On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

When it comes to books about how to write, the most recommended book I’ve seen has been Stephen King’s On Writing.

I was not going to read this book.

The main reasons for completely disregarding it were (1) I’m not a fan of King’s work (nothing against him or his writing, it’s just not for me) and (2) I didn’t think a book about writing would actually hold any information I don’t already know or can’t readily google.

I was half-right about that second one.

What I didn’t realize, whenever those recommendations popped up, was that this was a memoir, a book not about how to write, but about how he grew as a writer. Sure, he gives some advice too (nothing you can’t find if you google the topic) but the book wasn’t about writing, it was about becoming a writer.

I am so glad I read it because I really appreciated seeing and feeling the struggles he went through, the struggles most writers are still going through to get published. I related to so much of it.

So I guess I’ll be joining the masses that say every writer should read this book, whether for motivation or commiseration, but I’ll be sure to say why. It’s not a writing textbook, but a story of how one person overcame so much to become one of the most famous authors of all time.

Now, the Elements of Style, that’s a textbook.

I picked it up because King recommended it several times throughout his book as a great starting out guide on the biggest mistakes new writers make in their work. From comma usage, to wrong word meanings, it’s a pretty good guide. I’ve found that some minor things in it were outdated (like the use of they for singular non-gender specific nouns) but overall, it was a comprehensive what-not-to-do list from which I took a few notes to keep in my writing toolbox for future reference. Sure, I could (and have) google it all too, but for how short the book was, I didn’t mind.

Overall, these two were a good way to start off my year of being an agented author, and hopefully a professional one. If I thought waiting on agent responses was hard, being on sub with editors is 100 times worse! Here’s to fingers crossed!

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How getting a literary agent is like winning the lottery.

I wanted to write about something different today: literary agents. The holy grail of an aspiring author. A lot of people compare finally getting an agent to winning the lottery, while others say it’s skill and perseverance that gets you there. I agree with both. While hard work is what makes your writing good, getting an agent (and getting published) does rely on some degree of luck. So I’ve made a list of just how much luck you need to land that agent offer.

There are six numbers on the average lottery ticket, and there are six criteria for an agent that are pure luck:

  1. Subject matter. The agent has to personally like what you’re writing about. Whether vampires or the revolutionary war, this has to be a subject they’re passionate about.
  2. Voice. The agent has to be enthralled with the writing. Some like it flowery and others like it concise. It’s all subjective.
  3. Characters. The agent has to connect with the characters on a deep and personal level. Care for them the way you, the writer, does. This is kind of like dating, and we all know how hard dating is.
  4.  You. The agent has to be on the same wavelength as you, the writer. Agents facilitate writing careers, not just sell a book. The two of you have to mesh in order to work together, and a clash of personalities will only get in the way of that. Also, if an agent asks for revisions you don’t want or has a different vision for your book, they may not be a good fit either.
  5. Current clients. Your work may be amazing, but if the agent already has a client with a very similar work, you’re out of luck.
  6. Current publishing trends. You may have written the perfect dystopian novel, but publishers just aren’t buying them anymore and an agent won’t waste time trying to sell it. Time to shelve it for another day and write a different book.

 

And there we go! Six lottery numbers that you have to draw before you hit the jackpot, and that’s after writing the perfect novel. So good luck to all you querying writers out there, may the odds be ever in your favor.

PS: For anyone just entering the querying world, check out queryletterbuilder.com – a 100% free querying resource to get you started.

Can I just hire someone to get me published?

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I came upon a question today in my Facebook writer’s group that I feel needs an in-depth response as I have seen ones like it time and time again. I got permission from the poster to copy and paste it here, and of course, provide at least some of the answers.

Legitimate question…could I hire someone to handle all the nagging, nitpicking nonsense associated with tracking down and securing a publisher? I don’t know how to write a “query” (it seems), I get frustrated chasing after publishers who never even return a phone call…I’m a writer. Couldn’t I just write and hire someone else to handle everything else?

Now, you might think to yourself, duh what you just described is an agent, but when you take the question in its entirety, you would be able to see that the answer is not that simple because it does not alleviate the frustration of the writer about the publishing industry.

Let’s break it down, piece by piece.

“Hiring” an Agent

An agent does, in fact, do all those things the poster asks for – know the publishers, send the inquiry, go over contracts, and finally sell the book. Most big publishers don’t even accept unagented manuscripts because they only want to deal with people experienced in the industry (as do writers!) and know they’re getting high quality work through them.

However, one does not simply ‘hire’ an agent (not a real one anyway so beware of scammers). There are thousands of writers looking to get represented by a few dozen agencies. Even if your book is great there’s a chance none of the agents you query will accept it for reasons completely irrelevant to your writing skills, including:

  1. The genre is not what publishers are looking for at the moment.
  2. The agent already represents a similar book.
  3. The agent really liked the book but didn’t love it enough to rep it because publishers are even more picky and the agent doesn’t feel confident they’d be able to sell it. This one hurts the most – believe me.

In order to even consider querying an agent you need an exceptional, polished, edited, completed manuscript, a query with a hook, and a synopsis. In order to get an agent? Perseverance, research, and luck. None of which have a monetary value, which brings us over to the publishing aspect.

‘Tracking down’ a Publisher 

Let’s put aside the big five whose submission sections say they don’t accept unsolicited (aka unagented) manuscripts, and go with those who do. There are quite a few choices:

  1. Imprints and big boutiques such as Sky Pony Press and Entangled. They have the distribution and marketing for a large audience.
  2. Independent presses such as Future House Publishing, Clean Teen Publishing, and Blue Moon Publishers. They do the editing, covers, marketing, and get your book out there in local bookstores, but are limited on their distribution.
  3. Micro/epubs that only publish your book on demand or in electronic format.
  4. Vanity presses that you pay to publish your book just so you can say it’s been published.
  5. Starting your own independent publishing company.

So what happens when you query a publisher on this list? Your query goes to an acquisitions editor, who then decides if he/she thinks the manuscript is worth a look. Most (note: all) publishers do not take submissions or follow ups over the phone. They just get too many. Imagine agents getting 100+ queries a week. Publishers get even more from all those writers rejected by agents.

After the editor reads your manuscript, he/she decides if the book is worth the risk of publishing it. The lower on the totem pole you get, the higher the chances are of getting signed because of the lower costs (aka risk) to the publisher. For example, just one round of professional editing costs around $800 for an 80,000 word manuscript. One round. A customized professional looking cover for two formats (ebook and print) can run you $600. A publisher has to truly believe that the sales from your book can cover those initial costs and then some. Marketing is expensive. Netgalley subscriptions run upwards of $599 per title. You can see how picky publishers must be in order to be successful.

The thing is, it’s not about chasing down publishers. It’s about finding the one who is not only willing to publishing your work, but is passionate about it to give you the best chance at success. There’s no point in hiring anyone to find you a publisher because you can just as easily Google a list and scroll through their submission guidelines, querying every single one until you get a bite. There’s no way to skip the process, and no middle person will make it easier.

Self-publishing Sucks. 

There is, of course, the other option. The one no writer wants to consider until the sea of rejections begins to drown them. The publishing industry is horrible. No one is denying that, agents and publishers included. So many amazing works go unpublished and unseen because of it.

But the self-publishing world is just as bad. The drawbacks to being successful at self-publishing are numerous, including:

  1. The costs of professional editing and cover creation, which can be over a grand. I don’t have an extra grand sitting in my bank. I can’t even afford a $250 ISBN.
  2. Then there’s the marketing. Marketing is expensive and half the time it doesn’t pay out. You pay $25 to get featured and get ten sales off a 99c book. Worth it? Usually not.
  3. Third, there’s the amount of books that fight for that limited amount of spots on your kindle and hours in your day. Most indie books are priced 99c or even free, especially if it’s a first in a series. That’s where reviews come into play, and the best way to get them is to give the book away.

Now that doesn’t mean that an indie book can’t be successful. I’ve read plenty that have been. It just takes a lot of research, hard work, and time, things some people just don’t have, and thus don’t want their writing to be just another needle in a haystack. And I totally understand that, which is why we have the next option.

Yes, you CAN get help – but is it worth it?

If you have the money but not the time, there are options for you. The hard part is figuring out who is legitimate and who is trying to scam you. Thanks to Google, you can usually find out with a simple search. However, there are other things to watch out for, like:

  1. Agents do not, EVER , respond to a middle man. They expect queries directly from the author. If the query says anything like ‘my client’ it’s an auto no. Don’t pay for someone who say they will do this for you – it’s a scam.
  2. Agents also do not use sites like Authors.me because they have plenty of queries in their inbox. There’s no shortage of talent or submissions.
  3. Many companies, such as Author Solutions, offer a lot of services to help you successfully self-publish your book, but so do self-publishing companies such as CreateSpace and Lulu. Shop around if you go this route.

What I’m trying to say is, there’s plenty of ways to spend your money out there, but you have to decide what’s worth it (and usually it’s not).

So I’m screwed?

Not at all! On the contrary, you are now more informed about the publishing industry than ever and knowledge saves you both time and money when going ahead. Here are some great options to help you get started.

As far as paying for services goes in publishing, your best go to is hiring an experienced editor. A professional editor is not just for finding typos in your manuscript. Many editors have worked for a major publisher before and offer services to help you with your query letter, synopsis, and pitch. These editors know what agents are looking for and will do their best to help you be prepared for it, so that all you have to do is hit send on your email and wait for a response. This is the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Here’s a good place to start. Don’t have the cash? Find a critique group, such as on Goodreads or Reddit, and get help.

Sadly, no matter how you put it, you have to sell your work – whether to an agent or a publisher. Just writing is not enough, the same way inventing something is not enough – you need to sell it to an investor to make it happen. Not showing initiative in marketing your work is a huge turn off for those in the publishing industry, which is why a third party is always a no-go. You can hire someone to write your query letter and research agents, sure, but then you still have to go through the process yourself. Even after you’re published, you still have to be a marketer (or learn to be one) in order to sell your book, both online and in person. There’s just no way around it.

As far as looking for publishers and agents seeking your type of manuscript, a great go to is pitch contests. Twitter is an incredible source of agent and publisher requests and if you’re a writer and not on it, you’re doing it wrong. Pitch contests are simple – for most of them, all you need is a tweet long pitch of your book that you post on the day of the contest. Then, agents and publishers favorite them and you get to send in your query to someone who is already interested in your book. This really works – it’s how I, and countless others, got published.  Here is a list of upcoming contests to put on your calendar.

If you want to get published you have to do your research. Make sure you are following submission guidelines to the T or your great book won’t see the light of day. Use QueryTracker to track your queries. Another great source for finding the right agents is Manuscript Wish List. Follow agents and publishers on twitter to see what they have to say. Check out #tenqueries #mswl #askagent and #querywin. Follow writing blogs and Writer’s Digest. There is a plethora of information out there, and I cannot stress the importance of being informed.

And last and most important of all – don’t get discouraged. It might seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but as long as you keep writing, keep improving, and keep sending out those queries and getting feedback, you will get published. And it will be totally worth it in the end.