I’LL JUST FIND AN AGENT

September 16, 2016

Ah dreamer!  Many new writers think they don’t have to market a thing or critique their own work.  They will in those famous last words “just find an agent.”  Agents are wonderful people. They will market your work, if it is book length.  And if you are very fortunate, they will help you polish your work.  Finding an agent is not however, a panacea.

I’ve always tried to tell it straight and I caution beginning writers that finding an agent may be more difficult than finding a publisher.  A really fine agent is usually very busy and they need another client like they need the latest case of influenza.  So if they tell you they will look at your work, thank them profusely and back away and give them time to read your submission.

HOW DO I FIND AN AGENT?

Most agents are like that rare bird in the movie, UP!  First, you need to travel to the places they frequent.  Usually if they are looking for new clients they will commit to going to a writer’s conference or two.  This is the best place to network with an agent.  Watch for conference information and study the agents attending and what they are interested in seeing.

PROTOCOL FOR DEALING WITH AGENTS

  1. Make an appointment. Under NO circumstances are you allowed to chase an agent down in the hallway or the ladies’/men’s room to shove a manuscript in their hands.  I’ll happily give them permission to tear said manuscript into pieces and flush it into the plumbing.
  2. If the agent gives a special session, even if it costs more, take the session.
  3. Give the agent exactly what they want. If they want ten pages, give them ten pages, I don’t care if the last sentence on the tenth pages stops in the middle of a hyphenated word. In many cases they have to cart these entire submissions home on an airplane.
  4. If you schedule a “pitch session” with an agent be cognizant of your allotted time. They can have as many as twenty more writers lined up behind you, so be considerate.
  5. Thank them for their time. They are spending time with you rather than catching up with the episodes of their favorite TV program.
  6. Give the agent time to consider your submission. How much time?  At least two months. The more you bug them the more they won’t want you as a client.  After two months leave a polite message on their answering machine, thanking them again for considering your work, asking if they need more information, and leaving your name and number again. Then wait another month at least.

Agents are people.  They have busy lives.  Many of them have children who get ill and unforeseen interruptions.  If you haven’t heard from an agent in four months, you’re pretty safe to assume they aren’t interested so go out and write some queries.

 

Advertisements

CLEAN UP YOUR MESS!

September 8, 2016

 

It bears saying again that it is not an editor’s job to “fix” your work.  Unless you are a brilliant writer and your editor is a long lost descendant of Maxwell Perkins you need to be your own critic and editor first.   Yes, editors will catch mistakes, but it really isn’t their job.  It is a courtesy. So don’t expect them to clean up a messy manuscript or fix your inability to spell.  That’s your job.

We’ve all read those hysterical texts where the wrong word is placed in a sentence changing the whole message.  Most of those were caused by someone hitting the wrong button or as a result of some really bad and I mean BAD spelling.  Spellchecker assumes that you have some idea of the word you are spelling.  If you don’t have a clue, use the dictionary and find out.  That is equally true of the grammar function.  I know you are sick and tired of grammar checker telling you that your dialogue has sentence fragments, but live with it, and use it.

That’s the easy stuff.

  1. Learn the difference between showing and telling. I wrote a column about it a while back.  Read the column again and reread it if you still don’t understand.
  2. Do your research. More research than you will ever need, so you can be an expert on your subject.
  3. Learn to plot, to draw characters, and write great hooks.
  4. Then, if you need a partner to critique with, find one online or ask the librarians if they know about a local critique group. Words of caution here—find someone who is a better writer than you to partner with.  If you are very lucky you can find another writer who has been published several times and can make you better.

I have rating sheets from the National Writers Association contests which I am happy to share with you.  You can use them to rank your writing and find where you lack skills.  Email me at authorsandy@hotmail.com and I’ll be happy to share them with you.  Request either the fiction or nonfiction rating sheet and I’ll send them as an attachment.

Until next time keep writing.

WHAT IS A SYNOPSIS/OUTLINE?

September 1, 2016

Entire books have been written on the above subject and if you need more information I suggest you check one of those books out at your local library.  Here is a brief overview, (underline brief).

A synopsis is the short version of what your novel is about.  It should never be more than ten pages and I suggest shorter versions of less than five pages, if possible.  It tells the story in your novel.  Don’t worry ethical editors aren’t going to “take” the idea and have a better writer write the story.  Most good writers have more ideas than they have time.

Your synopsis should hook the reader/editor and tell the story.  (Notice that I keep saying “tell”. This is the only time I’m going to allow you to tell the story.)  You should tell the end of the story in this version.   Do not list the characters. No one wants a list.  Eliminate dialogue and just hit the important parts.  Red herrings or subplots can be left out.  A good synopsis should make the reader want to read the entire manuscript.

Outlines should be avoided for fiction as much as possible.  This is not your Roman numeral one outline.  It is a nonfiction version of the synopsis which goes something like this: Chapter One deals with your decision to write; Chapter Two gives the reader a brief list of the tools necessary for writing; Chapter Three outlines how to write a great beginning, etc.  That’s an outline.  Trust me don’t do the other thing.  I did and it provided some great laughs for my writing mentor.

The above should keep you busy in the following week.  Next week I’ll discuss critiquing your own work.

One quick piece of housekeeping.  I forgot to mention last week that you can submit a query online to many agents and editors which will save owing your soul to the U.S. Post Office.

 

THE QUERY LETTER

August 26, 2016

Yes, I know: you don’t want to market your writing. My answer is no one is going to market for you. No, that is not what agents are for—at least not at first.  Michael Phelps didn’t walk out of his room one morning and win a gold medal without practice.  It is the nature of every endeavor that practice is required to succeed.  So suck it up and write a query letter.

Dear Agent or Editor,

Attached is my first writing piece. Please sell it for me to someone like Simon and Schuster.

Sincerely,

Jane Writer

The above is Not a query letter.  It is a great way to get laughed off the planet, but it is not a query letter.

Your query is a sales letter.  It should include a pitch, information, and a brief thank you, in that order. When you are writing your query remember that the recipient reviews dozens of letters each week so yours needs to stand out. No, you may not include wild animals or snakes in order to be memorable.

Your first paragraph is your hook.  “If Janet Evanovich coauthored a book with Tom Clancy, you would have TechnoGirl to the Rescue.  TechnoGirl is a quiet computer hacker/programmer who finds herself in the middle of an international spy ring.”  That hook should at least get your query a careful read.

Your second paragraph is information. TechnoGirl…is a 100,000 word spy/thriller set in Silicon Valley.  I have written technical articles for blah, blah, blah and my technical short story received first prize in the You Are a Great Writer contest. (If you don’t have any credentials leave it out.  Don’t make it up; someone is likely to check.)

The third paragraph is your close. “The entire manuscript is available upon request.  I have enclosed the (1st chapter or first twenty pages) for your review.  Thank you for your time in reviewing this material.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Sincerely, Jane Writer.”

As a courtesy enclose a Stamped Self-Addressed Envelope for the reply and go on writing.  If the agent or editor takes simultaneous submissions, you can send another letter also.  Wait about three months before checking back on the query.  Don’t bug people about your submissions.

Next time I’ll discuss synopses and outlines.

QUERY FIRST

August 18, 2016

Writing is great fun compared to marketing.  I realize no one likes to market their work.  Marketing and thus querying is a pain to end all pains.  Marketing requires doing research and really thinking about where your writing fits.

I can’t count the number of times authors have told me that if they send out a piece the editor will have to take it or they will build an issue or an imprint around the work.  Ah, dreamer!  That old adage about square pegs in round holes applies here.  I’m not raining on your parade: I’m just being honest. You are not (to use a modern saying) all that and a bag of chips.  So start your marketing research early.

Go to the bookstore.  Find magazines or books that are similar to what you are writing.  Write down the name of the publisher, the title, and the author of the piece.  If it is a book, check the dedication and acknowledgement pages for thank yous to specific editors or agents.  Write down those names also.  There’s no magic number here but I’d say twenty different selections is a good cross-section.  You may find the same names pop-up several times.  That’s great; put a star next to those.

Go to the used bookstore or the Internet and acquire at least five of the books that look like yours and interest you.  Remember you are NOT copying these books, you are comparing them yours.  Now read those books in your spare time.  I’ve had authors tell me they are afraid to do this because they are afraid they will end up copying the books.  Really! You have such a limited writing scope that you have to copy someone else?  What you are doing is in-depth marketing.  If you are different enough in writing presentation to this author but similar in style, then consider querying this editor.

Craft your query to highlight the authors.  Like “If Janet Evanovich collaborated with Tom Clancy, you’d have a story like TechnoGirl.”  This tells the editor you did your homework and your work might be worth considering.

Next time we will discuss crafting query letters, until then get busy on your marketing plan.

 

RIGHTS AND WRONGS

August 11, 2016

 

The basics of publication rights have been covered in the last two blogs.  As I’ve said before it isn’t definitive.  Whole law careers have been centered on copyrights and rights.  I’m not a fan but if you’re confused find a literary rights attorney.  That isn’t just a statement to cover my exterior posterior—it is a fact.  Most writers can give you some idea of what you can and can’t do, but simple questions can turn into monumental lawsuits.

Here are a few general statements which may help but aren’t drawn in black and white.

  1. It isn’t necessary to place the copyright sign on a manuscript. Every honorable editor, writing professional, and mailroom worker knows that your words are copyrighted.  Placing the symbol on the title page, or as I encountered every single page, makes you look like a rank amateur.  In many cases it insults the person receiving the material and in some cases may just make them down right angry.
  2. If you receive a book contract, read every single word. You should know exactly what it says and why it says that. Check with others about statements which seem ambiguous. Sometimes things have to be written that way or maybe the folks offering the contract are making it confusing on purpose.
  3. Decide where you want to draw your lines. Are you willing to sell the right to publish the material for the duration of the copyright? (That means forever!)  Are you willing to sell the right to publish the material for five or seven years, even if the publisher does nothing to promote it?  What are you willing to give up to get published?
  4. Remember that keeping one copy of your book on the Internet in electronic format constitutes “in publication” and in many cases means you won’t get your rights back. Your publisher can and will do exactly that.
  5. If you really want your rights returned—take a deep breath and be extremely, extremely nice. Your publisher may want to get rid of you as much as you want to get rid of them.  Waging war will not help your cause and I’ve seen a few cases where the publisher withheld the returning of rights because the writer made it an issue.

One last thought, over the years I’ve been asked about “fair use” issues.  Quoting others’ works gets sticky.  The key is you can’t use a significant amount of the work. Ten words isn’t a significant amount of a novel, but it is if you are talking a poetry piece.

Next time I’ll discuss queries and book proposals.

 

 

 

 

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

August 5, 2016

You’ve heard the activists say that over and over and now I really mean it.  If you are a writer, you need to know the rights accompanying your piece.  We aren’t talking copyright here, we covered that last time, and we aren’t referring to books.  After you’ve written that book, you should want to draw attention to your subject matter and one of the best ways to do that is by writing an article or two about your subject.  With the article/articles written you have to enter the world of rights and that my friend is like entering the La Brea Tar Pits.

Rights encompass everything from Internet rights to Exclusive rights and everything between.  I’ll try to ski over the surface of this material, but I suggest you study this area carefully and know your stuff.  If you aren’t well informed you may end up having someone own your hard work for a pathetic amount of cash.

Remember this is not definitive; it is an overview.

When you sell your rights you are selling your words as they appear on the paper.

INTERNET RIGHTS-This is one I’d avoid because once something is on the Internet you’ve totally lost control.  Anyone who stumbles across your piece can download it and copy it to-as Buzz Lightyear says “Infinity and beyond.”

ALL RIGHTS (EXCLUSIVE) –I’d avoid this one too.  It means you don’t have any control over the piece any more.  The purchaser owns your piece, many times for mere pennies, forever.

ONE-TIME RIGHTS-This is the ideal.  You allow the purchaser to purchase your article for publication one time.  After publication the rights revert back to you and you can sell it again if you like.

SECOND RIGH TS-That means exactly what you think it means.  You can sell the article again and again to as many publications as will take it.  I’ve sold pieces for more with second rights than I did the first time so sometimes this works out very well.

COPYRIGHTS AND RIGHTS

July 28, 2016

This blog will be at least a 2-part one and maybe 3.  So much confusion surrounds the issues of copyright and rights issue, I’ll try to make sense of at least some of it.

For decades little changed in the copyright law and writers were safe to trust their minimal understanding of the subject.  With the advent of the Internet that changed and it seems a new law comes out almost yearly to clarify copyright issues.

Here are some of the basics:

  1. Your work is considered copyrighted the moment it leaves your printer or (heaven forbid) your typewriter. That doesn’t mean you can waltz down the road of ignorant bliss and never copyright anything. It does mean it’s pretty difficult to plagiarize your work.
  2. When you copyright something you copyrighting your words as they appear on the page. That means if someone writes basically the same thing but puts it in their words, they aren’t plagiarizing you.  So you just have to put your indignation aside and go on.
  3. You cannot copyright an idea. So keep your ideas to yourself and don’t go ballistic if someone writes an article/short story/poem/ or even a novel that’s like what you thought about writing. Writers learn that’s just the breaks.
  4. You cannot copyright at title. Yes, you could write another book titled Gone With the Wind (unless it’s been trademarked. And that is not my expertise, but I do know a great attorney.)
  5. Copyright term is for the life of the author plus 75 years. (I’m pretty sure they just changed it from 50 to 75.) So your work is protected for a long time. On a related subject, you might want to inform someone in your family if you’ve copyrighted something so they can keep informed.
  6. You cannot copyright procedures or instructions other than the way they appear on the page. Once again we’re back to how words appear on the page.

Before I go this time, I’m going to add a few words about plagiarism.  Yes, you are plagiarizing when you copy that favorite movie on to your own DVD.  That’s why all those warnings ruin the beginning of a movie (Oh! That’s when you take your bathroom break? ) Well, read it sometime, that’s someone’s work your copying and that nasty fine starts at $250,000.  That’s why it appears in several languages.  You can rent the movie from the library, if you want to watch again and you won’t have to worry about jail time.

IT’S ON THE INTERNET

July 21, 2016

My reaction to this title is—so are a lot of things.  This time I’d like to spend a bit of time discussing Internet publishing. Publishing on the Internet is a blessing and a curse.  Publishing something on the Internet gives every writer access to an audience.  No more waiting for an editor or publisher to accept your work, carefully edit it, and place it in the proper venue, you can have your work available in minutes.  And that’s just the problem. So can every person with a third grade education and no spelling or grammar abilities.

The Internet is a wide open marketplace and much like the farmer’s market there’s liable to be a few rotten apples.  So if ever caveat emptor should be your policy; this is the place.  Do your research!  If someone says they will get your book on the Internet and place it on Amazon, they can.  Just be sure they are doing what they say and that you aren’t paying handsomely for it.  Remember placing something on Amazon doesn’t necessarily mean that your book will compare favorably with other Amazon offerings.  It may, but it might not.

Create Space® is a wonderful option available to authors.  Through Create Space®, authors can print one or one hundred books.  No more need to have a basement or a garage full of books.  As I say that, other guidelines still hold true.  Don’t embarrass yourself and others by presenting an inferior product.  Get an edit.  Learn how a book should be formatted.  Make your book the best looking book possible.  Have a competent critic check your book/article/short story to make sure it is as good as it can possibly be.  And don’t be pig-headed, if the critic suggests changes, make the changes.  The key here is if the critic is going to make the story their story, you probably don’t want to  change everything but if they are trying to make it better-do it.

The Internet is a wonderful writing tool; use it to present yourself in the best possible light.  And let me know about your results.

Next time I’ll take a few moments to discuss rights and copyright.

NONFICTION-PARTING THOUGHTS

July 7, 2016

 

There’s a plethora of information on nonfiction which I haven’t covered in these last few blogs.  My idea was to give you the basics and turn you loose to write your way into some money. With that goal in mind, I’m going to mention two more ways to earn cash while pursuing your dream.

Business writing can earn you extra cash and with a little effort you’ll build a reputation as a dependable source which will earn you more money.  If you want to do business writing, you want to consider that you must be able to find your spelling and grammar errors so you won’t be spending all of your cash for these services.

Most small businesses can’t afford a full time public relations writer so target them with a few specific areas where you might be able to help.  Brochures, press releases, even business cards need a writer’s touch. Some towns have a newspaper or monthly magazine that covers new businesses.  Study these publications and offer to “write up” an article on the new place.  Be mindful of the space allotted for these articles.  You’ll win an editor’s heart if you show you’ve studied the publication enough to keep within their word count.

Do yourself a favor and become a semi-professional photographer.  Being able to provide two or three passable photos to accompany the article helps the publication cut costs since the staff photographer can be utilized elsewhere.

Writing instruction sheets and manuals is also a possible job.  Remember that computer manual with the cryptic instructions?  I’d be willing to guess you can write a better one.  I remember trying to help my husband and a friend figure out the instructions for downloading a game program.  After several attempts, I made a frustrated call to the company help desk to learn what was wrong.  The customer representative snapped back, “Well everyone knows you have to press F4.”  I wrote the company and offered to re-write the instructions.  Obviously, I didn’t know I needed to press F4.

Use your imagination.  There are thousands of opportunities for business writing.