Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sitting On Your Hands Is Never Part of Your Job

I submitted some work to a major U.S. publisher almost a year ago. A few months later, I received a personalized, lengthy, warm email from an editor who indicated she liked my work but that she wasn't ready to take on the project at that point. She did suggest some changes and invited me to send it back to her. I revised and re-submitted. A few months went by and I emailed her again to check the status. She replied that she hadn't yet had a chance to get to it. A few months later, I emailed again. She wrote back: "I need more time to review this submission." And it's been a while since then...How do I interpret this? Is my story just collecting dust under her desk when I could be actively sending my work elsewhere? 
 Or might this mean that there may be some genuine interest and that I should just be patient?
I don't know how many times I've gotten variations on this question.  DO be patient.  And DO keep submitting elsewhere.  The changes that she asked for should be exclusive to her... for maybe six months, to be generous.  Until then, keep submitting the previous draft elsewhere.  After that, submit the revision (assuming you think it's stronger) elsewhere.

Editors can take a goddamn long time to just LOOK at something, at which point they may be very excited about it.  An interminable wait may not mean that nothing's ever going to happen.  But you should NOT be waiting for that day (if it ever comes) to KEEP SUBMITTING.  


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Sound of Failure Calls Her Name

One prevailing sentiment among writing forums is to hold off submitting until your book represents the best that it can be.
But what does that mean when there is no objective standard by which to measure your book?

Set the damn thing aside for awhile.  It is SO easy to be SO excited about something you've just finished, or SO tired of working on it that you just want to start submitting.  Give it a little time in the cask to age, and then look at it and see if it's still exciting... or still tiresome.  Most likely, you'll notice a few things that need tweaking, and then it'll be ready. 

A crit group--a good one--lets you see your manuscript the way your reader will.  A crit group will point out that an important bit was unclear in chapter 1, and you'll be able to avoid the confusion that might make an editor give up on your book too soon.  A crit group will tell you your spelling isn't terribly consistent.  A crit group will nudge you to develop your characters more, or to cut the chapter in which nothing happens.  A good crit group saves the editor the large and time-consuming broad-strokes editing that may make the difference between something she can commit to and something that is just too rough.

Is your spelling crap? Do you tend to confuse homophones? If you can't trust yourself to clean the manuscript up, get someone else to do it who can. Lots of little mistakes like that make you seem kind of illiterate, when in fact you may simply be dyslexic.  Unless you sometimes lose your hairbrush in your hair, you know that first impressions make a difference.  The best writers to work with are the ones who know their weaknesses and their strengths, and work to ameliorate the one as much as they work to showcase the other.

Once you have checked these things off, it is time to remind yourself that:

It's time to try the book out on people and submit it.  Maybe it's not PERFECT.  So what.  Keep working on other things, and keep learning. If you let yourself be the kind of person to fuss over one manuscript for ages without working on anything else or submitting anything, (a) editors are going to hate you, and (b) you're going to hate yourself.  Failure to be published is not nearly as soul-crushing as failure to even try.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Rough Draft Is In Swedish

I'm an American author whose book is set in a foreign country. I've received an offer from a publisher in that country. They want to translate the book, and publish it there. This is great news, but the market is very small. I also want to publish in the US, not just because it is a bigger market but also because it is my home. Should I hold off on accepting the foreign offer until (if!) I can work something out with a US publisher? If I do go ahead and publish abroad, then can I revise the MS for a US publisher or is it set in stone and unrevisable once published?

If it's a very small market, your US publisher may not mind your having sold the rights already.  And more and more, agents seem to be going after foreign sales for their clients, so publishers are a bit more accustomed to not having a lot of foreign rights for novels.  So that's unlikely to be an issue.

As for revision, every translation fiddles with the exact phrasing of the text--if it doesn't then the translation won't sound natural to native speakers.  So some differences between the English and other language editions are expected.  

So if there were some way for you to be sure you weren't going to do very much revision (for instance if you've decided already that you're going to be inflexible and hard to work with--which I assume is not the case), then there would be no problem.  But imagine your US editor has a bunch of suggestions that get you really excited and that (for instance) change the ending completely. 

There probably still wouldn't be a problem with copyright between the two editions, but how would you feel about that scenario?  Would you want two very different versions of your story out there--when one of them might end up feeling to you like a beta version and not the story you most want to share with readers?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Do I Need an Agent?

Do you have any preference with working agented or unagented authors / illustrators, or does it all depend on the actual personalities involved?
It's about the personalities, and the skill sets.

If you're the kind of person who has little hissy fits throughout the bookmaking process--hissy fits you feel you must share with your colleagues (as opposed to the more recommended sharing with your friends/family), you need an agent. Agents can offer you a sympathetic ear if your process involves venting before finding a way to compromise.  Your publisher will get tired of you quickly if THEY have to babysit.

If you're the kind of person who is always, always behind deadline, you need an agent.  An agent can keep reminding you, cajoling you, nagging you, whatever you need.  Again, this is just part of some people's process.  But your publisher doesn't have the time to do this, and so your book will be late, and the publisher will be unhappy.

If you're the kind of person who thinks you're just going to show the contract to your husband, who is a lawyer, you need an agent.  There are as many different kinds of lawyers as there are doctors.  Bringing a publishing contract to a tax or estate or criminal lawyer is akin to taking your foot problem to a cardiologist.  YOU'RE GOING TO GET BAD ADVICE.  The frustration this will cause your publisher is not worth it... to the publisher.

If you are the kind of person who doesn't know how to negotiate, and ends up agreeing to a crappy first offer, or alternatively thinks you're going to negotiate a $10,000 advance up to $100,000, you need an agent.  An agent knows how to negotiate and what's reasonable to expect in the market.

If you want to be published at any of the houses that don't accept unagented submissions, or even at many of the ones that do, you need an agent.  An agent knows not only the publishers, she knows the individual editors and which ones will respond best to your manuscript. 

And let's not forget that if you want a guide through the booby-trapped and pathless jungles of a publishing career, you need an agent.

However, if you are an intrepid explorer yourself, of a patient and workmanlike nature; if you enjoy the research involved in plotting your own path through publishing, and are flexible about learning more as you go along, then you may not need an agent.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Open Thread

Comment moderation is temporarily turned off-- so ask your questions, start discussions... talk to me, and talk to each other!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Big Fish, Small Pond? Or Big Fish, Wrong Pond?

So, the last time I emailed you, I had the hype but not the trophies. Now I’ve got both. Why is it that American editors ignore writers from New Zealand who aren’t Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley. Down under, our buyers (readers) are piranhas. But, unfortunately for NZ authors, they are tiny piranhas.

I also review the YA books which that come out of the US and the UK and most of it, which, yeah, I know, sells, is actually formulaic which my students (I’m a high school teacher) turn their noses at – preferring to read ADULT literature.

Is this a ‘mam, this is a gentlemen’s club…’ kind of thing? Cos it sure does feel like it.
If you mean actual 'gentlemen', then no. The majority of publisher staff is female. 

If you mean 'we just don't like New Zealanders', then no. We're seeing a lot of very talented and very profitable novels coming from the southern hemisphere, and there's no prejudice that I'm aware of, unless it's a prejudice for Australia/New Zealand, not against.  (And while I realize that Australians and New Zealanders do not see themselves as in the same category, to US publishers, you are.)

If you mean 'Americans are just stupid and you can't sell anything smart to them', well, I can't say for sure, can I? We certainly can't match you for sheep jokes.

With an award under your belt and great reviews, I would start to wonder if your agent is sending the book to the right people.  Authors over here sometimes have to leave their agents because things just aren't working out.  You may be in that position, too.

At the same time, sometimes a book that can make a big splash in a smaller publishing market would be in danger of disappearing in a larger one.  Without having read your book, I can't hypothesize, but good luck.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

At Least It's Not My Beautiful Mommy

Anonymous, you’ve put so much effort into warning about the perils of self publishing. Why bother? Considering none of them would even make it through into the real world of publishing anyway (therefore not affecting you)why are you so passionate about the subject? 
I feel bad for people who are taken in by vanity presses and who end up repaid for their money and effort only in frustration. 
Wouldn’t trashy self published books actually make what you do look better? 
Most of my books look awesome whatever you put them next to.
You don't actually need the horribly bad contestants on American Idol to make the honestly talented contestants shine.
I agree most people should not attempt to self publish, but publishing companies have also put out some pretty crap books.
Well, that's the truth.  But at least no one was deliberately swindled over those books.
I know because my daughter has devoured many thousands of books since the age of two (she was a very early reader), some of which have either bored her to tears or she has found mistakes not picked up by professional editors. In fact over time she has found quite a few and from the age of three she refused to read any books which had mistakes. At age ten she has over a thousand books (yes, one is a self published book that she refuses to part with.) Strangely enough it is the only book with mistakes she wants to keep because she said “at least it’s interesting”. The content would never be endorsed by a mainstream publishing company but this piqued the interest of child who tends to think outside the box. So to each his own.
I absolutely agree. Everyone is welcome to make as many mistakes as they like.  But for those who would rather not make a mistake, a word to the wise is a simple kindness.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There's a Signpost Up Ahead

A well-known agent sent out my novel to 9 publishers 3 months ago and says she has not heard a peep since. How long does this process normally take? 
1. There is no "normal".
2. Forever.  Or at least it seems like it.  If your agent is well-known, then he/she should be able to tell you what's normal for the editors he/she submitted to.
I know things things vary, but realistically, wouldn’t I have had at least 1 rejection by now?
You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call "Publishing".