Publishing 101: Acquisitions

I meant to get this out last Friday, but, alas, it didn’t happen. For those of you waiting with bated breath, here it is….(drum roll, please).

Adding on to my last post From Query to Shelf ,today I’m writing about acquisitions.

Once you’ve landed your rock-start agent, that agent will work with you to make your WIP into an amazing MS and then send your baby out into the world.

First off, in order for your MS to be bought, it must first be loved by multiple people. Not just you, your mother, your sister, your brother, and your agent, but others…namely the acquisitions editor. That’s the second hurdle. The first hurdle was landing your rock-star agent.

If the house already has a number of titles similar to yours, then no matter how awesome your MS is and no matter how much they love it, they still won’t buy it. Why? Because, they’re in the business to make money. They don’t want to compete against themselves. There is an exception to this rule, though. If you’re a heavy-hitter with a large platform (celebrity, successful author), then they’ll make an exception for you. This is why you want to make sure your work is fresh and new. Don’t follow the trend. Remember, the trend was bought 18-24 months ago. Make your own trend.

So what happens next after your agent sends your baby to different publishing houses and an editor falls in love with it?

The senior editor has to approve of the concept. Can you say, crap? Unless, of course, the publishing house is one like Bantam which, last I knew, didn’t have to go through that whole board meeting thing but an editor who liked your MS could buy it on the spot. But seeing as how most publishing houses aren’t like that, we’ll go back to the senior editor being sold on your MS’s concept.

If the senior editor says it’s a go, then there’s a board meeting where the editor who really wants the house to buy your MS has maybe two minutes to pitch your story. This is where the high concept, market placement, and word count come in. If you’re unsure of any of those things, go back to my previous post From Query to Shelf where I describe them.

During this meeting, the finance/marketing director will create a profit and loss statement. If you have a super agent who asks for a high advance, then more books will need to be sold to make up for the advance. A couple things the finance director will ask are whether or not the house already has books like this one, if the market placement is strong enough for your book, how high of an advance your agent is asking for, how much marketing is going to cost, etc. If the profit and loss statement shows a profit, then things are a go and your book is sold! If it shows a loss, then things are a no. Unfortunately this happens, a lot. I heard of one writer whose MS got to this point three times at three different houses, and each time it was a no. Sucks, doesn’t it? Again, this is why you need to make your own trend.

Next week (hopefully I’ll get the post done on time), sales conferences! This is what the houses attend to get your book in the stores.

Publishing 101: From Query To Shelf

At the Chicago Writer’s Conference, Liz Pelletier of Entangled Publishing put on a wonderful workshop about the publishing process from the publisher’s POV. Not only was it enlightening, but kinda scary too. It’s amazing that any publishers make money in the business considering how much it costs to publish books!

When Liz talked about the query, a lightbulb went off in my head. I’d been approaching the query completely wrong and was doing it in a way that a lot of people do. Most people who do write a successful query that lands the coveted agent or editor has figured out what I’m about to tell you.

The purpose of the query is not to tell the story. Strange, right? All this time, I thought that was the purpose–to let the prospective agent or editor know what my story was about, all the plot threads, etc. I agonized over how the hell I was supposed to cut down a 300-some-page book into 250 words.

Well, guess what guys and gals. You’re not supposed to use the query to tell the story. Instead, the query is supposed to be a marketing tool to sell the story.

Oh. My. God. My world righted and things came into focus. You’re supposed to sell the story, not tell the story! So it doesn’t matter that all 10 plotlines aren’t in the query! You only need one! Now, it might be hard to determine what the main plot is, especially if you’re writing a series. One thing you must do when writing a series is make the first book a standalone. You have the overall series arc, but the main plot must have an ending in that first book. If your publisher contracts series in two or more books, then you have more leeway, but as a rule, make the query about the main plot, not the series arc. I’ve found something that helps narrow down the plot is if you write a pitch that fits on the back of a business card–no more than 35 words. Or even better, write an elevator pitch between 15-20 words. This forces you to focus on the main plot, and then you can use that as an outline for your query.

Now for a high concept. What’s a high concept? I didn’t have a clue either. Basically, it’s one attention-grabbing sentence that states what the book is about, so a hook, logline, whatever you call it should go at the top. Now, I say should, not always. Some agents don’t really care about a hook or logline. Most agents have blogs or websites and they state what they want to see in a query.

The dreaded word count. This varies from publisher to publisher and genre to genre. I won’t go into specifics here because once you’re to the point of writing a query, you should’ve already researched your genre and expected word count, but make sure you include it in your query.

Salability. Is your book salable? Meaning, is it something fresh and new? One thing we have to consider is that by the time books come out, they were bought 2-3 years ago. What does that mean for us lowly writers? It means that after something fresh and new comes out, a ton of writers start writing about it to ride the wave, so soon after the fresh and new is out, it’s not fresh and new anymore. For example, the dystopian teenage drama is out. Paranormal romance is out. Magical realism is in. Urban fantasy is in. Vampires are out. Again, read agents blogs/websites to see what it is they’re looking for. Does this mean you shouldn’t write that great vampire novel or the paranormal romance of the century? No. Write it. Because even though it’s out right now doesn’t mean it’ll be out forever. One thing you can do is make the story you’re working on now that might be considered “out” and turn it “in.” How? Turn your paranormal romance into magical realism or urban fantasy. Give your dystopian teenage drama a magical bent. Make it “in.”

Finally, the author platform. That final paragraph where you talk about you. There are differing opinions about this. Some agents say to write something, anything about yourself. Others say only put it down if it’s relevant. This publisher said only put it down if it’s relevant, such as, if you’re already successfully published and have won awards or made the NYT Bestseller’s list or if your background is actually in the area you’re writing about or if you’re a major celebrity. Otherwise, if you’re a debut author with no publishing credits and you’re job only somewhat resembles writing (like mine, I’m a medical transcriptionist), then don’t include it. But again, it’s up to the individual agent/editor you’re querying. Do your research and find out what the agent/editor expects to see.

Okay, so we went over the query part of the process. Next week: Acquisitions! Now doesn’t that sound exciting?

Chicago Spring Fling

Whew!

I didn’t realize I’ve been away for so long! Tons has happened, but more recently I attended the Chicago Spring Fling Writer’s Conference. I think I’m finally catching up on my sleep!

More importantly, I met so many new people, connected with those I’d met the last time I went, and learned so much. I know there are debates on whether or not you should attend a writer’s conference. As long as you go to one that’s well run and well-organized, then go for it! You won’t be sorry!

Each Friday I’ll post something about the conference, whether it’s something I learned, someone I met, a writer I got to rub elbows with… This Friday I’ll post about the traditional publishing biz, from query to getting the book on the shelf.

Stay tuned for that post! I guarantee you won’t want to miss it!

Picking The Brains Of Editors And Agents

At the Chicago Writer’s Conference, there were agent and editor panels held where we were able to pick their brains about what they like, don’t like, expect from us, expect from themselves, the changing industry, etc.

As far as the boom in electronic books go, publishing houses are now beginning their own online publishing lines where they can publish a much wider range of books. Since bookstores are hesitant to put out print books unless the author is a heavy hitter, the publishers now don’t have to worry so much about whether or not the bookstores will sell the books of new authors,  thereby making them more willing to take risks on different genres and more authors. That’s great for us newbies out there who don’t want to go the self-publishing route. Is it cheaper for them to sell our books as e-books? Not really. They still have to pay the editor, copy editor, publicist, software engineers, legal team, cover artist, and whatever else in there I forgot.  

Agents see themselves as business partners with the authors. They’re not “salespeople” nor are they your friend. They are contract negotiators and liaisons between you and the publisher. They make sure you get paid if the publisher “forgets.” They push your manuscript when the editor falls behind. They take care of foreign rights and whatever else rights you have. They do a heck of a lot more but for the life of me I can’t remember everything right now.

Editors go over your book and help you make the book better. However, they’re not there to rewrite the book for you. If they want you to change something, usually it’s wise to listen to them. More often than not, they know what they’re talking about. They know what sells. They know what will make the book better, so listen to them.

Okay, now on to the things that irk them.

1. When you send out a mass email querying a ton of agents and/or editors addressed to Dear Sir/Madam. Yeah, they hate that. It shows laziness on your part and no one wants to work with a lazy author. Remember, this is a partnership between you, your agent and your editor. Be professional. Your query letter is the first impression of how professional you are, so don’t screw it up. If that means you have to send out 100 individual emails addressed to 100 individual agents/editors, then do so. Otherwise, you risk them hitting the delete button in disgust without reading your query.  I mean, really, if you’re not going to take the time to address it to them, why should they take the time to read it?  

 2. Addressing it to the wrong agent/editor. Yes, people do this. Sometimes the agent it’s addressed to isn’t even in that office. Make sure you double-check and triple check that the agent you’re sending your query to is also the same agent you addressed in your query. Otherwise, again, it’ll get deleted without ever being read.

3. Querying them for a genre they don’t represent. Considering that agents receive hundreds of queries a week and only have a very short amount of time to scan over each query (maybe 15-30 seconds) only to discover that your query is for a western when they represent fantasy (now if it’s a western fantasy, then that might be different); well, that ticks them off. This goes back to doing your homework. Make sure you’re sending your queries to the right agents.

4. Querying agents who aren’t accepting submissions. Just because they are an agent and their name is listed in the agent roster doesn’t mean they’re accepting unsolicited submissions. Most agents only take on a limited number of authors a year. If they’re full and not taking on anymore, don’t query them.

5. Confusing agents and editors. Agents are not editors nor are editors agents. Know what each does. Don’t confuse them. That irks them, a lot.

6. Not spell-checking or using proper grammar and punctuation. Your query letter is a representation of how well you write. If your letter is full of mistakes, the agent or editor will focus more on the mistakes rather than the content of the letter. Spell check and have someone else look over it for you. A rule of thumb: Spend about 1-2 months working on the query letter. Again, that letter is what will get your foot in the door, so make sure it shines!

7. Not having the book done. This is a major peeve amongst agents. When you query an agent, they expect the book to be ready NOW, not in a couple of months. If they like your idea, they’re already thinking of an editor to pitch it to. The last thing they want to hear from you is “Um, it’s not ready yet. I’m only on chapter 3.”  Editors, however, are a little more lax on this simply because it’s going to take them about three months just to get to your manuscript. The longer you wait to give it to them, the longer it’s going to take for them to look at it. If it’s something they requested, try to get it to them in a timely manner. They’ll still look at it even if it’s six months to a year later, but you run the risk of it not being what they want at that time because they wanted it six months to a year ago.

8.  Not sending in your manuscript when it’s been requested. Amazingly, this happens a lot. The agents said they only receive about 30% of what they request. It could be because the writer wasn’t finished with the manuscript or chickened out or ended up sending it to a different agent or whatever, but that number was shocking.

9. Being unprofessional. Nobody wants to work with the author from Hell.

10. Expecting more than what they can give. There’s only so much an agent and editor can do for you. You’re not “just a writer.” You’re a lot more and have to wear many hats if you want to make a career as an author.

11. Not following instructions. If you’re one of the lucky few who gets a request for a partial or a full, make sure you read the submission guidelines! First, jump up and down, scream, run around the house, then calm down. Read those guidelines at least 5 times and make sure you fully understand them. Get everything together, read off the guidelines again and be sure you have what you need. Then send it in or email it. Every publishing house and agent have different requirements, so be sure you familiarize yourself with what they want and get it right the first time.  How embarrassing would it be to get an email that says, “Please send in _____ because we didn’t receive it the first time.” Or, worse yet lose your chance with that agent or editor because you didn’t follow directions.

12. Just to throw out the numbers, agents receive anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 queries a year. How many new authors do agents take on per year? Between 1-5. Now, a lot of those queries fall into numbers 1-6 above, are poorly written,  or don’t interest the agent.  But still, only 1-5  new authors a year out of the thousands of queries? Wow.

I’m sure there’s more that I’m missing. If you think of anything else, add it to the comments.  In the meantime, good luck!

You Get To Pitch Your Story? Great!

Pitching your story is, in a word, scary. It’s also nerve-racking. If you’re lucky, you have an actual appointment to pitch. If not, you only have a minute or maybe less. So….if you get in the position to pitch your story to an agent or editor, here are some tips from Carrie Lofty, the Pitch Witch.  These tips are more if you have a very short amount of time.

1. First off, be natural. Try not to be nervous. (Yeah, right. That’s about impossible.) Make eye contact. 

2. Have a good attitude. Be confident. Don’t beg for them to please,please, please accept your story. Don’t act like a whipped puppy.

3. Don’t read from a script. If you need notecards or an outline so you don’t forget what you want to say, that’s fine. But don’t read word-for-word from a script. Keep it natural. If you know your story inside and out, this shouldn’t be a problem.   

4. Lead with the basics: Title, genre, word count, and basic premise.

5. Use two adjectives to describe the story, i.e. sexy and sinful; snarky and humorous, dark and edgy.

6. Your pitch, not including the information above, should be 50-70 words long. Yes, it’s hard to describe your 400 page masterpiece in 70 words.  Describe the heroine (or hero), progression, conflict (goal, motivation, conflict). Reflect tone of the work.  Keep it third-person present and don’t use character names.  Don’t use any cliches or blurb-speak (what you see on the back of the book).  Your first line has to be catchy so they’ll want to listen.  Tell them something about your book that makes it different from others.  Lead with the word “when” or have it in the first line of your pitch.

7. Some editors and agents don’t want you coming in with a rehearsed pitch. They want you to be able to walk in and sell your story. They may also have questions such as, “What are you bringing to this story that is different from what’s already out there?”  Another question might be, “How does this story fit our line?” Be prepared to answer questions. If you have an actual, sit down pitch appointment chances are good your actual pitch might only be a couple of minutes. The rest of the time might be spent talking about other things, like movies, favorite authors, actors, and whatnot.

8.  Elevator pitches are even harder because you only have seconds to do your pitch. In this case, keep it about 30 words long. Don’t worry about titles, genre, or word count. Just go straight into the pitch. One tip–make business cards and print your 30-word pitch on the back of the card.

All right, now get your pitches ready! Tomorrow, I’ll post about things that irk agents and editors.

What!? They want a synopsis too?

All right, if you get to the point of the synopsis, that means someone is interested in your work. The synopsis is the selling tool for an agent or an editor, so it has to SHINE.  Before you starting writing the synopsis, the first step is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK. There’s that statement again–do your homework.  Check the specific agents and/or editors websites to see how many pages the synopsis should be. Some of them specify one page or no more than five pages. Some of them want it double-spaced, others single-spaced. Don’t shoot your chances right from the start because you have the synopsis wrong.

What if there are no guidelines and they just ask for a brief synopsis? In that case, make it 2-3 pages. 

When typing the synopsis, use Times New Roman 12-point font, 1-inch margins.  If it’s one page, then single space with double spaces between paragraphs. If it’s more, double space.  This site  is good for showing how to format the synopsis, query, and masterpiece.  Rather than retype it all here, you can check it out there.

As far as what to put in the synopsis, at the Chicago Conference Laurie Brown listed these  things:  Keep in mind this is for a romance novel–you can adjust it for your genre of novel.

1. Goal, motivation, conflict (protagonist); internal conflict; what she wants, why she can’t get it.

2. GMC of hero; internal conflict.

3. The meet. How do they meet. How is it exemplified?

4. Stuff happens in middle. Relate back to the relationship.

5. Things change. Feelings start to change because______.

6. The dark moment. What happens that convinces them they can never be together.

7. What they’ve learned and how they change so they can have a relationship.

Since I’m writing a fantasy novel, I wouldn’t follow this format completely since mine is more about her growth as a character and her relationships with others around her. 

Rather, mine would be:

1. GMC of protagonist.

2. GMC of hero.

3. GMC of villian.

4. How does protagonist and hero meet?

5.  Stuff happens in the middle.

6.  The dark moments.

7. How protagonist has changed.

Next week–the pitch.  Since the link above explains how to query, I’m not going to worry about that. Rather, I’m going to post about actually pitching to an agent or editor. The tips I’ll be giving are more geared for if you only have a very short amount of time for your pitch.  I’ll also list things that agents and editors don’t like.

Why Isn’t The Story Selling?

Okay, yesterday I posted on how to craft a story. Today, I’m gleaning from what I learned at Susan Meier’s workshop, “Can This Manuscript Be Saved?” If you ever get the chance to attend one of her workshops (I think she does them online as well), do it.

She lists the reasons of why a book gets rejected.

1. It doesn’t fit the publisher’s line. This is something that Scott Eagen pounded into our brains as well. Before sending a MS off to a publisher, make sure the publisher accepts that type of work. Even then, often times the editors will say they accept your genre, but you really won’t know for sure what kind of “feel” they have unless you actually read books edited by those specific editors so you can actually get a feel for what they sell. If your heart is set on a specific editor and house, do your homework. Learn everything you can about that publisher and about that editor so you know what they want. That way, when it lands in front of them, they can’t resist it.

2. Not enough emotion or romance, or too much emotion or romance. Again, this goes back to doing your homework about the publisher and about the genre you’re writing in. If you’re writing a mystery, there isn’t going to be a lot of romance. If you’re writing a romance, there isn’t going to be a lot of mystery (maybe surrounding your characters themselves, but that’s about it). If you’re writing fantasy, again there isn’t going to be a lot of romance. If you’re writing erotica, there’s going to be more sex and so on. Also, check out the publisher. For example, Samhain publishes urban fantasy with a strong romantic emphasis.  If I was to send in my MS to them, it probably would get rejected because I don’t have a strong romantic emphasis. Yes, I have romantic elements but the romance doesn’t drive the story. So, again, do your homework.

3. The pacing is bad. Is your story too slow? Is it way too fast? Does the opening scene show your protagonist being thrown into a lake of crocodiles? If so, you’re probably moving a bit too fast. Is your entire first chapter nothing but description and an info dump about the world you created? Your pacing might be too slow.

4. The characters are wrong. Do you find you really don’t like your protagonist? Is your protagonist too whiny, too harsh, too soft, etc? Is your bad guy just not bad enough? Is your alpha a beta when he should be an alpha? Do you have characters who just don’t quite fit yet? I’ve cut out characters in my MS because it just wasn’t the right time to introduce them yet. It’s okay to not put in every single character you’ve thought up into your book. Maybe they’ll show up later on in a different book.

5. The story is weak. What is the point of the story? Are you getting that point across or waffling around it?  One of Susan’s suggestions is to write out a  short paragraph of what your story is about,  cutting out all the other riffraff, and then compare that to the actual story you’ve written. If the paragraph is awesome and sounds like a great story, but yet the actual MS isn’t stellar then you’ve got a problem.

6. Going on number 5 above, if your story is weak then maybe the story is wrong, the scenes are wrong, or the words are wrong or a combination of all three.

When going over your story to figure out what’s wrong, first off you need to know what kind of genre it is coupled with the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Is it interesting? Credible? Consistent (flows smoothly)? Compelling–or maybe it’s interesting but not compelling where it avoids a sense of urgency.

So, how do you fix it?

1. First off, save a copy of your manuscript and then read a printed copy of your manuscript. Write down a summary going by what you’ve written, and compare that to the summary of what you want it to be. Are they different? How? Once you can see where the weaknesses are in your story, brainstorm and write down 20 things that can replace what you have that will make your story better. Does the plot need replaced? The conflict?

2. Write out a new summary.

3. Replace what needs replaced in your story.

If it’s a scene problem, create a storyboard. You can buy those really big desk calendars and write each scene in for each date, numbering them where the date goes. Does it flow? Make sense? Does your character grow from beginning to end? Every scene must have a reason to be there, it must be a step in the journey; action, reaction, decision.

That’s all I have for today. Like I said, if you get a chance to attend one of her workshops, do it. Tomorrow, I’ll post about the synopsis.

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