A Thought on Rejections…

I believe I’ve finally settled on the proposal that works best for The Edge of Memory.  But Holly Root’s post on the new Waxman Agency blog today reminded me of how the query process started for me and for several writing buddies.  If there’s one thing that comes up over and over again when discussing proposals seeking representation, it’s how difficult it is to know what works and what doesn’t.

I mean, sure… Janet Reid is doing what she can to help over at Query Shark, and the gang at QueryTracker is very helpful with query revisions.

But it still comes down to a fundamental problem:

Many authors are willing to make changes to their proposals and manuscripts, but don’t know what needs to be changed.  Many agents would be willing to make suggestions, but do not have the time and fear hostile responses to even the most constructive criticism.

So it occurred to me a while back that it might be possible to bring these two together so that everybody wins (Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!).

In a subjective business like publishing, we have to rely on trends.  To define a trend, we need data points.  But to obtain data points from simple “yes” and “no” responses is difficult and slow.  Let’s take a hypothetical example:

Author submits a proposal for “The Spoon That Moved” to Agent consisting of a query letter, a brief synopsis, and the first 5 pages.  Agent sends rejection.  Author only knows that the proposal didn’t work on Agent.  Was it because Agent can’t stand stories about spoons?  Was the query yawn-worthy?  Did Agent read the query with excitement but the sample pages didn’t hold up?  Did Agent actually love the proposal and seriously consider it before passing?

Author has no way of knowing.  So she has two choices… submit the same proposal to someone else, or change the proposal.  And she can’t be sure what to change.  The process becomes a twisted game of Mastermind, where you never find out how you’re doing unless you happen to win.

Do we have the right query letter and synopsis, but the sample pages need work?  Do we have all the right components but just on the wrong agent’s desk?

So… what if we embraced the Mastermind element?

Here’s my proposition… a standard rejection card WITH data points.  Then, with only a handful of submissions, an author could identify a potential weak spot and fix it.  The rejection card would take seconds to complete, and hopefully its standardness would ward off overly-emotional responses.

Here’s what I had in mind…

So what do we think? Helpful idea, or big pain in the butt?

Give your opinion in the comments!

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Willy Wonka & The Publishing Industry, Part II

You may remember a few months ago, I posted that Everything I Needed To Know About Publishing, I Learned from Willy Wonka.

At the time, I admitted it was not really everything I needed to know.  As proof, here are a couple additions to that list:

7.  One is Enough for Anyone. Moonrat made a lovely post yesterday in celebration of the Little Novel That Could.  What is striking about this story to me is that sometimes, one champion makes all the difference for a project.  Certainly, in order to get a book published, a lot of different people need to believe it can be successful.  But sometimes just one person… if it’s the right person for the right project… can make them believe.

8.  What Are You At, Getting Terribly Fat? I participate in several online writers groups where people share their query letters for critique, and I’m surprised at the number of intelligent, otherwise well-informed folks who seem to be unaware of appropriate lengths for novels.  Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint posted a great breakdown of wordcounts by genre a while back.

Class Re-Dismissed!

Everything I Needed To Know About Publishing I Learned From Willy Wonka

Well, that title is a bit misleading… I’m new to writing and publishing and don’t know “everything I need to know” by a long stretch.

The inspiration for this blog post came when a quote from Willy Wonka popped into my head and seemed to fit my quest for publication.

“There’s a hundred billion people in this world, and only five of them will find golden tickets [representation as a debut author]. Even if you had a sack full of money, you probably wouldn’t find one. And after this contest [process] is over, you’ll be no different from the billions of others who didn’t find one.”

“But I am different. I want it more than any of them.”

The more I recalled from that film, the more appropriate it seemed. So, here’s what I’ve learned about publishing from Willy Wonka:

  1. You should never, ever doubt what nobody is sure of. If there’s one refrain everyone and their brother is singing, it’s that publishing is subjective. Rejections are expected, even for eventual best-sellers. A particular genre or topic or plot device may be unanimously declared cliché, or overdone, and yet opinions can change in a split-second based on fresh execution. So, all you can hope to do is keep writing what you love, and hoping someone else comes along who loves it as much as you do.
  2. Rude demands and entitlement issues will send you down the garbage chute. There have been a lot of posts about this recently on agent/industry blogs. From moonrat’s unproductive lunch, to odd or hostile letters sent to Jennifer Jackson, Colleen Lindsay, Jonathan Lyons and even intern Jodi Meadows… the one clear fact is that these author reactions did not help them get published. Take home point? Be a good egg.
  3. In here, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams. I am often surprised at how often control becomes a fundamental point of focus. Part of what I enjoy about writing– the reason I find it therapeutic– is that I finally have complete control over something. My characters, their world, and what happens to them depends entirely on what I decide. That is a heady feeling. Interestingly enough, once the writing is finished the next step (if publishing is the goal) means putting yourself in a situation where you have very little control. I think that’s why so many authors get frustrated riding the query-go-round and alternately cling to rules and/or declare them arbitrary and unreasonable.
  4. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Opening yourself to other people is the only way to share something wonderful you’ve created. It also means they might disrespect or destroy it. Be ready to filter your chocolate river.
  5. A little boy’s got to have something in this world to hope for. I struggle with this one a bit personally. I realize rejections are expected. I know thick skin is a publishing industry prerequisite. I know I haven’t queried remotely enough to make any assumptions about my chances to be published, but reading the odds can be pretty discouraging. But stories are meant to be shared, so I’ll keep a healthy dose of optimism on hand.
  6. Don’t let a golden ticket make the chocolate taste terrible. As much as any aspiring author wants to be recognized and published, the publishing process should not be allowed to spoil the experience of writing. It’s easy to get swept into the madness of query letters, synopses, and pitchcraft. And I’ve spent my fair share of time agonizing over query blurb wording (many can testify to that), but it is important, I think, to remember why we started writing in the first place.

Kate on ktliterary posted a while back about Josie Bloss’s plans for a tattoo to celebrate the release of her novel Band Geek Love, and asked what other aspiring authors would do to celebrate publication. I think I might sing “Golden Ticket” at the top of my lungs:

I never thought my life could be

Anything but catastrophe

But suddenly I begin to see

A bit of good luck for me.

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden twinkle in my eye.

I never had a chance to shine

Never a happy song to sing

But suddenly half the world is mine

what an amazing thing!

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden chance to make my way

And with a golden ticket

It’s a golden day.

ETA: I’ve added a couple more points to this list. Part II is here.

Today I am reveling in my own geekiness…

Yesterday, I learned how to use Palm Markup Language. So I have now formatted my manuscript as an ebook (.pdb) for my palm.

With a clickable table of contents, and preserving my formatting.

I have no idea if anyone will ever look at it besides me, but I still think it’s pretty cool.

And possibly, agents or editors might like to read the file that way. It’s nice to have in case anyone asks, anyway. And meanwhile, I can review whenever the mood strikes me. 🙂
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What I’ve Learned, Part III

This is tangentially related to Part II.

When in doubt, err on the side of making it easy to contact you.

A few months ago, I attended a lecture on “What to Do After ‘The End'” by author Sean Chercover.

When asked what he would do differently if he was seeking agent representation today, he told us he would never have enclosed the self-addressed stamped envelopes, as they are only used to mail rejections, and he would have preferred no response.

I wavered when I sent out my handful of letters, but in the end, my Catholic school-girl obsequiousness led me to include them.

So today, when I saw my last AWOL SASE sitting in my mailbox, I expected a rejection. (I know I need to send out more letters, but since my resolution to become a query player, I’ve been distracted. My husband and I discovered we’ve been victims of identity theft, and that has taken up all our free time lately. But that’s another story).

I opened it over the trash, in fact. And barely glanced at the first line in time to catch it before it fluttered into a pile of coffee grounds.

Another partial request. In my SASE.

No, seriously.

So, send SASE’s to those who request them (which is virtually everyone who accepts queries by snail mail). And read whatever comes back in those familiar envelopes. Might actually be good news!

What I’ve learned about writing a novel and trying to publish, part two

It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already since What I’ve Learned, Part One.

So, Time for Part Two:

Read the Directions.

I know this seems too obvious to bother pointing out. Specifically, it reminds me of one of the most major verbal ass-kickings I survived as a child.

When I was in fourth grade, our teacher, Miss Spix, announced a surprise test which would be worth half of our grade. The classroom filled with tension as she passed out the thick stapled bundles to each student.

My eyes scanned quickly down the first page… history, science, math… all much more advanced than our coursework. It wasn’t multiple choice, either. With a sigh, I returned to the top of the page to read the directions:

Do not answer any of the questions in this test. Write your full name in the upper righthand corner and the word “Yes”. Circle your name, and then turn the test face down on your desk. You may then read quietly for the remainder of the test period.

So, I did and garnered many dirty glances from my classmates as they wondered why Miss Spix did not reprimand me for reading A Wrinkle in Time (again) while they struggled to solve algebra problems. Which was nothing compared to their response when Miss Spix finally collected all the exams and then announced that I would receive a prize for being the only person to follow the directions. The playground was an ugly and dangerous place at recess that day.

That said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that writers are literate. So I find the reports I’ve encountered from agents regarding inappropriate query letters simultaneously disturbing and comforting.

Colleen Lindsay on Inappropriate Queries

Jennifer Jackson on Inappropriate Queries

Nathan Bransford on Inappropriate Queries

Many agents have clearly listed their personal preferences and submission guidelines on their agency websites, or on their blogs, or on sites like agentquery.com (or often, all of the above.)

So use the resources available and make a kick-ass, tailor-made query. Apparently this will put you ahead of 30% to 50% of your competition.