Today, you can find me at FRESH YARN, a fabulous magazine run by the fabulous Hillary Carlip. Check it out if you have the time. Also, thank you to Powell’s Book Blog for the link!
Your question of the week: You’ve finally finished writing your book, and now it’s time to send it out. Where do you start? If have experience here, share whatever you think might be helpful. And if not, share whatever questions or anxieties you have about taking the next step.
Wednesday, Lori Oliva will be here and we’re talking about the novel she just finished and the transition from writing to selling. I hope you’ll join us!
One last thing, but pretty wonderful: Mr. Henderson’s cousin is now Miss Aloha Hula 2007. Congratulations, Keonilei! xoxo!
Claire CameronApril 16, 2007
This is a frustrating thing to hear, but if you are writing a novel, my advice is wait one month. Are you 100% sure you are finished? You won’t know until you get a bit of distance from the work.
In retrospect, I sent mine out too early. I was very lucky and found a patient agent who endured a bit revision, but this may not have been the case. I could have let 4 years of work go to waste, because I was so anxious to get going.
amyApril 16, 2007
I second Claire — I, too, sent out my MS too early. The sad thing is, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was so tired of working on it, and so eager to get on to the next stage, that I disregarded my better judgement and started querying. I was rewarded for my impatience with a stack of form rejections.
The good news is, agents have no memory for form rejections. Six months later, when I came back with a fully edited MS, a new title, and a new query letter, I started getting a requests from the same people who rejected me before! So don’t necessarily cross someone off the list if they’ve rejected you at the query stage.
amyApril 16, 2007
Oh, also: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your query letter is meant to describe your novel — to convey its tone, theme, and essence. The query letter is about *selling*.
I agonized over my first query letter — I didn’t want it to sound like chick-lit, I wanted people to know it had a tragic ending, I struggled to cram in as many plot points as possible… What I came up with was honest (if confusing), but it didn’t make anyone want to read it.
Second time around, I dumped all that “to thine own self be true” crap and pitched the book people wanted to read. I knew my writing/story were good enough that, once folks started reading, they wouldn’t give a damn what the query letter said. I just had to get them to start reading.
Elizabeth AlanApril 16, 2007
Being first time authors we weren’t really sure where to begin. The male half of us had a lead to an agent but that didn’t pan out. Not being sure where to go and what to do, and maybe not wanting to face rejection letters, we ultimately went the self publishing route.
We were novices in a new world and we’ve learned as we’ve gone along. Self publishing may not have been the best route to go, it’s a tough call, but at least we did have a finished novel “out there.”
Now we are trying new avenues. Using MySpace has helped greatly. Gathering insight and information from those who have been there and done that provides help you can’t put a price on.
lance reynaldApril 16, 2007
I’ve been giving serious thought to cramming it in a bottle and casting it to sea, launching it into space or floating it down river on a burning barge.
my gut feeling this morning looks something like that…
AurelioApril 16, 2007
I getting close to finishing a new manuscript, so I’m eager to hear any and all advice.
I seriously question Lance’s bottle idea though…
Ric MarionApril 16, 2007
It ate my response.
Okay, for what it’s worth.
First, as noted above, finish the book, edited to a bright shine. And a super query letter.
Make a list of 50 agents – use Publishersmarketplace, Jeff Herman’s guide, Authorquery, etc.
Research each and every name – Writers Beware, AbsoluteWrite, go to their websites, google them, this will leave you 25-30 names who aren’t scammers or are still taking queries. Whatever they want – query and 5 pages, query and 10 pages, follow each one’s instructions.
Pick 10 names and send out 10 queries. either by email or mail. Sending 10 at a time is to lessen the psychological shock when you get your first rejection. Knowing there are still more and they might say yes prevents you going into a funk.
Keep 10 in the mail at all times until you have 100 rejections. Then soul search and decide if your baby needs to be marketed differently, or re-worked, or whatever. Or put it under the bed and write another one.
Eventually, you will get the “CALL”
Susan, kinda bare bones advice – hope this is what you were looking for.
NicoleApril 16, 2007
I’m guessing we can’t post links here, but I have a whole blog on it called “I’m an author? huh!”
I agree with the advice on waiting a month or whatever. In fact, I had to wait because when I finished my manuscript, I hated it.
Edit. Edit. Edit.
I sent 15 queries out with a typo.
Research. Research. Reasearch.
Don’t waste your time sending queries to the wrong places
Know your genre.
I didn’t really know mine, and so I was shopping it all over the place.
My blog link if HTML works
NicoleApril 16, 2007
Oh … and another thing I’ve found really great is Nathan Bransford’s blog on MySpace (and other places)
Lori OlivaApril 16, 2007
Thank you all for sharing your insight. I feel that I’m a neophyte to this strange new world, but hearing your advice, makes it seem less lonely and surreal. So far, I feel as if I’ve made the right decisions, I’ve worked with a fiction editor to sharpen the manuscript, sat on it until I gained a solid perspective and am now navigating through the query process. Susan, thanks for thinking that this is a topic worth exploring. Aurelio, I’m happy you’re getting some good insight. Good luck with your manuscript. Ric, your strategies are great, thank you! Lance, I’m heading to the beach in June (we’ll see if I go that route). Thanks again!
SilviaApril 16, 2007
Thanks Susan for the topis and everyone else for the advice, it’s really useful for someone like me, who’s just started thinking about publishing and has no idea how to go about it.
What happens if you don’t have a finished novel yet but just a few short stories? would you send those to a litery maganzine or something like that? and what if you can’t fit you stories into any genre? (or at least you can’t decide on one)
Susan HendersonApril 16, 2007
One of the things I love most about these questions is I can’t predict your answers. Who’d have thought there would be so much talk of the importance of letting your manuscript sit?
Claire – I’ve always used the stick-it-in-a-drawer method. The other thing I do is work on something completely different while it’s in that drawer. If I’m working on a new story, I’ll write with a different voice and pace. I’ll read like a fiend. If I’ve been working on something dark, I’ll read something funny. All of those things help me come back to the piece with new energy and it helps me to bring balance to the piece in the editing process.
amy – Good point about the query letter! I like to think of the query letter as what you’d write on the back of a book jacket, it’s often the thing that makes you bring the book to the counter and take out your wallet.
Elizabeth – Fascinating to hear the male/female process toward publication. And I hear you about wanting to bypass those rejection letters.
lance – If your book has half the emotion and humor as your comment, it’s going to be a hell of a good read.
Aurelio – Oh, look, Lance, now you got Aurelio upset, too. Nice one. NO MORE TOSSING MANUSCRIPTS INTO BOTTLES OR SEAS!
Ric – If that happens again, be sure to drop Terry a note so he knows if he should look for a glitch. And I’m going to expand on your Publishers Marketplace note. The best way to find an agent who would like your style is to think of the contemporary books you like best and that are most similar to your manuscript, and then look in the acknowledgments section to see the name of their agent. AND, if you’re looking for an agent and you don’t belong to Publishers Marketplace (where you can plug in the name of any book, author or agent to see clients lists and sales histories and all of that) and if you’re not reading Miss Snark’s blog, you are making things unnecessarily hard on yourself.
Nicole – You can post links, absolutely! P.S. If I were an agent, I wouldn’t give a shit if someone had a typo in their cover letter. Choosing a manuscript is like falling in love. If you can’t see past a freckle, you’ll never get to the heart.
Lori – You won’t need the beach route, Lori. Now let me go spank Lance.
Silvia – Welcome! And yes, send those stories to the magazines you love to read. This is the best site I know that introduces you to what’s out there: http://www.newpages.com/magazinestand/litmags/default.htm
A.S. KingApril 16, 2007
Once you know your query letter is working (high enough rate of requests for partials & fulls) DO NOT STOP QUERYING. Set the number at 100-150.
I queried about 5 novels half-heartedly before I followed this advice and found my agent. (Mucho cred due to Miss Snark.) Don’t wait around to hear about fulls or partials. KEEP QUERYING and KEEP WRITING.
Am I allowed to ditto all the other great advice so far? (Ditto all the great advice so far.)
Robin SlickApril 16, 2007
So weird that you posted this today.
My 103,000 baby is out as of this morning. I can’t say another word because of the jinx factor. Just know that my heart is in my mouth and if I hear anything, LitPark will be the second place to know after I tell my family.
I whole-heartedly agree with the stick it in the drawer for at least a month approach though it’s extremely hard for me to do. Once I finish something, I am extremely impulsive and send it right off. After being burned several times doing that, I’ve finally learned to use restraint. But oh my god did I identify with the 15 queries with the typo thing. Ugh. I don’t even want to think about some of the things I’ve done in the same vein. And to this day, I’m still editing Three Days in New York City, which was published in 2005. I wish I could have a whole new crack at it…there’s so much more I could have done with that book and so much I wish I’d edited out.
Robin SlickApril 16, 2007
See what I mean about being impulsive?
That should read “my 103,000 word baby”
Carolyn Burns BassApril 16, 2007
Ditto everything above. (Well, maybe not the ms in a bottle or rocket to the moon idea… sorry, lance-alot.)
Once you have the ms spit polished and a killer query making rounds, when you have dozens of mss out there in the agent world, don’t choose the first agent that comes along. Interview them and make sure they “get” your book and that they have a solid plan for selling it. Don’t sign with an agent who wants only this book, share your ideas for future books. If they don’t love your ideas for the future, they may not be the best agent for you.
And if one of your author friends refers you to an editor looking for your kind of book, don’t let the lack of an agent keep you from sending your ms to him/her. (wink: Lauren/Susan)
LaurenApril 16, 2007
After six long years, I finally finished my first novel, which clocks in around 91,000 words. Its a genealogical ghost story set in Poland with a mystery, a touch of time travel, Judaica and a bit of romance. It doesn’t fall into any easy category. I’ve been sending query emails and letters to a select few literary agents who seem to have repped books that would target a similar market. I’m trying not to let rejection get to me. I have someone who is editing the book, but after three months, has yet to get me a single note. Thoughts? Suggestions?
Ronlyn DomingueApril 16, 2007
Like Claire and Amy, I sent out what I thought was a finished novel to about five agents. Luckily, I got feedback from a couple of people who encouraged me to sit on it a while. Six months later, the book transformed–and I really was done.
Then I approached getting an agent as if I were looking for a job. It was no-nonsense. I kept a master database with all my research on potential contacts.
My advice is similar to Ric’s, although my take is–
–Start querying AAR members first
–Send out batches of 20+ queries/excerpts
–Be prepared to feel aversions toward your mailbox and inbox
–Trust your gut on your own work. If you truly believe it’s done, it’s done. Don’t let an agent sway you with “I’d be glad to take another look if you seriously revise it…”
I sent 60 queries to get my one wonderful agent. For those who are looking for an agent, have faith in your work and be persistent. If you don’t belive in what you’ve done, no one else will.
NoriaApril 16, 2007
I had one agent in mind when I began working on my book; he represented three of my favorite writers and I wanted to be in that gang (DO look at the acknowledgements to find out who represents the authors you adore). Before the book was done (DON’T do this), I sent him a very brief pitch (DO keep it short) telling him he was my dream agent (my exact words: “I’d give my left tit to work with you”) and miraculously he said yes.
Karen DionneApril 16, 2007
Great advice on sitting on the manuscript before querying agents, and on the querying process. I’d add that you absolutely MUST NOT take rejections personally. Yes, our work is very much a reflection of ourselves (because if we’ve written well, we’ve bared our souls and leaked our blood onto the page), but when agents and editors reject a manuscript, they’re not rejecting US – they’re thinking ‘do I love this story enough to fight to see it published?’ A ‘no’ doesn’t diminish us or our work in any way – it only means a particular agent or editor wasn’t the right one for our project.
There’s a phrase bandied about among writers that’s trite, but true: It only takes one. Doesn’t matter how many rejections you get – when an agent or an editor falls in love with your work, all that came before is forgotten.
My agent was the 54th person I queried; the editor who bought my book the 15th, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re both number one. 🙂
KaytieApril 16, 2007
I started by researching agents.
Then I spent a lot of time writing my query letter and synopsis, enough time to make it as good as I could.
I started by querying those who appeared to share my interests. I got lucky early and found a great agent who has been very enthusiastic about my novel and we’re in the process of getting it ready for submitting to editors.
As recommended above, I found that limiting the number of queries I sent at a time helped me keep on top of the process, to send better letters as I improved, and allowed me to tailor my letter to each agent in a meaningful way. I kept a spreadsheet updated with responses dated (theirs and mine) so I always knew where I stood with each.
Simon HaynesApril 17, 2007
My advice – read up on the subjects of query letters and sample chapters. Let the book sit for a while as you devour Miss Snark’s entire blog history.
And then, once you start sending out queries, start planning and writing the next book.
Best advice I ever got: first and second books rarely sell because the writer is still assembling their skill set. So, assume it’s going to take three books to get published, and plan accordingly.
By all means send out queries for your first novel, but just make sure you don’t put so much effort into selling that one that you neglect to write the next.
(And if the first DOES sell, imagine how happy your agent will be to hear that your next is approaching completion.)
PD SmithApril 17, 2007
I second Kaytie’s advice: do your research on the right agents; send just a few letters out at a time; and then sit back and wait… That’s the worst bit.
Oh and keep your fingers crossed (or look for a four-leaved clover, whatever): there’s a heck of a lot of luck involved in finding an agent and a publisher. As well as hard work, tenacity and of course talent…
Julie Ann ShapiroApril 17, 2007
I’m querying now and awake from insomnia induced dream squashers. The only thing I would like to add is don’t let naysayers pull you down on this journey. This includes friends and family, not just those pesky rejections. And use insomniac worry to your advantage, get up and write instead of feeling the angst to the 9th degree – put that in your stories.
And celebrate all the little successes – very important advice – I heard at a writers conference.
wendi aaronsApril 17, 2007
Hi, Susan. I just read your story on Freshyarn. I absolutely love your writing. (And I usually don’t say that to anyone besides myself.) I’m an aspiring writer (also on Freshyarn) & mother of two boys, so I found your story pitch perfect.
Jody RealeApril 17, 2007
Susan, I LOVE Fresh Yarn, and good for you for being invited into that club. (Without actually knowing her, I think that Hilary Carlip is good people.)
I’ve never finished writing a book, but being a nonfiction writer, I’ve finished a proposal. I’d received some rejections, which I expected, and some warm receptions, which I didn’t. What really threw me, though, was how garnering an agent derailed my writing for a good two years.
Certainly it wasn’t the agent’s fault, God bless her. I just wasn’t ready for that kind of success.
Thank goodness I failed that project quietly and in as much of a vacuum as possible. It taught me a good lesson with a minimal amount of embarrassment; not that it’s possible to go through a career like writing without a stinger now and then.
So, I’ve decided to take my next proposal very slowly, and I’m glad to know that the other sage souls here would say that that’s an OK thing to do.
Tom Petty sure was right about the waiting thing, though, wasn’t he?
JulietApril 17, 2007
I agree wholeheartedly with Claire’s comment. The last thing you want to be doing is reading your now-sent manuscript and realizing you have an error in there somewhere.
My experience in the publishing world isn’t the norm in terms of sending my manuscript out, but as the president of a house and past editor at same, I’d suggest your cover letter be very direct, very clearly an outline (not a Coles’ Notes version, not a plea to read my book and here’s why) but a clear, concise and linear outline of what’s in the pages to come.
I want to work with authors who know their work. My time is valuable, and as much as I/we want to help you get your book out and your dream to life, we also need to know that you see the value of your own time and “product”.
I’d also suggest that even before you send the manuscript, you get in touch with someone at the publishing house to find out in what format they like to have things sent to them.
I’ve got much more to say but time is short today. If anyone’s interested, we put out a free package regarding what we look for from authors. email me and I’ll be sure to send it on.
Jordan E. RosenfeldApril 17, 2007
I am a kick-ass query letter writer. I say this unequivocally without the slightest hint of modesty. I really am good at it. I am also on my second agent.Unfortunatley, I can get an agent but so far, the books I’ve had shopped between the two of them have not brought me a sale. I’ve come “close” more times than I want to count–but I’m more curious about what arrangement of magic and craft can take my work from “we really liked this but…” to actual sale. All I can do is keep writing.
Susan HendersonApril 17, 2007
Hey everyone, I’ll comment tomorrow, or maybe later tonight. Many of you know I grew up in Virginia and I know that Va. Tech campus, where the first boy I loved used to play me his heavy metal records in between his bull-castrating classes. I think that’s all I want to say about the whole thing. Love.
Susan HendersonApril 18, 2007
A.S. – Great advice! And I’m going to have to link Miss Snark on Friday. It would be plain dumb to be looking for an agent and not reading her blog. Nice to have you here!
Robin – I am THRILLED to know your book is done and out there. I have no doubt whatsoever that it’ll get snatched up. They better hurry, too, because I want my copy. (The Jinx can’t touch your book.)
Carolyn – Yeah, I sure learned that lesson. You can forget your own value in the process. Remember: the agent works for YOU, and not the other way around.
Lauren – Your book sounds fascinating. My favorite books don’t fit easily into one genre. This person who’s editing your book – is this a writer friend who knows your writing style well, or did you pay for a service? I’m not a big fan of those services. Usually they leave a book a little worse off than it started off. Whoever lays a hand on your book ought to be very in tune with your heart and your writing style.
Ronlyn – Whoa, you have a great, organized mine. I do everything by instinct and whim. If I kept good notes, I wouldn’t be able to find them. BTW, I’d like to second, third and fourth the advice not to revise your work everytime someone says they nearly-love it.
Noria – I’d have said yes, too. You would be a dream writer to land!
Karen – If you have advice on how not to take rejections personally, please share. I do understand the concept, though. Still, it feels like being whacked by a shovel, whether they meant to swing hard or not.
Kaytie – Good luck as you go on submission, Kaytie! Nice advice about waiting for feedback on the query letter before sending out a billion of them.
Simon – I agree about setting to work on a new book while you wait. And if you try to write a one-sentence pitch BEFORE you write that book, it will save you from writing gorgeous but meandering pages.
PD – Missed you around here, Peter.
Julie – I used to save my rejection letters, and one of the best things I ever learned (here!) was to just get rid of them and focus on success.
wendi – What a really sweet thing to say! And welcome to LitPark!
Jody – Your writing would be GREAT for Fresh Yarn, and you can tell Hillary I said so.
Juliet – Oh, that’s helpful: a clear, concise and linear outline of whatâ€™s in the pages to come. A lot of times writers think an editor simply needs to fall in love with the words and characters. But editors know all the other books on their list, and one piece of information they need before they invest their time in your manuscript is a simple What’s it about?
Jordan – Close calls can be so frustrating. Jordan, your day is very near.
DarylApril 18, 2007
Oh Susan, I think that is the description of the most romantic modern love story that I’ve ever heard. Or at least one that I could see myself being a character in. Depression has stricken me deeply this week from many sources, and while I am years from having a completed manuscript right now the only plan I have in mind will be to call you, Robin, or Aurellio to ask what do I do with it next. Gird your hearts with love my angels…
SuzanneApril 18, 2007
My strategy was to publish a couple chapters in decent literary magazines. I figured having part of my novel published would encourage agents to take a look at it (and it did). I was lucky because almost immediately after the second excerpt was published, I was contacted by an agent. She loved the novel and sold it.
Karen DionneApril 19, 2007
“Karen – If you have advice on how not to take rejections personally, please share. I do understand the concept, though.”
I think I must have developed this skill when my husband and I were first married and we made our living selling his stoneware pottery at art shows. If you’ve ever sat in a booth surrounded by your wares for twelve or more hours a day and watched hundreds of people glance inside and then walk on by, you understand rejection. I remember one show where the fair-goers were definitely the beer and peanuts crowd, while we were trying to sell sculptures that went for several hundred dollars apiece. A single sale at the end of the final day brought in enough gas money to get home . . .
And yet at some shows, for whatever reason, there’s a good match between you and the shoppers, and you sell your stuff hand over fist.
Art is subjective, and writing is art. A no from an agent doesn’t mean any more than an art fair goerâ€™s dismissive glance. And anyone who’s gone to an art show has been that person who’s looked into a booth and walked on by – Iâ€™ve done it myself. It doesnâ€™t mean thereâ€™s anything wrong with the artwork, and indeed, the booth might be crowded with other shoppers – just that itâ€™s not right for me.
I think if a writer can adopt that attitude – that thereâ€™s nothing personal in a rejection; it just wasnâ€™t a good fit – the rejections wonâ€™t sting as much. Oh, theyâ€™re still disappointing, for sure, because a rejection represents the closing of a door, but like I said before, all those rejections become nothing once we find the agent or editor who loves our work.
Susan HendersonApril 19, 2007
Daryl – Thanks for that. I think it’s been a shitty week for a lot of folks, and it’ll get better. xo
Suzanne – Your story makes me happy!
Karen – Thank you for your story. Wow. And I’ve been searching for this article and finally found it. It’s the story of Joshua Bell, one of the best and most popular violinists of the era, agreeing to play in the subway to see what happens.
It’s fascinating, and it clarifies a lot, and also makes me like him all the more. If anyone has time to read this, it’s worth it, and it reads like a story from This American Life:
Karen DionneApril 19, 2007
Oh yes! That Joshua Bell story is MARVELOUS. Definitely a must-read. It’s fun and funny and enlightening on so many levels. I particularly loved his reaction when he finished playing a piece and there was no applause . . .
billieApril 19, 2007
Coming in late in the week, but… I researched agents, queried, wasn’t prepared for the immediate responses, landed an agent w/in one month.
That sounds great, huh? It was, except I have done it twice now, and come very close w/ editors and submissions.
Am back to querying, sending pages, awaiting responses.
My advice – don’t stop working – write the next book while you’re querying the first one. I now have three novels to shop and it won’t be too long before I’m working on the fourth.
Second advice – hope for the dream come true and that things happen quickly – but be prepared for a longer haul. Enjoy the writing process every single day – b/c the hurdles never stop. If only I had an agent turns into if only my book sells turns into if only my book wins an award/bestsells/etc.
DarrinApril 19, 2007
Susan, I enjoyed your piece in Fresh Yarn! I liked how you put the balance between writing and life in perspective. Writing can be deeply consuming.
And because of that, I’d like to add myself to the list of folks who advocate sitting on a “finished” manuscript for a while before letting it out. For me, to fully get away from the writing, I opt for mind-melting activities like playing video games and trying to win those cheap stuffed animals at carnivals. If I must write in the meantime, It’ll be something completely different, like writing dirty limericks. During the “sitting on” time, I actually WANT to derail the creative process–albeit temporarily–to clear the mind of bias. (OK, I’ll admit that a real good limerick takes creativity, not to mention an acute economy of words.)
A month later, when I put the train back on the track, I can easily spot the stuff that doesn’t flow. I even slashed an entire chapter out of my first book’s manuscript before sending it out.
I was glad I did: that mean-n-lean travel narrative book, published last year, has received tasty reviews, and managed to score a finalist slot in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Awards. Now if I can just get the book in the hands of Bill Bryson…
Oh, I skipped the search-for-an-agent part. I guess I’m lucky since nonfiction generally sells better than fiction, and my long term plan is to use my first book’s sales figures to score an agent for my next book.
AnnelieseApril 19, 2007
OMG! Your Fresh Yarn is hilarious! I feel like I’ve encountered a self-help group; “You do that too!?”
How about sitting on the couch together, pretending you also watch television, he thinks you’re great because you don’t yell when he changes to the ESPN channel, yet you are absorbed in the latest revision, or are jotting out more of what you’ve been dying to type out all day long, …
“Hon,” you hear above the pounding of the blood in your veins and the tapping of your fingertips on keyboard keys.
“Huh?” You kinda look up in a daze. Half in this world, half in that other.
“Did you hear that?”
“Wha-?” You’re blank.
He has the most heartfelt emotional look on his face since he asked for your heart, “That interview with the football coach. His wife has cancer, his son has MS, and his team comes over to his house every night to support him…” (or whatever the ESPN sob-story is this week).
“No. No, I didn’t hear that.” And you return to your writing on the laptop.
Another missed moment of intimacy, of sharing his interests – wasted. Justlikethat.
If only dating had been this honest.
David Niall WilsonApril 20, 2007
First off…sorry to drop off the planet for a year…
My answer is easier than it used to be. When I finish a novel (and usually even if it’s just a story he isn’t going to handle) I send it to my agent. I also send it to a select group of readers (after politely asking permission) who explain to me how much work it still needs…
And I go on to work on something else while I try to get over the agony of waiting.