Friday, December 9, 2016

Why Submission Guidelines Matter

I see a lot of authors submit material to me that, although it might be the genre I am looking for, it doesn't meet my submission guidelines of what I am looking for. I have seen a lot of authors openly state that they think it really doesn't matter. They will often go on to say that the submission guidelines we have are just "hoops to jump through" or a way to "sort out authors they simply don't want to look at." Unfortunately, this thought is really off the mark,

When we have guidelines and ask for specific things, it is based on how we review documents and what we are really interested in.

For example, when I request material from writers, I want the material and the title of the document a specific way. Why? Because when I transfer it over to my iPad to read, it is being sorted a specific way so I can keep documents such as the synopsis and the partial together. If someone simply embeds it in the email, I am not going to be able to read it unless I am sitting at my desk.

If we ask for a document to be sent in a specific format (i.e. RTF, DOC, DOCX, etc.) it is because our computers are not set up to read some of the other documents.

There are also some agents and editors who do not want things sent as attachments and DO want it embedded into the document. Why? They have probably been nailed in the past with a virus on the attachment.

I think the other thing to consider is that if you are someone sending material that we don't want in that format, or at that time, it is clear that you are someone who has a hard time following directions. Is this someone we would want to work with when it comes to revisions and notes?

I know that this might seem like a bit of a pain, but there are reasons for what we do. Following those steps might insure a better response when we get to your story.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Authors And Social Media

We talk a lot about exposure in the publishing world, and in the market today, it is more than important to get your name out there to the readers of the world. We simply do not have the luxury of being "discovered" at the local bookstore like we used to. Let's face it. That opportunity is pretty limited due to the lack of bookstores anymore. It is for this reason that authors need to really take every opportunity to use social media to get their names out there.

For established authors, they already have a lot of name recognition, so when we get ready to buy a book, the odds are we gravitate to the known names. How are they known? They have their name in as many places as possible.

If you think about it, when you get onto any of the social media sites, you see many of the same names popping up over and over again. The idea is simple. The more we see the name, the more we remember the person. Publishers have also taken advantage of that name recognition when they release books back to back from the same author. You get hooked on an author and immediately want to read the next book (which conveniently comes out in a couple of weeks).

The problem I am seeing, however, is that many authors are really missing the mark when it comes to the use of social media. They either don't send out relevant information about their books and their writing, or they just don't release information in a timely fashion. One Tweet every week or so is not going to draw in the traffic. Tweets that come every hour become annoying. The key is finding the happy medium.

The same goes for blog posts on Facebook posts. Readers want to know about you and your writing career. They want to know where you get your inspiration. Posts that show pictures of just your cat are probably not going to get a lot of attention.

Now, will social media drive up sales? There is no promise of it. What I can say is that if readers do get hooked on what you have to say through social media, the odds are they might start following you and your writing career.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Authors Are Focusing On The Wrong Thing

I have talked about this in the past, but the last round of submission really seemed to reflect this trend I am seeing in writers today. The focus of writers is simply on the wrong thing. In fact, it isn't just the writers, but articles, I read as well as conferences. So, what is the missing focus?

Instead of focusing on creating great writing, people are spending far too much time on thinking about marketing and selling books.

Although it is really important to have a great marketing plan and to get the word out about your books, if the work that you are promoting is not good, that marketing will be for nothing. I get that developing a great strategy and business plan is important. I also understand that creating that "perfect synopsis" or "perfect query letter" is important, but the story you have spent months on is what we will really be looking at as editors and agents. It is the story that your readers will expect to be amazing. If not, the odds are they won't be back for more books.

I do think this is a problem that seems to be across all levels of the publishing world. Conferences have far too many sessions on marketing and not as many on craft. The industry magazines that come out have an excessive amount of articles focusing on the marketing. Even the groups I am part of on social media seem to go overboard with the emphasis on getting the readers.

What happened to the craft?

I do think this issue is even more important in today's society where we have so many self-publishing avenues that are constantly proclaiming the ease of being a published author.

Writing is not easy. It takes time and to be a great writer requires learning how to craft a great story. It is not just a matter of sitting at the computer, cranking out 80-100 K of word count, push the spell checker button and call it quits.

If you are a writer really frustrated by the number of submissions that you have sent out resulting in rejection letters, you might wish to review your knowledge of writing. If you know the terms, or you are putting in plot devices, but really don't understand the rationale behind the use, or the impact on the writing, you might wish to take a few more classes and review the craft a bit more.

I would also add that if you are a new writer, and you really do want to improve, maybe it is time to put some pressure on your writing chapters and the conference coordinators to bring back more craft sessions.

Who knows what success we might all find?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pitching Stories With Similar Characters or Settings?

So, here was the question...

If one wanted to submit several stories that have the same location or setting, or include several of the same characters, how does one go about describing what this group of stories is to an agent or publisher if they are not a series. Any advice will be appreciated!

This is a great question and the answer really isn't that complicated.

If you have a series of books that are linked, not so much thematically, but more with a similar character or a setting, then simply tell the editor or agent what you are doing. The key, however, is to somehow show why you are going to use the same setting or characters over and over again.

With stories that use the same characters, it is much easier. Maybe the stories are linked because we are going to see those characters in similar situations. For example, think of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, or even Ian Fleming's James Bond series. The books all have similar plot structures but what the readers get to see is how the characters are going to react and behave in different situations.

Now, if the books are linked because there is an ongoing plot line (Think Harry Potter here), then you pitch the stories with the over-arching theme or plot and then show how each of the books are still meeting specific smaller end goals. In the case of Mr. Potter, the over-arching theme is the battle between Harry and Voldemort and working toward that final battle in the Deathly Hollows books. But when we look at each of the books, Chamber of Secrets is focused on  both introducing the characters but really emphasizing the mystery of what this Chamber was holding and how it is disrupting the school and putting so many people at risk. The story has a clear ending with the solving of that mystery.

Another twist to this would be the multiple series of Andrew Greeley. In his stories, he not only had several series based around a single character (his Nuala Anne McGrail series, his Blackie Ryan series), but he would often cross some of those characters over into the different series. Blackie Ryan shows up in the Nualal Anne McGrail series and so forth.

When pitching something like this, it is important to do several things. First of all, make sure the first series is fully established and is independent. Secondly, to fully justify why you are bringing in the character from the other book. It is important to note, however, that if you have crossed those characters over into another series, that readers are not going to have to know the whole backstory of that character. In the case of the Greeley series, when those characters show up, they just happen to be a name and a body. The surprise only comes when someone has read the other books and starts to see the genius of the author and smoothly making that move work.

When we look at stories around a similar location, such as Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove series, the emphasis is not just about the individual stories and plots, but also how the town and setting also functions in much of the same ways as a character. Another great example of this would be Lake Wobegon and Garrison Keillor. We get to know the town and those same random characters that pop up from time to time.

In summary, there is nothing wrong with taking an approach such as this, but the key is to be able to justify why you are doing this as an author and what the "take away" is for the reader.