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Every new year I make a resolution, which I dutifully post on this blog. Many of those resolutions have been practical, aimed toward the goal of getting published.

For 2013, I posted a "Know Your Market" resolution. It was a good one. (Although I strongly suspect my market hasn't been born yet.) The following year I made a resolution to get more rejections than C. S. Lewis. (He got over 800; I clocked in at a measly 160.) Last year, I actually went ahead and made a publishing plan for myself, and for anyone else who might be listening. And I even got some stories published by following it.

This year, I am going to embark on unexplored territory. I mean that literally. This coming year I will face my deepest fear as a writer - not the daunting task of sending hundreds of queries, nor the overwhelming rejections, and not the sense of futility that comes with wondering if I am on the wrong track entirely.

In 2017, I am going to ditch all that and do something I have not yet done. I am going to write the thing I fear the most -  a memoir.

To most people, writing a memoir may not evoke a feeling of mind-numbing terror. But to me, it does. I write children's fantasy. Even my adult stories conscientiously avoid anything personal. They almost religiously skirt things that might point directly to me, or to any of the difficult, often painful. emotions experienced by adults. I am a feverishly private person, and to go down those paths makes me quake with cowardice.

And yet, I find I must. I have had the (mis)fortune of having lived through a war, and that experience, with all its violence, pain, and loss, demands to be written in a time of national crisis.

Let me be clear; I really don't want to.

So, come with me. Let this be your year to confront the thing you don't want to write. Are you a non-fiction writer? Write a piece of fiction. Do you write speculative fiction? Write an essay. If you are frightened of writing a novel - do that. If you can't seem to conquer the short form, go ahead. Write a poem. Write a history book. Do anything you have never attempted. Because to try out new forms, new ideas, new media will only expand you.

Ta-Nehisi Coates got it right when he said, "The craft of writing is the art of thinking."

Go forth into 2017, and think.

 
 
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August is affectionately known as the "dead month" in the publishing industry. During August all work comes to a virtual halt as editors, agents, proofreaders, typesetters, CEOs, dog walkers and everyone else on the planet takes a much-needed vacation.

So, all you aspiring authors, don't submit your manuscript to publishers, and don't send your queries to agents in the month of August. (To be fair, mid-November to mid-January is also a bad time, but for different reasons.)

If your manuscript is ready to go, you have several choices of what to do during the dead month. You can write your next novel

... or

You can do research!

August is the ideal time to gather publishing ammunition. This is how to do it:

1) Make a list of agents. To assemble your list of ideal agents, go to agentquery.com and do a search on your genre (i.e. the genre of the book you want to sell). Make a list of all agents who are accepting queries in that genre. Then, once your list is assembled, go to each and every agency's website to make sure the information you have garnered from agentquery is current. While you are there, read the website, and study the bios of the agents. Do you think the agent will be a good fit for you? If not, take the agent off your list. Next type the agent's name into a google search. Look for entries from "absolutewrite watercooler" and from "querytracker." Read what other writers say about these agents. If writers report bad treatment, then cross the agent off your list. (None of the agents on agentquery will charge a fee, but some who don't may recommend editing services for which they receive a kickback. Don't query an agent who also offers editing services.) Also check preditors&editors for complaints. It will take you at least a month to assemble your list, so have fun.

2) Make a list of reviewers. The time to contact reviewers is three to four months in advance of publication. So, if you have finished your manuscript and plan to self-publish as soon as the last word is written, STOP. Don't publish until you have reviewers lined up, and all your publicity in place. (Interviews, ads, etc.) Go to List of Online Reviewers Who Accept Self-Published Books for a list of 170 book bloggers who review self-published books. Also go to Top 12 Sites for Finding Reviewers for links to several hundred more reviewers and review sites. Cull through these for reviewers who write reviews for your genre. Make a very long list. (You will need several hundred. Returns on review requests are modest.) Be sure to include their email address, or other contact information on your list.

3) If you have written short stories or poems, make a list of literary journals. Trust me, even those few journal editors who say they accept submissions all year round don't read in August. The best way to submit to literary journals is to have a list of 20 or 30 at the ready. If you are going for fame, then start your list with the journals that don't accept simultaneous submissions. If you simply want to get some writing credits under your belt, then make a list of those that do accept simultaneous submissions - and submit to all of them at once. In September. Go here to find short story markets: Top 5 Online Resources for Short Story Markets. Go here for poetry: Top 5 Resources for Publishing Poetry

4) Write templates of query letters and review requests. All letters, whether they are to an agent or a reviewer, need to be individualized. Always include the name of the agent or reviewer in your salutation, say how or where you found them, and tailor your initial pitch to that person's stated interests. That being said, there are some things that will not change from one submission to the next. Your blurb (for reviewers) or pitch (for agents) will be the same, as will your word count, genre, bio and other pertinent information. It is a lot easier to write a template query or review request and tweak it than to compose a new email for each submission. Once you are happy with your template, copy it and paste it into an email. Don't send. Just save it as a draft. Having a draft online will save a lot of time later.

Note: Writer's Digest has a great series on successful queries, which is one of the best resources you will find on how to write a winning query letter.

5) Make a submission packet. If you are submitting directly to publishers, you will need a submission packet. A submission packet typically includes a synopsis of your book, a bio, and a pitch (one paragraph), as well as sample chapters, and log lines, depending on the publisher. It also may include a proposal and a marketing plan if you are publishing a nonfiction book. If you don't know how to write a pitch, or a proposal, or a log line, or a query - now is the time to do some studying. Believe me - and I say this from bitter experience - you don't want to find out what these things are after you have begun contacting agents, publishers, or editors. There is a lot of information online about how to write all of the components of a submission packet. In fact, some agents and publishers are even kind enough to spell out what is involved on their websites.

6) Last, but not least - don't read your manuscript. I am aware that everybody under the sun will tell you to read your manuscript once again to check for typos, logic errors, and awkward syntax that you swear you did not write. (The syntax gremlins did it.) But, if you read your manuscript too many times in succession you will develop manuscript blindness. 

Have you ever noticed that when you look at a word too many times, the spelling no longer makes sense? That is exactly what happens when you read your manuscript too often, especially if you read it from beginning to end. After several readings you can't see your mistakes. If you really must read your book -  yet again - make spot checks. Simply scroll down to a random spot on your manuscript and read whatever paragraph your cursor lands on. I will guarantee you that nine times out of ten you will find something that needs fixing.

So, while your future agent/publisher/editor/reviewers are on a beach enjoying themselves during the month of August, you will be hard at work, proving to them that you are worth their time and attention.

 
 
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It is received wisdom that writers must actively participate in the online community by participating in discussions, replying to comments made on blogs, posting their view on forums, and so on. These interactions, collectively referred to as "engagement," are presented as requirements for building a profile.

There are scads of articles for how to maximize "engagement" on the net, however, for the purposes of authors, most of these recommendations are completely misguided.

Before I get into why these internet pundits are wrong, let me clarify what that term "engagement" actually means for writers.

Engagement, as a marketing term, means getting someone to buy something or exhibit interest in your product in some tangible way. If you are a writer, engagement means getting someone to buy your book, or write a review. If you are a blogger, it means traffic to your blog. If you have launched an author website or Facebook page, it means having people visit, read your page(s), and make return visits. In short, engagement boils down to numbers.

Keeping that definition in mind, how does it benefit you, as an author, to enter into an online fracas with a person whose sole purpose in life is to annoy people? In fact, some of these "trolls" are even willing to pay for the pleasure of harassing writers. (Read Derek Haines' story here.)  Now, if you were riding on a bus and a complete stranger sat down and starting berating you, you would simply get off the bus. It would be useless to try to argue with them. When someone does that online, it is equally as pointless.

If you are a budding author here are a few simple rules to follow when embarking on "engagement:"

1) If someone makes an insulting comment on a public forum about your book, or anything else you've written, do not reply, even to defend yourself.

2) If someone writes a spiteful comment on your blog or Facebook page, delete it.

3) If someone writes an inappropriate review, personally attacks you, or uses your book for a negative ad campaign, make a complaint. Do not address the "reviewer" directly. (Some of these "reviewers" get paid for driving down the ranking of competing titles by posting negative reviews. Recently, on Amazon, I found 22 identical negative reviews for books on pain management, all of which were posted within a two-day period. I flagged every one of those reviews as inappropriate.)

4) DO NOT post your opinions on blogs other than your own, or any other public site.

5) DO express your thoughts in interviews. Interviews do more to help build your profile than leaving a comment on a blog, and interviews have the added benefit of providing a buffer. (Suggestion: Book reviewers frequently post author interviews.)

6) DO reply graciously to people who give your books a thoughtful review, or who leave good comments, but only if the site is moderated, or if it is your own blog, website, or Facebook page. Reward people who behave themselves.

 
 
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Nobody likes to be rejected. Even the most seasoned, thick-skinned, successful writers hate getting rejections.

Unfortunately, for aspiring authors rejection isn't just a passing disappointment - it's a way of life.

As a writer, you can count on getting hundreds of rejections. And - I hate to say this - your hundredth rejection will sting just as much as the first.

At some point, you will be tempted to throw in the towel.

Don't do it. Try my foolproof method instead.

The method

Before I explain my tried-and-true method for handling rejections, I have to preface it with the admonition that it will take a little organizational work on your part. Ideally, you should do this before you start submitting your work. After all, you want to avoid as much pain as possible. Of course, if you have already started submitting your work and are in the throes of an existential crisis, it still isn't too late.

1) Make a 'top 50 list.' Find 50 places to submit your work and rank them in order of desirability. (For example, if you are submitting a story, the top slot could be the New Yorker.)

If you are submitting a short story, go here, and find 50 literary magazines.

If you are submitting query letters to agents, go to Agentquery and make a list of 50 agents for your genre. (Be sure to check Agents Seeking Clients here.)

Resources for Science Fiction/Fantasy writers are here.

Resources for Children's and YA writers are here.

Resources for Romance writers are here.

Resources for Mystery/Thrillers are here.

2) If your top slot says "no simultaneous submissions" then, immediately after getting your rejection, submit to the #2 spot on your list.

3) If your top slots - or your remaining slots - don't say "no simultaneous submissions" submit to all of them at once. One of them will take you, and your waiting time will be considerably reduced.

4) If you are submitting to agents, make sure you revise and hone your query letter as you submit, but keep working your way down your list. Don't stop.

5) When you get close to number 50 (and I have done this more than once), make a new 'top 50 list.'

Do this doggedly - without pausing to contemplate the futility of writing or the pointlessness of existence -  and you will do just fine. And keep writing! Having several of your works making the rounds on your 'top 50' will increase your chances of success.

You may find, as I did, that by using this technique you will not only avoid the rejection blues, you will get published.

 

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