Fancy Meals and Rewrites

My Wednesday posts have been about marketing for the past couple of months.  Since my own marketing is currently on hold while I punch up the first part of my book (the better to appeal to potential agents), “marketing” is, at the moment, equating to “rewriting” in my mind.

I’ve been thinking a lot about presentation – not in terms of query letters or synopsis writing this time – but in terms of sample material:  the first 50 pages of the book, and even more vitally, the first 5 pages.  Don’t get me wrong; my ego hasn’t failed me entirely.  I think the first 50 pages of my book is good material.  But from an objective point of view, if I didn’t know the rest of the book or what was coming next, I can see that it doesn’t look like the book it later becomes.  It looks like a different kind of book entirely, and if my query letter promised something that sparked an agent’s interest, and then the opening wasn’t what they expected based on my query, it makes sense that they’d turn the book down.

It’s sort of like how gourmet meals are “all about the presentation”.  If you’re going to serve an Italian main course, for example, then maybe a German appetizer isn’t going to give your clientele the right impression about what’s coming next.  Maybe if your thing is eclectic world fusion cuisine, you should present that from the very first dish, no matter how good that Spanish tapas dish might be as a starter course.

So it is with writing.  The flavor doesn’t have to be identical all the way through (how boring would that be, in a 5-course meal or in a novel?), but it should have some consistent elements right from the start.

The Grindstone

Marketing.  Bleh.  I’m so sick of doing it right now that I really really thought about skipping my post about it for today, or cheating and posting about something more fun.

As a compromise, this is a post sort of about marketing and sort of about rewriting.  In the past few weeks, I’ve started to realize that the opening of the novel I’ve been sending out is really not the best representation of the style, tone, type of story, or flavor of the book, and that it also puts forth most of the narrator’s bad side right off the bat, without giving a reader much to grab onto and like about her.  I’d never take away her flaws – they’re a good chunk of what drives her throughout the storyline, and aren’t necessarily flaws except when she lets them get out of hand.

Why didn’t I realize this before?  Well, I sort of did, but I wasn’t sure how big a problem it was.  As the rejection letters have come rolling in, I’ve started to think, Maybe it’s a Big Problem.  I’ve still got a sample out to an agent, so I won’t be impulsively rewriting anything until I hear back about that, but if I get a “no” from him, I think it’s time to sit down and look at how to get the most appropriate, enticing start to this book at the start of the book.

Currently, it’s chronological – it starts with the narrator’s death scene.  Now, I’m thinking I should start it after she’s already dead, raise questions about how she ended up that way and so forth as part of the hook, and catch the reader up as the plot moves along.  The good news is, I’ll probably be able to keep the material, just reorganized, and any dead weight (no pun intended) will be easily shed in the process (since I always felt like the first part of the book was a little more bloated than I wanted it to be, and yet the pacing in the first five chapters has always felt like a whirlwind).

So there.  The moral of this post is:  Be brutally honest with yourself about the first few chapters of your book.  Read it as if you don’t know what comes next.  And don’t judge it on whether or not you would buy it.  Judge it on whether or not you would sell it to make your living, based on the first five pages or so, when you have five hundred other queries to get through this week.  Because that’s the kind of person you have to impress.

Keep Working

If you’re in the process of marketing a book, I wholeheartedly recommend that you get well into another project prior to sending out your completed manuscript.

I got lucky with timing, finishing the final draft of my novel in early October, which meant that when I participated in NaNoWriMo in November, I ended the year with one finished novel and one rough draft under my belt.  Once I recovered from NaNo, I started researching agents.  All of the times which would’ve been empty spots in my writing life (the month or two break most of us take between finishing a draft and starting the rewrites, the waiting game with the agencies, etc.) were filled up, because I could switch back and forth between tasks for one manuscript and tasks for the other.

Now that I’m well into the querying process and doing a lot of waiting and not much else for my finished novel, I’m so grateful that I have another book ready to be worked on.  As antsy as I am with a project to work on, I can just imagine how much worse it would be if my writing life, right now, consisted purely of sending out letters and samples and then waiting for replies.

Aside from providing a welcome distraction and being an efficient use of time which would otherwise be spent chewing your own face off from the inside, having something else to work on is also a good mood booster when you get a rejection.  At least, it works that way for me.  If I work out a problem with my rough draft, write a new scene I really like, or come across something awesome when I’m fact checking my details, it takes a little of the sting out of getting a rejection.  Even if it’s a bad writing day and I get a rejection, I can tell myself, “But see, you’re a real, professional writer.  You’re already working on a new book, the way professional writers are supposed to.  You’re just waiting for your break, and getting work done in the meantime.  See how awesome you are?”

Anything that boosts your confidence and makes you feel good about yourself, that’s what you want to do while you’re marketing your book.  So write, write well, and write something that makes you happy.

Snail Mail Sample Material

At the end of last week, I got a request from another agent for additional material – this time, a significant sample:  30 pages.  Sweet!  I’m beginning to have confidence in my query letter and the blurb version of my synopsis (as I mentioned here a couple weeks ago, I have a few versions of it, including a book jacket length/style summary).

Since he requested hard copy, I got my materials together and scurried for the Post Office.  What do you need to get together when you send something off, through the strange and archaic system of sticky little pictures and paper pouches that is snail mail, to an agent or publisher who has requested a partial?  Well, naturally, you need to send them what they asked for – x# of pages, double-spaced, well-written, spell-checked, clean and unblemished, in a standard 12 point font, with standard margins, with page numbers and your name in the header (or footer) of the pages (starting with the second page).  In this case, I was also asked for a full synopsis, so I sent my 3-pager (2-3 pages is a standard length for a full synopsis).  And you need a basic cover letter so they know what the heck they’re looking at – these folks look at a lot of material from a lot of people, so a reminder that this is something they asked to look at doesn’t go amiss.  Dear whoever, enclosed is the 30-page partial and synopsis, as requested, of my novel, Title, kind of thing.  In this agent’s case, the submission guidelines for the query didn’t want any information about the author (not even publication credits), but he asked about those in his request, so I put a little bio into my cover letter (including the fact that my only previous publications are short stories in local anthologies).  It really isn’t the worst thing in the publishing world to be a debut author – it would be way worse simply to be a bad writer, or an unprofessional one.

Anyway, once all that stuff is put together in a neat little stack of paper and costly printer ink, head to the post office and purchase your envelope and your SASE – Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope – which the agent/publisher will send your material back in (hopefully with helpful notes if they reject it, or with an acceptance letter).  Send that puppy off and hope for the best.

I know this is kind of basic stuff, but if I hadn’t grown up around writers, I don’t know that it would seem very basic to me – there’s a hell of a lot to the processes of the publishing world, and it differs from short story length work to novel length work, from publisher to publisher, agent to agent, agent to publisher, etc.  So in case there’s anyone reading this blog who’s not sure what to expect when they finish their novel and start trying to get it into the world at large, here’s one piece of the puzzle that is getting published.

Wish me luck!  🙂


As with most things, it’s good to have clear goals when you’re marketing your book to agents and publishers.  This week, I’ve been very glad that I set myself the goal of sending out 5 queries a week (one per weekday), because after getting my hopes up over an agent asking for more material, her subsequent rejection left me cynical and frustrated (despite her very nice rejection letter).

Fortunately, if I write down somewhere among my various and sundry notebooks, TO DO:  5 queries per week until accepted! I will do it no matter what, as if to prove to the piece of paper that I can actually do it.  So I’m back in the saddle again, although I did cheat the week I was waiting to hear back from her, and only sent one query out all week.

The good thing about a goal (especially an ambitious and time-consuming one, such as sending out a query every single weekday) is that you feel some sense of accomplishment from fulfilling it, even if you haven’t yet succeeded in the larger goal of getting an acceptance.  Plus, if you have twenty query letters out there, when you get a rejection, you know that there are 19 more chances at a “yes” waiting in the wings.

Love This Book

My quest for an agent continues.  This morning, I got my first request for additional material, which is awesome.  Will it lead to anything?  That remains to be seen, but any aspiring author should allow themselves some excitement and celebration in response to the little victories – an agent taking an interest based on my query letter and synopsis means, at least, that my query letter must be decent and my synopsis doesn’t need a rehaul.  I’m not making a bad or boring first impression.

For a debut novel, a request for additional material is a good sign that I’m doing my research right and presenting my work well.  Even if the agent turns me down after reading my first chapter, at least I’ve gotten a little nod that I’m marketing correctly, and the challenge, then, is to find an agent who wants what I’ve got to offer.

It’s important to remember, when marketing, that it’s a very different thing to be a good writer than to be a good seller of your writing, and not to get down about your writing just because you get rejected a few dozen times – particularly with novels.  Short stories are somewhat different, because the story is your selling point and the editors (or at least their assistants) are reading your work, not your query, as the basis for judgement.  A few dozen rejections of a short story means it may be time to look it over and polish it up some more.

With a novel, though, you’re counting on your query and possibly your synopsis to hook your audience (at this stage, an agent).  I think the most important component of writing a query, for me, has been confidence in the work.  It would be incredibly hard for me to have written a query letter if I wasn’t happy with – wasn’t excited about – the book I’m presenting.  But I do, honestly, deep down in the cockles of my heart, love my book.  I had a great time writing it, and I honestly believe it’s something that many other people will have a great time reading.  I see a lot of potential for it.

And this hasn’t been the case with novels I’ve written before (yes, I have some serious Fails), which is why I never tried to get them published.  My point here is, write a book you love, rewrite it until you’re happy with it and really really believe in it, and querying will just be a matter of conveying your own excitement to someone else, the way you would recommend any good book.  It will also take the sting out of the majority of your rejections, because you will know that this poor agent just passed up his/her big chance at your awesome novel.

Yes.  Once you have been brutally honest with yourself during the rewriting process (and gotten other people to be brutally honest about it, too), then you get to be egotistical and love the holy living crap out of your book.  You’ll have to, if you’re going to stay motivated in the face of rejection.

7 Ways to Deal With Receiving a Rejection

  1. Send your query or story out again to someone else.  Immediately.  Before you even feel an emotional reaction.
  2. Talk to another writer or your critique group.  Most of the time, writers are really excited for their fellow wordsmiths’ attempts at publication and are highly supportive and encouraging in the “low” times.  They may even suggest additional markets or resources, or help you pinpoint issues with your query letter itself.
  3. Do something nice for yourself.  After all, you put yourself out there – and you’ll keep putting yourself out there, right?  Right??? – so reward your own efforts.  Buy yourself dinner or a book or a movie (hold off on the good Scotch until you get an acceptance.  Alcohol is a depressant, after all.)
  4. Remind yourself that better writers than you have been rejected.  They stuck with it and got published, and so will you.
  5. Write back (but don’t send it).  Say the publisher/agent wrote, “Sorry, I’m just not sure what to do with this piece.  It just isn’t quite what I’m looking for.”  Okay, so you can’t really respond and make a big joke out of the guy who wrote this to you, but you can pretend you’re writing back.  “Dear sir, what you can do with this piece is PUBLISH it.  I have to tell you how to do your job now?  Okay, but I want extra royalties for that.”  Again, don’t actually send something like that to anyone.  Ever.  They won’t find it funny.
  6. If you’ve sent the piece/query out to, say 25 places, and haven’t had any luck yet, it may be time to look it over and consider reworking it.  You don’t want to rewrite everything every time you get a rejection, but at least look it over after a big chunk of “no”s and see if anything pops out at you that could be done better.
  7. Think of every rejection as one step closer to the time someone says, “YES!  I want your story!”  Above all, don’t let it get you down when you get turned down.  It happens to everyone (well, almost everyone – but we know about those people who get accepted their first try, right?  Deals with the devil never pay off in the end…!)  Rejections are to writers what sandworms are to the dead people in Beetlejuice – everyone hates ’em, but you have to deal with ’em if you want to get out into the world.  Learn how to use them to defeat Beetlejuice get published.

Scrounging for Agents

It’s Wednesday – Marketing Day here at Sara D vs. Reality – and I’ll tackle the topic of finding agents and researching them (both to avoid scams and to help determine if they’re a good fit for you and your project).  Now, to start with, it’s different with fiction than with nonfiction.  With nonfiction, you can start querying prior to completion of the book (how far along it needs to be seems to depend on the agency/publisher).  Working with fiction, however, you need to have a complete, tip-top manuscript written and revised and rewritten and perfected and gone over again and then polished some more – in other words, make it as good as you can possibly make it before you even Google an agency.

Once you have your manuscript finished, it’s time to find an agent or a publisher.  You can get an agent after your manuscript has been published, or you can get an agent first and they’ll help you place your manuscript with a publisher.  Either way, an agent’s job is to negotiate your contract with the publisher, getting you more money and more exposure.  No agent should ever ever ever get any money from you up front – they get paid when YOU get paid by the publisher, and industry standard commission for an agent is about a 15% cut.

Here is my method for agent hunting:

  • Google search for literary agents plus genre of project
  • Look over the website of a given agency
  • Check (Predators & Editors guide to agencies and publishers) to see if there is a warning or a recommendation for the agency I’m researching
  • Google the agency name and/or the specific agent I want to query from that agency, checking for interviews, articles, or horror stories on public forums about working with the agency/agent in question
  • If the agency/agent looks good after my “background check”, I personalize my query letter to them based on information I found in any interviews or articles from my research

And that’s how I roll.  Any additional tips & suggestions?  I’d be happy to have ’em in the comments section!

The Beginning of a Journey

So I’ve started the process of marketing my book to agents.  Yesterday, I got my first rejection for this particular novel.  Yay!  That’s one down, and one less between me and publication.

In the realm of writing, I think I can safely say that so far I hate query letters more than any other part of the process.  It’s intimidating to sit down and pound out a one to two page letter that will make or break your first impression to the folks you’re counting on to take an interest in your baby – that is, your book – which you have so carefully nurtured and raised and revised and cultivated.

Intimidation aside, every agency seems to want slightly different information in a query, although the basic recipe is as follows:  word count, genre, title, blurb describing the story and protagonist/antagonist and their relationship, any author qualifications or prior publications, and why you think this particular agent or agency is a good fit with you and your work.  Some agencies want a full synopsis summarizing the entire plot and hitting all major characters and story developments, and others want just the query letter itself and will ask you for your synopsis only if their interest is piqued by your letter.  Some agencies want sample pages or chapters (so far I’ve seen anywhere from 5 to 50 pages requested) and others want you to send that if you make it past the synopsis stage while still holding their interest.

My advice – which may not count for much, since this is my first journey toward publication of a novel and I’ve only taken on the first mile or so of the trip – is to go ahead and write your synopsis when you draft your first query, make sure your first fifty pages (especially the first five) rock, and query the living hell out of agencies and/or publishers with full confidence that you have everything you need at your disposal.

Happy New Year

So, with the new year comes a new plan of action for my blog.  First off, more consistent posts (ha, yes, I know you’ve heard it before, but I really mean it this time – really!).  For serious, I’m talking Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week.  Also, I’ll have specific types of posts for each day, as in:

Mondays, I’m going to post about the writing process itself, including the editorial process.  Wednesdays, I’ll dedicate to topics on publishing and marketing.  Fridays, I’ll post writing exercises and brainstorming tools.

Today, I’m cheating by posting this.  However, I’m delving deeply into the big bad world of marketing my book now, and this Wednesday, I’ll have a few words to say about query letters and/or writing synopses for the purpose of snaring an agent.  Friday’s post will be about different methods of conveying the emotions of a character, since I had an interesting conversation about that last night.