Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Enjoy The Small Victories

It is pouring down rain here in the Seattle area. In simple terms, it sucks! Driving anywhere feels like the day Noah left on his 40 day cruise. My dogs are even pretty upset. They look at me and say, "Are you really serious? You want me to go outside now? I think I'll hold it!" Even my son, who is a swimmer, is complaining about the water. Of course, he parked his PT Cruiser in a puddle and is afraid it may wash away! Now that would be fun to see! And that is the point I want to make today.

As writers, we will all face days where things are simply not going to go well. Words will not show up. Calls will come in non-stop preventing any flow of creative ideas. The computer will crash. The Internet will be down when you needed that crucial piece of research. Days will suck!

But as writers, it is imperative that you find a way to overcome these small obstacles. You have to take the time to find those small successes and then celebrate.

So what if you didn't make it through the whole chapter. Did you get that one scene written that you have struggled with for the last several days. Then success!

So what if one writer (who was clearly an idiot) gave you a 1 star ranking on Amazon. Did you get other's that say you were amazing? Then success! Besides, according to President Donald Trump on Jan. 17, 2017, "The polls are all lying!" So why worry.

My son had a huge swim meet this last weekend. Did he win? No. But you know what? He matched his best times without a "tapering time" before the meet. For you non-swimmers, this is that block of
time when athletes slow down on training to "peak" at the right time. For him, this meet was a success.

The key is that you have to plunge on with your progress and your writing. Be like my great friend Elizabetta Bricca in Perugia. "I am going to my studio to write and there, I said it all." This is the attitude you need. And by the way, if you have a chance to read any of her work, so so! Fantastic writer!!!

What will this get for you? Something that Greyhaus author Leanne Bristow got yesterday in the mail.
Her first novel showed up in the mail. Big Success!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why I Pass After Only A Query Letter

One of the common responses I hear from authors after I pass on a project is, "If you would just read the story, you would come to a different conclusion." While that might be the case, the odds are, I will still end up with the same decision, even after reading either a partial or the full manuscript. When we read the query letter, we are looking at many different things before deciding to read further. I should note that, yes, I know that many editors and agents just simply say to send everything with every submission, but in all honesty, I am not sure what the point is. A) our In-boxes will be flooded; and B) those stories will still likely get a reject with little reading.

So, the question is, what do I see in a project that would cause me to reject based on the query alone?

(Please note this list is in no particular order)...

The query shows a lack of professionalism. I have talked about this one in the past, but this is personally a big one for me. When I read a query, I am also trying to decide if this is a person that I am going to want to work with for a long period of time. As an agent, this is going to be a commitment. I am not going to see serious results until several books down the line (unless it is an amazing one hit wonder, and those do not happen much). If this person appears to be some random person who really has no clue, this will be more work than it is worth. Not only do I have to work on the project, and make it ready for market, I have to also teach this person to be a professional writer.

The story is not something I represent. Again, this is one of those things I complain about the most. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know this. Pop quiz here... What does Greyhaus Literary Agency represent? Answer: ONLY romance and women's fiction. The guidelines are clear. In fact, I am frequently getting emails from writers thanking me for being so specific. So, when you send me a screenplay for a collection of erotic poetry set in a sci-fi thriller atmosphere that is also a memoir, the answer will be no. Pubtip #1 - Read submission guidelines.

The premise has questionable material in it or things that I personally do not like. Because we want to spend time talking about the project to others, we have to like the content. This is an extremely subjective business and frankly, there are some things we are not going to like. For example:

  • I don't mind hot scenes but sex for the sake of sex is not going to work.
  • Adultery is not something I want in my stories.
  • Teachers getting it on with their students (I am also a college instructor and I am sorry to say this people, even grad students having a relationship with a professor will lead to A) loss of degree; and B) someone getting fired).
  • Psychic romantic suspense. Sorry but this is just an easy answer to prevent having to find the killer.
  • Etc... I think you get the idea. 

The story has a limited market. I want to create the most opportunities for you. If your story is going going to work for one line, or one editor and that is it, then we are over after that first rejection. Taking on a project like this means that we will spend a lot of time gambling on one thing only. Not worth the investment unless it is that one hit Great American Novel, and even then...

The author thinks he or she is the greatest thing since sliced bread. This one goes back to the professionalism, but telling me that your story is clearly one of the greatest stories ever, or that your story is better than that "Hack Nora Roberts" (and yes, I had someone say that once in a query) you will get rejected. Sorry, but just because you wrote a story does not mean you are a Nobel prize consideration. I had one author tell me Oprah was seriously considering his book. Look, just sending in the project to the company does not mean it is in consideration.

This also extends to those people who have been self-published and then claim amazing sales and followings. Look, being the #1 book on Amazon for romantic fiction set in the stone age with paranormal elements and in Manga form is not really telling us much.

The story is an imitation of other projects. When we read the story and say, hey, isn't this...??? If it is a time travel set in Scotland and the girl is coming from the 1940's, ummmm, I think it has been done. If it is a coming of age story set in a school of witches and the young girl is going to fight the greatest sorceress in the world,.. ummm, I think it has been done. And no, you can not say it is a variation on a theme.

You didn't follow the guidelines. While this is not a deal breaker, I have pretty clear guidelines of what I want submitted.

  • In an email, send just a query.
  • Using the form, follow the directions
  • Sending it snail mail, query, synopsis and only first three pages
When you attach the full manuscript, embed the first three chapters and synopsis, or fill the form out adding material that YOU feel is relevant but is not what I asked for tells me you have a hard time following directions.

The point is, that query letter and your premise do say a lot. Think before you send things out. Follow those directions and be careful. As the Head and Shoulders commercial says, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

Or, to quote the hit musical Hamilton, you don't want to "throw away your shot!"

Friday, January 13, 2017

Committing To An Editor Or Agent Can Be Scary

For the last 2 weeks, my son has been completely wearing us out. We have been going through the whole college search thing and he has had several offers sitting on the table for him. These are all great schools and we would be happy with any of the choices. Still, he was not making a decision.

During this last week, we finally had things down to just two schools (there was a third but financially, they could not come up with the $$ to be competitive). He had one school that he said he just want not that eager to go to, so therefore, the decision on the other should be pretty clear. The swim coach wanted him, the honors program wanted him, the financial aid package and scholarship covered close to 75%, and still... he would not make a decision.

We spoke to him a lot about this and even brought up the question if this was just one of those scary decisions. Although he said no to this, I do believe that was an issue.

I bring this up because authors should be facing the same fears when getting ready to sign that contract with an editor or agent. Not that this is going to be something they regret later on. This is really an issue of taking their career to a new level. This is not about being a hobby writer, but now, it is about being a professional writer.

This is a big commitment. You will now have deadlines beyond those that you set for yourself. You will now have to become a public figure and not simply hiding away at your writing desk with your favorite characters. You will now have to face the wrath of those people who may hate your books and give it bad reviews.

I have worked with several authors who were overly excited about the prospect of writing professionally. Once they got into all of the work we had to do, they suddenly panicked. The "fun" writing they used to do now wasn't so much fun. Getting feedback from editors on rejections really hurt. And, in the end, they walked away.

I think it is important for authors to really take some time before making the decision to be a published author. Sure, the temptation of BIG MONEY (ummm, not) is great. but you have to be ready for it.

Just think before you leap.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Doing Revisions For Just One Editor/Agent? Necessary?

NOTE - Let me first say that this question deals with those authors who are still in search for that first contract with an editor or an agent.

You have been furiously sending out projects to editors and agents. You have this great story and you are looking forward to getting it published. Out of the blue, one of the editors or agents writes back with revision comments. They are passing on the project, but then follow up with the statement, "...however, if you would be interested in sending us a revised project, we look forward to reading it." Now what?
While this sounds like a great opportunity, I would encourage authors to stop and consider a few things before making those changes. 

Yes, we all want to see those revision comments, but it is important to remember that this business is extremely subjective. What works for one person is not necessarily going to work for another person. This means that those comments and revision notes are designed "just" for that one person. In simple terms, your story as it stands now may work well with those other editors and agents you have not heard from yet. 

It is also important to consider the time that it will take to make those revisions. That time you will be spending to make the changes just for this one person is time that will be taken away from other projects you may have going. This is going to be a gamble and there are no promises. In fact, most of the time, when editors and agents offer the chance to revise the project, there is also a comment that says there are not promises that the project will be accepted, even after the changes. 

But, there is a reverse side to this. If you are certain that story is going to work for that editor or agent, AND you are committed enough to that editor or agent, it may be worth the time and effort. If that editor or agent took the time to come up with the revision notes, then maybe they saw enough in the project and the time will be worth it. 

I think the key thing to consider here is this is a gamble. It is easy to say you are willing to take that gamble, but understand, it is just for one person. Those changes you make in that story may now be something that will never work for those other editors and agents, should this single person pass. 

The short and sweet of this is to stop and think.