Monday, August 20, 2007

YMMV – Part Two – How Long Is Forever?

I never guessed how long things took in the world of publishing, but you’d think I would have.

Before managing to “Go Pro” myself, I regularly interacted with the publishing industry only as a customer or a retailer. I worked for a local comic and game chain Lion & Unicorn (long gone now, unfortunately) for roughly eight years. For several of those years, I was in charge of ordering comics. We’d place orders roughly three or four months in advance and try to equal our invoice amount in sales by the close of business on Wednesday and double our invoice by the end of business on Saturday. By the end of my tenure there, I think the order gap had narrowed to more like two months in advance.

Being on the creative end makes that two month wait seem like a coffee break. Which isn’t a complaint, exactly, but waiting was stressful until I realized a few key facts. Publishing has a few unique rules all its own. If your agent or editor manages to get anything done for you in or around November, December, or the first half of January, they have accomplished something spectacular and rare. You should be very thankful.

Be patient with them. You are not the only iron they have in the proverbial fire.

On the other hand, if they need something from you, get it to them quickly. They are balancing many different projects and when it’s your book's time in the attention queue, you don’t want to slow things down. There is (at least for me) a great deal of “hurry up and wait” in publishing. My suggestion is that you use that time to WRITE. Writing is the one thing that you can mostly control. It also means that if *gasp* your series bombs and they want another book anyway, just not in the same vein as the one they bought first, you can say, “How about this one?” instead of “I’ll get back to you in a few months.”

At any given time, I usually have one novel that I’m seriously working on, one I’m poking around at, and a third in what I call the brain storming phase. I plan to be prolific.

[Authorial Aside: This doesn’t count all the little notes that wind up in various sections of my hard drive detailing enough of an idea so that I can go back to it and start working later. One of these notes is how I arrived at my first publishable novel, STAKED. You see originally, I was going to write about magicians. I wrote two novels about said magicians before I realized that they really weren’t up to snuff. Some of the mages were perilously one-dimensional and in the climactic throw down in book one, the people who showed up to help the main character had literally no motivation for being there at all. *I* knew why they were there, but I hadn’t shown the reader enough to give them any indication other than a) I guess those other mages really like that guy or b) I guess Jeremy wrote himself into a corner. Rather than go back and rewrite the novels from scratch (which still may happen one day) I started paging through my idea documents, examining scraps of texts and found a note I’d left myself: “Maybe the Eric idea would work better in first person… with a I don’t know what to call it… a co-tagonist. Can I include two alternating first person points of view in a narrative? Meh.” It was followed by a secondary note about how to handle Eric’s potty mouth: “Might work best if you just write it how he says it. He can be censored later.”]

But back to the topic at hand, the process of publishing takes a long time. A very long time. I’ve often wished for a sort of guideline giving approximate gestational periods and steps for a book. I've started such a list in one of these blogs, but won't be able to finish it for a while yet.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


YMMV – Part One

So... I promised to write this blog quite some time ago and then got bogged down with doing the requested revisions to STAKED (all done and accepted now), the final draft of my first fantasy novel, plus the maps and synopses for it and the two suggested sequels, and working on a different Urban Fantasy novel, this time a twist on werewolves... but I digress.

Getting an agent:

Before I even get into this, let me very briefly tell why I felt I needed an agent first, and in general why I feel most writers who want to be published by the major US publishers need an agent:

I don’t go to many conventions (most of my vacation time gets spent with family)
I don’t have a lot of time to go to conventions, make contacts, attend pitch sessions,
I don’t live in or near New York

Having said that, and assuming that you want to be represented by a literary agent, I have the following warning: I am not an expert, but I do have a literary agent, so my method has worked once. Also, before you even read the advice below or start looking at lists of agents, go to the Preditors and Editors website at: and read it. This will save you time and very possibly money.

When querying an agent, I used the following rules:

1) Send a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope). They all want one. If you don’t have one, your query may be thrown away. Nearly every site on the internet, every book on getting and agent, and anyone who has and agent will tell you this. If it doesn’t have an SASE, your query might get thrown away unread.

2) Send them what they want. Among other things, this demonstrates your ability to follow instructions. If they don’t want you to submit manuscript material, DON’T SEND ANY. Some agents want none, others want the first five pages, an outline, the first three chapters. For the record, I submitted an email query, was then asked for the first three chapters, and then the balance of the manuscript and a synopsis. Yes, the wait is maddening, but if you don’t give it to them the way they want it, they might not even read it and again… straight into the garbage.

3) Make sure you have an idea what they are looking for. Some have only one requirement: fantastic writing. But you can have the best idea for a Werewolf Transsexual Self-Help Mystery ever and it means nothing if you submit it to an agent that is only accepting Young Adult Caterpillar Thrillers. If your potential agent has a list on a website of likes and dislikes, so much the better. Play those aspects of your submission up, but do it honestly. After all, if you pitch that Werewolf Transsexual Self-Help Mystery to the Young Adult Caterpillar Thrillers agent as the biggest, most fantastic, touching Caterpillar Thriller of them all… and it isn’t... you’ll just piss them off. That is NOT how you want to get word of mouth started.

4) Prevail. What do I mean by that? Do not send one query out, get one rejection and stop. That’s just plain lazy, though it used to be how I did things until I got serious about getting published. It’s very humbling to be sitting at home after work and realize that the reason your dream hasn’t come true yet is because you haven’t mustered enough effort to make it come true… very humbling indeed.

5) Keep your commitments. If you tell your agent you will have something to them by X date, have it to them by X date. I usually try for X-1, if at all possible.

I’m sure there is more advice I should be giving on this subject, but that’s all I have for now.

As always, your mileage may vary. Just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it’s the “best” way. You have talents and abilities that I don’t have, a spark that makes you different. Use your strengths.

Oh and one last note:

Spell the agent’s name correctly on your query letter…