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.

Stages of Writing

This writing business is not an easy one. At any given moment, you will find folks in the writing community who are celebrating great successes, others wondering if they should quit for good, and all of the iterations in between. As a writer, I sometimes feel like I boarded a tiny boat on a big ocean, trying to navigate somewhere while constantly being tossed by waves that alternatively represent swells and crashes — or swells and bigger swells followed by crashes and bigger crashes.

This weekend, my computer’s hard drive failed, and I received the diagnosis that my MacBook Pro had suffered a failed motherboard. After I made the final decision to lay my beloved MacBook Pro to rest, I spent some time reflecting on all we had gone through together. Yes, I know that it’s  just a computer and that their motherboards and hard drives have a lifetime, but I had written 3.5 books on this particular laptop (and I’m sentimental, okay?). In my tumult of emotions, I also thought about my writing community and the times while writing those 3.5 books when I’d both needed support and lent support to others, talked about and shared hopes and fears, advice, and inspiration, and I realized not for the first time that (1) I’m not on this tiny boat all by myself after all and (2) what an up-and-down kind of journey it really is.

In a tribute to this journey (and indirectly to Ms. MacBook Pro), here’s my representation of the many stages of writing, showing some of the things that I and others have experienced. This is not to minimize any of these feelings, but to inform you that these are perfectly natural and totally reasonable reactions to the various stages of writing (shown via Bitmojis, naturally):

I wrote more today than I ever have! I’m in the flow! I can do this!

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Am I a fraud? Do I even know what I’m doing?

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Word count today: 0… the same as for the past month…I mean forever. What if I can never write another word again?

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I typed “THE END” on this draft!!!! This is the greatest feeling ever!

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*sends to beta readers*/*sends queries*/*goes on submission*  *refreshes e-mail every three seconds*FullSizeRender(28)

I don’t know what to write now. What if I don’t have another story in me? EVER?

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Do I save these rejections or delete them? *sets them all on fire and eats all of the ice cream and chocolate in the house* *buys some more for next time*

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Someone wants/requested/read/liked my manuscript!!!!!

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Revisions. And more revisions. And edits. And copyedits. And more of all of the above. Will this ever end? It has to end sometime, right?

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BOOK RELEASE DAY!!!!! THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING DAY EVER! I HAVE LIVED FOR THIS DAY!

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I’m just going to check my Amazon/Goodreads ratings one more time, but then that’s it. *five minutes later* Okay, just one more time. And one… More… Time…. FullSizeRender(7)

My book made a list! (Wait, is that category even applicable to my story? I don’t know. But who cares?) A list!

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Someone left me a 1-star review. They didn’t get it. They hated it. More people hate it now. What if my career is over?

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I’m deleting all of my social media and going into hiding.

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I just got the best story idea! It’s fresh and I already love the characters, and it’s almost like it’s plotting itself! FullSizeRender(25)

I’m writing again! I almost forgot how great this feels! It’s the best!

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Huh. I thought writing this next one would be a little easier. A tiny bit easier? Not a whole lot harder. It’s like I forgot everything I ever knew….

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So many plot holes. So many loose threads. What does this revision note to myself mean? What am I even doing?

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I feel so inspired! That writing conference/pep talk/book by *insert super inspiring writer or favorite author* was exactly what I needed! I’m rejuvenated and ready to hit it hard!

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I’ve been writing every night. And getting up early to write. And writing during the day between all the things. Because deadlines and expectations but also exhaustion and no time.

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I just hit 70K… but I’m really not feeling this story anymore, and my early test readers are bored. Maybe I should…*gulp* scrap this version and start over.

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I love this story again! I just needed to do “V, W, X, Y, and Z” to fix it, and it’s awesome again!

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Deadline is approaching…. I’m not sure I can meet my deadline…. Deadline is past.

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I finished the draft! I did it! I DID IT! (I knew I could do it.)

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Wait. All if this. All of this is my writing/publishing life? Can I really sustain this in the long term?

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I love writing! Ultimately I write for me, and I can’t imagine not doing it.

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I AM A WRITER, AND ON MOST DAYS, I LOVE IT.

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HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. She’s working on a couple of new stories right now, and you can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

Let’s Stop The Writerly Blame Game

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Settle down, my friends. Pull up a chair. Or a couch. Or a bed. Or sprawl on the floor, if that’s your preference. But get comfortable, because today we’re going to be talking about some hard truths.

Many, many times in the last few months, I’ve heard variations of the same two themes coming out of the mouths of aspiring writers. The first type of comment goes like this: It’s really no use querying an agent. Or querying this agent. Or trying to get traditionally published at all. After all, statistically only a tiny percentage of writers ever get an agent anyway. 

The second type of comment is similar: I’ve been querying, but I just keep getting rejected. I think it’s because agents only want the same old drivel. They don’t care about originality. This comment comes in an endless array of specifics and individualizations, but the heart of the justification is always the same: Those agents just don’t see what a good thing I’ve got going. They don’t recognize my genius. Often, the writer who makes comments like this is also resistant to the idea of revising or rewriting their book, feeling that that would be pandering to somebody else’s tastes in order to get an agent.

And you know what? I totally get it. Let me give you a little picture of my own query history.

Just over three years ago, I started querying a fairytale retelling. It was the third book I’d written but the first I’d queried, and I had stars in my eyes. I’d revised the book a bit, my critique partners had told me that it was Newbery Award material, and I was confident that I’d find an agent who wanted to snap that book up right away. Excitedly, I started live-pitching at conferences and sending out queries. I submitted to the Pitch Wars contest.

The crickets were deafening.

The sparse bits of feedback I got, from both agents and contest mentors, were all the same: It’s not original enough. There’s no place in the market for it. I was stung. I’d poured my heart and soul into that book! I’d given it my all! Couldn’t those agents recognize the genius that was in front of them? Of course, I comforted myself, the stats show that hardly anybody who queries actually lands an agent. The agents are all just too busy to see how big my book could go.

I’ve written before about the watershed moment that happened that autumn, the moment that gave me the courage to pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep working. Sadder but wiser, I turned my attention to my fourth novel. I spent months revising and polishing it, and then dove in again: live pitching, querying, contest entering. This time, things started out much more promisingly. I got lots of agent requests right off the bat, and for several months I was certain that that would be the book to get me an agent. When those requests turned into rejection after rejection after rejection, I found myself thinking again: It’s just because it’s not a Twilight or Hunger Games readalike. Can’t those agents recognize a good thing when they see it? 

Shelving that book was hard. It’s still the book of my heart, and saying a temporary goodbye to it was gut-wrenching. It was so, so easy to place the blame on anything else: the industry. The agents. The market.

This story has a happy ending: After going through a true dark night of the soul, I once again picked myself up, finished the manuscript I was drafting, and queried it. Within weeks, I had multiple agent offers for that book. I signed with my fantastic agent a month after sending my first query. Next year, that book will be my debut novel with HarperCollins Children’s.

What is my point in sharing this story? It’s because I get so frustrated, so saddened, to hear writer after writer utter self-defeating words before they’ve even really given querying and submission a college try. Querying is hard work. It is grueling, stressful, and involves a lot of rejection. But so, too, does writing as a career. No matter what path to publication you end up taking, there will be rejection, stress, and insecurity. As a traditionally-published debut author, I’m already beginning to feel the anxiety that comes from knowing that next summer, people will pick up my book… and some won’t like it. Some will give it bad reviews on Amazon. Even more terrifying, the vast majority of people will probably never be remotely interested in my book. And the stakes are high: How readers respond to my debut will, in large part, determine the path my future career takes.

Self-publishing is the same. While you get to skip the rejections from agents and editors, indie publishing is still rife with rejection and angst. The bottom line is this: If you want to be a writer, you cannot escape rejection.

And while shrouding yourself in an armor made of justifications is the natural response to the pain of being rejected, it’s also an ultimately unhelpful strategy. To be a writer is, by its very nature, to allow yourself to become vulnerable. What is more raw than the feeling of pouring your heart into words and then seeing somebody dislike (or—even worse—not care about) those words? That vulnerability is part and parcel of a writing career—and the sooner you can accept and lean into it, the more resilient and strong your writer heart will become.

Yes, it’s hard to be rejected. Yes, it’s hard to stomach the thought that the problem might lie with our book—those words that poured straight from our heart—and not with the agent, the publisher, the establishment. And yes, the statistics for the number of querying writers are grim. But you know what? In this industry, persistence, humility, and a willingness to start over and try again pay off. It took me three different books, more than 120 queries, and a whole lot of fresh starts and trying new things to land an agent and a book deal—but I did it. My agent has taken on a grand total of three clients in the last two years, including me. Based on the number of queries she generally receives, there was a .03% chance that I would have landed an offer. And yet I did.

And you, dear friend? I believe in you. I have faith in your ability to beat the odds. I have faith in your ability to adapt, to learn, and to use the tools available to you to bring your craft to the level that it needs to be in order to achieve your writerly dreams.

But trust me when I say that the first step to achieving those dreams is this: Take a deep breath. Let go of all the reasons you have for why agents or editors aren’t seeing what you see in your book. And get ready to work.

 

headshot1Cindy 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, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

Workflow: Formatting

Welcome to my fifth and final post on workflow. I’ve talked about my general workflow and tool choices as well as my capture, drafting, and revising processes. For me workflow has been something to focus on and refine, not for its own sake, but a task undertaken to increase the transparency of my tools. I really want to focus primarily on the “flow” part of the term.

Ultimately my goal is to not fiddle with the tools or to wonder how the tool works. I want to be able to settle into the writing with as few obstructions as possible. It’s taken me a long time to choose the tools and processes that work the best for me. It’s been a good investment, because I am now comfortable with them, and in all honestly, I don’t think about them much at all except when necessity forces me to use tools and processes that don’t work well with my preferred approach.

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Markdown

The final step in my workflow is formatting. I’ve mentioned that I write in text documents using a plain text markup formatting syntax called Markdown. The internet is overflowing with descriptions of Markdown and how it works. If you want to know more, I’d suggest you begin here with John Gruber, who started it all. Markdown allows you to designate your desired formatting in the simplest way possible without actually formatting the document. This allows you to format in plain text, which is the smallest, most future-proof and backward-compatible document format there is. Markdown allows anyone to see, at a glance, your intentions. It also allows you to create and share documents that might end up being formatted differently depending on the medium (webpage, blog, print, social media, etc.).

Here’s an example of Markdown syntax. There are also ways to use Markdown or one of its derivatives (MultiMarkdown, for example) to structure tables, footnotes, and the like.

Here’s a more substantial list of Markdown syntax.

Markdown has not been widely adopted

Markdown is really fantastic especially for writing that will appear on the web, but it hasn’t been widely adopted outside of the programming and blogging world. It’s a shame because it’s so easy to use and creates all kinds of consistency in application, even when preparing documents for print. You can even use a Markdown derivative for formatting heavy documents such as screen plays. It’s called Fountain, and I love it.

Markdown’s real power comes from it’s ability to work with different style sheets for different purposes. I have a style sheet for printing early drafts of fiction projects, which uses Courier font, 12 point, 2.0 line spacing, 1 inch margins, page numbering in the upper right hand corner. I like this formatting because it (a) reminds me that the document isn’t even close to done, (b) the monospaced Courier font gives me more red pencil room for revision, and (c) it allows me to visually distinguish early drafts from later ones.

I also have a style sheet for final drafts that really fits itself for use in Microsoft word. That style sheet uses Georgia, 11 point, 1.5 line spacing, 1 inch margins, clearly identifiably section breaks, and running headers with the work’s title, my name, and the page number. All of this is designed to make it easy for my agent to work with, handle, and share the document. If he was a Markdown user, this would be a different kind of article. But, alas, Word is the industry standard, and I have come to the realization that it’s less trouble to make my workflow and formatting as “empathetic” as possible. As I have mentioned before, the new Word for Mac and iOS is really quite good and it’s less trouble for me to use Word comfortably, which has made my life a lot easier.

Empathetic Formatting

For a long time, especially in graduate school, I was the main typesetter, designer, and production editor for a string of literary journals. This meant I spent a lot of time taking in and processing other people’s documents, almost all of them done in Word, and almost all of them chock full of strange and vexing formatting. Double spaces after periods, all kinds of tabs, four spaces then a “hard return,” all sorts of junk formatting that didn’t match the style sheet and specifications of our publication. Even when we’d send along a style sheet the formatting would come to us done however the writer wanted it formatted.

This is where I came up with the term “empathetic formatting.” I realized that what designers and typesetters wanted was the least amount of specialized formatting possible. They would be using pre-established house styles for all the document elements, which they would apply as paragraph or character elements. It would be easiest to strip all formatting from a document, which would cause its own set of problems because that would erase all of the formatting. I was doing most of this work before the advent of Markdown, but even if we would have had it then, I think it would have been very difficult to re-train writers to use it.

As a writer, you should go through your final drafts and use the Find/Replace function to look for extra spaces, tabs, and returns. It’s a small way to make the design people happy, and they are good people to keep happy.

What I do now when I have to work with the writing of other people is convert their .docx files to text files formatted with Markdown. I have a number of tools that help me with that conversion. I work with those documents this way, and then place the writing into the design software, webpage, or blog directly. It is hugely more efficient. The writer gets to do what they are comfortable with, and I get to work in a way that makes sense and is the most efficient for my workflow. Empathetic formatting leads to empathetic workflows.

Empathetic Workflows

In the end, the font you choose, the line spacing, and all of that is really a matter of personal preference until you have to start working with others. At this point, I think it’s the responsibility of writers to be as flexible and neutral as possible. For this blog post, I write in Ulysses, using a modified form of Markdown devised by the Ulysses developers, I export the document when I’m done as a Word .docx file with links and images embedded, then email it in. It only took a couple of emails to learn what Thinking Through Our Fingers wanted and needed and only a couple of extra steps to get the document to them in that format.

Your ability to be flexible and neutral in your final formatting really depends on your facility with your tools and the other tools people might be using. You need to know enough about your own workflow to ask good questions about the workflows of others. Once you have become empathetic and flexible, you’ll find that the business end of writing (editing, proofreading, redlining proofs, etc.) becomes a lot less stressful. You’ll be able to focus on the real creativity, because the necessary evils of formatting kind of take care of themselves.
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Todd Robert Petersen is the author of LONG AFTER DARK  and RIFT. Originally a YMCA camp counselor from Portland, Oregon, Todd now directs Southern Utah University’s project-based learning program. You can find him online at toddpetersen.org and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.

Loving the Self-Publishing Life

I’m a self-published author. I chose to self-publish my first novel in 2012, and four years later, I’m still happily self-publishing my novels. I’ll admit that sometimes I feel a little isolated from writers who choose the traditional publishing path, particularly when I find myself surrounded by discussions about agents, queries, and submissions. However, this has not caused me to question my decision to self-publish. For me, self-publishing is best for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being that I am happy doing what I’m doing.

I’ll be honest — the whole of my self-publishing journey has been interspersed with the occasional foray into the world of traditional publishing. I did actively query agents for one of my earlier books. A couple of years ago, I threw my hat into the #PitMad contest ring. However, when I take a good and hard look back upon those experiences, I never felt totally comfortable doing those things. I remember worrying about how I would manage life as a traditionally-published author. I have my own professional and personal reasons why self-publishing is a more comfortable fit for me than traditional, and ultimately it all boils down my specific life-work-health balance (*cue juggling here*) and overall sense of well-being and happiness.

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So yes, my bottom-of-the-line answer to the question of “Why self publish?” is that it makes me happy. I have learned so much and grown in leaps and bounds (and am still learning and growing) as a writer and publisher since I started this endeavor. As one of many happy self-published authors in the world, these are some of the things about self-publishing life that I’d like to share (in case you didn’t know):

  1. Let start off by being real — sometimes self-publishing gets a bad rap. This is because there is a wide range of quality of self-published stories on the market. My favorite go-to authors are a mixture of self-published and traditionally-published for similar reasons: their stories and characters are raw and real and daring. The bottom line is this: a successful self-published author must produce works that are of the highest quality and shouldn’t settle for anything less.
  2. In the world of self-publishing, there tends to be an exaggerated sense of a more-book-releases-in-a-shorter-span-of-time-is-better attitude. As a result of this, you will see more serials (sections of books published as installments) here than in the traditional-publishing industry. This used to be frustrating for me because I am a pokey-ass writer, and I simply cannot keep up with the  breakneck pace of the “suggested” two or three novels (or more!) a year. I also haven’t jumped on the trend of publishing serials, and my stories tend to be longer (around 100K). There is very little that I can do about the fact that I’m a slowpoke writer (oh, believe me, I’ve tried to fast draft or sprint, but my brain just doesn’t work this way), and I’ve decided against serials because I like to structure my stories differently. BUT I write what I write because these stories are true to my heart, and self-publishing gives me optimum freedom to keep them this way.
  3. Self-published authors may or may not have an agent, but we have the same sorts of writing support units including critique partners, beta readers, editors, copyeditors, and cover designers. Our books may go on book tours, and we may attend author events. We enjoy learning new things for our craft, networking with other authors at writers’ conferences and other events, and going on writers’ retreats. Self-published authors have to take full responsibility for financing these things or making them happen in the first place (but so do some of the traditionally-published authors that I’ve spoken to). Regardless of expense, I’ve found great fulfillment in all of these elements of the craft, and I have loved learning all aspects of my trade.
  4. Like any type of publishing, self-publishing comes with its shares of ups (e.g.,  financial success, great reviews, bestseller status, TV/movie options, unlocking other major achievements) and downs (e.g., lulls in sales, publishing works that don’t live up to our wildly high expectations, negative reviews, writer’s block). While we often beat ourselves up for the latter, we really shouldn’t; both markets and readers possess a large degree of subjectivity and unpredictability. When faced with lows, we have to do the same thing that all authors must do — keep writing.
  5. Self-publishing is not “just self-publishing.” C’mon: would you describe a dedicated worker who has set up his/her own business as “just self-employed”? Self-publishing is not at all an easy thing to do, and it is an overall happy place and very viable for many authors. It’s a creative avenue that encompasses all aspects of publishing, if you’re willing to learn and embrace all of those things. For those of us who feel at home here, we can’t imagine leaving.

Some of my most memorable highlights from self-publishing have been picking out my own cover models and directing photo shoots (!), working with incredible artists, talking with TV producers, going to author events and meeting fans, forming life-long friendships with incredible people on my street team, and being part of an amazing group of critique partners. Will I ever query or pitch again? Perhaps? Maybe in a faraway future?  Sometimes I do think about it, for the one hard reason that self-published books do have much less visibility than traditionally-published books. Self-published authors have to do the legwork to get our books onto shelves of brick-and-mortar (usually indie) bookstores. We have to do more marketing in general (though now there are lots of services out there to help) and we rely much more heavily upon word-of-mouth recommendations and book reviews to get the word out about our books (read, review, and recommend!). So yes, I have thought about it in a general sense for future works. But right now, I’m content as a self-published author. I love the creative process. I love what I can do with my characters and my stories. I love my support units. I love my publishing schedule. I love learning about all aspects of publishing. I love what I’ve chosen for my writing life. And I’m not alone.

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helen

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her at www.helenboswell.com.

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got (…it might not be what you think it is!)


In writing, as in any profession, there’s a lot of advice to take in. “Show, don’t tell.” “Use adverbs sparingly.” “Write what you know.” A writer at any stage can find advice on everything from craft to platform-building to marketing to how to tackle a query letter—and nearly all of that advice is extremely helpful.

But gather close, my fellow writers, because today I’m going to tell you about the hands-down most helpful piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten… and it probably isn’t going to be what you think.
In the summer of 2014, I was getting serious about pursuing publication. I’d been writing off and on my whole life, and had recently completed and polished my third novel. After years of not feeling like I was ready to wade into the daunting world of publishing, I’d decided it was time to go out and chase my dream down. And so I did: I signed up for a writing conference and live-pitched my book to an agent. I queried a handful of other agents and spent my days dreaming about how much they’d surely love my book. And when none of those agents uttered a word that wasn’t “no,” I stumbled across the world of online writing contests and entered Brenda Drake’s fabulous Pitch Wars, hoping that I’d win a coveted mentorship and be able to take my writing to the next level.
In the two weeks that passed between the Pitch Wars entrance period and the decision day, I knew with increasing certainty that I wasn’t going to make it in. None of the mentors I’d submitted to had requested any further materials from me, and none of the hints they were Tweeting about their favorite manuscripts lined up with mine. Sure enough, when the list of mentor picks went up, my name wasn’t on it. In the days that followed, I received kind rejection e-mails from three of the mentors I’d submitted to, all of them confirming the feeling that had been growing in my gut: My precious book, the one that my critique partners had declared “beautiful!” and “Newbery-worthy!”, was probably not going to have a chance of standing out in its highly oversaturated market.
Like any good protagonist, all of this plunged me into a bit of a Dark Night of the Soul. I traded anguished e-mails with my best friend and critique partner, agonizing over the fact that I’d never make it as a “real” writer, that I’d never be able to move beyond writing pretty words (my specialty!) to creating something truly meaningful that people couldn’t put down. I lived in fear that I would never figure out the secrets of a compelling plot—that I’d be consigned to nature-observation blog posts and lyrical but slow historical novels for the rest of forever.
During that time, I wasn’t on Twitter much. Seeing all of my newly-made Twitter friends rejoicing in the start of their Pitch Wars experience was just too hard. But on occasion, I’d get on and read the advice the mentors were tweeting for those of us who didn’t get in. And one tweet—a bit of advice from the lovely writer Bethany Smith and retweeted by a Pitch Wars mentor—particularly made an impression on me. 

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By that time, in the summer of 2014, I was not—and did not consider myself—a beginner writer. I’d been writing with varying levels of seriousness for almost a decade, and I’d been throwing myself into publication-related prep for the past two years. 
But in many ways, I was still a fledgling, just barely beginning to understand how to navigate the world beyond my own Word document. And in even more ways, I had fallen into the trap of imagining myself a “wunderkind”—a pretty natural fallout of having grown up surrounded by praise for my writing from teachers, friends, and critique partners. 
And, hard as it was to swallow, Bethany’s advice was exactly what I most needed. I needed that wake-up call—a reminder that, while I had studied hard and gotten skilled at some aspects of writing (lyrical language chief among them), I still had an enormous amount to learn (plots, for instance!). 
And as the weeks passed after the Pitch Wars mentor picks went up and I wasn’t one of them, I did my best to follow Bethany’s example, and I went to work. I turned to revising another novel, a strange little book that had a lot of my heart and soul in it, and the next year when I began querying that one, I started getting agent requests right off the bat. Ultimately, that novel got me into Pitch Wars the next year, and the things that I learned while revising that book for Pitch Wars were transformative for me. That novel didn’t get me an agent—during Pitch Wars or after it—but it did help me learn skills that I was able to apply in working on my next book, and that book was the one my fabulous agent signed me with.
In the two years that have passed since that watershed moment, a lot has changed. I have an agent now, and, in a funny twist of fate, I myself am a Pitch Wars mentor for 2016. But even now, I think about that tweet. Because while I’ve improved in many ways, I still have a lot of weaknesses, and I no longer consider myself a prodigy. Instead, I try to focus both on how far I’ve come and how far I have yet to go, balancing my acquired strengths with the things I still need to learn. Because, I now realize, every writer, no matter where she is in her writing journey, has something to learn.

 

And that’s advice worth following.

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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. She writes middle grade and young adult magical realism in addition to the occasional poem or creative non-fiction essay. She is represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown LTD. Find her online at www.cindybaldwinbooks.com and on Twitter at @beingcindy.