Rejection #3: Suffer in Happiness

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Today’s rejection feels a bit like this quote from Harry Potter. I was really excited about how responsive this agent has been. But she was awesome in rejection, at least. She gave me detailed feedback on major issues she saw with the manuscript.

One issue could be solved with some thorough editing of voice, but the other requires a potentially massive rewrite of the plot. I’ll certainly let the manuscript rest for a few weeks before starting.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing short stories. After the pacing of 75K word novels, a 4-7K short story seems to fly by! Hopefully it is good practice with plotting and characterization, a chance of publication and a quick-but-positive outcome.

What’s the tipping point for rewriting a novel?

A slow writing week

This week has been particularly slow on my plot study for NaNoWriMo 2016, I’ve only managed 6,500 words when I ought to have reached 20,000 per the schedule.

I did a bunch of novel related things like write a synopsis for my first book, research, editing and adding to my second book, but these only count morally.

I’ll keep writing, as even a fraction of the goal is better than giving up early. You know what they say about “slow and steady”… and who knows, perhaps I’ll magically catch up by the end of the month!

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Rejection #1: Feedback is Gold

After just under 3 months, I’ve heard back from the first person out of 6 editors and agents I pitched. I’m deeply appreciative that they read the whole book and provided insight into why they’re passing on it.

They liked it, but didn’t think it was unique enough in a crowded market. I know my pitch worked enough to gain attention, but the manuscript didn’t follow through.

Getting feedback from an industry professional is like gold.

I hope that all my rejections come with something to help me learn.

The Art of the Plot Study (NaNoWriMo 2016)

National Novel Writing Month is such fun – writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. This year I’m using it to complete a 50K “plot study”. I hope it becomes a great way to give the inner critic a much deserved vacation.

I like the idea of a new term for this, how about “plot study”? In art, “a study is a drawing, sketch or painting done in preparation for a finished piece, or as visual notes. Studies are often used to understand the problems involved in rendering subjects and to plan the elements to be used in finished works, such as light, color, form, perspective and composition.”

I’d define a “plot study” as “a study is a draft done in preparation for a finished piece. Plot studies are often used to understand the problems involved in rendering characters and to plan elements needed, such as story arc, characters and plot techniques.”

Hope to see everyone working on something fun, whether you’re in NaNoWriMo or not. 

Finished book #2 at last

 

In August, I sent book #1 of my 1920s mystery series to a few agents and editors. My fingers are crossed but I won’t hear back for at least another few months. And realistically, I’m likely to get a stack of polite rejections.

But who cares today?! Hurrah for finally finishing book #2! I’ve lost count of how many major and minor revisions I’ve done as I started it a few years ago.

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This 1920s photo is pretty much how I feel!

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But this sweet, crazy-eyed dog is probably how I look.

I hope everyone’s work is going well lately, any major milestones you’ve hit?

Converting a PDF to a Kindle compatible book (AMZ)

Having your book work on a Kindle is really nice for beta readers. It’s also handy for proofreading your own books, since it feels more like a finished book.

It took me some time to dig up old forum threads about how to convert a PDF into a MOBI or AMZ file. Most articles say to download Calibre or other software, but I hate downloading software. Others say to use a PDF file directly, but the formatting is rigid and never looks right on a Kindle.

The best way is surprisingly simple. You can email your Word file to Amazon and they’ll convert it for you in a matter of minutes.

Follow the steps at https://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/email

PS: I tried emailing a PDF file as they suggest, but I found the formatting always came out wonky, whereas Word files convert beautifully.

 

Pitching at a writer’s conference

Over the past few days I’ve been attending PNWA 2016 in Seattle. I’ve attended many technical conferences but never one for writing. It was a very rewarding experience, especially as I’d done a lot of prep ahead of time.

A writer’s conference lets you meet the local community, learn from others and pitch to agents and editors. I had business cards printed and I got more active on Twitter since so many book folks are there. I definitely met a lot of great writers and hope to stay in touch with them.

One thing I wanted to focus on was the pitch…

Preparing my pitch

I spent weeks scouring the internet for tips about writing a pitch, a query letter and a synopsis. I found help everywhere from Writer’s Digest to personal blogs. I got advice from a friend who was also attending.

I finally realized that the pitch should be more of a conversation – starting with why I was interested in the agent, a quick sentence about my book, then answer their questions.

Finding the right agents and editors to pitch

Mystery commonly gets lumped in with thriller and suspense. Mystery is a whodunnit (starts with the crime), thriller is how to stop them, and suspense often has elements of both. Cozy and historical mystery are their own sub-genre, and someone who represents might not like noir, for instance.

So I looked at the list of agents and editors who would be there. I really wanted to find great matches – people who were interested in cozy / historical mystery and whose companies had represented similar books.

Once I narrowed down to about 6 people, I researched their agencies, bought books they’d represented or edited and honed an individual pitch for each of them.

The result?

I’m excited to say that all of them expressed interest in seeing more!!

Now I need to re-read my query letter, get a fresh pair of eyes on it and send it out. This is just the beginning of a long road – even if I am lucky enough to land an agent in this round, it’s going to take a while to get published.

Distractions, a writer’s guide

Each day I skip writing, I’ll look at my desk guiltily and then slink off like a disgraced criminal fleeing a crime scene. Curse ye, distractions, I’ll mutter as I shake my fist like an old cat lady on her lawn.

But what if distractions are a good thing? What if, properly channeled, they could catapult you back into writing?

I offer a few possibilities for capitalizing on your distractions:

  1. Read or watch things that immerse your brain in your setting. For me, that’s rewatching Hercule Poirot or reading a new 1920s mystery book. Sometimes the lure of the era draws me into my novel.
  2. Do homework. Excuse yourself from writing if you do some research instead, like reading that book on English history, writing a book review or preparing this a blog post.
  3. Clean something. Yes. Cleaning or organizing, especially your writing area, will either make you feel excited about possibilities or just so tired of cleaning you’d rather write 100 words.
  4. Bribe yourself. I don’t suggest this often, but some days I give myself leave to do something totally unrelated in exchange for some writing.
  5. Daydream about completion. I’ll picture getting a call from a publisher that my book is ready or I’m sitting down to chat with a happy reader over a cup of tea. It reminds me why I started this journey in the first place.

Now please excuse me while I eat a pint of ice cream and watch Golden Girls re-runs…

Going from draft to published book

Writing the book is not the end state. Going from concept to draft is really only the halfway point. It takes a daunting amount of hard work and skills to get published.

Genre/Audience. I touched briefly on the need to have genre-specific readers give you feedback. But how do you know what genre you’re in? Genre is your best friend and a little bit frenemy. A genre like cozy crime books helps you target a specific audience of readers. You can look at what people are reading and why, you can emulate their pitches and reach out to their fans. Imagine trying to sell a sports car to a family of 5. Knowing you have a sports car and what sports car fans love gives you a lot to focus on. And even if you have what seems like a broad genre, the book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing is an excellent resource on pitfalls to avoid.

Self-Publish, Crowdfund or Agent. So many options. Self-publishing is great if you like control, want to publish quickly and don’t mind if the book doesn’t make it to many physical stores. It has a stigma because there’s zero quality control. Crowdfunding is now an option thanks to Inkshares and Unbound – you still have to hustle for readers but they help with things like editing and distribution and you have proof people wanted your book. And finally the agent. The gatekeeper to the big publishing houses, agents can make sure your book gets past the slush pile (mileage may vary.) If you want a smash hit, the agent is far more likely to get you there than the other options.

Pitch. No matter how you go, you’ll need to craft a compelling tagline (1 sentence) that describes your book, like Twilight meets Star Trek or heartbroken animal trainer is Earth’s last hope for survival. Then you need a pitch, 2-4 paragraphs succinctly describing your book, who would like it and why. You don’t describe every character like someone’s third cousin Lizzie or that gas station attendant.

Proposal. As if writing your book once was not enough work, many agents and publishers require a proposal with an outline of your book and the market possibilities. The outline is 1 page of the essential events, so they can see that your book is structured well and doesn’t have major plot holes. The proposal includes a lot. It’s a good idea to do this even if self-publishing, so you can get an idea of where to market your book (more on that later).

Cover Letter. Even on a crowdfunding site, you need to convince people why they should buy a book from you. A short, professional letter with your basic details and any special qualifications you have. Being a hard worker does not qualify you, sadly. Reading a ton of books also does not qualify you. Having a degree in mathematics when writing a kids book on learning math is worth calling out.

Publisher. Still with me? Great. Now you need to identify which agent or publisher or self-publishing or crowdfunding option is right for you. The vast majority of publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts – they are often barely making ends meet and cannot meet the demand of writers seeking a publisher. The few that do must be hunted out and located through lots of research. Agents can get your work through the front door and help make sure you get a good contract, but you have to research to find a great agent. Crowdfunding gets your book idea out there quickly, but you have to do almost all the work  of hustling readers, convincing people to buy the book and generally being shameless (see the marketing post). Self-publishing lets you do a whole bunch of other fun stuff before you get to the point of having to hustle, but that hustle is still waiting for you.

Developmental Editing. Developmental editing is when someone looks at your work to figure out plot holes, places you could strengthen the story, gaps, character behaviours that don’t match their psychology, all sorts of big picture things. A publisher pays for this, but for self-publishing you have to pay.

(You did a bunch of revisions in the earlier stage, why edit again? You really need to get your book edited by a professional editor who went to school for this and does it for a living. Having your friend who was an English school teacher is not enough if your goal is to get your book on physical shelves and in a best seller’s list. Why is editing expensive? It is really time consuming.)

Copyediting. There are types of editing?! Yikes – just like there are so many vaccines, you can’t just get one kind and be done with it. The copy editor helps improve your writing so that it follows good conventions, called style guides. They make your writing more readable and help improve flow.

Cover. This is the fun part, right? It is, but it is also the difference between getting into a best seller’s list and selling a few copies to friends. In general, homemade covers tend to be easily spotted and people believe they reflect the quality of the writing. Homemade covers don’t look polished and compelling like a professional cover, because unless you are also a graphic designer, you don’t have the experience and training to make something that resonates aesthetically. If you need to do it yourself for budget reasons, start with these tips. If you’re looking to hire someone, start here.

Fonts. Have you ever looked at a book cover and just felt that something was off? Something didn’t seem quite done somehow? Fonts make a huge difference. Each font can convey a very different atmosphere for your book, just like the creepy, sad or uplifting music can make a movie scene powerful. Scarlett Rugers has a great guide to fonts for the self-published.

Layout. I was reading the other day that a single line in a book should be 8-10 words long. A paragraph that looks okay in your word processor might be way too long once the book is printed. The margins for the pages need to be much bigger on the inside of the book because of the room needed to open the book. Even if a publisher handles this for you, you should be aware of how long this process takes. For a self-publishing author, there are some templates but it’s not a foolproof process.

Proofreading. Wait, wait… how many kinds of editing are there?! I think this might be the last one. Proofreading is typically done on a physical proof copy. Someone who is not the first two editors will go through your book with a fine tooth comb and look for any typos, spelling errors, incorrect formatting, etc. They aren’t reading for quality or enjoyment, but solely to help make you look as good as you can.

Okay, now you’re done, right? No, no … sadly, we’re not done. Your book may be published, but if you want to actually sell copies you have some marketing to do.