Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Don't Read "Fan Fiction" For Research

I saw a post from a teacher a couple of days ago and she was talking about all of the great books she was going to have her high school students read this year. In all of the cases, these books were current "fan fiction" style books. You know the type. These are "fun" and "exciting" reads that appeal to the kids of today. While, getting kids to read anything might seem like a noble goal, this teacher (and all those who were cheering her on) are missing the point.

Now let me say, I am not here to talk about the approach the teachers were taking with their novel selection. I want to focus on this same aspect when it comes to your research as an author.

As you are doing your research to see what makes a great book tick, it is important to not just get the latest book that "everyone is raving about." It is important to look to quality novels and quality authors. Please, do not misinterpret what I am saying here. This is not to say new authors, nor their books, can be quality. I am saying to look to those novels that really do stand out as being great writing.

If you want to research how to be a great writer, you have to READ the great writers. Copying
someone who is just a "flash in the pants" will teach you to be just that.

I am thinking back to when FIFTY SHADES OF GREY came out. It was new. A lot of readers thought it was fun. But when you talked to editors and agents, the book was described as not strong writing. Those who thought it was great often turned to sales numbers to show "if it was really not great writing, then why did so many people buy it?" For many, they bought it to see what the hype was. I did. I read part of it. And then I immediately returned it after seeing the writing. But my "sale" factored into those numbers.

I bring up that book, because a lot of authors turned to that book as a "model" and started trying to duplicate the voice and style. And they received rejections. Why? They were not learning from "the best."

In the case of "fan fiction" these are books that are meant to be quick and fun reads. These are stories that are not going to last. Sure, there will be some that do, but those will be the anomalies.

Can we learn things from these books? Sure. But what we learn is not necessarily going to make us great writers. We might learn a quick plot device, but that would be it.

So, what do I look for when I read the "quality" authors? I look for how they balance narration and dialogue. I look to how the release information, or create a character that we beg to know more of, and how the author can keep us reading because they give us enough to chew on but not all at one time. We look to how the author creates a world we can be immersed in. We read for technique. We are not reading for plot of just the funny character.

As you look over your To Be Read/Researched Pile, really contemplate why it is in that stack.

Monday, August 19, 2019

It May Not Be The System's Fault

Last Friday someone posted a thread on Twitter that went crazy for close to an hour. This person was complaining about jobs and who was getting hired and who wasn't getting hired. By the time the thread was dying out, the entire hiring problem was entirely on the shoulders of "the system." This really got me thinking over the weekend and I started thinking about the publishing industry.

Now, before I go too far, let me just say that yes, I do think there are situations out there where "the system" is discriminating for various reason. But, I do think it is important to always look at every side of the equation as well.

How many times do you hear your fellow authors complaining about how the established publishers are holding back really great authors. We also hear people go on and on about how major book sellers (yes this is the Amazon excuse) keeps great authors hidden behind these big name "hacks." But it is also important to look to the inside.

Could your book not be selling because it is not well written?
Could your career not be taking off and pitch sessions fail because you don't come across as professional enough?
Could you not be getting that job because you are lacking the skills they need.
Could you be receiving a ton of rejections because you are sending things to the wrong person.
Could your lack of response be coming from the fact that you have a poorly written cover letter or query letter?

These are all things that cannot be ignored.

So please, before you start on a Twitter Rant and hyping up some conspiracy theory about why your are not finding success, look inside first. Think Michael Jackson here and start "with the man in the mirror."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Common Tips That Promise You A Rejection

Are you someone who loves rejections? Are you that person who loves to brag at conferences of how many rejections you have received, or you have that completely manufactured list of great authors and the number of rejections they had memorized? Then wait no longer. I am going to provide for you today, at no cost, a list of guaranteed ways to get a rejection letter. And who knows, maybe you'll get a stack of "no responses" too which are equally as valuable a rejection letter!
  1. Attaching your query letter to a blank email. Um, do you really think we'll open up an attachment like this in a time of internet insecurity?
  2. Proclaiming your greatness and telling us we will be sorry to pass you up.
  3. Talking about Aliens
  4. Telling us Oprah or some other major author is considering your work. (I have actually had people tell me an author, who is dead, was considering the work)
  5. Slamming another author, editor or agent. 
  6. Providing the comments from other editors or agents as to why they rejected you for this same project.
  7. Lying
  8. Simply telling us to go look at your website to get all of the details
  9. Telling us you have amazing sales but never giving us numbers.
  10. Swearing or rambling on like some deranged person and then trying to justify that rant as an artistic expression and passion that simply cannot be contained.
  11. Send us something we don't acquire (OK, I get this one is serious but it is a guaranteed rejection). 
  12. Resubmitting the same project over and over again with a different name.
  13. Sending out one letter and then cc'ing all of the other people you are sending it to.
  14. Calling us by the wrong name (Hint, my name is NOT Mr. Greyhaus)
  15. Telling us you love all of our authors but not knowing who they are, or showing us that your genre (see #11 above), which doesn't match, is equal to their writing.
  16. Trying to justify that even though we don't acquire your genre, it is worth the effort.
  17. Adding our email to your mailing list
  18. Submitting your project in a fashion we don't want.
  19. Complaining after a rejection (this will be for the next time you try)
  20. Slamming us on social media and thinking we won't see it.

That should float you for the weekend.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Re-submitting After A Rejection

This is a question that I believe a lot of authors have when it comes to submissions. Let me just say, before giving you my opinion, is that the answer will likely vary a lot from editor to editor and agent to agent. As always, just do your research.

So, here is the scenario. You just sent a project to an agent or editor and got a rejection back. You got some feedback and you want to try again. In other words, you had that "ah-ha" moment and really think you can nail this. Now what?

The first thing I would recommend is to look at that rejection letter. How the editor or agent will say a lot. For example, I will often say, "If you have any other project that might work, definitely reach out to me." Does this mean resubmit? Something else? Yes.

If for example, someone says, "There are a lot of things I like about this but [insert list problems]. Should you wish to resubmit then..." This one is pretty obvious.

But what about those that just reject?

If that person gave you nothing in terms of what to fix, or, if you get something that just says it wasn't the right match, then the answer on resubmitting would be no. You have nothing to go on, and, in the case of the second response, your voice did not match with that person. I personally would recommend leaving it and moving on.

If, however, you think you know how to improve the writing. Maybe you took a writing course in between the submission and the rejection, or maybe your critique group gave you an idea, then I recommend you ask. But, there is a twist to this.
  1. Send a polite letter requesting the chance to resubmit.
  2. Make it clear what that person said on the rejection and clearly list the types of changes you made.
  3. If you did have an "ah ha" moment, state what that observation was and clearly list the type of changes you made.
In other words ask. 

Look, asking is not going to hurt you in the least bit. The worst thing you can hear is no, but there is no harm in asking.