Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Protocols of the Simultaneous Submission

Simultaneous submissions is a very common approach to publishing. Instead of sending out a project to one location, wait for a response, and then move on to the next, we often send a project out to several people at one time. While agents and editors  have no problem with this, it is important that there are protocols authors need to follow. I am bringing this up because I have been hit with multiple authors in the last month who "must have missed the memo" about these protocols.

First of all, authors should not be using the multiple submissions as a lever to pressure editors and agents into signing them, or getting them to move faster. Remember, we know what we are looking for and your story will have it or it won't. I would also remind you that your project is not the only thing we are dealing with. We have other clients, other projects and a method for how we deal with submissions. Don't push it. 

Secondly, if you are sending out your manuscript to, let's say 5 agents, you need to know that ALL 5 of them are on your wish list. Telling that author, after they have made an offer of representation that you want to see what the other people have to say first is simply telling that agent that you are NOT a top priority. 

I would also recommend considering your simultaneous submissions in small blocks. Try three to five and see what happens. If those get rejections, review the comments and then send off the next round. I think a lot of authors just keep sending those projects out before they hear back from some people. Now they put pressure on the editor or agent of the latest submissions to move faster. Not going to happen.

Communication is the next piece of the puzzle. If someone does offer representation, let everyone else know. If I still have to read your project, you can save me the time and energy if you are already going somewhere else. I promise, it does not hurt our feelings.

Finally whether this is a simultaneous submission or a single submission, give the editor or agent time. I had one author several months ago submit a project to me, and then four days later, was already emailing me asking if I had gotten to the project yet. For the most part, three months for a response might be what you will be looking at. Read what the editor or agent says for a turn around and stick to that!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Writing The Effective Query Letter

Query letters are tough. I get it. These are those nasty little things that authors just want to skip (along with the synopsis). They have been told, in the end, it is all about the manuscript so why can't they just send in the story and we assess that. While this might sound plausible, it is not feasible. A well crafted query letter is still the best way to get your foot in the door. 

Now, let me say this before going any further. People who tell you that their query letter got them the contract are misinformed and clued out. The query letter did not sell the book. It was, after all, the story. But the query letter did get the process moving.

Understand that, aside from authors submitting projects that editors and agents don't acquire, or simply writing an awful story, the query letter is really one of the biggest reasons those submissions get rejected.

So, let's start with the basics. The query letter is a cover letter. When you send in a resume to a potential employer, you include a cover letter. The things that go into that cover letter are the same essential things that go into your query letter. Let's review some points:

  1. The query letter is not a one size fits all... Authors seem to think they write one letter, change the person's name in the letter and fire it off! WRONG!!!! While there might be some information that will remain the same, you always take the time to shape the query letter around exactly what that editor or agent is looking for. 
  2. You must showcase why you and your story is a perfect fit... Again, when you write a cover letter, you take the time to highlight to the potential employer why you are what the company needs. You showcase the things they have posted in their job description and you tell them why you fit that description.
  3. You don't hint, you show... Come on authors, you know this! SHOW DON'T TELL. If you tell me your story is similar to another author, tell us how. If you think your story addresses the needs of a particular audience, explain how!
  4. Don't tell me your weaknesses... I know this sounds strange but time and time again, authors tell me things such as: They are still learning. They have not sold anything so far. They have now been with multiple agents. Editors have already been rejecting them. Really????? Just tell me you are pathetic. Of course, if you do have all of these issues, you have some other things to work on.
  5. You don't talk about your book... We get tons of letters where the author tells us the title (maybe) or rambles on and on about all the things they can do, but give us nothing about the book. Sorry, if we have to ask for more just to figure this out, you will be rejected.
  6. You lie... OK maybe that is a bit harsh, but hyperbole is not going to do it for us. When you talk about the huge numbers of people who like the novel, but that number is just your immediate family, you are stretching the truth. When you tell me Oprah or all of these producers are considering you book, when in reality, you just got a form letter that says they "will look at it" but it is just a polite way of saying no thanks, then you are stretching the truth. When you claim these big name authors say they have read your project and love it, when all you did was maybe have a scene read in a conference, then you are stretching the truth. 
  7. Don't leave out details... So, you were previously published. That's great. BUT... if it was 20 years ago and you were fired, this might be a bit of a problem. When you leave off the fact that you have not finished the book, or it is 500,000 words, or that it has already been rejected, then we have a problem.

OK, so what should go into the letter?

  1. THE BASICS - Tell us title, genre and word count. Tell us what the high concept is and tell us EXACTLY why your story fits what we are looking for. Why did you pick me as an agent of interest.
  2. THE BOOK - Tell us the central story line. We need the setting, characters, conflicts and general plot. Keep it to the point. 
  3. THE BIO - Who are you as an author. If you are previously published, have awards and so forth, tell us. If you are a first time author, that's fine, but tell us about other projects you are working on. 
  4. BE PROFESSIONAL - You are applying for a job. No jokes. No swearing. No information that has nothing to do with your book and career.

Get the idea??? 

And again, if the editor or agent does not represent it, or they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, don't send it to us.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Writing "REAL" Characters

 Characters are really the central element of any novel. These are the people we follow on their journey. We laugh with them. We cry with them. We feel with them. The problem, however, is that writers are often so obsessed with "the story they want to tell" and "the plot" that they forget the characters. Instead of the characters being someone the readers can connect with, they become two dimensional plot devices, or even worse, unrealistic characters. 

It doesn't matter what the genre is that you are writing, the characters have to be real. The words that come out of their mouth, the way they react to situations, and the way they interact with other characters has to be believable and true. Characters who are not in alignment with their dialogue and behaviors become a real scar on the book.

Let me give you a couple that I see far too often, and let's begin with those romantic suspense novels. A common plot we see is the heroine running from an abusive relationship. First of all, this is far too common of a plot line and is a bit cliche. Still, it is a common one. But here is where the problems show up. If someone is truly running from an abusive relationship, the thought of starting up a romantic relationship with this new stranger that showed up in their lives back in Chapter 2 or 3 is just not believable. A relationship got them into the problem that is the basis of your conflict and a new relationship is going to be the furthest from their mind. 

Try this one. Historical novels are notorious for the heroine to end up in an arranged marriage. OK, we get that part and we can work with this. However, when they are now shipped off with the new husband they are not likely to go skipping away overly happy. Look, they are essentially being kicked out of their house into one of a stranger. Think how you would feel.

Last one... we see these in contemporary novels. A character is in a financially bad situation but decides that now is the time to take a cruise with a friend? Really? I don't know about you, but when finances are running low, most people will not think about going out and spending more money.

The key with most of these situations is that the author is not thinking. They have to put themselves into that situation and think truthfully and honestly how they would feel in that situation. What would they say? How would they act? Quit thinking about how you just have to get the character to that next scene, or how you want that sentence to sound. Think realism here.

A good practice for this is to think about all of the stories you have read (including your own) and you find something is just not sounding right. Go back and see what the characters are saying or doing. My bet, is you will find that lack of realism. Fix that and you will be in great shape.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Does Your Pitch and/or Synopsis Match Your Story

 I see this a lot with submissions. I read a fantastic pitch and think I have found the most amazing story out there, and then... the project shows up and it is not anything like what I first read. The same applies for reading a partial and then reading the synopsis (or visa versa) to find, once again, these seem like two different projects. What happened???

While a lot of you might think it really doesn't matter. It is the story that counts the most, and, at some level, that is entirely true. But we have to stop and consider the role the pitch and the synopsis plays and the connection each has with the actual manuscript. 

Remember that the pitch needs to draw us into a project. It is that first element of marketing your book. But, if that pitch misleads or misguides the editor or agent, you are already starting down the wrong path. I will explain further below. As for the synopsis, we use this document to really see where the full story is going to when we read only a partial. In the end, these two projects need to be a 100% mirror and glimpse into the project.

You would be surprised, but this is a pretty common problem for authors and can be attributed to several things:

1) Sending the wrong file - This is one of the biggest problems and I am sure we have all done this. If you are like me, you have multiple versions of roughly the same project on our computer. You may have simply sent an earlier version of the document before you did changes. SOLUTION - Read before you send. If there were changes, fix 'em!

2) Writing a pitch that you want the story to be - This one happens because of two things. The first is that the author really doesn't know what he or she is writing. But, more common, authors have been spending too much time to wordsmithing that pitch and premise and it slowly turns into something it isn't. SOLUTION - Keep it to the facts. For the pitch, tell us the basics about the book and what makes the story stand out. For the synopsis, just tell us the plot, but make sure that it is the current story.

3) Writing a synopsis before writing the story - This also has two different potential causes. The first is if you are a plotter and wrote what you thought you were going to write, but then sat down and let the story take over. The second is if you wrote the story and synopsis, and then went and rewrote the story. SOLUTION - Again, just rewrite or edit before sending.

4) Not knowing what to highlight - In this case, the author spends a lot of time highlighting things that are really secondary to the plot. Again, the solution is easy. SOLUTION, See the earlier comments. 

We are pretty flexible if these are small mistakes, but do remember, with a pitch or an initial query, this may be a one shot deal. Check before you send!