Posts Tagged ‘submitting’

Publishing Novels Traditionally: Agents

The most common way to have a novel published traditionally is with the help of an agent. An agent is a representative for the author and their work who helps the author sell said work and hopefully get a good deal out of it.

An agent:

  • Helps the author edit their work to make it better
  • Approaches publishers about buying the author’s work
  • Deals with contracts and other legal sundry

Some agents also:

  • Help the author sell the book to foreign publishers
  • Help the novel (short story, etc.) get optioned for television or a movie

An agent is hopefully with you for your career, so you’ll want to find one who understands you and with whom you work well.

WARNING: You do not pay an agent! An agent gets paid when you sell a novel or something else. Typically the publisher pays your agent, and then your agent takes their cut (generally 15%, but make sure you understand how your particular agent works) and sends the rest of the money to you. If an agent is asking for money up front, beware. Check them out on the Internet, as they might be a scammer. (Writer Beware is an excellent resource whenever you are unsure about the legitimacy of something.)

Like we discussed in the previous section, to approach an agent, you generally send them a query letter plus whatever other materials (synopsis, first chapter, etc.) they ask for. It can help to have some other contact with an agent first, such as following and interacting with them on their blogs or social media, or talking or pitching them at a conference. This allows you to personalize your query letter more and may help an agent give you higher priority.

NOTE: Make sure you’re interacting with an agent in a professional, non-annoying manner. Do not badger them or press them about your novel unless directly asked to.

Alternative Pitching Methods

While the querying method is the most standard, there are some alternatives that can be used instead in some circumstances.

The most traditional alternative method is the “elevator pitch” which is basically a short oral pitch given to an agent, most often at a writers’ conference, though there are now online ones as well. Your pitch functions like your query letter does, with the intention to garner enough attention from the agent for them to ask to see more of the novel.

NOTE: Some agents will ask for material from a pitch, but some will still ask that the author send them a query letter with a note about the pitch included.

A more recent innovation, there are now Twitter-based pitching opportunities. These are normally scheduled days where an organizer rounds up a selection of agents and authors post Twitter-length pitches. How an agent indicates interest varies, but usually they will “like” a pitch they’re interested in, at which point the author can send said agent their manuscript. (This, too, varies, and agents will have listed somewhere what exactly they want sent to them.)

There are also pitching “contests,” where authors submit some material in the hopes of being selected by a mentor (normally a published author or an editor or someone experienced in some way). If selected, they work with the mentor for a period time, improving both their manuscripts and their querying materials. At the end of the time period, the authors’ revised work is ready and a selected group of agents take a look and ask for material for any they’re interested in. Pitch Wars is an example of this type on contest.

How to Find an Agent

The most important thing to remember when querying agents is to make sure you are querying agents who are interested in your genre. Someone who reps romance is going to have no time for your science fiction magnum opus. Querying can be a long process, so there’s no reason to waste your time.

One recommended way to identify agents that might be interested in your novel is to look at recently-published books in your genre, and look at the agents representing those authors. These agents are probably interested in what you write, and have sold books, so you know they can get the job done.

You can also talk to authors directly about their agents–whether they would recommend them, how they are to work with, etc. DO NOT ask authors to send your work to their agent or to recommend you to their agent unless you would count said author as a close friend.

Several databases exist that list agents and allow authors a way to keep track of both who they’ve queries and what the response times were. You can search these databases by genre or specific agent or agency name to get an idea of who might be a good fit.

NOTE: You should always check an agent and/or agency’s page directly before querying to make sure they sound like a good fit for you and your book, and also to make sure nothing’s changed from the information in the database. It would be a waste of time to query an agent about your thriller if a quick look at their website would have told you that they’ve temporarily stopped looking at thrillers.

There are both free and paid options for researching agents.

Free:

Paid:

Several blogs also keep track of agents, including when new ones come into the scene or when new agencies are formed. Some people recommend targeting newer agents because they are actively building their author lists and may be more willing to take a risk.

So that’s agents, squiders! Friday we’ll talk about the submission process in greater detail. Let me know if I’m missing anything or if you have any questions!

Traditionally Publishing Novels: Two Paths

Okay, moving on to novels! (If you have any suggestions or questions on short stories, please let me know!)

There are two routes one can take when publishing a novel traditionally. The first method is to get an agent, and the second is to deal directly with a publisher.

NOTE: Not all publishers will take submissions from an unagented author. It may be a good idea to look at major publishers in your area and see what seems to be the norm.

A publisher will note in their guidelines whether or not they accept “unsolicited” submissions. It is more common among smaller presses, or those that specialize in nonfiction, but some larger publishers also accept them.

The initial process for submitting a novel to either an agent or a publisher is essentially the same–you will need a query letter to introduce your work to the agent/publisher. Some agents/publishers will also ask for additional materials, such as a synopsis (which could be between 1 and 4 pages, depending on preference, so some experts recommend having multiple versions of yours available of varying lengths), the beginning pages of your manuscript, or, in rarer cases, a marketing plan.

WARNING: There are several “publishers” out there that might not be legitimate. A good thing to remember for traditional publishing is that the money flows to the writer. If an agent or publisher asks you for money up front, such as a “reading fee,” they may just be a scammer. There are websites where you can check to see if an agent/publisher is legitimate, such as the forums at Absolute Write or Preditors and Editors. (Note to self: P&E is currently down, looking for a new caretaker, so do not include if it doesn’t go back up.)

There are several books, websites, and articles available on the proper way to put together a query letter and/or a synopsis, so we’ll just touch on the basics here. A query letter is a short letter of 200-300 words that acts a lot like a cover letter for a job application. If you have a specific reason for querying the agent/editor (you talked to them at a con and they asked you to send them something, you looked at their wishlist and your story will be a good fit, etc.), you start your query with that. Then you spend a few paragraphs hooking your story (it shouldn’t be a summary, and it shouldn’t reveal the ending), and you finalize with a short, relevant bio (which includes previous publications, if any, awards won, life experience that might show that you’re qualified to write this particular story). You also include the title, word count, and genre of your story.

A synopsis can be of varying lengths and is a recital of the events of your story from beginning to end. Depending on the length you’re trying to hit, you may have to leave out some characters or subplots. You do include your ending in the synopsis–agents/publishers that ask for them are often using them to make sure the story makes logical sense all the way through.

If an agent/publisher asks for pages to be included, you send the beginning of the book. Some people consider sending what they consider the “best” pages for this, but this is frowned upon for a few reasons:

  • Agents/publishers may be unable to get into the pages because they lack the context for them
  • Agents/publishers may assume that you didn’t send the beginning because it isn’t good

The main point of your query letter is to garner enough attention that the agent/publisher is willing to look at more. The rest of your work will need to stand on its own, so make sure you’re only querying a finished, edited, and polished manuscript.

On Wednesday we’ll look at the querying process, as well as the rest of the submission process. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on the basic set-up of the querying process for novels, or if you feel like I’m leaving anything out!

Are Writing Conferences Worth It?

It seems like a lot of people have been living somewhat vicariously through my writing conference experience. I am one of only a few of my writing friends who have ever been to one.

That part’s not rocket science. Writing conferences are expensive. It’s hard to justify spending so much money all at once. Well, maybe not if you’re a millionaire. And if you are, we should be friends. Yeeees.

(For those of you who are wondering how much writing conferences cost, well, it’s in the multiple hundreds of dollars, not including hotel or airfare if it’s not in your home town.)

So, are they worth your time and money? The answer is: maybe.

1. Beginners
If you’re a beginner writer, I would tell you to save your money for later. The conference may have panels aimed at beginners, with explanations of how plot or characterization work, but I’ve found that until you’ve got at least a completed first draft under your belt, a lot of it goes over your head. Writing is the best teacher at this point, figuring out how your personal writing style works and where your problem spots are. Wait.

2. Intermediate
These are people who have a few books under their belts, perhaps have sold a short story or two. If this is you, you will probably find a conference helpful. You know where your weak spots are, so you can attend workshops aimed at helping those areas. Plus, if you’re getting ready to start submitting, you can learn how to write or have your queries and synopses critiqued.

3. Those Who Are Submitting
The single most-useful thing about a conference is it allows you to interact with agents, editors, and published authors, all of whom are willing to give you a hand. And, in the cases of editors and agents, listen to your pitches. It gives you the opportunity to either bypass the query process or, when you do query, maybe have made an impression before hand so the agent/editor kind of remembers who you are.

4. Published Authors
I am not traditionally published, so I cannot tell you if attending a writers’ conference (as an attendee, not a workshop-leader) is useful or not. I’m going to lean towards no – you already have an agent and/or editor, and they probably tell you where your weak spots are.

5. Indie Authors
I’m going to go on “depends” for this section. Self-publishing and indie publishing is generally becoming more accepted, so whether or not you run into militant traditional people varies. It is a good way to network, but it might be easier (and cheaper) to find a critique or writing group in your area. But if you’re looking to improve your writing craft, it’s probably worth it.

Your mileage may, of course, vary.

Writing Serially

I belong to a prompt community.  I joined, oh, four years ago or so with the idea that I’d be able to use the prompts to stir the creative juices.  It hasn’t really worked out.  Oh, it’s not the community’s fault.  They are awesome, talented writers and the prompts are usually very interesting.  Something about the medium just doesn’t work for me.

Oh, sure, sometimes a prompt jolts something out of the creative centers of my brain.  When I joined originally, you had to post once every three months to stay a member, and I could usually manage something in that time frame.  But a few years ago they changed the requirement to once a month, and I knew the likelihood of ye olde brain coming up with something purely prompt based that often was pushing it.

(This is not to say that I have problems with ideas.  If anything, there are too many ideas floating around.  They just tend to be novel-shaped.)

So I decided to work on a serial novel, with a new part going up every month (or more often if I got around to it).  I’d already completed Hidden Worlds serially, so I knew it was something that I could do.

Two years later, I’m still working on that story.  I use the prompts to direct the next part, and feedback has generally been very good.

I outline very vaguely so this works well for me.

What does writing serially do for you?  I use it as a side project which helps me get through harder sections of my main projects.  It also allows you to work on something a relaxed pace and gain readers over time.

Things you should note about serial writing:

1.  Do it consistently.
I put up a new section every month.  This means my readers can expect a new section on a regular basis, that I know when it’s due so I’m thinking about/working on it when I should be, and that it doesn’t get eaten by other projects/life.

2.  Outline, at least a little.
The thing with writing serially is that you need to have an idea where the story is going to go, what kind of story it is, what promises you want to make to your readers.  What do you do if you get 25K in and realize you’ve written yourself in to a corner?  Alternately, if you make it three-fourths of the way into the story and do a genre change out of right field, people will not be happy.

3.  Reread the last few sections before picking back up.
This helps you remember where you are, what you named your characters, and what you were thinking when you left off.

Some publications are taking serial stories on now.  If you’d like to try for one of those, you need to have the entire story at least outlined before submitting.  They will not be as lenient as my prompt community if something goes off-kilter.

What about you, Squiders?  Ever write something serially?  What have your experiences been?