A Different Way of Pitching

One of the biggest reasons to attend a writing conference is to pitch your writing projects to prospective agents, editors or publishers. Pitching face-to-face makes even the most experienced author feel queasy.
Check out my posts on crafting a winning pitch and my actual pitching experiences.
One thing that I liked about OCW Conference was the opportunity to pitch three projects (or one project to three different people) in advance. Three pitches were included in the price of the conference (rather than being an add-on as at every other conference I attended).


This advance pitching was nothing more than querying these agents or editors.

And what writer doesn’t need more practice creating a query that sells?

As soon as I registered for the conference, I scoped out the conference website for details on agents, editors and publishers who would be accepting pitches. Most of the time, this included clicking through to individual websites to discover all the necessary information.
This conference had a page for agents and one for editors that were accepting advance queriers. Which one sounded like a fit for my memoir project? Did any of them seem right for the women’s fiction novel I also wanted to shop at the conference?
In the end, I chose two agents to query about the memoir and an editor who might be interested in my fiction project.
The process looked the same for all of them:

  • Craft a query letter (specific requirements listed on the conference page)
  • Write a compelling single-page synopsis (so simple to boil a 75,000-word novel into one page)
  • Include ten pages of the manuscript.
  • Put each query in a manila envelope addressed to the chosen individual
  • Mail all of them in a larger envelope with a check for a $5 per submission handling fee

And then the waiting began. I sent the pages off nine weeks prior to the conference. Within a week, I had a confirmation email from the manuscript coordinator. A few days later, I received another email informing me that TWO of the people I’d queried wanted electronic submissions.

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

So I had to convert my files to PDFs and send them along.

And the waiting continued.

On the first full conference day, I will be able to pick these queries up. I can expect some notes from the agent/editor on the letters or manuscript pages.

If they’re interested, there will be an appointment card included with my manuscripts. (Really praying for THREE appointments.) At those meetings, we’ll discuss the project during the pitching sessions.

If they aren’t interested, I shouldn’t try to sell them the same project during the conference. But I can approach other buyers about the projects, if I want.

In the world of querying, nine weeks is an average waiting period for a response to a query. Many agencies won’t even respond if they aren’t interested (which feels rude to me), but most ask for 90 days to decide.
Generally, the more quickly a response is received, the more likely it is a “no thank you,” or “not for us” and “good luck with this.” In short: generic form rejections.

So with less than a week until I find out the fate of my queries, I’m perfecting my in-person pitches for these projects. I’m printing out copies of the sales sheet on Through the Valley of Shadows.

And I’m trying not to think about what these three individuals have to say about my project. Also, I’m imagining a scenario that would include one of these publishing professionals to show up at a meeting with a contract in hand.

After all, I’m a writer. I imagine outlandish things on a daily basis. Why not dream big for my writing career?

Two Paths to Publishing: Which is Right for You?

This blog has often featured articles that writers might find helpful. Not because I’m an expert on this whole “writing gig” but because I’ve done some digging. I want your road to publishing to be smoother than mine has been.

One of the big questions I still find myself debating is about HOW to get published. Should I take the traditional path? Or should I self publish?

Recently, one of the writing teachers I follow wrote a long blog post on the subject. The teacher is Tim Grahl and you can read his post here.

Not that I’m trying to convince you not to click over to Tim’s site, but the post is LONG. And I can sum it up in two sentences.

If you want someone else to do the work of publishing your book, you want to go traditional. If you want to control all of the ins and outs, and don’t mind spending time as an entrepreneur, self-publishing is probably the road for you.

Too simple? Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

Traditional

This used to be the path of “authentic” authors. But it’s a LONG and arduous path with a lot more querying and pitching than actual writing.

Here it is:

  1. Write a book
  2. Revise, edit and polish the manuscript
  3. Research agents and publishers
  4. Craft a killer query and synopsis
  5. Start emailing your query to the members of your list
  6. Attend conferences to pitch agents and editors in person

Don’t sit around and wait, my friend. You’ll grow old and might ruin your computer from repeatedly clicking the refresh button on your mail inbox.

Once you send the queries out, it’s time to begin writing something new. Authors from either path agree on this.

Self-Publishing

This used to mean your manuscript couldn’t get past the gatekeepers. Let’s be honest, we’ve read some books that weren’t publish-worthy by snagging up free reads on Amazon.

But there are plenty of books that debuted as self-published and made their way into a movie deal or a television series. I’m thinking of The Martian not 50 Shades.

The traditional path generally takes long and probably won’t net you as much of a return on a “per book sold” basis, but check out all the steps for self-publishing:

  1. Write a book
  2. Revise, edit and polish the manuscript
  3. Research editors
  4. Hire an editor
  5. Research cover designers
  6. Hire a designer
  7. Fix manuscript according to editors suggestions
  8. Hire a proofreader
  9. Deal with changes to the cover
  10. Upload the final products to your publishing platform of choice
  11. Figure out how to market the book

Yes, I could have added a step for researching and hiring a formatter because it isn’t as easy as one might think to get the book ready for publishing. But it can be done with a minimum of hair pulling and several review phases with CreateSpace.

I’ve been guilty of including my small indie publisher in it’s own realm because it doesn’t require the wait times (nor have the distribution) of the big publishing houses.

There is a third path. It’s the one I’ve been traveling for the past three years.

Hybrid

I have manuscripts I’m actively trying to sell to agents or publishers. This is me on the traditional path

I’ve contracted many stories and novellas with a small publisher, so this is probably me on the traditional path, too.

I also have a novella and two Bible study books that I published myself using CreateSpace.

Some authors have books on Amazon they’ve published, and then they sign with a big house and contract for other books that will soon be on Amazon under that publisher’s control.

Either way, that’s the hybrid path. You aren’t sold on getting published ONE way.

Although Grahl suggests giving yourself a year on a path before deserting it, I think you can walk the middle line as a hybrid author. You’re likely to discover which trail appeals to you and you’ll see your name in print rather than waiting for an acceptance letter from an agent or publisher.

Maybe it really is as easy as deciding if you want to spend your time writing (and marketing because you do that on either road) or if you want to embrace the business side of publishing while you’re writing.

What experience do you have with publishing paths? Do you have other advice that will help muddy clear up this issue?

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When No News is Good News

Writing is waiting. And waiting some more. All the while you keep writing, but part of your brain is wondering about the wait.

Even self published authors must deal with some of this. They send a manuscript to their editor and have to wait for it to come back, marked with changes they must make before they can publish. A cover designer has their idea and so the wait begins to see if they can translate it into a cover matching the author’s vision.

Once they upload their manuscript to a print on demand company or an e-book publisher, they wait for notification that it has been accepted. Or that it doesn’t meet some requirement and they need to change it.

Eventually, their book is available for readers to purchase.

In the traditional writing world, the waiting expand exponentially.

My Publisher Waiting Game

Back in May, I submitted a manuscript to one of my publishers on speculation. Meaning they asked me to write a specific story and send it to them. For a refresher, read this post.

After I sent it, one of my non-writer teaching friends and I were discussing it. When I explained that it would be eight to ten weeks before I heard anything, she was aghast.

“You might not hear anything until July? I would be on pins and needles.”

I laughed. Well, not in her face because that’s just rude. Writers understand that ten weeks is much too soon for most publishers to respond to a full manuscript. Some have waited six months to a year.

waiting-game

Yes, it IS a long time to be on “pins and needles.” But authors know there is no thumb-twiddling while you’re waiting to hear. You start writing the next story.

I have finished two projects and begun the sample chapters for a nonfiction project I hope to submit to agents in a month or two. All while waiting for the publisher to respond.

In the middle of August, I received an email from an editorial assistant with Month9Books. She informed me that my manuscript was the next project to be read. I should hear within a week or two.

In the middle of September, I got an email from my editor. She wanted to schedule a conference call with the publisher.

We’re talking. It can’t be all bad news, can it?

I’m telling you, all those months with no news was definitely the good news in this situation.

The publisher wanted to reject my manuscript outright because it didn’t follow the rules of a single genre. BUT since the novel is a spin-off of my short story which is coming out in this publisher’s anthology later this month, she wanted to capitalize on that if she could.

I won’t bore you with the details. In short, if I wanted to do a bunch of things to get my manuscript out there (publish on WattPad or Amazon), they would support that on their social media channels. But I should consider this manuscript rejected and released.

Agent’s Play the Game

During this same time, I have continued to submit my YA fantasy called DRAGONS AWAKENING to a few agencies and small presses.

I’m surprised by the number of literary agents who say, “If you don’t hear from us in six (eight, ten or twelve) weeks, consider that a pass.”

Because dropping me a two-line email will take so much time? Don’t you have an assistant who could handle that to give her (or him) a break from weeding through your slush pile?

It baffles me.

So in this case, no news is BAD news.

They are so disinterested in your story that they couldn’t even take a minute to type a sentence or two.

This isn’t all agents. How would I know what a rejection email looked like if I hadn’t gotten one or two or twenty?

And I respect the agents who at least reply. They remain on my list of possible candidates for my next project. Provided they even represent Christian nonfiction or women’s fiction.

query_rejected

Small Publisher’s Win

Even though the publisher who asked for my novel-and took four months to reject it-isn’t a major publishing house, they do have a presence in bookstores, with libraries and with major review journals.

roanepublishing_1399215274_75My best success with hearing back in a timely manner from publishers has come from small publishers, like Roane Publishing.

We can speculate that this is because they don’t receive the same quantity of queries and manuscripts as agents and larger publishers. While this might be true, they also have a much smaller staff. In fact, Roane’s staff is spread all over the world.

Imagine conducting your business 100 percent virtually. When you have an editor in New Zealand. You’re awake? Well she’s sleeping.

Whatever the reason, I give the award for treating authors respectfully and professionally to these small publishing houses. Kudos to you for making writers feel like they aren’t submitting into a void.

Someone is actually reading those queries and sample pages. Even if they aren’t buying it, they’re reading and

Without authors, there’d be no publishers – Roane Publishing

At the moment, I’m writing again (actually rewriting and then editing). But then I’ll begin part one of my the never-ending game: waiting for beta readers to read and comment on my early draft.

How are you at the waiting game? Have you ever experienced the “no news is good news” phenomenon?

 

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Waiting for News? Write on!

By the time you read this post, it will have been four weeks since I mailed out my queries for Doomsday Dragons.

The first week after they were gone, I was still combing through the manuscript. I read it aloud. Strengthened the sentences with stronger verbs and more precise nouns and descriptors. Tried to polish it to a sparkling gem.

Then I closed the Scrivener file and moved on to a different project.

What? Did I check my email every ten minutes looking for manuscript requests?

Not really. But I didn’t need to.

Early Responders

Shock of all shockers, I had answers to some of the queries in the very first week.

In fact, within six days, three agents responded with “no thanks.” I was impressed by this because all of them requested between four to eight weeks to get through their queries.

One of these only allowed query letters. Their only taste of my story came from the query description. Obviously, they weren’t impressed by dragons.

The others? I guessed they also probably weren’t piqued by a dragon story. It takes a very specific sort of person to imbibe the myth and fire.

The fourth response was a notice of an undeliverable mail. So even though I checked all the links and double-checked all the email addresses, one of the agencies was no longer receiving mail at the address they advertised on their website.

Four of twelve responses within one week. Not too shabby.

Except they all amounted to 100 percent rejection.

Non-Responders

There were just as many who made no promise to even respond to every query.

Of the twelve, four of them said that hearing nothing after a certain time frame would be equal to a “no thank you” email.

The surprise? The amount of time given before drawing this conclusion ranged from two weeks to twelve weeks.

Talk about holding out hope.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to assume dashed hopes. And then if an email magically appears, it can only be good news.

People I Pitched

Of course, the two people I pitched my idea to at the writer’s conference will get the full 90 to 120 days before I begin to assume the worst.

At least they’ll respond.

I hope they’ll remember me favorably enough to offer advice if they decide the project isn’t for them. Don’t I deserve at least that much?

The Rest of the Pack

That leaves only two out of twelve agencies that will still respond to me sometime during this lengthy waiting period.

Fortunately, I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not sitting on my hands or biting my nails.

I’m following the professional writer’s prescription for winning this waiting game: write something new.

In fact, I had to polish a novella that’s coming out in a month or two and deliver it to an editor. Then I nibbled on the idea for another short story.

And, of course, the women’s fiction novel I’d begun writing while waiting for the last of the beta edits on Doomsday Dragon still needed finishing.

The best way to insure a watched pot boils is to walk away.

In writing terms: write something else without constantly checking your in-box.

What about you? What are your tricks for making waiting bearable? Please share. Not that any of us our impatient or anything…

Road to Published – Finding an Agent

In the new publishing paradigm, some authors seek editors at small houses instead of an agent. If you want to walk the traditional path (like me), the best idea is still to find an agent to represent you.

Even though the number of agents is high, finding the perfect fit for you and your work takes research and time.

Lots of time. At least six months to a year.

The traditional path is traditionally – slow. Up to three years to see your book in print after you’ve hired an agent. No, I’m not kidding.

Again, this is why many authors cut out the middle man and go straight to editors. Which is fine if you don’t want to be published with one of the big houses. All of these don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, although most of them have imprints that might look at unagented work.

Databases

Fortunately, there are several databases of literary agent listings. Some are provided online which is very convenient. Others can be found in printed guides that are updated annually.

The most well-know listing of literary agents is from the Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest each year. They also have an online database, accessible with paid membership.

This Literary Agent Directory was also helpful. However, I didn’t enter my information. It says access is free, but I don’t know that for sure.

Make sure you don’t shoot in the dark. Read up on any agent before you query them. What do you need to know?

  • Are they accepting new clients?
  • Do they represent your genre?
  • What authors do they represent? Similar to you or not?
  • What are their specific guidelines for submissions?

This final one is important because if you narrow your list down with the other questions and then fail to follow these “rules,” your query will find its way into the trash – rather than the slush pile

Perfecting your Query

If you’re like most writers I know, writing query letters doesn’t top your list of favorite things. Seriously. I would rather go to the dentist.

Never fear! There is a formula for writing an excellent query letter. Do I guarantee it will get you noticed?

Sorry, no.

Query letters should be short and specific.

  • First paragraph includes your logline, title, genre and word count.
  • Second paragraph embellishes the major plot points of the main story line, naming your protagonist and possible the antagonist, but probably not any other characters
  • Third paragraph might be why you chose this agency – or why you are qualified to write this story
  • Final paragraph lists publishing credits or awards that relate to the genre/form you’re submitting
  • Use a professional tone, but keeping it conversational appeals to many agents who want to know you would be someone they could work with

Send queries in batches. Many authors recommend sending to ten agencies at a time. No need to tell them you are querying others, but if you get a request for the full manuscript from more than one agent, you should divulge that to both parties.

Keep Track

All these submissions! How will I ever keep them straight?

I have a handy Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of what manuscripts I’ve submitted. There are also online databases that will help you organize this information.

I had access to the Writer’s Digest Agent Database when I took a class from them. However, that expires unless you become a VIP member by paying a fee.

These are the columns on my spreadsheet: Agent/Editor/Publisher, Contact email, contact Phone, manuscript title, date queried, and date returned.

There is also a “days” column that automatically keeps a running total of how long your submission has been circulating. It’s interesting to note that the agents on my list have taken much longer to respond than the publishers.

I recently added another column: “Results.” This way I can note whether they asked for more pages, rejected or accepted my work.

Here are some links to databases or information to build your own:

Once you send out that first batch of query letters, get to work on your next writing project.

This is what writer’s do. Chewing your fingernails and checking your email every hour won’t get the next story down on paper.

Did you find this information helpful? Please comment and SHARE if you did. This author thanks you.

Missing a Deadline

 

 

While traveling away from home, deadlines are left behind not packed in the suitcase. If only I could have avoided the electronic age of mishaps while in Las Vegas this past week.

Murphy’s Law:

“Anything that can go wrong will do wrong.”

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. The house could have burned down or been robbed. My cats could have been slain in the street by a speeding car.

Instead, the electronic age crucified my cozy bubble of retreat with three nails.

Nail One: Un-synced Data

About halfway to the airport, I realized this first one. I had not synced my iPad files with my computer.

Not a big deal, right? Sure, as long as I didn’t make any changes to existing documents on my iPad while on vacation. If I did, the software would notice and give me some crazy error message.

Is it perfectly fine to make changes on the computer but not the iPad? Actually, if you make changes to either of them without re-syncing the devices, Mr. Error Message flashes the red exclamation point.

Did I need any other excuse not to work on my writing projects while on vacation? I’m pretty sure you can surmise the answer.

Nail Two: Lost Files

Imagine sitting by the pool, warm sunshine kisses your skin and a desert wind ruffles your hair. Even with sunglasses on, you’re squinting against the brightness. After all, you may as well be a mole; the sun hasn’t made much of an appearance for six weeks or more.

“I’ll check my email before I settle in to read that Brandon Sanderson novel,” you think. Your index finger taps the mail icon and you begin the process of deleting emails.

A mail from the agent you submitted a query and five pages to surprises you. Yes, you paid good money for a critique, but the agent has six more days before their self-imposed deadline.

A quick scan of the mail is not enough. Clouds settle over the sun and a tight fist clenches your stomach. You read it again – hoping it doesn’t say what your brain understood during the speed glance.

She didn’t get the pages. Perhaps they were lost in cyberspace. Could you please resend them?

I would love to. Small problem: I’m a thousand miles away from my computer and those saved files. I took care of all that before I left. Blood pressure rises. Pounding begins behind the squinting eyes.

Thankfully, I sent this using my gmail account and the outgoing mail is automatically saved. With the help of my husband (since some features refuse to work on my iPad, don’t ask me why), I find the previously sent mail, copy and paste it into the reply.

Crisis diverted. (In unrelated news, my credit card was also on hold until I logged in and authorized my recent shopping trip. The fraud department is watching my back again.)

Nail Three: Missed Payments a.k.a. What’s My Password?

At least I was just chilling in the hotel room when I checked my email for the final bad news alert. No need to jinx the poolside, you know?

This message was syrupy and chipper. My gag reflex kicked in before I could stop it. “We know things come up and your payment slipped your mind.”

Sallie Mae. She’s such a Pollyanna.

Yes ma’am, I thought about scheduling my student loan payment several times. At my age, my brain equates that to completing the task. Apparently, I still don’t have those telekinetic skills I requested.

I try to log in. I don’t even know my user name and therefore can’t request my password. The handy cheat sheet containing this information my brain locks away in an inaccessible location? At home.

Not helpful. I guess Sallie will wait a few more days for the missed payment.

All these electronic shortcuts to make life easier added two cups of stress to my four days of rest and relaxation. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

Have you had any similar events in your life? What sort of unexpected news stalked you on vacation?