Shifting Focus and Changing Plans

For most authors in search of traditional publishing, it is only after diving into the deep end head first that you realize that you can barely tred water among all the other authors in the pool. It is only then that you might decide to take a step back and survey the landscape so that you can find a more likely path. In my case, that’s exactly what happened, and now I’m changing course toward calmer waters. It’s not the shortest journey, but it’s become more apparent to me now more than ever that an author must have patience and, in my opinion, layout a series of stepping-stone goals.

It has been my goal to get my novel published. However, the path that I chose to get there was to submit to literary agents (the gatekeepers to the publishing industry). My reasoning was that I knew they could educate me on the process, negotiate for a fair deal (so I would know whether I am being taken advantage of), and sell my manuscript better than I could. However, submitting to literary agents as a new author is like trying to take a shortcut in the publishing world. Literary agents generally look to get their clients that highly desired hardcover deal which is not often achieved by first time authors.

So it is time that I “start small” and choose the other path. I’m going to submit directly to some of the smaller, more focused publishing houses that usually deal with paperback and ebook deals. This was somewhat difficult for me to wrap my mind around as any self published author can achieve those same things via Amazon’s Create Space or other similar venues. However, a publishing house does more than just publish. It’s the editing, the marketing, the recognition amongst the consumers of a quality product, the brick-and-mortor store distribution, and the commitment of a team that is involved in your success as much as you are.

I feel that now, with my short story published, my query letter will exhibit more confidence, and with my progress into book two, it’ll demonstrate my dedication. If successful, I’ll have to negotiate the terms of my own deal and manage my own career, but it’s all about the journey, and it will all be worth it in the end.

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The Long Road toward becoming Published

As a fantasy writer, I recently joined the Mythic Scribes forum boards to solicit advice regarding this purgatory state of being in-between having completed a novel and awaiting publication that I currently find myself in. This dead zone, if you will, could cause authors to get confused about what they should be focusing on during this time. For example, while I am waiting to hear word back from literary agencies, I focused a lot of my time toward developing my synopsis – which would be a necessary item for querying more agents/publishers in the future. The advice I received from the community of fantasy writers on the forum board really set me on a path forward that I think will help any authors that are also walking down the long road toward traditional publishing.

Like many others, I usually want closure from all the places that I’ve submitted, so I’ve really exercised my patience when waiting for a response. However, in this industry, literary agents are so overwhelmed that sometimes a non-response is your answer. Unfortunately, that has become a reality in this industry. For this one reason, it is important to not stay stagnate as an author. Just keep writing because you don’t want to misuse the time that you have.

In addition, if an agent/publisher does contact you after a long while, often times they are curious as to what other finished work or work in progress (WIP) you can show them. And if it has been a while since you submitted to them, hopefully you at least have a WIP that you can discuss. But if your answer is, “I’ve rewritten my synopsis three times,” that’s not going to cut it. So the lesson here is: Don’t get caught with your pants down. Having more work prepared is never a bad thing. It proves that you are serious as a writer and that you are ahead of the game.

I still need to rewrite my synopsis, but the community’s words of wisdom have really got me motivated toward writing my sequel. Hopefully, it will do the same for you too.

Query Letter Revisions

Hind sight is always 20/20 and I am very analytical, which seems to be the only way to determine if adjustments to your query letter are needed. Unless you have a friend in the business, there is no way to get additional review over the good and the bad of your first draft. The only guidance available without a paid consult are the instructional blogs written by agents themselves. Which is great (don’t get me wrong), but they only suggest how to craft it; there’s never a place to get feedback about your first draft. (Yes there is queryshark, but she is busy, and doesn’t critique everything). Plus every agent is different, and different agents also request query letters in different ways. For example, in an online form submission… Should the ‘summary of work’ section be written like a letter?

Additionally, I am now convinced that an author could read a bunch of Dos and Don’ts guidance, and still end up writing a query that lacks in certain areas, or says too much in others, etc. A solid query will require feedback to ensure a quality letter is written, but in the absence of feedback, one must analyze.

After not winning the Pitch A Palooza, I read the Book Doctor’s description of what constitutes a good query (here) followed by reading the winning query and realized what mine was missing: Character attachment. I needed to describe my protagonist (which went against some instruction I had received earlier) and make the agent connect with my character. Adding in my character to my query forced me to explain other detailed story elements, creating a much more focused and story-centric query.

I must also raise two important notes about my query: 1) my old version had too many superlative sales-pitch descriptions rather than focusing on content, so I removed those. 2) As a fantasy novel, my query is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to word count. Usually someone can just say “Johnny did this” and everyone already knows he is a human. No explanation required. In my case, I need to explain what an elkin is, and who the Soul Smith is.

EDIT: I used to have my query letter here, but I’ve found that it evolves so fast that posting them here seems pointless. The next query letter I post will be the one that lands me an agent! So in it’s place, here is a link to a successful query letter and the agent’s explanation of why she liked it so much: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries-agent-jenny-bent-and-oh-my-gods