I asked jacy (who besides doing beautiful cover art, used to teach creative writing and has published several books) to write up a little something about Query Letters and Submission for this week.
I also thought it would be fun to talk about how you write. Do you start at the beginning and power through to the final chapter? Write the end first and then wind your way back there from the beginning? Write scenes and character arcs before putting it all together?
Other than that, remind us what you’re writing and let the discussion begin. Also, hit me up with topics for the next writing group and I’ll try and find someone to bring us some expertise.
Query Letter and Submission
Self-publishing is now a viable path for writers, but even if you’re wildly embracing self-publishing, you still need to know about querying and submission. Many authors both self-publish and trad publish, and every author needs to know how to submit to contests, magazines, anthologies, publishers, and agents. Here are some basics, no matter what path you’re taking.
Before you begin, there are three rules:
- Be finished: Have your manuscript completed, polished, and edited.
- Know your market: understand your genre and audience, and where your manuscript fits in.
- Do your research: know who you are submitting to, that they want what you’re submitting, and what their exact guidelines for submission are.
Once you’ve done that, there are three general things to keep in mind when writing your query and preparing your submission:
- Be professional: write a standard query letter using correcting formatting, good grammar, and make sure it’s proofread multiple times.
- Don’t be vague: show that you understand your book or story, tell them how long it is, give as many specifics as you can.
- Don’t be cute: editors and agents have seen every clever idea come down the pike. You are not going to impress them by “thinking outside the box.” Reading queries is a bitch, and it’s easy to annoy someone who is looking at a never-ending stack of letters or overflowing email box.
Now to the actual query and submission process. Make a list of who you are querying for a project, and check to make sure who accepts multiple submissions and who does not. This way you can plan how you will send the queries out. Keep a file on each person/publication you are querying that shows what their guidelines are. (STICK TO THE GUIDELINES. ALWAYS.) You will probably need to make up different query packages for different audiences. For each person/publication, try your best to find out who exactly you are querying by name. It’s not always possible, but go the extra mile to find out a person’s name, even if you need to call up and ask. Once you have your packets ready, you can tailor the individual query letters.
There are some general rules for a query letter:
- It should be properly addressed as specifically as possible using standard business format.
- It should never be more than a page, and should be between 3 and 5 paragraphs.
- It should clearly state the title of your manuscript and how long it is (word count).
- It should be polite and straightforward.
In your opening paragraph, you can mention any connection you have to person you’re querying, for example, if you’ve met them, had previous correspondence with them, or another author has recommended them specifically to you. If you have none of these things, then jump right in by telling them why you’re writing to them. Give the title and length of your manuscript, and how if fits what they’re looking for. (i.e. why you are sending them this specific manuscript for their specific needs/wants/area of interest.)
The second paragraph should tell them about the manuscript. They call this the “hook.” Work up a good hook that’s snappy, but short. It should lay out the basic plot idea, the protagonist, and why people would care about either.
The third paragraph can be your bio – any previous publications, your area of expertise, awards, anything that gives you authority or heft or a track record. You may not have these things, so it’s okay to not include a bio. It will depend on your specific situation.
The fourth paragraph describes what you are offering or including. If you’ve done your research, you know what their guidelines for submission are. FOLLOW THEM. The quickest way to end up in the trash can is to not follow guidelines. It’s an easy way to weed out submissions. Even if you’re work is brilliant, they’re never going to know because they’re not going to take the time to look at something they didn’t ask for from somebody who couldn’t be bothered to follow their rules. So you can say, “I’ve attached a brief synopsis and the first 10 pages, as outlined in your guidelines.” Or, “If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send the manuscript.” Whatever they asked for, let them know you have it.
The final paragraph is a brief thanks for their time and a something about looking forward to hearing from them. Then you sign off.
That’s it! For a more in-depth look and sample letters, I suggest this link to Jane Friedman’s article, which you can find here. Lots of great info there, and I highly recommend her as an expert in the field.
I’ll be around in the comments if anyone has any specific questions that I can answer.
TaMara here again – keep it positive and fun – enjoy!
I have to run a few quick errands (we are out of dog food and that won’t end well), but I’ll be back to check on things…
West of the Rockies (been a while)
Good morning/afternoon… I am going out to a favorite coffee house soon to write. It’s very rainy in NorCal where I live, and I love writing while it’s raining. It’s also my birthday, so I will see my daughter later today (she lives with her mom). I’m happy.
As far as writing goes, I’m a bit of a pantser; I start with character sketches, a general plot, setting, themes, but I like to keep it organic and wait for the story to also tell me what it wants to be.
Since last month I have signed with an agent and made a website for the book. It’s finally starting to feel real, and has almost been enough to balance out the dread about where we’re all headed.
I live in India, and my first English novel got published in 2014. Starting 2013, when I was writing my second novel I have been blocked, unable to write much.So the second novel has about a 120 pages done. I have tried several steps such as moving onto other writing projects but unable to complete a single work. For 3.5 years now. Not good at all for confidence. A lot of self-doubt.
My process is like this:
– I have a overall end in mind; and I have found writing synopsis do not help me at all. Basically have to iron out twists and turns in my mind.
– I use humor to propel the writing
– I do not write every day. I write a few pages leading upto a local end; and then wait for ironing out more of the plot for a period of upto 2 weeks; and then I write again. In this way, I completed my first novel of 220 pages in 4 months.
– The period when I try to iron out the plot is painful, with long walks and being restless.
Very down these days, but I think I will manage to complete the hanging novel in 2017.
I write in random chunks and let it grow organically, though I always know when I am starting and ending.
This is where the right software really makes me happy. I love Scrivener.
On my iPad, Notability is my app of choice for researching and organizing such.
Hi, all! Last time Writers Chatting appeared, I was using that Sunday morning to finish the last chapter of my novel. That got done (!!!), and was sent to my workshop group, and I’m revising the whole thing now (I saved up all their comments until the story was completed). But revising isn’t on a deadline, so I’m happy to be present now! The topic of query letters is timely, as that’s the other thing I’m working on.
B in the D
‘afternoon. It’s about 20 degrees outside here in suburban Detroit, with a light dusting of snow. Perfect writing weather, but I’ve got to go back and exchange a pair of shoes. My question for the day – I see people here and in my writing group who tell me they write 500, 1000, 2000 words a day. I try to do three or four pages each time I write, but it ends up being the same three to four pages over and over and over again. I assume this is a result of my inability to sit down and sketch-out / outline my plots and characters beforehand. How many other Juicer writers have this problem? How many of you actually manage to control your writing urges long enough to do a detailed outline?
@WereBear: I’m a randomizer, too! Sometimes I literally use dice to figure out which section to work on. Hard to be perfectionist when you are only working on something because you rolled it.
I write pretty much start to finish, unless I have a great idea for a section that is farther down the road. If I have the idea, I try to write it RIGHT NOW. I know the overall story arc from the beginning, though. And I second the Scrivener love. It’s the only thing that made writing a 96K-word novel possible!
@Ramiah Ariya: Ramiah – second-novel problem is a thing, as you probably know. I’m guessing there are unresolved issues from your first one – some result that deviated from your expectation or was disappointment. You might journal about this.
At the same time, reduce the scope of your next project to the bare minimum so that it’s easy as possible to finish. Here’s a piece I wrote that may be helpful:
@Peter: Congratulations! And the website has gorgeous photography. Making me kind of hungry.
@Hillary Rettig: @WereBear: Me too. I’ll start with notes or transcribed chunks of an interview, then flesh them out into sentences, then they become paragraphs, then they get moved around until they flow properly. But when I write a blog post, it’s almost always from beginning to end, then a couple editing passes, then hit publish. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand why the two kinds of writing are so different.
@Peter: Congrats! I am trying to stay positive… otherwise, I can’t get any sleep and my health goes over a cliff.
I took a week off for the holidays, and rested up enough to break my own writer’s block. I’m doing a non-fiction book on cats based on my blog, and will self-publish on Kindle, then an audio book.
B in the D
@Ramiah Ariya: Painful indeed. Same problem I have. I have two novels in the works, so I skip from one to the other. Sadly, there are times i get stuck on both books. That’s when I stop and clean the bathrooms.
Have you checked out the years-in-the-making Scrivener iPad app? Not sure how it compares to Notability.
@Peter: I am currently turning lots of blog posts into a coherent book. Blog posts are much smaller in scope… and most likely, such as me, I have written many of them.
They can be seen as a whole more easily, certainly.
@stinger: Thanks. I shot somewhere upwards of 60,000 photos for it. Thank FSM for digital.
I used to write start to finish (and that’s how I write screenplays), but it always seemed like I would run into a story problem that ground everything to a halt, and then I would lose momentum and stop writing.
I am hoping to have a rough draft done by March 1st (need about 100,000 for my historical romance) but the election threw me way off and now I’m behind. And while I do generally work from an outline, I’m now discovering that there are gaps in it that need to be filled. Sigh.
One thing I think I want to do is sit down with a similar novel that I think is well-paced and do a beat sheet for it so I can figure out what the gaps are in my story. Right now, I’m not sure if I need more plot, or more backstory, or more character stuff, or what? I can’t just pants it, because then I get frustrated and lost and I stop writing.
@WereBear: It’s true; it’s by nature a more casual medium. But I think it also represents the difference between (in my case) me writing about what I cooked and how versus me writing about what someone else cooked (or did) and how. So even though the book is very much in my voice, it’s telling other peoples’ stories and so I approach it with a different mindset. How is your coming?
Iowa Old Lady
@Peter: Congratulations! An agent is a big step.
I write multiple drafts from start to finish. In a way, the first draft I complete serves as my outline, though I make major changes too. Revision is my favorite part of writing.
One way I manage to leave crappy chapters intact and move on to the next one is to insert bracketed comments such as [show don’t tell here] [need clearer internal arc] [what is this chapter about?]
@Peter: Congrats! I’m sure that taking positive action in the face of all the societal bad news is tonic.
Anyone remember Miss Snark? She had a ton of good advice for writers, and on submitting to agents in particular. Plus she was funny. Her blog stopped a few years ago, though, and so her advice might be dated.
One thing she always said was query widely – like send out hundreds of queries. Because the marginal cost is low and you don’t know which agent will be interested. Not sure if that’s still considered best practice, tho.
Mnemosyne, WereBear, and Ramiah, you’ve encapsulated a great deal of my own process (and my own stumbling blocks). When i have outlined stories, I’ve lost momentum on them, as if my brain thinks, “Oh, we’re finished? Good, on to the next thing!” The current long thing I’m working on I’m actually working on in about 5 separate places; it helps sometimes to write ahead to figure out what happened before, oddly enough. (Another shout-out for Scrivener here; and thanks for the Notability rec, I’ll go look for that.)
The downside to this approach is being somewhat rambling and not quite knowing where the end is until it shows up – if you’re lucky, with big neon flashing letters.
@normal liberal: Oh, yes, I got it as soon as it appeared in the App Store. It is a great way of working on the same project with different devices. I have a keyboard/cover for my iPad mini and so I can just switch from laptop to iPad… as long as there is wifi to sync them, I have the latest. I take my iPad everywhere, so I can work on my lunch hour, coffee shop, etc.
But Notability is different. If I am on a website, or want to grab a picture, or write a paragraph or two, it is a great filing system.
But then again, you are right about the iPad version; it has that whole Research section in it, too.
@Mnemosyne: I started by outlining, first; but as I got more comfortable writing novels I found that it wasn’t more than notes; I needed to be in the story to figure out what happens next.
If I get stuck, I just grab a random section and move forward or backward; but then, I don’t sit down until I have a beginning and end. The middle is where everything happens, and can be a real challenge.
Just saying, writer Gwendolyn Kiste does a monthly round-up of anthologies and publishers in the mystery/horror/fantasy genres looking for submissions.
@Peter: Oh, it’s non-fiction, and I’ve been writing on the subject for nine years… and I have a completed first draft. At this point, it’s more fun than challenging, now that I have my brain back.
@Mnemosyne: I think that’s a great idea, outlining a work that already has a pattern. But I have also learned to just push on; even if I throw out ALL of what I wrote, I will get insight into character and what needs to happen next.
Usually, what appears spontaneously is so much better than what I could outline.
My local Lakeland Writers group is going to be working on doing Query letters to agents in the next few months. I hope to get a sample done for review.
I am currently stretching myself too thin across three-four writing projects at the moment, and I need to focus on one today. I *hope* to get a story idea done TODAY so it frees me up to get back on my NaNo project.
West of the Rockies (been a while)
@B in the D:
I’m definitely not an outliner. My mind does not create, process and store ideas that way (perhaps to my detriment).
I’ve always believed in querying as widely as possible. There’s not really a downside to it, and I always found it easier to spend a couple days on query packets, instead of spreading it out over time, because I find the process anxiety-inducing. Used to be a lot of people wouldn’t accept multiple submissions, but that’s less of a factor now that there are so many markets for everything. In the bad old days, you couldn’t query by email. Today it’s a much more acceptable practice, so that can make things considerably easier. Of course, you should only query via email if specifically told to….
good luck! 1000 woots in your general direction!
I’m writing genre fiction, so I know exactly where the end is — in fact, that’s one of the chunks I’ve already written! ? I have the beginning (premise), midpoint, and ending, but now I’m having to figure out how all of those pieces connect.
Part of the problem is that it’s historical fiction and I’m feeling a little insecure about my research right now, but there don’t seem to be any easily available books that explain what the differences in manners might have been between England and America in 1815. Argh.
West of the Rockies (been a while)
Is there any sharing of works here yet? I’ve completed a couple children’s stories for eventual submission in picture book format and would like some feedback at some point from people whose opinions I trust.
@WereBear: It does get fun once it takes shape. But I’m working on proposals now, and I hatesss them.
I’m trying to write a synopsis. Trouble is, the synopsis is to my mind long (over 1,000 words). My understanding is that the order in which you present stuff in an agent search is: query, synopsis (if submission guidelines require one) and THEN the sample 5 – 10 pages. I feel that the synopsis is so damn long that the intern won’t move on to the sample pages. Anybody have any suggestions on what constitutes a standard order of presentation?
The more I research agents, the more I feel resentment toward the publishing-industrial complex. A number of literary agencies sell writing classes (big bucks). You’re expected to have an MA in creative writing (big bucks), and to attend writing conferences for ‘speed dating’ with actual agents (big bucks). As my husband explained, the people who made money during the Gold Rush weren’t the ones searching for gold–it was the people who sold them shovels. I’m having trouble maintaining some (veneer of) optimism.
Has anyone had success (defined as a book in print) in querying small presses directly? I know there’s likely no money in publishing with a small imprint, but there’s likely no money anywhere, anyway, right?
I feel guilty when I write: I could and should be doing the dishes, the laundry, the medical bills. I get so caught up in what I’m writing, it’s like a compulsion.
In terms of process, I start at the beginning and keep going. Sometimes it’s painful and I have to drag the words out of me. Other times I like what I’ve written so much I reread it just for fun.
Everything’s hard to do right now; the election makes me like like we’re all just skating on thin ice on a precipice and I really, really don’t want to look down…
B in the D
@West of the Rockies (been a while): Yeah, mine doesn’t either (thank God my wife’s does) but I frequently find myself 2/3s of the way through something and then realize that the set-up back in the first third of the work is completely wrong for the way the story evolved.
I was worried a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t have enough supporting characters, but then I realized that I prefer to write my supporting characters on an as-needed basis and not really plan them out in the outline. When my couple shows up at their new home and is informed that they have a surprise aunt waiting for them, I was a little surprised, too! ?
My way of writing is a bit haphazard. I come up with scenes, arc, plot points then try to put it all together like a jigsaw puzzle.
The two types may be different for lots of reasons. I did technical writing for 11 yrs as a small part of a job and it took a while to find a rhythm for both the style and content. In the case of blogging and novel writing the two types of writing are entirely different. With a blog post you have a pretty good idea where you want to go when you start, but in novel writing you may not for large chunks. An example, I’ve been semi-working on a novel for a few years (OK quite a few, now leave me alone about it) and it’s theme is fairly complex. I work on it when I see a direction that I want to go and stop when I’m out of direction as otherwise I’m just filling in blanks and have to discard lots of stuff. IOW if I don’t have a positive direction, I’m just wasting time.
For me I find that I have to have at least somewhat of a road map of where I’m going otherwise I just wonder off in different and distracting directions. So I use a free form outline program, which allows me to create a plot line or a chunk of writing and attach it where I think it goes and expand from there.
@Peter: Congratulations, Peter! I like the site, very clean and crisp. Good luck!
I’ve been writing a memoir of my mother, not for publication but just because I can. I wrote it and have since gone through it maybe four times (one time I waited two years to look at it again). I come across an old picture, and that reminds me of another story. I keep adding and moving sections, and each time it makes it better overall. I know that wouldn’t work with a deadline, and I can’t even imagine what an outline would have looked like, but I do know I’d have missed an awful lot of story if I had written like a professional grown-up.
West of the Rockies (been a while)
May I gripe for just a moment to say I sometimes resent the Mount Olympus aspect of agents and publishers? I encounter so many interviews in which they sound so perturbed by their clients and go on about how it is such a burden to have to respond to submissions and such.
I know a lot of them are probably fabulous and hardworking, but am I alone in often feeling discouraged upon reading interviews with them?
@Ruckus: Non-fiction is much easier in that regard. Either I have done the research or I haven’t.
A synopsis should be no longer than a page. A page is fine. Cutting a synopsis is hard – and I think writing a synopsis is the WORST thing in the world. Unfortunately, you still need one. If you’d like a critique or your synopsis, you can contact me through my website.
As for agents, dispense with any agency that tries to upsell you anything. Either an agent will take your work or not — you should never buy anything from them or pay them for anything.
Writing is important. Make time for it and don’t feel guilty. Never feel guilty.
I write nonfiction (scholarship, not popular). I’ve done lots of approaches, but what I am settling toward is starting with the literature review, which tells me what has come before me. Then I lay out my theory, describe my methods, and only then do I get into my results.
At that point, I can write an introduction and a conclusion.
When writing in the law, I start with the standard of review, then the facts, then the relevant law.
So people here seem to like Scrivener. True story: someone asked me recently if I use it and I replied “I would prefer not to” and she didn’t get it. And I felt ashamed.
But I’m kind of a idiot; I wrote my whole book in Google Docs. I’m looking at Scrivener now, and I think I’ll buy it.
Major Major Major Major
Thanks, jacy et al. This is not something I know much about (been eight years and I got lucky) so I’ll just be reading the thread.
@Mnemosyne: Yes, that’s a challenge, but a good writing program will let you mark such instances where you are not sure, and let you charge on regardless.
Don’t let that hold you up from the flow of the story. This is a totally fluid process.
I find it difficult to not act like a professional grown-up at work (too many years doing the same type of work) but I’ll be damned if I’m going to act like one in real life.
Also — there is money in writing. (And I know we’ve had that discussion here a bit.) It’s not easy, but I know lots of people who make a living, lots more who make a decent second income, and some who are wildly successful. It’s hard work, and it’s time-consuming, but it’s like any profession: you put in the time to train and practice, you keep up with the industry, and you work hard, and you can do well. Persistence is a big part of it.
True, but I wasn’t even considering fiction/non-fiction, just the concept of what are you trying to say and how many ideas/concepts are in each piece of writing.
@Ramiah Ariya: Publishing anything is a great accomplishment – be proud. Don’t be down.
It’s not the same, but remember that lots of great song writers create things in fits and starts. They’ll have a few words, or a bit of rhythm, or a bit of a story-line.
E.g. 25 or 6 to 4.
You never know when inspiration will show up again, but be prepared for when it does, and try to help it along. Maybe always carry a note pad with you, and have one near your bedside, and take notes.
Tolstoy wrote something like 6 drafts of War and Peace – it was an epic struggle!. ;-)
Snarkworth, short-fingered Bulgarian
@Marina: I hesitate to offer advice on querying agents, since I never was able to land one, but I would recommend absolutewrite.com as a treasure trove of advice. That’s especially true for separating the dodgy agent/publishers from the honest ones. They also have a forum called Query Letter Hell, for getting your query critiqued by some very savvy folks.
I’d try the agent route first, then move on to publishers who accept unagented submissions. I did succeed at this, and my mystery comes out later this year as an e-book.
@West of the Rockies (been a while): Not at all. I had one for a spell starting in the summer of ’15. He was worse than useless; the book would have been out before Christmas as opposed to in March. I worked with a number of galleries over the years, and only a few were run by people whom I trusted to represent my work and my interests. As with any business, a meaningful percentage of people are a) not that great at their job and/or b) only in it for themselves.
I’ve been struggling with writer’s block since the election. I write both romance and urban fantasy and was planning of my romance coming out early this year. But it’s been hard about writing about love conquering all when life is like “Nope!”. This year, I’m determined to get back on track. My first draft is almost done. I’m only a third into my urban fantasy novel.
Iowa Old Lady
@Marina: I query small presses directly and have sold books to two different ones. You’re right about the no money part.
Query Tracker lets you search for presses that accept your genre without an agent.
Scrivener is great for writers. It has a lot more writerly bells and whistles than something like Word. Another benefit is that it makes formatting a lot easier than Word. Word is a nightmare when it comes to formatting. One thing I would say with Scrivener is to make sure you make a backup of whatever you write in another format. Of course, this is a good practice no matter what software you use.
@Ruckus: Yes, some stories are easier to tell than others. I try to blurt everything out and then cut it later if it’s not salient.
@Mnemosyne: I love it when that happens!
@Hillary Rettig: @PaulWartenberg2016: Thanks!
(I’ve never tried to reply to two people at once — hope this works!)
ETA: Seems like it did!
@Peter: Wow. That’s a stunning website. Congrats on everything.
Scrivener is great, and yet I find that using an even more open format works better for me. I use FreeMind, which is an outlining program. It is not in any way a writing program, nor a typesetting program so I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I use whatever editing/writing program I’ve got on my current computer as my writing program and insert chapters/directional ideas/etc into the outline program.
I also published 5 rule books every year in that job that I did separate technical writing for and worked in a similar fashion. Use MS Word to write and then Quark to typeset each book. Then off to the printers with the entire mess. That was fun.
I have become so annoyed by the whole thing I am ditching it and totally self-publishing.
Then again, I have a website, fanbase, and marketing experience; so I can.
Scrivener is fantastic. I’ve been using it for years. I can’t recommend it enough!
@Genine: @Hillary Rettig: Thanks. Working helps some, and it’s fun to look forward to a book tour, but it’s hard to square that with how bad things are likely to get.
@West of the Rockies (been a while): My next appeal is going to be for readers – something everyone can do through email with people here who are actually prepared to read and offer suggestions on pieces.
Not to complicate things further, but this is also class-dependent, unfortunately!
West of the Rockies (been a while)
That’s a very elegant, user-friendly site! Are you doing any cross-marketing, maybe seeking an interview on The Splendid Table and such?
I shouldn’t ask… clearly you know what you’re doing!
@jacy: Thanks. I have automated on-site and cloud backups.
@TaMara (HFG): Thank you. I was lucky to fall ass-backwards into food writing at a time when it was rapidly becoming part of our mainstream popular culture.
@Ruckus: That’s helpful. I hate Word, which is why I ended up using Google docs. Pages is okay, but people on PCs can’t read the format. I’ll check out FreeMind.
I just wanted to say this is beautiful. Thanks for this. That’s it exactly – and undoubtedly why I’ll never be able to write fiction professionally.
@Peter: You can try before you buy. It was written by a writer; so he knew what writers like and need.
But it is a very individual thing; just like most parts of the work process.
Funny story: when word processors were just getting cheap enough for starving artists to afford, I was subscribing to Writers Digest, and there was an absolute controversy going on. Typewriter diehards were claiming that all the re-typing and hand-editing made their work better and more polished and they would miss the clackclack of the keys and the smell of the ribbon…
It lasted about a year. And then…. not a peep. Nor since.
I’m an extreme self-publishing evangelist. It’s very viable and becoming moreso. And as the publishing landscape continues to change, writers end up doing a lot of things publishers used to do, so they might as well keep the money they would spend. I’m not anti-trad publishing by any means, but it’s no longer the only game in town. And even if you do want to be traditionally published, self-publishing has completely lost the stigma it once had. Self-publishing can actually help you get to a trad pub deal.
And it’s really important to note: self-publishing can be dead cheap. There’s a lot of untrue conventional wisdom out there that self-publishing a polished, professional book is expensive, and you’ll see lots of articles trying to drive this point. It’s not true at all. There are expenses, but being creative and doing your research can cut those expenses way down. If people are interested, I’d be happy to put together a post on the costs and expectation of self-publishing and a list of resources where you can go for help and info. One of the most important things you can do is find the resources (editing, cover design, formatting) that are reliable and reasonably priced. One of the absolute worst things in self-publishing is the absolute swamp of unqualified people offering services to writers. One of the things I’ve wanted to do for a while is put together a directory of reliable service providers, but so far there hasn’t been enough time in the day….
@West of the Rockies (been a while): I met with the chef on Friday and I’m drafting an email to the publisher’s PR person about such things. I don’t actually know what I’m doing, but I know what I want. The goal is to do some media, a signing, and throw a dinner party at some restaurant in every city we visit.
Learning good editing is vital for all writing. Even my post it notes at work require editing!
Although I’m sure there are those who just fly through 19-100K words and hit publish. Fuckers. Once went on a discovery day at USC medical school. Our afternoon guide was asked how hard medical school is and he said he had a 4.0 average at college and rarely studied, but that he had to hit the books hard every single day at med school. However there were 4-5 students in his class who had total photographic memories and would read a 2 in thick book in half the time he did and could quote any page or paragraph verbatim when asked. Fuckers. He also said it didn’t make them better doctors, just better stenographers.
@West of the Rockies (been a while): Seems to me that if a supremely qualified candidate for national office loses to a supremely unqualified candidate, and can be gracious to a stranger encountered a day or two later while walking the dog, then someone whose JOB is reading submissions can be gracious about that.
Iowa Old Lady
@stinger: I once heard an agent say that at her agency, when the backlog got too big, they sometimes just deleted it without reading.
@Peter: I’m just dipping into this thread momentarily, and maybe this isn’t helpful, but I’ll offer it just in case.
I use a PC, and Word, but I edit all the time for someone who writes in Pages. Pages lets her save her files in .docx format, so she does that and sends them to me, and I process them in Word and send them back as .docx files. She then uses Pages to open the .docx file I send back, and saves it again in Pages format.
There are occasional tiny glitches going back and forth, but nothing really hampering. She can use Track Changes in Pages and I can see and process the changes in Word. There are file size issues that I like to deal with sometimes, but it’s not worth going into unless someone would find the explanation helpful.
@Peter: Won’t Pages export as Word documents? I think it does NOW at least.
I am SO interested, thank you!
@jacy: I’d appreciate it if you’d do a post on self-publishing. I want to go the trad route myself, but OTOH my mother is 94 and I really want to get a book (my book, in pb format) into her hands while she’s still around to read it.
I know, and my hero’s father was the black sheep son of an aristocrat, but he died when my hero was relatively young and my hero had to go out and work in a shipyard. So his manners would probably be a weird hybrid of upper-class and lower-class, and definitely not up to the standards of the aristocracy. But finding specifics has been a pain in the ass, and I hate to just make shit up because I know there must be that one resource out there that I somehow overlooked that everyone else knew about and I won’t find out about my egregious mistakes until after publication. Therefore, argh.
If you look around, and quite possibly you already do, you will see many people for whom things have been bad for a long time, some for ever. If things are going to get bad for you, just remember that you aren’t alone, that as bad as it gets, it could be worse, and that recovery is possible. I’ve never been down so far as to have to live on the street, but I’ve been very close. I’ve never been down with addiction problems but I’ve know many who have and beat it. Yes it can get worse, but it can also get better. The trip can be hell but some times there is a road out, even out of hell. And that’s real life in a nutshell.
Hi, I was working this morning but checking in now. Yesterday I got a lot of writing done, and I fixed a little problem I had at an earlier point of my story. I’m at the point where the tension is starting to really build, and I can only write in short bursts because I get too tense!
I have a general plan when I start writing. Sometimes it’s just an idea, sometimes it is more fleshed out, but I start at the beginning and write through – at least, that’s what I’ve done so far.
My current project is The Hot Flash, it’s about a 50 year old woman named Tara Dunham who is going through menopause and has learned that she can use her hot flashes as a weapon. She lives in a city where a few people of various ages and backgrounds are developing unusual powers. They are practicing together, but they don’t know that a prominent citizen has also developed powers and is planning to use them to advance the cause of evil.
John M. Burt
I’m suffering from a block on my second novel, because I finished it and then lost it. I was able to cobble most of it together from pieces I had sent to people for critiques,* but I could not find the interludes between the chapters anywhere. So I’m having to recreate as many of them as I can from memory or else replace them with other things, and as noted above about synopses, my brain is telling me, “You already did that! Let’s write something new!”
I’m glad to have seen this page today, since my regular writers’ group had to cancel our meeting on account of snow.
*Appropriate, since the book is set in the same world as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Come to think, I tend to write most things Frankenstein-style: I have this left hand, and I know exactly where I want it to go, I just need to find a decent left arm….
@JanieM: @WereBear: Yes, I believe it does now. I wasn’t aware that Track Changes worked between them; that’s definitely a plus. Thanks, both.
Cool. I’ll start pulling some things together. Do you (or anyone else) have certain questions or areas that most interest you? I’ll start out by saying there are 4 costs in publishing: editing, formatting, design, and production. Most people don’t realize that production cost is now negligible. It costs you nothing to produce a book (beyond the occasional proof copy). Print-on-demand has negated the cost of production for the most part. Where you will run into expenses is marketing, but that’s the next step after producing the book, and I can also put something together for that at a later date.
West of the Rockies (been a while)
Years ago (nearly thirty, I fact), I was the nominal producer of a syndicated call-in radio program called Chef’s Edition. Food chat with a restaurateur and poli-sci professor and foodie. I imagine there are now tons of podcasts and cable shows devoted to such topics. You should have plenty of opportunities!
@Iowa Old Lady: Criminy. (Criminal?)
@Ruckus: I have a good life. I’m speaking more of the tsunami of corruption, vandalism, and authoritarianism that’s about to engulf us all, and the fact that I don’t think our institutions are strong or resilient enough to withstand it. Take the Senate and the Supreme Court, for example. Or North Carolina post-election. The rules no longer apply. Who’s going to stop them?
@Peter: Peter — if Track Changes is helpful, then here’s my one caution. When I get a file that’s been saved by Pages in .docx format, it’s huge. Because I’m obsessive about stuff like that, I like to copy/paste the text into Word and save it again from there, to make it smaller again. But Track Changes doesn’t survive that process. (Nor do some aspects of formatting, sometimes. I’m careful about formatting issues because of that.) So when my pal sends me a file, I do the Track Changes processing first, *then* I either send it right back to her, depending on where we are in the bigger process, or I copy into a new file and save from within Word.
Down in the weeds there are also Style issues, but they aren’t a big deal in terms of the kind of work we’re doing together, so I don’t even know if they’re solvable back and forth because figuring that out hasn’t been a priority for us.
ETA: A straight copy-paste from the Pages-created .docx file to Word does preserve TC, and formatting. I hadn’t done a straightforward experiment on that before, usually I want to copy and paste “text only.” Which *of course* doesn’t preserve anything but text.
Iowa Old Lady
@stinger: I know. I was shocked, though I shouldn’t have been. You’d think no-reply-means-no was bad enough, but they didn’t even read some submissions. As a business, publishing is a hell hole.
@West of the Rockies (been a while): Wow, very ahead of the curve. Yes, there are a ton and I sincerely hope this PR woman is good because arranging shit is not my strong suit.
I write as I get time & inspiration, so I’m spotty. Usually I know the bones of the story and I let the characters tell me what happens as I go along. Sometimes it moves fast, sometimes it moves slow.
@JanieM: Great. Very helpful. Cheers.
Does anyone have the iOS version of Scrivener? I tried it once while I was writing my NaNoWriMo novel, but that’s a bad time to learn new software, so I’m thinking of buying it soon and putting the 2nd draft of my current project in there.
I do, and while you can do a lot, you don’t HAVE to… it can be a simple word processor if you wish.
@Iowa Old Lady:
Back in the days when manuscripts were hardcopies, everyone would be enlisted to read, even the guys in the mailroom, when the backlog got too large.
@jacy: Marketing is an area all by itself, so push that back a bit I’d think.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
I stumbled across yWriter back when Scrivener was Mac-only and haven’t seen any reason to switch. I may try Scrivener next NaNo if they do their special offer again, but it will probably be a hard sell.
@Ruckus: I edit everything obsessively; I have been known to fix typos in blog posts from years ago if I see one when I’m looking for something. And yes, fuckers.
We are getting off track but who is going to stop them is exactly my point. No One. No one ever has or will ever. There will always be evil, there will always be poverty, what we are supposed to do is minimize both as much as possible. But some days evil and poverty win, some days they lose. This looks like their turn at winning. Sucks to be us. But we don’t have to go out laying down, we can go out swinging. It’s been a long time since we’ve all had to swing for the fences. The last time I’ve seen it is over about 10 yrs of my life, starting a little over 50 yrs ago. Vietnam, civil rights, Medicare, these were big fights. At my age Vietnam was the biggest (raven hat tip – Fuck LBJ) but the others were, for more people for a much longer time, more important. We may still lose, but we can win in the long run. We will lose some battles though, that’s the way it works. Who was it that said something to the effect that liberty is a long arc, it doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come free, but the arc does keep going.
Iowa Old Lady
Here’s a link to Slushkiller, an editor’s take on reading slush. I particularly recommend item 3, where she lists reasons for rejection.
@Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:
The only issue I see is that yWriter is windows only. If that’s not a problem for someone then another choice is there. Given todays world, I like programs that are cross platform, if for no other reason that you may decide one day that you can no longer use any MS (that’s me!) or Apple products or desire to be able to write on an Android platform and transfer to a different one at home. Or on a cloud.
Yeah, marketing is complex, and probably the hardest part. I’d need to do a lot of research to come up with something helpful and up-to-date, so that’s probably a bit in the future, lol.
@Iowa Old Lady: that’s a really good piece that everybody who wants to query should read!
You guys are awesome as always. I have to run out while the sun is shining and pick up some paint supplies. Keep talking and let me know what you’d like for topics in two weeks (probably Jan 22 for next group). I’ll get jacy right on it. LOL ;-)
I’ll check back in later…
I’m still working on the Book To Offend Everyone, Everywhere. President Baud and Vice-President Cole (“My fellow citizens, I hate you all.”) will feature prominently.
If I really were writing a book, I think that after I had completed all research I would stay off the Internet until the last page was typed. It’s an insidious time-gobbler. If H.P. Lovecraft, who spent most of his time writing 50-page epistles to friends rather than stories, had had the Internet, you would not be able to buy a stuffed Cthulhu because no one would ever had heard of either of them. Even worse, we might never have had the Bronte sisters’ works and no one would know what to call those books on the cover of which a lady in a sheer white dress runs down a hill with a menacing castle looming in the background.
I’d have to delete my computer Monopoly game, too. Unlike real Monopoly, where you have to be reasonable about trades so the other players won’t get you back next week, in computer Monopoly you can be just as mean as you want. I love it.
@West of the Rockies (been a while):
Oh hey HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YE
Well, don’t feel ashamed; it’s not your fault you live in a society with no past and thus no future.
PaulW(Boy From The Harb)
Also, don’t forget to pay up your annual dues to any writers organizations you might be a member of.
Also also, your local library should be updating their annual reference titles for the Writer’s Market and Guide to Literary Agents.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
@Ruckus: Yup, Windows only. It saves the scenes in RTF, so I can do some writing/editing in Android, but the organizational features are limited to Windows.
My faint memory of my Scrivener trial is that many of the organizational tools are very similar, so it’s a free alternative to the Windows version of Scrivener.
@Iowa Old Lady:
I read that and have to remember the job that I described above. If you boiled it down the entire job was saying no. Not writing rulebooks, nor technical writing, nor travel, nor supervision of between 50-100 people. Just Saying No. No you can’t do that thing you want to do that is explicitly spelled out in one of those rule books, just no. You are rejecting someone’s ideas and their presentation of them. I left that job over a decade ago and still have a person who is manically upset that he had to hear many permutations of the word no several times. And yes he has taken it very personally. The last time he was told no was 2 decades ago. It would be funny if it weren’t so humanly tragic.
@Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism:
I alluded to my hate of MS. It is all consuming, it is irrational (maybe!) and yet it is something I am somewhat proud of. I told the MS customer service person that I had an alternate solution to my MS problem when he told me that I’d have to pay them to learn how to completely remove a free MS product from my computer so I could reload it, for free, as I needed it and it wasn’t working and had screwed up many things. My alternate solution was to take my windows based computer and run it over with a truck on my way to purchase a Mac and to never use or purchase another MS product. That was 5 yrs ago. So far so good.
West of the Rockies (been a while)
Thank you! It’s a birthday congested by famous folk: Elvis, Bowie, Stephen Hawking, Gypsy Rose Lee…
I, however,can’t sing, am not half as bright as Professor Hawking, and no one pays to see me strip.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
@Ruckus: I am similarly irrational in my hatred of all things Apple. :)
There is so much that I still have to work with that is Windows-only that there’s little point to dealing with the heartburn that a Mac would give me.
I’m going to go run my kidlets around. If anybody has any questions or if there’s something you’d like to see regarding publishing/self-publishing/other writing stuff in the future, please don’t hesitate to drop my a line through my website. I’m happy to answer!
To soften the blow of rejection I always had another query letter ready to go. There were six of my query letters out there in the void at all times; a rejection came in, another letter went out the next day. Fortunately I got positive responses to letters #9 and #10 and had my choice of two agents. But the average published writer isn’t that lucky — I bet most will tell of a dozen, two dozen rejections before they score. And a couple dozen rejections doesn’t (necessarily!) mean you’re not going to get an agent, or your book’s no good; it means you haven’t connected with the right person yet.
Here’s a tip: Find books that are very much in the same ballpark as yours, and query the agents. A lot of times you can find the agent’s name in the acknowledgements, but you can also ask the author via his or her website. Authors don’t get nearly as much mail as you might suppose, and more often than not they’ll respond. At that point you can also ask if they’d recommend their agents to a new writer — no point in hooking up with someone toxic.
John M. Burt
I had trouble posting earlier — anyone else?
Let’s see if I can share something writers will benefit from hearing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSsFcs8S4xM
@Iowa Old Lady: Cool. Good reading.
These reasons reminded me of a book excerpt I recently started reading and realized after the first sentence that I wouldn’t finish:
(I hope it’s okay to quote from a published book here.) This is the kind of thing an editor or copy editor could easily flag.
@Pogonip: Also, to other Christians (all 2 of you), I’m giving up both computer Monopoly and the Internet, other than news once a day and weather as needed, for Lent. Computer Scrabble has already been given up for me as I can’t play it till it updates, which it refuses to do.
Other religions, do you have penitential seasons? If so, when are they and what do you do?
John M. Burt
@Pogonip: If you are writing a Book to Offend Everyone, surely it should be translated into Slobbovian, the language in which it is impossible to say anything positive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slobbovia#Sayings_and_Greetings
My favorite penitential holiday is the Iraqi day of Arba’een, the anniversary of the day that help failed to arrive for the martyr Husayn: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arba'een I think it’s a good idea to have a day for repenting your shortcoming, and the day people let down a beloved person seems like a good one.
@Mnemosyne: I hate to be that guy, but are there any gossipy primary sources (letters to/from women (or men) in society or journals, etc.) for the part of the country/era you’re writing about? Gutenberg.org – I occasionally run across bizarre things there, like a woman from Scotland who married a Canadian fur trader and published her memoirs.
1815 is probably too early for women’s magazines (such as they were), and I can’t remember if Godey’s had anything along the lines you’d need (and wouldn’t be that much help for the American side of things anyway). There might be something to be found in men’s publications if they were aimed at policing their class, too. I’d say Abigail Adams’ correspondence but she was too early and probably the wrong class.
Failing that, popular fiction at the time (e.g. Mary Jane Holmes, but she was a later era, unfortunately) can often point you to what people writing thought were the appropriate manners, anyway. For the British side of things, you couldn’t do better than to read/re-read some Heyer; she had her finger on the pulse of what was acceptable and what wasn’t and her research was impeccable. I’m thinking particularly A Civil Contract, Venetia, and The Unknown Ajax, which all have major or minor plot points about people from the “wrong” background marrying into or inheriting a position.
Perhaps dead thread, but a few broad thoughts.
The internet is the devil, and Twitter is Asmodeus.
I outline. Always. From the very start of the project where a putative 100,000 word book gets a five line account of the major moves. I outline at the end of each days writing — really notes — what hte next day and/or the rest of a section is going to be. Those change daily, and I leave them to grow like a kind of inverse bread-crumb trail of what I thought I was trying to do. As a chapter nears its end, that dangling broken text shrinks, with each element covered excised from the text. I also dump anything I’ve written and rejected into an out takes file that I look at at least once before I move on from a given chapter. But I don’t actually consult any outline, the master one that I created in some detail at the beginning of the project, nor the daily ones. I look at them at the beginning and end of each phase of the work.
I try to start each writing day by reading something beautiful by some one else. I’ve been having trouble for various reasons with my current project, so I’ve taken to writing (for the first time in decades) a writing diary, in which I talk about what problem I’m trying to solve and or what I’ve just read and what it does for me as I hit that point in the reading that makes me break off and start my own writing day.
My biggest problems in any project are 1) structure and 2) truly getting a handle on the research. With rare exceptions, (The Hunt for Vulcan my books tend to embrace topics that both encourage digression and can move in a lot of different domains. So I spend a lot of time reading stuff I end up not needing, and sometimes — quite often, really — find myself working on a chapter where I need to do a lot of new research very quickly on a topic I thought I’d already mastered. Never gets better, always takes me by surprise.
Scrivener — joining the chorus here: I love it, and use it on small stuff as well as the big projects. That said, my first four books were all written in word, with varieties of back up plans. I’m much more software agnostic than I used to be.
And that’s enough for now, at the tail end of a dead thread. (I just got home; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
@Mnemosyne: Any chance some of Fenimore Cooper’s novels might give you a glimpse?
Well, if they’re month-long threads, there’s no reason they have to die per se. Bookmark this: Writer’s Group which is the WordPress category for us.
I’ve got 10,710 words into the new book, and won’t have to stay up late to have a chapter for Monday, so I’m pleased. Even managed a surprise ending for the chapter that should blow some minds.
More than a little backlogged, as I’m running a month-long contest to name a dither I coded, which is the most high-performance dither in the world. The world being what it is, I’m still starving, but might manage to generate a little attention by letting the Internet name it ‘Silly McPooFace’ or ‘Shitgibbon’. We shall see.
@John M. Burt: A day? One measly day? What are those people, darn near perfect? Over here in the remnants of western civilization, we need six weeks! (Actually 10 weeks, since 4-week Advent is also a penitential season, but that’s one of the things that’s been mostly lost.)
Slobbovian does sound like a good first language into which to translate my international bestseller!
It was written about 10 years after my time period, but I read Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans, which was a hoot and a half. She really, really didn’t like Americans after living here for about three years starting in 1828. I do like Heyer but I wasn’t sure which titles would be useful, so thanks for the tips!
Surely you jest, good sir.
I may see what I can track down by Washington Irving, though. He committed far fewer literary offenses.
@Mnemosyne: If I remember right, Frances’s view on domestic manners of the Americans was that they didn’t have any.
As long as we are on matters literary, I am 54% of the way through Dune and I have a question. The deadly sandworms are attracted to mining equipment, and so far it has occurred to no one that they could rig the mining equipment with explosives and rid themselves of the worms. Even Mary Sue–I mean, Paul–didn’t suggest it. Did I miss some reason why they couldn’t do that?
@West of the Rockies: sure seems like almost all literary agents are women, which to me implies that the pay by and large isn’t good; plus agents have to live in big expensive cities, plus there’s the apparently requisite years of interning, all of which means agents pretty much have to be rich to do this job. Nothing against wealth per se, but agents do sometimes (often) come across as entitled, what with the slide shows on agency websites of wood-paneled offices with polished oak desks with nothing on them, and their tweets pining for the everything’s-paid-for lunches and cocktails of the olden days. The more interviews I read with agents, the less I tend to feel even a faint commonality with them. Just that pervasive George Carlin feeling, that they’re in a club, and you’re not in it. Not that I’ll let that stop me…
Pretty much. She lived in or near Cincinnati for a large part of the time and was very disconcerted by the neighbors who would just show up, sit silently for an hour, and then get up and head to the next house where they planned to “set a spell.” She could never quite figure out what she was supposed to do while they were there.
And the best maidservant they ever had turned out to be a hooker on the side, so that was a mini-scandal in the house.
Is anybody writing/publishing poetry? I’ve gone back to it after years of academic writing (articles and books). I had published poetry in my earlier years in academe, but tenure required publishing academic pieces and books in my area of expertise. I do keep in touch with a few poet friends who recommend magazines, but it is always a crapshoot for everyone.
I had no idea this was happening today. They moved me to field tech at work and I haven’t been able to keep my eye on the intertubes as much as I would like. Since last one I’ve polished up my query based on a change I made to the order of the opening chapters and I’ll be sending another batch out this week.
Hoping the thread isn’t dead. The time difference makes it hard to join in.
I write romantic suspense and paranormal romance. I have my first romantic suspense coming out at the end of this month with a small publisher. I’m panicking on the marketing aspect of it all. I’ve set up a website on my own (that needs more work) at ziawestfield.com (my pen name). Haven’t kept up with the blogging page and wonder if it’s worth keeping. Do not like Facebook b/c it’s difficult to do with a pen name (though besides that, I still don’t like FB). If anyone has thoughts on marketing, I’ll gladly take advice.
As for the writing, I like to outline, but often struggle with it, so I end up being a combination of plotter and pantster, with more emphasis on pantster than I like. I’m writing my second novel and really feeling my way forward. And I’m a linear writer. I admire folks who can jump around and put it all together at the end. I can’t. I have to go in a straight line.
I use Word, though I have Scrivener. I haven’t been able to make the switch. Writers who have, generally rave about it. If you want to learn how to use Scrivener the Romance Writers of America chapters run classes on all kinds of topics. The Outreach International Chapter, oirwa.com, has a Scrivener class this month and another one in March. The San Diego chapter, rwasd.com, will likely have one in November.
Best of luck to everyone! It’s amazing to see how many writers there are here.
@Pogonip: Yes, there is a reason they can’t do that but you won’t find out until the end of the book, if I remember correctly. A really good reason.
@opiejeanne: Thanks! I’ll get back to it eventually. I was enjoying it and then everything came to a screeching halt when Mary Sue–er, Paul–met the cute Freemen chick.
Dead thread continued…aside from the writing habits, which I love seeing from you all, I’d like to toss in a link to a really good resource: Funds for Writers. Well researched, nothing too janky in there, with calls for submissions, ideas for getting published, contests that don’t cost too much to enter, and so on.
@Pogonip: Cannot spoil it for you.
For those wondering, a blog is better than a website, if you can mange to keep it up. It is easier to connect with one’s fans, etc. But then, I am doing a nonfiction book, and a nonfiction blog… fiction might require a different approach.
John Scalzi is an example of someone who successfully does it.