Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Submission Smarts?

     You know how I decided to make November NaNoSubMo? At the time it seemed smart. I thought I'd submit while everyone else was writing. The problem was, I didn't really think it through. As the rejections roll in and I'm getting ready for the holidays, it does make me wonder what I was thinking. Who knows, maybe I'll land my agent just before Christmas and I'll be the happiest woman in the world, but I probably should have re-thought my strategy. I kind of hope that agents create rejection letters, but hold onto them until after the holidays and just send them out the second week of January. Although, I'm pretty sure that's not the case.
     I posted earlier that many agents don't accept queries between November 20th and January 1st. In fact, out of forty-one agents I only saw three that were closed to queries and two of those were prior to November 20th. I think it just depends on the agent. This can happen at any time during the year. Maybe they have so many clients they can't take on another writer, or they are back-logged and need some time to catch up, or they have personal issues they're dealing, or a myriad of other reasons. The fact is, if your story is ready--send it out (I can say this now, because I'm doing it). If the agent isn't accepting manuscripts, they will sometimes say when they'll be open for submissions again. Write this on your query tracking sheet and submit to them when they're ready.
     Luckily I'm not doing this whole submitting process by myself. Because of the four critique groups I participate in, I have a few friends that are published, agented, pre-agented, and submitting at the same time. As my rejections began rolling in, I asked my friends what their ratio of form rejection to personal rejections were and they told me that the majority of the rejections are form.
     To date I have ten form rejections. No personal rejections yet. Of course I wonder how I can strengthen my manuscript, second guess if it's ready to submit, and go through the gamut of questioning my sanity (as I think most authors do), but amazingly, knowing that most of the rejections are form rejections helped me deal with these types of rejections better.
     Another thing that has helped me a lot is the series of submission videos from Cyle Young, an agent at Hartline Literary. He talks you through the submission process and explains a lot of what agents go through in the process of unsolicited manuscripts. In one of the videos he explains that form rejections are just easier as an agent. Sometimes people who get personal rejection letters don't accept the suggestions that they're given, they get upset, and then write mean letters to the agent who was just trying to help them. If you're given specific feedback try to look at it with an open mind and see if there is value in the words, don't spurn that gift.
     We'll see over the next weeks where this submission process will take me. Maybe it'll just be another chance for me to review my work, polish it a little more, write some different (hopefully better) books, and continue on my path. I hope that you all view your submission process in the same light.
    If you have input on form rejections versus personal rejections, I'd like to know. Comment below so we can move forward on this trail together!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

10 Things I've Learned in the Querying Process

     I am a little over two weeks into my NaNoSubMo and have submitted three stories between thirty-two agents! That is thirty-two times better than I have done in the last year and an all-time record for me. I have learned a LOT in the process. Here are ten things I want to share with you:
1. Having multiple works in my back pocket has made the querying process SO much easier. I feel like a rejection of one work isn't soul-sucking. It's one book I can revise and submit to a different agent later. Like Rick Walton said, "My approach is to have twelve manuscripts out at a time. If one comes back rejected then 1/12th of my dreams are dashed. But I just send it out to the next person and forget about it. It's not too hard to have that many picture books out. . ." I don't have that many manuscripts out personally. I actually have out two picture books and one middle grade novel and a few more in my pocket that I'm revising for submission this month. Maybe not twelve, but at least five that are close to being ready. I have thirty-three manuscripts in my portfolio currently. That's what writing every weekday for the past seven years has given me. Even if it's just fifteen minutes a day, I've done it. I want to talk more about consistency, but that's a whole other blog post.
2. It's important to double, triple, and quadruple check the submission guidelines and your submission materials. It's hard to be precise. I've made some mistakes. Some are doozies! Especially with multiple manuscripts out. I've accidentally emailed someone that wanted a form query. Luckily they emailed me back to tell me to use the form. I've submitted four chapters, though my fourth chapter was a copy of my third chapter (so they got two chapter three's instead of chapter three and chapter four). I even went so far as to cut off my twenty page submission in the middle of a sentence. K. Don't do any of those things. Learn from me. Recheck everything! Even with those blunders, some agents will be forgiving and look past it all. My friend got an agent even after she realized she'd accidentally changed her entire query font to purple.
3. It's helpful to have everything ready before querying. Keep in mind that each agent knows what they want specifically and will state it in their submission guidelines from their particular website. Here is what most agents are looking for, in varying forms:
  • Query Letter (I tweak this for each submission)
  • Bio (This is usually included in the query, however some forms ask for it separately)
  • Pitch (This is usually a one liner, but not always)
  • Synopsis (This is usually 500-700 words for novels, varying upon the type of story you're writing. Picture books it's about a paragraph.)
  • Writing sample (Usually between one to four chapters)
4. Refine, tweak, and polish all of the above. Don't write a first draft and send it out. Put it through a critique group--maybe multiple critique groups. Trusted individuals that give you constructive criticism are gold mines. You cannot resubmit the same work later unless it has been requested. Put your very best effort out into the world. Give yourself a fighting chance!
5. Submit in small batches: There are lots of agents out there! Because we're learning, we don't want to burn all of our bridges in the beginning. I have a friend that submitted her story to one hundred agents before getting feedback from a critique group. Don't do this! Submit small. One high on your list and about five to ten in the middle to bottom of the list. This will help you gauge your writing where it stands. Based on the feedback you receive, you'll know how ready your work is. If you're getting all form rejections, it may be a good sign that your writing isn't exactly where it needs to be right now. If you're getting back lots of personal rejections, then you're close. If you're getting full manuscript requests, then you're right where you want to be.
6. Not all agents are a good fit. This of course makes sense. Instead of submitting to every agent, look carefully at who and what they represent. If you read their information online (there's usually lots of places to search for them), and they don't sound right for what you write, scratch them off the list. That's one less rejection you'll have to endure. Plus it will save everyone some time and effort in the process. You want to LOVE your agent in the end, not just have someone that "will do."
7. Not all agents are open to queries. This one was the most surprising parts of the whole process. I took a list of the "Top Middle Grade Agents" and began researching. I spent three hours of work looking through the different agents, their blogs, their client list, their book list, and their website only to find out they weren't open to submissions. Look at this first! Don't waste your time.
8. There is a great chance to build a MASSIVE "to read" list. As I go through and research agents I am finding all kinds of great literature that I just want to sit and read. I have discovered some GREAT stuff. The School for Good and Evil, Wolf Hollow, and Crenshaw all are stories I never would have found otherwise. There is so much great literature out there that sometimes it can seem a little intimidating. But remember, all of these authors started in the same place we're all starting in! They kept writing, learning, and submitting.
9. Track your submissions. Especially if you're submitting multiple manuscripts it's important to write it down. I have an excel tracking sheet with different tabs. Each tab represents a different manuscript. As I research agents I'll think of which story best fits that agent and that is who I will submit to. I have columns that read like this:
  • Agent name
  • Publishing house (I usually link the website here for easy access later)
  • Looking For (PB, MG, YA, Adult)
  • Submission info (I link this also)
  • Query Date (When I send in my query materials)
  • Average response rate (some will say 2 weeks others 8 weeks, some will say they WILL respond, others say if you haven't heard from us, consider it a "no." I just like having this information handy)
  • Estimated response date
  • Response
  • Date sent in Full MS (For novels. Usually Picture Books are sent in full during the querying process because they should be short.)
  • Why I like them for my story (Usually I cut and paste here from interviews, articles, their website, etc. Just for my reference. Or if they're a perfect fit, I'll say that here as well. I have a few of those.)
10. Have an attitude of learning. That has been the most helpful thing for me. I am educating myself on the industry. I am learning what different publishing houses are in the world, what they represent, what other books are out there, how they're written, and how this whole process works. I understand that I'm not going to be perfect. I'm going to mess up. Maybe my work isn't strong enough just yet. But that doesn't mean I've failed. It means I have more to learn--which I can do. We all can! Keep pushing forward. I've begun my climb and will keep on going. I hope you do too!

What are some things you're learning or have learned in the submission process?


Sunday, November 3, 2019

NaNoSubMo

Oops! I did it again! I started looking at submitting last year and then I got caught up in my
manuscripts again. I’m not going to lie--I submitted once this past year. Submissions just
feel like they’re taking away from my creativity, so I just write. I write and write and edit and
critique. I’ve got a great group of writers that support me and help me become better. I am
learning so much and producing so many great things. I just need to submit them. Really,
truly. So here is my commitment, yet again, which I will stick to: 
Instead of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words written on a new novel
in one month), I’m doing NaNoSubMo (National Novel Submission Month: 60 submissions
for various works put out to agents in one month). I will also be writing articles for my blog
and critiquing fellow writers’ manuscripts.
In June I was able to attend Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) in Sandy,
UT. I don’t know if you notice a blog post trend here, but it always boosts my enthusiasm for
blogging. Anyway, Kristyn Crow taught a Morning Workshop on Picture Books and it seriously
blew my mind. 
I have been actively learning about writing since college (I won’t give away my age with that
one), and in this one class I learned more about my craft than all of the years previous.
Granted, I write Middle Grade Fantasy as well, but Picture Books have always been this
elusive concept that I haven’t really understood until this class. I thought I understood, but
after attending her class, I realized that I didn’t--not really. I HIGHLY suggest attending
anything that she teaches, because she knows her stuff. And not only that, she knows how
to TEACH and encourage, which I’ve realized are the most important parts of it all.
Each day, her lessons were more and more amazing, but the one I’m finding most useful right
now, was her class on publishing. She answered questions, taught us how to self-edit, told us
that we need a good critique group, taught us how to learn the market (which is basically:
study what’s on the shelves at bookshelves and what are the ALA awards winners and
Amazon Bestsellers), and most importantly how to look up agents to represent different
genres. She suggested two ways to search for agents: 
1. Literary Marketplace (LMP): a free online resource for writers, which has all of the
information and more on how to get published and which agents are best for your genre.
This site is super useful, though a little tedious with the multiple links and the constant
nagging to put your name and email address into their system--which I did twice before
I realized they tell you to do that on every page.
2. Agentquery.com: Helps you find out about the agents. Visit their websites. Choose one or several
who represent work similar to yours.
I am proud to say that since the beginning of November I have tripled last year’s attempts at
submissions (yes, that’s three for those of you that question your math skills as much as I do).
All of which are for a picture book that I’ve been working on since February. I haven’t queried my novel
yet. I was going to. I really was. But when I got to the submission form I realized I wasn't ready. I
hadn’t written a synopsis of my story yet. Advice from a friend was to read Save the Cat Writes a
Novel, which has great advice on query letters and synopses. So that is my next step. How are you
doing in your trail to publication? Would you like to join in my #NaNoSubMo? Let’s do this together!
I’d love to hear about your journey as well.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Week Five on the Submission Trail

     Summer has been so crazy at our house, so needless to say I haven't done much in the way of submissions. But I got some great stuff at Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR) about pitches that was super helpful, so I will share. First of all, on day one we got this simple, but super helpful, worksheet to fill out (mine is a little scrunched up and the picture isn't perfect, but you can read it, so that's what matters):



    Using this worksheet we were able to put together a pitch for our books. Then on the last day we had a live pitch session in front of an agent and the entire group of attendees. Just the thought made me want to hide in the corner, but at the same time, I needed the help. It was a safe place, with a real agent to give tips and pointers. I knew that if I didn't try it out I would regret it. So I put my name in the hat for the opportunity. And guess what, every person that wanted to try it out got to do so.
   Before pitching though, they gave us time to work together on developing our own pitch. We worked in small groups and helped one another. The best kind of pitch they said was one that was a quick one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences top. For example, originally I did book comparisons (AKA "a mash-up") of my story. Magic Mural is Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe meets Captain Underpants. This isn't an extremely close example though. So I came up with a different one, that is more on-point and gives the stakes, which is really important.
     Side note on mash-ups. I often hear people talking about their frustration when someone compares their story to something already written. They hate it when their ideas just aren't "original." Someone in my writer's group was trying to brainstorm an idea and as we compared it to popular books already on the market she would get so frustrated. Well guess what? That's a GOOD thing! When your book compares to others already out there, creating a mash-up is easy. I've heard examples of authors whose stories are entirely too unique and they find it difficult to market or to sell their books on the national market. Not to say there is no place for completely unique stories, in my opinion there aren't enough, but if your goal is a quick pitch or an easy sell you want to have the ability to mash-up.
     On the other hand, your pitch doesn't have to be a mash-up of two books. One of the editors had a good point. She said that one of her authors had a fantastic one liner pitch and that pitch was what she used to promote the story to the publishing house. Then that one liner pitch made it onto the back cover of the book. It educates your agent/editor how to promote your story as well as helps sell your story to the public.
    After twelve total re-writes, even more revisions, and feedback from the agent I came up with my pitch, which still feels too long: Andy Abbott is 12 and escapes problems through art, but the school Science Witch banishes him from reality. Now he must defeat the Nightmare Stalker to avoid being trapped in his nightmare for life.
     I need to finish my manuscript before I can pitch this particular story (SOOO close), but I have a few others that I can and will be pitching and soon. I haven't been great about following the Twitter threads, but I am improving. I am constantly learning and will continue to share as I learn things. I hope you're doing well on your publication journey. Let me know how things are going or if you have any great tips!


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Week Four on the Submission Trail FAIL

     I've been having a hard time coming to terms with this blog post. I have to admit it, not only to myself, but to everyone that reads this article that I didn't do any research regarding becoming published this past week. I checked out award winning Picture Books from the library with the mindset of figuring out how the books were written and how to improve my own writing. Not to say this kind of research is useless, but I'm falling back into my old habit of avoiding attempting publication.
      I do understand that I can be productive still with the books that I checked out from the library, but last week my mindset was wrong and therefore I didn't do any research in regards to publication. This week will be different.  I still have the books I checked out. This week my job is to read the books, looking to see if I can find stories that are similar to my own or ones that I connect to in general, and do more research on the Publishing Houses that have published those books.
     On a side note, I did do some work at WIFYR the week before last regarding publishing. I got a lot of great information. Here are a few options for research that I didn't know about before that may be helpful for other people as well:
Agent Query Connect:  This site has forums set up to help authors query, network, and help one another. This seems like a really great resource for people looking to get published, like myself.
Twitter: It is best to follow agents to see what they're selling, looking for, what really bugs them, and to keep an eye out for pitch parties. I personally don't tweet much, but I would like to do more. Here are a few common twitter handles to follow if you're looking to get published:
#pitmad (Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult)
#divpit (Diversity pitches)
#pbpitch (PB pitches)
#SOAP18 (General pitching hashtag)
#MSWL (Manuscript Wish List)
#askanagent (Ask an agent questions)
#askkidlit (Ask children's literature questions)
#amwriting (Common thread among authors)
NOTE: Careful, you may become lost on these hashtags and lose writing time. Make sure you're searching with purpose and not just for creative avoidance.
Publisher's Weekly:This link is specifically geared toward children's literature, though they have other sub topics if you're looking at other genres. You can sign up for their free newsletters to see what is currently happening in the marketplace. It's great, up-to-date, information.
     I'm not going to be doing much this week when it comes to publishing. I think all of my limited free time will be writing time this week because of the holiday and our family vacation. Though I think I will hit a few of those hashtags and see if I can glean some good information! Good luck to you this week!!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Week Three on the Submission trail

     Okay, okay. So it may seem like my chronology isn't exactly true to the calendar, but it really is week three on the submission trail. Trust me.
      Summer is here and Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers happened last week. The week previous to that I was critiquing other people's manuscripts every free moment except for the day I went to the library and did some more research. I checked out award winning books again. Some were classics like Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit and others were more recent like Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny. According to Rick Walton, I should be reading stories that have been published in the past seven years, but with the limited time I had I wasn't able to find books that fit in that time frame.
       I have learned some things though, as I have been doing every week and hope to continue to do every week from here on out. First of all, I need to be more prepared. Prior to going to the library I need to do my research. I could stay in the library for hours and just peruse the shelves all by myself. No problem. My kids on the other hand. . . They have fun at the library, don't get me wrong, but at ages 2, 5, 7, 12, and 15 they can only stand being in a quiet place where they're not allowed to touch many things for so long.
       Second, of course, I need to look at publication dates and make sure they are recent publications. This will give me a better idea of what is being published now.
      Third, a trip to a local bookstore is a good idea. Maybe I'll drag my hunny to a bookstore for date night this week. This will ensure I don't break the bank but I still get my research done.
       This is my plan for this week.
       Now that I have my plan can I just geek out about Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers?!? It is such a fantastic conference for writers that are serious about becoming published! I was afraid that my novel wasn't worth the money I was spending on the conference, but that is not the case at all. Every penny I spent on that conference was worth it and will continue to pay for itself well into the future. I can already tell. Over the next few blog posts I'll get deeper into the things that I've learned and what I'm applying to my writing. I'm so excited to get to that application phase. I need to catch up on my computer critiques and get those sent out to the people in my class, but soon enough I will be able to begin implementing these new concepts/modes of research. I feel so blessed to have been a member of The Wolves--Trent Reedy's Workshop. Haaa-woooooooo!
        I can't wait to get going on this! Good luck this week!! If you're on the road with me leave me a note. I'd love to know I'm doing this with someone else.
     

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Week Two on the Submission Trail

      Last week I was able to get to the library again and look up some more books. This time I took Chronicle Books' book list and guess what? There wasn't anything there that I was looking for from them. Maybe people already know this, but not all publishing houses are carried in the libraries. This is important to know. If I get published I want a publishing house that will be carried by my library so my friends and acquaintances can check out my books. So I realized something very important. I will not be submitting to Chronicle Books. I'm not sure how common this is among publishing houses. I'm just starting on this journey, but I am learning a lot.
     My next line of research should be: how many books from Chronicle Books are sold at Bookstores and how many are only available online. I'm sure independent bookstores carry a different array of books than the big ones. So this may require a few trips to different bookstores. Shucky darn! Of course I always spend WAY too much money when I set foot into a bookstore. But if it's for research purposes maybe I can count it as a tax write-off? All right, maybe not.
      A valuable lesson I figured out this week was that I may be going about this whole journey the wrong way. I was taking my alphabetical lists of agents in the US that I could submit to and looking at their best selling list. But while at the library I decided that instead I wanted to check out award-winning books and top agents for Picture Book sales. Lightbulb! I really am figuring this out on my own--with no direction, obviously.
      Well, I asked the Universe (Google) who the "top literary agents" are and I found this website on the top children's literary agents. It breaks down how they determine the "top" and which agents represent which genre. It was a great jumping point although none of Kirsten Hall's Catbird books were carried at my library either. There are some fun artists and some fun looking stories, but I think the agency is too small to be carried here since I'm sure my small library has a tight budget.
      I moved on to Steven Malk from Writer's House. Unfortunately there are twenty agents in this particular agency. From the website it only says their names and the types of submissions they accept. You need to have either a current Publisher's Marketplace (PM) book or a subscription to Publisher's Marketplace to see their individual requirements and profiles. I personally have not yet invested in a subscription to this resource. I'm crossing my fingers that I get that grant I applied for last week. I'll find out in two weeks if I get it, but either way I'll be signing up for this website or checking out this book at my local library.
      On Writer's House's website they have an awards and bestsellers list.  I selected the Children's Book Award Winners immediately recognized The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend by Daniel Santat, which I own, and knew that I had struck gold. I made up my list, found a few books on the list and while I was at it grabbed a few more from each author. It has been a very revealing process. My kids have loved reading a few of these with me and some they really haven't enjoyed reading. It makes me wonder who makes those awards. Then again, some of the books I picked out were from a long time ago. So I guess it's best to look at the books most recently published. One of our favorites was They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. It's a play of perspectives and very creatively illustrated.
     Another realization is that I'm not just looking at these books to see which ones are most like mine, but also to see what types of books are winning awards and doing well. I need to write to this level and possibly continue to develop my illustration ability so I can create interesting pictures to go along with my work. I know some publishing houses will not accept the story without pictures and others are fine finding an illustrator for you. My artwork is definitely not where I want it to be, but I'm getting closer.
   Well, it's been a fun journey so far. Here's to another week. I must warn you though that I may be a little behind. I am preparing for WIFYR in two weeks and have to do a bunch of critiques. Preparing for this conference has taught me to truly appreciate the job of an editor. I just hope I can push through. Good luck on your journey to publication!