Thursday, September 24, 2009

Woohoo! Publishing is fun fun fun! Really.

Hey, you people. Sorry I haven't posted in, like, more than a month. I've been crazy busy starting junior year and all … Gah. Stupid homework. *Cries*

Well, anyway. I promised to keep y'all updated about the whole "publishing" thing I'm trying to do. Soooo let's talk about that. :)

Okay, so, good news. :D After my query letter was rejected by – oh, I don't know – sixteen literary agents or so, I finally got an e-mail response from Lindsay Ribar – assistant to literary agent Matt Bialer – asking to see my full manuscript.

O_O !!!! OMG! Well first of all, I totally freaked out and started screaming. And my mom got all scared because she thought there was a psycho kidnapper in our house or something. But yeah, that's not really relevant.

So, this was approximately a month ago. Since then I've been frantically editing the last few chapters of my book. I finished at last, about a week ago. And the day afterward, I submitted my manuscript. *Whew* I haven't gotten any response yet ... not even a "Thanks for submitting your manuscript!" And I'm kind of flipping out because I don't know if that's a bad sign or whether I'm being paranoid. Oh, well. When I hear back I'll let you guys know. ;)

Now, I'm thinking that some of you are probably reading this and saying, "Uhhh yeah, what is a query letter? What is a literary agent? What is a manuscript?"

So this would be a great opportunity for me to tell you all about publishing, wouldn't it? :] Now, I'm not an expert; I've never been published. But I've learned a lot about publishing in the past few months, so I'll share what I know and any advice I have.

Here I go. *Ah hemmm*

Let's start with the three simple things you should do before you even consider getting published. I know a lot of this will seem like "No, duh". But while these things may seem obvious, they are important!

1. Your book should be finished. Yeah, anyone can get a good idea for a book, or a good first half of a book. What you need, to begin with, is a full manuscript. If you have a complete draft, literary agents will be more interested – because they'll know that you actually have the motivation to write books, not just think about writing them.

2. Your book has to be edited. I know, I know. You're probably rolling your eyes and saying, "Well DUH!" But here's the thing: I see a lot of young writers trying to get published before they're really ready for it. You can't just write one draft and expect that it's good enough to be considered for publication. I know that the first time you finish something, you're really proud of it and it may seem flawless. But if you give it a break and come back to it, you'll see that there are a lot of mistakes and plot holes that you missed before.

No worries – just take a deep breath and EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. We love editing! YAY! ... Okay, actually editing is a pain in the butt. But we need it. And no, editing it once isn't enough. I'm talking three to five drafts – and don't just fix all the typos and call it a day. I mean, you've got to rip it apart. Write new scenes, take pointless/boring/stupid scenes out. Develop your characters and plot as much as possible. Be honest with yourself; you want your book to be GOOD, not just "good enough". If editing doesn't make you so frustrated that you cry, you're not editing hard enough. Seriously.

3. You need feedback. Editing your book by yourself isn't enough. You need someone else's opinion – preferably more than one person. The more feedback, the better. And no, it doesn't necessarily have to be a professional editor (of course, if you can get one, that would be great). I mean, hey – I edited my book with my mom. But whoever edits your book with you, it should be someone you trust, and someone who will be totally and completely honest. It needs to be someone who will do more than fix your typos. He/she should tell you if there are plot holes, clich├ęs, etc. He/she should be scribbling notes all over your manuscript like crazy, holding nothing back.

And when you receive feedback, don't take it personally. Yes, some of it will be hard to deal with – if, say, someone points out some huge gaping evil plot hole that you never noticed before. But if you made a mistake, it's not because you're stupid (well, maybe you are, but that's probably not the reason). I've written five books and I still think writing books is hard. In fact, the more I write, the harder it seems.

But I've learned that feedback is essential. Take that feedback and use it! Other people usually see the problems you never thought about. Although it's really hard to fill in those holes sometimes, it pays off in the end. You just have to keep whacking away at it.

Oh, and if anybody here ever needs some honest feedback, I'm willing to give it. But I warn you – I'm a pretty hardcore editor. I get it from my mom. :]

So, once your book is finished and edited and all that jazz ... IT'S PUBLISHING TIME!!! BOOYAAHH!!! But just FYI – as you're trying to get published, you'll probably find yourself doing some more editing, reshaping your idea, etc. And literary agents/publishers may request rewrites/revisions. So be warned: your book probably isn't done yet.

Anyway. As for publishing … It's not a simple process. You would think it would be easy. I mean, a couple years ago, I thought it was like 1. Write a book, 2. It gets published miraculously, by some unknown force.

But, no. You thought writing your book was hard? HA! Publishing is just as, if not more, difficult. It's a long, annoying, and frustrating process. But the key is to keep trying. Face it: you're going to go through tons of rejection, and you are not alone. At all. Thousands of other aspiring authors share your pain and suffering. Think of any amazing, award-winning author, and I promise you – he/she went through rejection too, probably dozens of times. It's the writers that keep trying and don't give up that get published. When you get rejected, don't take it personally. Literary agents have to read tons of queries a day, and most of those are badly-written or formatted wrong or for the wrong genre … You see what I'm saying: it's a hard job. And you might have been rejected because the agent happened to be in a crappy mood that day, not necessarily that your query was bad. You never know. Besides, it's subjective; the book you've written isn't for everyone. So it will appeal more to one agent than another (or twenty others).

So, where do you start? Well, it helps to know the basics of what you're getting yourself into. Like I said, it's complicated – plus, I'm sixteen, and not very experienced, so forgive me for not knowing every single detail. But I'll tell you what I know. :)

Ok. So here's how it works (ideally, anyway): You submit query letters to literary agents. You get rejected by a bunch of 'em. One finally agrees to represent your book. He/she writes to publishing companies, asking them to publish the book. If a publishing company likes the book, they publish it. YAY! I know, sounds easy. But it takes a loooong time.

Anyhoooo. Here's the steps you should take, once you're ready to publish:

RESEARCH! LOOK UP LITERARY AGENTS!

Literary agents are the fabulous people who represent books. No, you don't necessarily need one, but most authors highly recommend getting an agent. Some small publishing companies will consider unagented manuscripts, but the big famous publishing companies won't – and if they do, you have a very small chance of getting published.

So, before you do anything, do your research. I suggest using agentquery.com or 1000literaryagents.com.

First of all, find agents that represents the genre of your book. If your book is a fantasy and the agent only represents nonfiction ... guess what? He/she isn't going to consider representing you! The agent will specify what he/she represents on his/her website. And on sites like agentquery, you can narrow down the list of agents to those who represent your genre. Compile a list of lots and lots of agents!

Secondly, do a background check. Google-stalk the agents you're considering. If the agent asks for any sort of advance payment, it's a SCAM!!! RUN AWAY!!! Preditors & Editors is a good site to do background checks on agents (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/).

And finally, once you have a good list ... IT'S QUERY TIME!!!!

WRITE A QUERY LETTER!

Query letters! Yaaay! We love query letters!

Yaaay ... Wait, Brigid. What's a query letter?

Well, a query letter is basically a letter saying, "Hiya literary agent! I wrote this book and I think you'll like it! It's awesome so you should represent it!" But it's a lot more formal than that.

There is no "right" way to write a query, exactly. But typically, there are four important parts, sometimes five.

1) The Hook

The hook is a single sentence that summarizes what your book is about. It should be relevant, concise, and it should catch the agent's attention.

According to agentquery.com, the best way to come up with a hook is to use what they call The "When" Formula, which goes something like this: "When [event happens], [main character's name] – [short description of character (meaning important stuff like personality and age, not the character's eye color)] – must [face a conflict and resolve it in some awesome way]."

Huh? I know, that looks confusing. Lemme give you an example. Here's the hook I used for my query for Reborn:

"When an evil spirit endangers everything she’s ever known, immortal seventeen-year-old Kami must make a decision between her feelings and the safety of her universe."

There! That's not so bad, is it? Now, come up with your own. :)

2) Introduction:

Say why you're querying the specific agent – show off that you've done some research. The agent wants to know that you queried him/her for a particular reason, not that you're sending out queries randomly. It can be something as simple as "I understand that you represent [genre], which is why I think [my book, from that genre] will interest you." But if, say, they've represented a book similar to your book, you might want to mention that too.

Also, make sure that you mention the genre and basic setting of your book, and the approximate word/page count.

3) The plot summary:

Next, you're going to write a short synopsis of your book. That doesn't mean that you have to write every single last thing that happens. Keep it very, very concise; I would say less than 200 words – you want your entire query letter to fit on a single page. Think of it as the blurb that you read on the inside cover of a book. It should tell the agent a) what the book is basically about, b) who the important characters are, and c) what the main conflict is. This isn't the place to give everything away.

Always write the summary in the present tense!

And never ever ever ever ...

- Put extraneous details in the summary. Like, "And then Bob walks down the street. The sky is blue. He eats a ham sandwich for lunch." Snooorrre. Focus on writing about the conflict.

- Put empty questions in the summary. Ex: "Will Bob be able to defeat the evil, talking doughnuts from Mars???" Umm, I don't know. Will he? I don't think I care ...

I would care if you wrote it more like, "Bob will have to face his deepest fears in order to defeat the evil, talking doughnuts from Mars!" I know it's a bad example, but you see what I'm saying?

4) Comparison:

This part is ... optional, I guess you could say. Some people say you should include it, and some say you shouldn't. I would say don't include it unless the agent says on his/her website that he/she wants you to include a comparison with another book.

Anyway, here is where you would compare your book to a couple other other well-known books. The point of this is to make your book sound relevant – but you don't want to sound unoriginal either. Why would an agent want to represent a book that's been written/published before? If you must include the comparison, I would advise mentioning how your book also differs from the "similar book". Or at least say that your book has some elements similar to one book, and some elements similar to another book.

5) Conclusion:

Tie it up with a short paragraph or two.

If you have any publishing experience, mention that. And no, the agent won't care if you got a poem published in your school newspaper – I mean, like, if you've had something published in a literary magazine or something. If you've never been published, then don't say anything. If you say that you've never been published, then it seems like you're putting yourself down, and if you don't mention being published, the agent will assume you're unpublished. Instead, you might want to say what makes your point of view unique, or relevant to the topic of your book.

If the agent wants a sample chapter, synopsis, or both, then mention that you've included them.

If it's an email query, DO NOT include sample material/synopses as attachments. Never ever ever! Ever! Unless the agent specifically asks for them to be sent as attachments. Include all sample material and the synopsis in the body of the email.

If you have a full manuscript – which you should – then mention that the full manuscript is available. Then end the letter with something along the lines of "Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you."

If you're still confused, I recommend reading this: http://agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

And, as an example, here's the query I wrote for Reborn ... The one that got Lindsay Ribar to ask for my manuscript, that is. Woot woot. :]

Dear Matt Bialer:

When an evil spirit endangers everything she’s ever known, immortal seventeen-year-old Kami must make a decision between her feelings and the safety of her universe.

I understand that you represent fantasy and that you are seeking unique new voices, which is why my novel, Reborn, may interest you. It is a young adult urban fantasy and the first book in a proposed trilogy, consisting of approximately 130,000 words (236 pages). The story takes place in an imaginary dimension of our own, modern world.

Kami is one of the Protectors: a race of immortal teenagers whose purpose is to protect humankind from a rival group of immortals, the Destroyers. The Protectors and the Destroyers are trapped in an ongoing battle and an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Kami's five hundred years as a Protector have made her a fierce and confident fighter, but when she meets mysterious and unpredictable Jack, she starts to question her purpose in life. Eighteen-year-old Jack is a “Reborn”, or the newest reincarnation of an immortal spirit. Kami forms an immediate friendship with Jack when he joins the Protectors, but as her feelings for him grow stronger, so do his dark and terrifying powers. When Jack and Kami learn the disturbing story that connects their past lives, they find out that a demonic spirit, Ravi, is raging inside of Jack. Seeking revenge, Ravi threatens to take over Jack’s mind and, through him, conquer the immortal world. Although Jack struggles against Ravi, Kami knows that he is slowly succumbing to his evil self. If Kami wants to save herself and the other immortals, she will have to kill Jack. The only problem: she’s falling in love with him.

As a teenager myself, I can relate to young readers through my writing. Reborn explores themes about the futility of violence, but it is also a tale of dangerous romance – like a cross between S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

I have included the first five pages of Reborn. A full manuscript is available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Brigid Gorry-Hines

WRITE A SYNOPSIS!

Now, not all agents will ask for a synopsis. In fact, a lot of them don't. If they do, it means they want a longer, more detailed summary of your book – besides the one included in the body of the query letter.

The synopsis shouldn't be longer than three typed pages or so. It should summarize everything: beginning, middle, end. YES, that means you should "give away" the ending. And you should summarize all the most important events in the story. Note the "important" – once again, no extraneous details!

At the top of the synopsis, use this heading:

Synopsis of [Title]
Genre: [genre]
Word count: [number] words
By [your name]

Other than that, there's not really a format. I would post the one I wrote for Reborn … but, um, it's hideous. I don't like writing synopses; they're hard. Personally, I haven't queried many agents that asked for a synopsis. But it's good to have one in handy, just in case.

SEND THAT QUERY!

When you have a good query letter, start sending it out!

I like sending queries by email, because you tend to get a faster response (and you kill less trees!), but not all agents accept email queries; some prefer queries by snail-mail. The agent will specify whether he/she wants an email or snail-mail query on his/her website.

Like I said, you'll get rejected bunches of times. But keep going! Send that query to agent after agent. Unless an agent only accepts "exclusive" queries, I recommend querying multiple agents at once. But as you go along, make small changes in the query to appeal to the specific agents. And keep revising the letter – make it a little better every time you send it. ;)


Other than that ... That's pretty much all my advice on publishing. Wish me luck on my publishing endeavors. And if you have any more questions, feel free to ask. :)