Monday, January 30, 2012

Quailing about a Query Letter?

What is it about query letters that terrifies author's so much? The same issues that plague people when they have to put together a resume! Most of us know how to put together a resume. As author's, you have probably already done all the research on how to write a query letter. You probably already read Agent Query's straightforward explanation on how to do it. You know the format thanks to them.

The niggling fear of writing the query led you to continue your research and read every other article out there (Some good ones are: Writing a Query Letter by Charlotte Dillon, The Complete Nobody's Guide to Query Letters by Lynn Flewelling, and How to Write a Successful Query by Moira Allen)

Armed with all the dos and don'ts, you sit down to write your query.... and your mind goes blank. You begin with Hi, my name is..., even though you know (because it said so in the research) that you are not supposed to start it this way. You freeze up. How to begin.... you can take it from the professionals and just copy and paste their lines and change just what you need, but then you feel like a cheat.

You skip the introduction and write up your synopsis of your book. It is only one paragraph and this should be easy, because you wrote the darn book you know what is important. When you finish, you look back and your synopsis is actually four paragraphs and still feels like you left things out.

Not ready to give up, you move to the closer. You can talk about your writing accomplishments to date. That is a really easy short paragraph. You worked for your school paper, had a poem published in an anthology, maybe even have an article in a magazine... It is not even a paragraph and you are beginning to feel really lame.

You look at it and think, "Why would anyone publish my book? This sucks!!" You berate the industry for asking you to pitch your work in only one page. You scowl at all the professional authors who have it so easy because they can point to their ten top sellers. Then you go drown yourself in coffee and start working on your next book. Waiting for inspiration to strike, so that you can get that stupid query done and make some money.

What is the problem? Why are queries so hard? When you understand what is preventing you from writing the query letter, you can get back on track. So let's break it down. The first issue that makes the whole query letter so difficult is the same issue that makes it hard for people to write a resume. It is awkward to try and sell yourself without sounding like an arrogant, egotistical prat. We are taught to be humble, and writing a query letter demands that we not be humble. No one has taught us how to display our best qualities without sounding cocky. It is something that must be learned.

The second big issue is that you are insecure, especially if this is your first book and first query letter. You are treading in new territory and you have these doubts that keep plaguing you. Is it good enough? How will I be received? Can I do this? What have I gotten myself into? New is scary. We have all felt these feelings when starting a new job, a new school, joining a new organization. It is perfectly natural to feel this way, but you have to get past it. If you don't, that uncertainty will show up in your query and it will not make the impact you want.

The third issue is that you are a book author. You are used to writing big. It is hard to say everything you want in one page. You are feeling the pressure that this simple little page is the culmination of hours and hours of writing, hundreds of pages, a life-time of love, passion, sweat, tears and sometimes even blood! How can you put all of that into one page? How can this one little page convey to the agent everything that matters?

It is hard. This simple one page is probably the hardest thing any author ever has to write and so much hangs on doing it right. There are no do-overs. The pressure for perfection nibbles at you and tears you apart. There is a reason that creative people have a much higher rate of depression and addictions. This is one example of why!

So how do you get past these issues? How do you get your mind in the right place to do this, and do it right?

Step one: Breathe

Yup, that simple. Take a deep breath and start again. When you get going and all of a sudden you are feeling the fear take over. Stop... BREATHE!

Step Two: It isn't About You

This is about your book. Yeah, you have to write about your accomplishments as an author, but you aren't selling you, you are selling your book. You believed in it enough to write it. You believed in it enough to edit it over and over and over. You do believe in this story. Remind yourself of that when you start feeling you are not worthy.   When you do get to the last paragraph where you have to pitch yourself, do not feel that being published in your school paper is lame. How many kids went to your school? How many wrote for the paper. And if you have never even been published before? Well, what have we been building our platform for? Yup, mention your platform statistics here. Let's be honest, which is more appealing: the fact that Jenny wrote for her high school newspaper 15 years ago; or that John has 13,000 followers on twitter, 2,000 friends on Facebook, has a blog that gets 10,000 hits a week.... and you are starting to get my point!

Step Three: Do Your Research

But I did, you exclaim indignantly! Are you having a hard time writing your hook? Are you feeling like you don't know how your book would compete in the market? Look at the sales in that genre, look at other work that has come out within the last year. Look at what inspired your idea in the first place. The more research you do on the market and on the publishing industry, the more you familiarize yourself with the process, the more confidence you will have in your pitch. I know you want to get it out there. There is so much research and you just want to write. Unfortunately, if you want writing to be your business, then you need to take a step back from your creative self and treat this letter like a business.

Step Four: Edit

Treat your query like a short story. Get one draft out there that conveys everything you need, then edit it, edit it, and edit it again. When you first write everything down, don't worry about length. Carve it up the way you did your book. Whittle it down to what you need to say. If you start with too many words, you can trim. If you don't have enough, it is hard to fluff.

Step Five: Remember, You Aren't the Only One

All authors do it this way. We all have the same problems. No one wants to admit it. If you've done your research, you must see that if it wasn't such a pervasive fear, then there would not be so many posts about it. Every famous author had to pitch their book. Even people who have been published a dozen times still have to pitch each book. Yeah, it gets easier the more you do it, just like anything new.  I guarantee you that every author labors over the query. You are not alone!

After you spent all that time and energy putting together your query letter do not forget that, just as you need to make little changes here and there to your resume to ensure that it fits the job, you will need to make little changes here and there with each submission to ensure that your query letter meets the standards of the agent to whom you are submitting.

So stop stressing and get working on that query letter. Refresh yourself on the great advice about structure from the links in this article and remember that your book is worth it! When you start feeling overwhelmed, read this article again. Follow the five steps and hit your query letter running!

Do you have any specific concerns or questions about query writing? Ask in the comments below.

Until next time,
 Keep Writing!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fun Information for Writers

Hey folks, I was in a car accident Wednesday and messed up my shoulder, so it is really hard to type with only one hand right now. I know we were gonna get started on the traditional publishing route today, but before we go into all of that I have some inspirational stuff to share.

Anyone know Jeff Goins? If not, you should. He is a great inspirational writer who runs a blog and he recently published two very good e-books "Before Your First Book" and "Every Writer's Dream". You can buy them here and get $2.00 off by using this code: "stopstalling". The code is only good for this week! For me, a lot of the book was stuff I already knew and stuff I have been passing on to you guys, but it is nice to get that reinforcement of "I'm right!" Plus, there is something very eloquent and comforting about Jeff's writing. Even when he tells you that writing is hard and you won't make crap, you still feel inspired to do it anyway!

Another cool and inspiring thing (at least to me), I now have "Royal Prince Vince" available for Nook, Kindle and physical copies!! It has taken A LOT of work and A LOT of time, but it is here!! If you know someone who has kids, please tell them all about it! And let me tell you, it is worth it! I get so ridiculously excited when I see I've made another sale, even though the money I am getting isn't much per copy. It is a rush to see the reviews! It is this overwhelmingly amazing sense of accomplishment! And you can do this too!

Now, we are going to pretend that you have decided to go the traditional route and start there. Why, after last week I said that I think the new game will be to prove yourself as an indie author first? Because I think that will be the new game once the industry settles down. Right now both options are on the table and still highly debatable. Besides, it will take me less time to share this way with you and then we can get into the big scary world of self-publishing.

So here is how you start your own venture into traditional publishing: more research. Sorry, but it is true. You need to decide what genre your book is and then pitch to those agents who handle that product. If you are having a hard time classifying your book, then pitch to all agents in all the categories. For example: my novel "All is Well" is a psychic thriller/suspense/horror/romance/chick lit and I pitched to all the agents who covered any of those categories! It cannot hurt. Now you need to go find all the agents in your categories and find out their submission guidelines and tailor each query to each agent. Some of you are groaning about all that work. You are in the wrong business! Today's job market has become really tough and if people have to tailor their resumes to match the job, you can do the same. It will help you! Get started on your research with these great sites to find literary agents:

Association of Authors' Representatives
Writers Net

THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! Research every single agent you submit to! Make sure before they offer you a contract that they would be a good fit for you. Look at what they have gotten published and who they have published through. If they do not have any books with any of the top six publishing houses, you might not want to go with them. These guys are your go between with the publishers. You want someone well-connected. Does that mean that they will get you a contract with the big six? On your first book, probably not. But at least you know that they could! They have done it before.

Remember, anywhere you have people with dreams you will find others wanting to take advantage of those dreams. If they charge for editing, line services, readings, anything DO NOT BOTHER! Real agents get paid when you get paid, and not before that. It is the industry standard. My shoulder is hurting, so I am going to wrap this up here. Get to researching, compile a list of agents who you think you want to submit to and next week we will talk about writing a query letter.
Until next time,
Keep Writing!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Time to Talk Publishing

We have gone over every step of the process: getting an idea, forming a plan, building a platform, writing your story, editing your story and now you are ready to publish.... and here is where it gets hard. (I can hear all of you screaming right now "What?!?!?!?". I hear you, I do.)

Seriously, even though everything you did before now seems hard; it was all stuff you had direct control over. Now that you are looking at publishing, you have to go WAY OUTSIDE your comfort zone. To begin that process the first thing you have to decide is this: Get an agent or self-publish?

Most of you may be thinking "Duh, teach, get an agent!!" Yeah, because we have all been told self-publishing is bad, scammy, and you will never be accepted into the "real" publishing world if you do it. I was there three years ago. I know what you are thinking.

But the truth is that the publishing industry is in major fluctuation right now. No one really knows what is going to end up being the "standard" anymore. Technology has made it so much easier to publish for yourself and leaves a lot of that money in your pockets at the end of the day. If you are business savy, aren't afraid to market, and are technically inclined then you can publish your own work and make a pretty healthy sum. Ask John Locke or the hundreds of other self-publishers out there.

Then again, there are millions who never make much of anything. You see, self-publishing requires a much wider gamut of talent and skills than just being an awesome writer with a really great idea. You have to do editing, layout, artwork, proofing, marketing and distribution all by yourself. Or you have to put together a team of people who can help you (hopefully for little or no money). It is hard. But then writing a book is hard too!

So why not go the traditional route? Your book is good enough, right? Just keep in mind that pursuing a traditional publishing deal means you have to become expert at legaleze, get an agent who will help you get a publisher, go through the editing process, and still be prepared to assist in marketing your book to the hilt in hopes of making a blip on the barrage of entertainment options the world is currently offering. If you don't do well on your first book, it may become harder for you to get a contract the next time.

The reality is that very few authors getting published by the big houses today are first-time authors. Even if you have a perfect sales pitch, can demonstrate a desire for your product, and have the next best seller; you still might get bypassed. Be prepared to accept some harsh realities if you decide to go the traditional route: You will only get 15% (max) on all sales. (As opposed to 35-45% for self-publishing.) You will have to give up to 25% (National is typically 15% International can go as high as 25%) of your royalties to your agent as a finders fee. The day of an advance is fast becoming an antiquated ritual, especially for first-time authors. Once they pick up the rights to your book, you lose almost all control of when (or if) your book gets published, how much marketing they will provide, and what channels they will sell it on.

Before you make a decision, get out there and read all the literature you can find and decide what route is the best route for you. Think about the time you have to give to your work, and the time you can afford to wait to be published. Make sure that you are reading from both camps. Self-pubbers tend to be very biased against publishing with the big houses, and there are still a lot of agents and authors who insist that if you self-pub you are signing your own literary death certificate.

There are big changes in the industry and no one can know for sure where things will fall out, but in my humble opinion... I suspect that in the near future first-time authors will self-publish and based on their sales from their first book, (and all the other stuff publishers look at) will be able to get contracts with the big publishing houses on their next books.

So get on that research to decide what is the best decision for you and your book. To help get you started, here are some good resources:

Mind you, this is just to get you started! Keep researching! Next week we will look at getting started on the traditional publishing route. 
Until next time, 
Keep Writing!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy 2012, Let's Get Back On Track!

Hello folks, been gone for awhile. Sorry about that. Life has been... hectic. When making my New Year's Resolutions, I had to ask myself what happened. You see, For the month of December I did not write a single word. Nope, not one. Not a shopping list, nothing.

But how? After all, I am a writer. How could I basically go an entire month without writing at all? Well, simply put, I lost my balance. In losing my balance, I became overwhelmed and suffered from major burnout. I got caught up in editing my friend Dawn Tevy's Book Angels and Warriors, while trying to get my children's book Royal Prince Vince published, my house became a mess.

Then the program I was using for my artwork wouldn't work for the physical copies. Dawn's release date got pushed back. One of my kids temporarily lost his humanity and began terrorizing the household. My husband hurt his back and needed an extra shove to get to graduation. One of my siblings said something insensitive and I sorta snapped.

I tried to tackle a major kitchen remodel (still, as of this post, incomplete). I went on a cleaning rampage (seriously, I spent six hours a day sometimes just cleaning my house.) If I couldn't fix my writing issues, then I was going to fix my family issues. When I failed on that front too, I sunk into a funk. I couldn't muster the energy to do much of anything. I worried myself sick with woulda, shoulda, coulda. I didn't want to do anything, not even read. (Yeah, it was pretty bad.)

After a few weeks of just going through the motions and taking a much needed mental break, I was able to sit back and evaluate what happened.  There were a few different problems. The first, and largest, was simply that I had lost my balance. The whole idea, when my husband and I decided that I would work from home, was that working from home would allow me to be there for my family more. It would allow me to be able to be there for the crises that crop up. I was gonna be in charge of cleaning, because I have a much higher standard than my husband. Basically all the reasons any mom wants to work from home.

Knowing that I am a bit of a workaholic, I set up a system to ensure that I would not neglect my family in this venture. But a year later, with my agent contract running up without a decent offer, with my blog not making much money and with no bites on the other writing projects; I forgot about maintaining my balance and got in on some projects that might actually make me some money. I added weight to one side of my life without considering the consequences to the other parts. When I got overwhelmed with those projects, I looked up and realized I was too far to one side. Instead of letting go of one of those projects for a time, I dropped them all and threw myself completely into "fixing" the other end of my life. My mental image is of a Survivor challenge where they add the weights on either side. If you over-weight one side, then the player begins to list and will eventually fall out of the challenge. That is what I did. I fell out of the challenge.

The second problem was that I had too many tongs in too many fires and I could not juggle them all. I am not Super Woman. I need down time. I need fun time. I need to be able to focus, not run around like a chicken with my head cut off. (And if you are one of my close friends and I tell you "Of course I can handle it, I'm super woman" SLAP ME!! Seriously, in moments like this I realize I'm not; but in the long run, I keep forgetting!)

The third, and probably most common, problem is that other people had lost faith in me. Because of the words of a few insensitive (and not even close) people, I began to question the opinion of others who mean far too much to me. People who would never tell me they no longer believed in me. It is hard as an author. A lot of success is delayed. Heck, a lot of money is delayed! It takes time to write a good story. It takes time to shop that story around. It takes time to publish on your own. It takes time. I cannot judge my progress by other people's standards. I need to stop worrying about what others think and trust the ones I love to be honest with me.

As part of my New Year's Resolution, I will be cutting back on writing my blog. My goal is once a week, but at times I may need to publish less often. Next time I will be considerate enough to let you know in advance! Next week, we will talk about publishing! Until next time, keep writing!