Many paths to a destination that looks different to every author.

It’s Spring break here in Utah, and my family and I spent a lovely weekend glamping (glamorously camping) at Zion park. Now, our style of camping veers from that of a hardcore person, like dramatically. But it’s something that works for our family of several kids and aging grandparents. According to my youngest kid’s words, it was the most epic vacation we’ve ever been to, and the memories we made will only become sweeter with time.

Which made me think of the path to publication because I’m an author, and I’m always thinking about the stories I’m working on, the ones I cheat with because I won’t have time to write them for a good couple of years, and the paths I took to get to this point in my career.

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Now, I’ve been writing aiming for publication for more than a decade, and my first books will come out next year, one in January and another one in the spring.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to share my writing with my readers before then. Last year I had an essay published at Uncanny Magazine, which was the highlight of my year. I’d been submitting short stories to Uncanny for a long time, but it was a personal essay what finally opened the door to this amazing publication for me.

A friend of mine introduced me to an educational products company that bought several of my short stories for young readers, both in English and in Spanish, and developed them in multi-media, including audio and educational software. Teacher friends often messaged me to tell me they’ve come across one of my stories at school, and that was always a thrill that kept me motivated to keep writing for children.

Like I stated in the title, the writerly destination looks different for each author, very much like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter.

My main goal was always the possibility to connect with at least one reader, and I know that even when being published in the educational market wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I stated this wish, the purpose of my writing was fulfilled, even if it was through a trail I hadn’t even anticipated when I started writing.

Still, I wanted to see my stories in a printed book.

For years and years, I worked on middle grade and young adult novels, but the first piece of writing that got me a publishing contract was a poem I pitched as a picture book¾which eventually went to a multi-house auction and earned me two-book deal with HarperCollins. The wish of seeing my name on a book is coming true next spring!

I’m so grateful for the unexpected blessing, and true to my Slytherin nature, I still wanted more. I wanted to sell a novel, but selling wasn’t much in my control. Although I was very close to selling a novel several times (Revised and Resubmit by editors, going to acquisition meetings for a couple of my stories), this goal kept eluding me. Until my agent came to me with an opportunity to write a book by a very well-known publisher¾a dream house! The editor provided a concept, and I auditioned for the opportunity to develop it. By auditioned, I mean, I wrote a full synopsis, and a partial, and we sent it off. To my surprise, we got an offer! I wrote that middle grade novel in record time, and I just sent off copy edits last week. I even saw a potential cover a few days ago, and I’m still reeling with happiness.

Now, although I didn’t come up with the original premise of this story, it still came out of my heart. When I reached out to a friend of mine asking if she thought I should make the main character a Latina girl, she reminded me to stay true to myself, and I did, and my character is one of the dearest to my heart. Although I was working with an already established concept, I had the liberty to literally color it at my pleasure, and I’m so happy with the results!

I’m excited to share more about this project that releases in January when my editors give the OK.

I never expected my first novel to come out of an in-house need, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take this different path that will lead me straight to my main goal: connect with readers.

When my novels didn’t sell although my writing received great feedback, I researched on different options, and I was surprised at some alternate paths I had never considered before. Besides self-publishing, with which a lot of authors find much success, I came upon the concept of book packagers.

A book packager is a company that develops ideas, often high-concept, and find an author to execute them. Then, they sell it to publishers. The book packager retains the rights to the piece, and the author often receives a flat fee for writing the story, but the author’s name often appears on the book cover. Take a look at your shelves. A lot of favorite best-sellers were conceived by a packager who worked in collaboration with an author. Sometimes the author is already established, but many times, this kind of collaboration can catapult a debut author’s career. Some book packagers to note are CAKE Literary (founded and directed by industry powerhouses Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton), Glasstown Entertainment, Alloy Entertainment, Working Partners, Etc.

Other authors work with I.P. (intellectual property), that is, they’re asked to write a story in an already established world, like Star Wars or Marvel.

The more I looked, the more I realized there are many paths to my main goal I had never considered before. Of course, not all paths will work for or appeal to all writers, but if you don’t know about them, how will you know if they’ll appeal to you?

I encourage you all aspiring and established authors to look at all the options you have to share your writing with the world. You never know what will spark for you.

When my family was in Zion’s, the best views and greatest experiences didn’t happen while driving on the paved highway. It wasn’t until we ventured on the trails, that we discovered views we could have never imagined before.

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YamileMendezYamile (prounounced sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is an immigrant writer and reader, a dreamer and fighter, a Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate, a 2014 New Visions Award Honor Winner, and one the 2015 Walter Dean Myers Inaugural Grant recipients. Born and raised in Rosario, Argentina (cradle of fútbol), she now lives in Alpine, Utah with her husband, five children, and three dogs, but her heart is with her family scattered all over the world. Find her on twitter: @YamileSMendez and online: yamilesmendez.com.

Ten Tips for Surviving Book Launch

We are absolutely delighted to welcome today’s guest, Barbara Claypole White!

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I’ve just launched my fifth novel, which means I’ve lost 5lbs and restful sleep. (Last night I dreamed my office had become a medical triage unit.) Book launch turns me ever-so-slightly neurotic and detracts from the joy of hanging out with my characters in my jammies. However, this time around I’ve figured out how to survive with my humor intact:

1.

Look in the mirror, spread your arms wide, grin like you’re accepting a Pulitzer, and say, “I’m a badass author! I launched a novel into the word.” (Repeat as necessary after every one-star bashing on Goodreads.) Anything that exhibits what I call the it’s-all-lovely mindset helps chip away at anxiety.

2.

Take twenty minutes to stop and enjoy the gifts that will arrive on the UPS truck: smell those roses and eat at least two truffles.

3.

Treat yourself to one thing on launch day, even if it’s only a shower. I had an extended cocktail hour with my beloved menfolk, when we talked about the state of the non-publishing world. (Obviously too much alcohol will not help your anxiety, but hey, a little buzz is good for the soul.)

4.

Accept that you have no control over what happens to your book from this day forth. No, really, you have ZERO control. I live in the South, and we rarely get snow. On launch day the weather forecast turned against me—yes, it’s easy to take everything personally—and the 50% chance of rain or sleet was now a 90% chance of snow. I spent launch day morning creating Plan B for my inaugural reading at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, and then had to sort out the caterer, who was baking a book cake. (Public service announcement: book cakes freeze beautifully.) Then I spent another hour rescheduling hair and dental appointments, which is way harder than it sounds. Both my hairstylist and dentist are rock stars in their fields and booked until May. (And my roots were showing, and I have a killer toothache.)

5.

Yes, you will go down the rabbit hole with social media and messages of congratulations, but the next day, step away from your computer. I learned this accidentally after our 90% chance of winter weather dumped a foot of the white stuff on our driveway and I spent the morning shoveling snow, which leads me to…

6.

This is a toughie, but do not compulsively check your rankings on Amazon. If you find that ‘resistance is futile’, set limits: check in two hours, then three, then five, then only once a day. Get it? Got it? Good.

7.

Amazon rankings are not listed in real-time. You will have a much better sense of how the book’s performing on day two. With THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, reviews started coming in quickly, but the book’s rankings didn’t do anything interesting until day three. (Okay, I was weak; I checked.)

8.

Don’t read reviews that are anything less than 5-stars before bedtime. If you can hold off, binge read all the negative reviews after the book has launched and you’ve rediscovered your happy place. THE PERFECT SON has been out for two and a half years. Yesterday I read all the one-star reviews. As predicted, 50% went after my characters’ use of the f-bomb, 40% were a variation on the theme ‘boring’, and 10% had vaguely useful criticisms that made me nod and say, “Fair enough.” But hey, that book was a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Fiction 2015—a category that I shared with Harper Lee—and that fact is tattooed into my soul.

9.

If your deadline is not ticking loudly, take launch day off, but return to writing as quickly as possible. My favorite mantra is, “let writing be the cure,” because the only time I have laser focus is when I write. Writing is also how I process my own emotions and everything that I can’t control (back to anxiety). I spent launch day—ahead of snowmaggedon—co-writing a blog piece with my buddy Laura Spinella. We’ve been sharing the same foxhole since our writing careers began, and as we traded comments in track changes, I shared launch day angst with a sister-in-arms. Perfect.

10.

Newsflash: your novel is unlikely to burst into the world on the bestseller lists, but women’s fiction has a long shelf life, and sometimes the most thrilling part of book launch isn’t the sales’ number. I discovered, by mistake, that THE PROMISE BETWEEN US was included on a list of must-read 2018 books for fans of Jodi Picoult. I’m a huge fan of Ms. Picoult (her books do burst into the world as bestsellers!). That list made me feel like a queen—for far longer that one day.

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bcwBestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her beloved OCD family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, and Echoes of Family.  The Promise Between Us, which shines a light on postpartum OCD, released on January 16th, 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. To connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com, or follow her on Facebook. She’s always on Facebook.

 

Life After Querying: Publication Insights from Authors

For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.

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With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.

How many times have you been published?

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.33.01 PMWhen was your first book released?

1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1

Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?

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How many publishing house read your book before you signed? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.57.44 PM

How many books were included in your first contract?

42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)

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If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with? screen-shot-2018-01-19-at-3-03-33-pm.png

Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?

(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)

7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70

What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?

  • Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
  • It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
  • Always be writing.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon
  • Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
  • Market a lot at first, keep writing too
  • Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
  • Don’t compare to other authors!!
  • Get an agent.
  • You’re not done waiting.
  • Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
  • Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
  • Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
  • Build a mailing list!
  • Keep your day job
  • Be clear on the expectations
  • Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
  • Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
  • Try not to fret social media
  • Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
  • You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
  • Be patient and keep writing
  • Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
  • All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
  • Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
  • Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
  • Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
  • Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
  • Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
  • Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
  • Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
  • Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
  • The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
    It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
  • Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
  • Start networking!
  • Just keep swimming
  • Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
  • Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
  • Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
  • Ask questions!
  • Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
  • Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
  • Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
  • Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
  • Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.

What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?

  • Be patient and prepared for change
  • None. I’m about to do the same thing.
  • Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
  • Be patient and start working on something else
  • Keep writing.Keep submitting.
  • You’ve got this.
  • Keep moving forward
  • Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
  • If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
  • Keep your chin.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
  • If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
  • Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
  • Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
  • It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
  • Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
  • Solidarity, friends.
  • Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
  • Good luck and keep writing.
  • Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
  • All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
  • Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
  • Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
  • Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
  • Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
  • Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
  • It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
  • Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
  • Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
  • Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
  • As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
  • My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
  • It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
  • Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
  • Get writing on something new
  • Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
  • Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
  • Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
  • Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10

How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add? 

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

The Reality of the Breakout Book

We are delighted to welcome today’s guest, Aimie K. Runyan

Many authors share my tale of woe. I worked on the book of my heart off and on for a decade. I polished the heck out of it, landed and agent, polished more, then landed a book deal with a major independent publisher. Sounds like the stuff of dreams, right?

It was, until my book flopped with such an audible thud, I’m pretty sure it can still be heard in my publisher’s swanky New York high rise. Sorry about that.

Which of course, meant the second book I was contracted to write received little to no marketing support. I can’t say I blame them. They are a business, after all.

So what next? I licked my wounds, and as any good scribbler does, I started writing. I left behind my beloved French emigrant girls to embrace an era of Historical Fiction that has broader appeal—WWII.

Hold on, hold on, hold on… the advice is always ‘don’t cater to the market’ and ‘write what motivates you’. It’s true, but I’m a firm believer that certain niches have a solid reader base despite the market. WWII is one of those niches. Especially if you add in a hint of a love story.

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But that isn’t enough—people have read zillions of WWII stories, and they crave something new. When I was deluged with articles by friends about the Night Witches after the last surviving pilot had passed, I knew this was going to fill a void in the marketplace. Which is great, but it’s not enough to write a stellar book.

I started my research, and fell in love with these women. They were fierce, driven, and took zero garbage from their commanding officers who resented their presence on the battlefield. These were my people.

I managed to sell the book to my dream house, Lake Union, and I could tell there was palpable excitement for the project. That was the greatest feeling in the world. And when I was selected for one of their key marketing tools, I knew it had the opportunity to break out.

And it did. #2 on the charts in the US and UK and #1 in Australia. I always knew the Aussies were a great bunch.

How does it feel? Surreal. I’m by turns elated and convinced I’m about to wake from a lovely dream.

So what does this mean for my career moving forward? Well, despite my fondest wish to write about 15th century Ireland, I’m going to be relegated to writing about the wars for the foreseeable future. Which is fine. There is so much ripe material to pull from—unmined gems—that I can make my own, that I don’t feel limited for the moment. And the market is bound to change, and my material with it. Which is just as it should be.

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It means I now have a reader base who want more books like Daughters of the Night Sky, and it’s my job to produce them regularly. The days of spending a decade crafting a novel are done if I want to keep that fan base loyal.

Overall, the biggest perk of having a book “break out” is really the feeling that what I do is appreciated by a large number of readers. It’s such a lonely business, so rife with self-doubt, that any victory is a huge deal.

Of course, the old axiom is also true—you’re only as good as your next book. Success is just as fleeting as failure, so I have to strive to make each book better than the last.

So back to the purple fountain pen of fury, it won’t weald itself!

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Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She has written four historical novels, including the internationally bestselling Daughters of the Night Sky. Her  next novel, Girls on the Line, which centers around the women who served as telephone operators overseas during WWI, will release in November of 2018. She is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children.

 

 

 

Querying Is A Numbers Game

The internet is filled with resources on how to query, how many queries to send at a time, and how to write a query letter. But today I want to talk about something that I haven’t seen discussed nearly as much:

The fact that many querying writers shelve a manuscript without actually having sent out all that many queries.

Let’s start by talking about job applications. I know, totally unrelated, right? But bear with me here for a minute. My husband graduated from college in 2010, with a degree in computer programming. Because programming is a field with immense turnover and an average employee job length of three years, and because he’s done a few years of contract work, he recently started his fifth job in that space of time. Some of these jobs have come without much effort or application, but some of them have come after months of intense job searching.

In the latter situation, when he’s actively putting out applications to companies he doesn’t have connections at already, we’ve discovered that it takes a certain number of applications put out in the ether before things reach a critical mass, at which point things really start to move and he finally ends up with a job offer.

In my experience, querying is much the same. If you pay attention when writers who’ve recently signed with an agent share query stats, you’ll notice that much of the time, they’ve sent at least fifty queries for that book—and often much more than that. I know a fair number of talented writers who’ve signed with big-name agents… but only after they’d sent a hundred or more queries.

While preparing for this post, I asked a group of agented authors about how many queries they sent before signing with their agent. The responses ranged anywhere from 4 to 125. For those who went on to sell that book, there also was no correlation between how many queries an author sent and how quickly the book sold to a publisher; many of the ones who sent the most queries sold within weeks, while some who sent the smallest number of queries got the largest number of publisher rejections. It’s also pertinent to know that for many of these authors, the book that ultimately landed their agent was not the first book they’d queried.

Personally, I sent 43 queries on my debut, which is a fairly small number for my track record—and the only reason it was so relatively few was because I got an agent very quickly after the first #DVPit contest, which made things move much faster than they otherwise would have. On the book I queried before my debut, though, I sent more than 110 queries in total before finally shelving the book.

Why am I sharing all these stats? Because so often, I’ll talk to aspiring authors who are feeling overwhelmed by the query slog and hear that they’re considering shelving books after a relatively small number of queries. Many shelve before reaching the 50-query mark, and a good number shelve even before that, at 30 queries or less. But if you consider that the vast majority of authors send several dozen queries before signing with their agent, and some send a hundred or more, shelving a book when it’s been seen by such a relatively small number of agents isn’t giving the book a true chance.

Viewing querying as a numbers game also helps take the personal sting out of rejections. When you query expecting to have to send out a lot, it’s easier not to get attached to each individual agent you send to, and easier to move on again if you receive a rejection.

Of course, using this query strategy leaves two important questions:

1. How do you know you’re not just throwing away your queries on a book that’s not strong enough?

The answer to the first question is a matter of pretty simple game strategy. I’m a small-batch querier: I typically send 5-10 queries at a time (usually closer to 5, since sending queries takes time!), then wait to see if I get requests from that. A 20-25% request rate while I was querying was usually my sign—if I had that many requests, I could be fairly confident that my query was working well, so I sent out more. I’d send out one or two more queries every week or two, provided I was still getting requests. Over several months, I’d build up to the point where I had a few dozen queries out in the world—at which point, I’d start to get responses on the fulls I’d sent out to the early requesters. Full rejections can be a perfect time to pause, evaluate feedback given, and figure out if it’s time to revise before moving on with more querying.

2. How do you even find that many agents?

Since I write young adult and middle grade, my favorite resource when I’d get ready to query a new book was the Literary Rambles blog, which has a database of literary agents who represent picture book, middle grade, and young adult titles. I also would make note of Writer’s Digest New Agent announcements, check the acknowledgments of my favorite books or Google my favorite authors to see who represented them, and pay attention when my friends talked about the agents they were querying. I also highly recommend QueryTracker as a resource to track and organize queries. For my first queried book—which got sent to only a few agents because it was clear early on that I wasn’t getting any requests and I’d had specific feedback from several industry pros saying that my book just didn’t stand a chance in the current market—I literally kept track of the agents I was querying on a sticky note. I do not recommend that!

So, if you’re querying and starting to get discouraged because you’ve hit twenty, thirty, forty queries—or much more—without an offer, take heart! Remember just how many successful writers didn’t land an agent until they’d sent out a lot of queries. Take those rejections, archive them, eat some chocolate… and send out more!

 

Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. Her debut middle grade novel is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

Five Reasons Why I Rejected Your Manuscript

Last month, I wrote about some of the differences between writers and publishers, as well as some of the challenges of getting your work published. Here’s a quick recap: Publishing is a business (GASP!). Publishers want to make money (and that’s okay). Writers also want to make money (and that’s okay, too). It’s not easy to get published (no duh!). But that doesn’t mean you should give up (yay!).

This month, I want to talk a little more about the publishing world, and see if I can’t help give you some more perspective when it comes to that all-important question: Why did you reject my manuscript?

I hear that question a lot, and unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Saying “It’s not personal,” while technically true, doesn’t do much to ease the sting of rejection. Neither does the standard rejection letter that most publishers send out, which are often devoid of specific reasons for the rejection.

As a slush pile reader, I don’t make the final decision about whether something gets published or not, but I often make the first decision. And while a “yes” or “no” from me carries a fair amount of weight where I work, it’s someone higher up the food chain who ultimately decides your story’s fate.

Here are five of the most common reasons I will recommend rejecting a manuscript, as well as some possible solutions.

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Reason #1: It’s badly written. Hands down, this is the number one reason I will pass on a manuscript. “Badly written” encompasses both the content and the style. Maybe the plot is thin, or the characters are flat, or the dialogue is stilted. Or maybe there are grammatical errors as far as the eye can see. Now, a few problems here and there are not deal breakers—even the most professional authors make mistakes and need an editor’s help—but if the whole thing is a hot mess, I’m sending it back.

Solution: Write better. No, seriously. Write better.

Reason #2: It didn’t follow the rules. Every publisher has specific rules for submitting, and few things will red flag your manuscript for rejection like trying to go outside those rules. Some publishers will only take submissions from agents, for instance. Some publishers only want a cover letter and three chapters. Some only want an electronic copy, and so on. When a manuscript comes in that isn’t in the format that we require (12 point Times New Roman, double spaced, one inch margins), or it is clear that the author didn’t bother to read our submission guidelines, we know they’re probably not very serious about their craft. Or, it may as simple a thing as an author not even doing basic research to see what kinds of things we publish (which is how we once got a hand-illustrated horror story about a serial killer in the Deseret Book slush pile).

The reason for this is not because publishers are super nit-picky (although they are), but because when every manuscript follows an identical format, it levels the playing field. I don’t want to see your manuscript; I want to see your story. I want the manuscript to disappear into the background so that your story can take center stage.

Solution: Whatever publisher you’re submitting to, do your homework and play by the rules.

Reason #3: Timing. Here’s the thing: there are hundreds of manuscripts in the slush pile at any given moment, and we read them (more or less) in the order in which they were received. So it’s quite possible your post apocalyptic YA paranormal romance thriller is, in fact, amazing—but it arrived in the slush pile two months later than another post apocalyptic YA paranormal romance thriller that we really liked and are going to publish. That’s not your fault, it’s not your story’s fault, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It’s just bad timing, and sadly, nobody has any control over that.

Solution: IDK, try a different publisher?

Reason #4: It was my fault. Look, I’m human. I make mistakes. I try to give every single manuscript that comes across my desk a fair shake, but every once in a while, I completely and totally blow it and pass on something that was, in fact, really good. I wish I had a good reason for why this happens, but I don’t. Maybe you just caught me on a bad day. Maybe it’s because you write in a genre that isn’t my personal favorite. As with the timing issue, it’s not your fault. It’s not because you’re a bad writer. This one, while rare, is all on me.

Solution: Okay, this one requires a little more than a pat answer. Problems like this are why I’m not the only slushpile reader. Every one has bad days, and this is specifically why we will often have multiple readers look at manuscripts. And the good news for you is that I’m usually aware of when I’m in a bad mood or when I’m just not into your story because of the genre. When that happens, I will make specific mention of it and suggest that someone else take a crack at it. My solution for this problem is to trust that the right readers will see your manuscript 99.9% of the time.

Reason #5: What does the market want? Ah, there’s the question publishers get more than any other. As I wrote last month, publishers and writers are always looking for the Next Big Thing. The challenge is that publishers are always looking and planning really far ahead. For instance, the publisher I work for has 2018 titles all locked down, and is already looking at 2019 and even into 2020. What is being published right this minute is what we hoped would be the Next Big Thing two years ago. Writers see what’s popular at the moment, and think “I’m getting on that train!” and then we get inundated with thousands of the same kinds of stories. So it may be that your manuscript got rejected simply because the market trends are changing. Again, writers don’t have control over that.

Solution: Like the timing issue, there isn’t an easy answer here. Trends go in cycles, so be patient, I guess?

Rejections are not fun, and nobody pretends like they are. The submitting/rejection phase is probably the worst part of being a writer, maybe second only the marketing/self promotion side once you do get published (but that’s a post for another day). But remember that every published author has been rejected many, many times before—and often, even after they’ve been published! So take heart, because you’re in good company. Rejections can be an opportunity to improve your skills as a writer and to strengthen yourself as a person. Keep at it, and don’t give up!

Also: I swear it wasn’t personal.

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Dennis Gaunt has worked as a slushpile reader for Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain publishers since 2000. All those years of reading other people’s words inspired him to take a crack at writing himself. His first book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, was published in 2011, and he has since published other books and magazine articles in the LDS market, and has even recorded talks on CD for LDS youth and young adults.

Though primarily a non-fiction writer (for now), he loves reading and talking about what makes great fiction stories work. His years of wading through the slushpile from the other side have given him a unique perspective on the writing and publishing processes, and he’s excited to be a part of Thinking Through Our Fingers.

Dennis lives in the Salt Lake City area with his wife, Natalie, who still has the text he sent her all those years ago that read “Holy cow–I think I’m writing a book!” In his spare time, he enjoys photography, playing the guitar, cooking (hold the onions, please), going to Disneyland, and Godzilla movies.

Just Like the First Time

Movies like Looper and Memento take you through a whole film just to bring you back to the beginning.

I thought about this in this period between publishing my first book and revising the second. The first book took a lot out of me, from getting through scenes that hit too close to home to overcoming the fear of hitting that dread PUBLISH button. But it was okay. Once I got through it I’d never have to deal with any of that again, right? I’d be a master of all thing pertaining to the self-publishing world.

That’s what I thought.

As I sit with the laptop screen staring back at me I’ve been struck with the fact that I came to the end of the journey only to have a vindictive director to say “Oh no. You’re not done yet.” All the quotes that I tuck in the back of my head about positive outlooks and progress fled from me. Little tricks learned along the way stalled. Fear rose it’s head again (funny since Fear is an actual character in the book). The end of one book returned me to the beginning. And you know what?

That’s okay.

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True it does suck that all the doubts and fumblings of the first time have come back. However if it was easy the joy of writing would probably dwindle. There’s been plenty of struggles in my own writing. Heck, Beyond Here is the third completed novel I did within the fifteen years since the idea first hit me. But it got done.

No matter the trials or the tribulations I kept writing. I kept the dream alive until it blossomed. This next book will be another learning experience as I learn about the process and myself. Julia Cameron says “Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.” So this is for the aspiring authors, the sophomores, and the vets. Keep going. Learn from each book, from each word scribbled on the page, and keep going! You survived before. Remember that and you’ll survive this time.

Until next time have a writeous day!

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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.