTLY what she hated her husband for. She threw him under the bus, the author made him look slimy, and yet, here she is, doing the same thing. Sorry, you can't just justify it and argue she has made great personal growth. 

Here are others in a bulleted list I often see that really cross that line:

  • Graduate student has a relationship with her university professor
  • Cops and detectives having a relationship with either the person they are investigating or a client
  • Characters justifying "breaking into" the bosses office to determine if s/he is doing something criminal.
Now, I get it, these are the big ones, but you may have your characters doing things, or acting certain ways that come across as unethical, or simply unlikeable. If you want to sell that book, you have to make sure we like your character from the beginning and they don't end up doing the things they hated in Chapter 1.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pitching - Use Your Time Wisely

I get it! Pitches are tough. Pitches are those stressful situations that many introverted writers have to face to get their stories in front of an editor or agent. But understand that a pitch is absolutely no different than an interview for a potential job. In fact, that is what you are doing - applying for a job as a writer. Still there is stress, and that stress comes from the time constraints. You only have 5, 7 or 10 minutes to make that great impression. 

But here is the thing... too many authors screw up pitches because they simply use their time poorly. Wasting that time could be the difference between getting a request and getting a lukewarm response, or even an rejection.

Too often, writers spend much of their time talking about the conference, sharing their personal background in writing, or even making small talk. They think they are doing this to make the pitch personal and allow us to see who they are. Yes, this is important, but remember, we are also looking at the story. If we have very little to go on regarding your story, we are going to be less likely to be overly enthusiastic about your project.

Let's break down a basic 10 minute session. If you have shorter pitch sessions, just scale things down. So, let's start the clock.

30 seconds - Introductions and niceties - "Hi, my name is..." and "Hope your conference is going great" and the thank you for being here talk.

1:30 - During this block of time, you will give the editor/agent the basics of your story:

  • Why you selected this editor or agent for your story. Demonstrate what it was in their bio, their talk during the editor or agent panel, discussions with other authors, or their information from the website that makes you the perfect candidate for submitting
  • Title
  • Genre - Be very specific using the language the editor/agent always uses
  • Word Count
  • High Concept - This can also include comparable titles, but if you do use these, make sure you state exactly what it was about those other titles that make your story similar
We're 2 minutes in with 8 minutes to go...

4-5 min (NO MORE THAN 5) - Talking about the story.

  • Talk about the plot of the story. Give us the beginning, the middle and the end
  • Make sure to talk about the conflict
  • Give us a sense of the protagonists. Make sure we have a true sense of their GMC's. What are their goals in life, what are their motivations and what is potentially holding them back.
  • Focus your attention on the central story arc and don't dive into all of the sub characters
  • Make sure to describe your story to always target what the editor or agent likes in a project like your story. If, for example, they like strong heroines, or heroes with a crack in their fa├žade, make sure to show that. 
We now have about 3 minutes left...
During this last block of time, be prepared for additional questions from the editor or agent. This is also your time to talk about the following:
  • Where you see your career going
  • If this is part of a series, tell us what the other stories are going to be about. Be really clear here such as "The second book in the series will focus on the brother who is faced with..." or "The next book will focus on a [insert character name] who will be having this similar theme]. 
  • You can also talk about how this story has maybe won some contests or your other writing. 
1-1:30 left

Make sure that you leave enough time so that the editor or agent has a chance to give you the information on what he/she is interested in seeing, to get notes on how to send material, or to give them your card (ONLY IF THE EDITOR OR AGENT REQUESTS ONE!). 

Make sure that you say thank you, shake hands (or in this world, elbow bump) and make your exit. Remember that the editor or agent will want to get their notes in order because someone else is coming in right behind you.

Now, after the pitch, take the time outside of the pitch room to:
  • Organize your notes
  • Think about their responses and how you will shape the material you will be sending.
At the end of the day, or in your first moment you can get to a computer, email the editor or agent thanking them again and stating exactly when they should expect to see your material. It should be within 1-2 days and not weeks!

Honestly, this all comes down to using your time wisely, and more importantly, making a great first impression!