Conference Lessons: Rookie Submission Mistakes

facepalmDuring last fall’s writers conference with the Alaska Writers Guild, one of our illustrious presenters was literary agent Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  One of her presentations was the very informative Eight Rookie Submission Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, and I’m happy to share the gist of it with you.

So here they all, all of writers’ favorite ways to ruin their own submission packets!

#1- Wrong Age Category

Know your age category!  If you’re not sure, there are lots of resources on the internet to figure it out, including my handy dandy chart from the post a couple months ago, Conference Lessons: Age Categories, but the two age groupings that Ms. Nelson highlighted in particular were YA and adult, which apparently get blurred a lot.

#2- Wrong Genre

Think about where your project would shelve in a bookstore.  What titles would it sit between?  If you’re not sure, think about another author writes like you (your comp titles, anyone?) and look up how they classify their books.  It’s not enough to say that your manuscript defies categorization; odds are it doesn’t.  (Still not sure? If you write speculative fiction, Ms. Nelson suggests Connor Goldsmith’s sci-fi/fantasy breakdown on Fuse Literary’s website as a good place to start.)

#3- Wrong Agent

Do your research and only query the agents that are a good fit for the project.  A few (free!) resources for finding the right agent include: agent websites; AgentQuery; QueryTracker; and Literary Rambles (but always be sure to double check aggregated information against the agents’ websites, since it can sometimes be dated).

#4- Wrong Comp Titles

Don’t pick books that are too old, too famous, or in a different genre.  When looking for comp titles, try to find similar (to prove demand) but different (to show there’s still market space) titles that were published in the last 3-5 years, and did well, but not made-into-a-movie well.  Ms. Nelson goes so far as to say that it’s better to leave out comp titles altogether than to use the wrong ones.

#5- Query Not about Book

The story should take up the bulk of the query, with only a small portion devoted to the bio.  (The bio is more important for nonfiction, but even then, unless you’re Oprah, focus on what the book is about.)  Bio only matters so long as it pertains to this book (so don’t put in your day job, your hobbies, your fifteen cats, etc., unless it’s applicable), and if you want some kind of agent personalization (I’m querying you because…), keep it to just one non-creepy sentence.

#6- First Page Clichés

Dream scene, character waking up, character being chased, a long time ago moment: none of that.  If it’s been done a thousand times, find a new way, or at least a new tweak on the cliché.

#7- First Chapter Info Dump

This is a similar issue to the above.  When agents see clichés, they stop caring.  When agents see background information, they stop caring.  The moment the agent no longer cares is the moment they stop reading, so make sure that your first pages are endlessly engaging.  Ms. Nelson recommends highlighting every moment of backstory and asking yourself, ‘Is this necessary?’

#8- Unprofessional Communication

Think of your query as a cover letter for a job application.  In communicating with literary professionals, and being one yourself, keep these things in mind:

  • Be friendly! Agents are humans too.
  • Be prompt with responses.
  • Be patient, and be polite when checking in.
  • Don’t complain about querying.
  • Notify all agents immediately if you get an offer.

 

A final piece of submission advice? Ms. Nelson suggests sending queries out in batches to fifteen agents at a time.  After two months with no takers, tweak your submission materials and send out another fifteen. She suggests one hundred to one hundred fifty rejections before moving on to a new project.  So if you’re anything like me, you’ve got a long way to go.  Don’t give up too early!

Happy writing!

Think you might like to query Ms. Nelson? She’s currently looking for adult, YA and MG.  Look on her agent page for details and good luck!

New Years, New Goals

happy-new-yearWhew! We made it through another year, folks! Yay, us!

Man, last year’s calendar idea was spot on for me.  I did a waaaaay better job of keeping up on my resolutions this last year.  Apparently, my secret to success is a zillion tiny aspirations and check boxes.  So as successful as that was, I’m sticking with the calendar format.  But now, what to put behind all those little check boxes?

Each year, I try to focus on at least one goal for each of four categories: physical, mental, spiritual, and professional.  Physical usually involves exercise (*shudders*).  Mental often gets kidnapped by my literary passions by giving me an excuse to burn through a zillion “educational” books.  (My two favorites from last year were Sobel’s The Planets, which filled me with awe and science, and Larson’s Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania, which made me cry over and over.)  And professional really just means ‘writing’, but writing doesn’t end with ‘-al’, so it had to be done.

But writing goals are hard for me; specifically, submissions are hard for me.  I do pretty well at drafting, decent enough at editing, but any steps beyond that are super painful, and for one main reason: REJECTIONS.  Rejections send me into clawing, leg-kicking death rattles every time.  I stuck to my stated submission goals in the calendar one hundred percent, excruciating as it was, but the goals themselves were weenie, anticipating the inevitable rejections I just knew I would receive from each submission.  (They weren’t all rejected, but it sure feels that way sometimes.)  I spent the year telling myself that next year I’d make some real goals, that this year was only an experiment, etc ad nauseam, and now that that new year is here, I’m a little terrified.

But I have a plan!

As demonstrated by last year’s mini-resolutions success, I do better when big goals are broken into little bits.  And as demonstrated by the check box calendar success, I will do anything for the right to scribble in a tiny box. (Gotta check ‘em all!)  I knew I needed quantifiable, attainable goals that built on themselves toward a larger total goal.  I had all the information for success, I just hadn’t put it together yet.  Then, I stumbled across Kim Liao’s Why You Should Aim for a Hundred Rejections a Year a few months ago and read it with a budding sense of excitement.  This!  This was exactly what I needed!

I needed to defeat my fear of rejections by making rejections my box-check-y goal!  *Wonder Woman stance*

So here’s the plan.  This year, I will seek out 48 rejections, averaging out to four per month; I had thought to do 52, one per week, but the monthly calendar thing made it awkward.  (Either way, it’s a wee bit smaller than Liao’s suggestion, but I’m still peeing myself a little, so we’ll start there.)  Rejections count as queries that don’t result in an agent contract or a book deal, short stories submitted that don’t get accepted, story contests I enter that I don’t place in, anything like that.  If I submit something and it is published, it doesn’t count.  With the rejections as the goal, I hope to a) trick myself into submitting more, b) encourage myself to stretch toward more competitive venues that I’m too cowardly to so much as research now, and c) overcome my crippling phobia of rejections and stop viewing them as personal hate mail and invitations to go shoot myself alone in the cold dark woods.  Whee!

On that note, this may be a copout, but since this is such a wild departure from my usual submission goals, and given my propensity toward self-loathing, I’m only forcing myself to try it for four months.  If I’m getting nothing but the weepies out of it by then, I’ll reassess.  But I have high hopes for this.  Check-boxes make everything fun.

It’s a little unorthodox as far as goals go, but I’m excited to give it a try.  After all, it’s really just an inverted publication goal; if I’m sending out that many submissions, something’s going to stick, right?  *coughs*  Right.

So how about you?  What are your goals for the year?  What are you trying to do differently?  Let me know in the comments!  I’d love to chat about it with you!

Happy writing, and happy new year!  Here’s to new beginnings! *clink!*

 

PS- Want more details about my personal life? You can find my overarching goals for the year, as well as a copy of January’s calendar, by clicking on this elegant link! –> marcotte-2017-resolutions Enjoy!

Diary-Free Cheese and Other Horrible Failures

FoodFailSo I did it again. I got cocky. Flush with the victory of yet another culinary triumph, I decided to jump to the boss level. After all, I’ve been successfully making delicious fresh and aged cheeses for years. None of which I can eat. So how hard could making a dairy-free cheese be? Um… yeah. Let’s just say that the taste of puke in the back of my throat was an improvement on the taste of that “cheese”.

As rockin’ as I think I am in the kitchen, I’m just as arrogant when it comes to writing sometimes. Several months ago, I had a pretty good track record on getting short stories published. It was almost easy. Of course, giving away free content is pretty easy, so I figured it was time to up my game. At this point, a reasonable person would graduate up into a slightly higher pay bracket. But I’m pretty terrible at gradations. I jumped straight to the big game, expecting hundreds of dollars to start flowing in immediately.

Yeah. I went months without selling anything. It got so bad that I stopped writing short stories altogether, so sure I was of their imminent failure.

I tend to think about my failings often. Usually, it’s just indulgent self-loathing that serves no purpose beyond building up a nice thick angst cloud that my hubby can spent the next several weeks trying to air out of the house. Keeps us entertained. But sometimes, I’m able to glean little nuggets of usefulness instead. And here’s what I’ve learned from trying to jump ranks in the short story realm.

Set Attainable Goals I told myself I was going to make hundreds of dollars.  Then I could pay to go down to a writer’s conference, and maybe get a better computer.  And maybe buy a house!  (Okay, I wasn’t quite that optimistic.)  I made it my goal to only sell to top-tier magazines, and to do it quick.  And that just wasn’t viable.  Failing to meet my goals, or to even adjust them, just sent me further into a writing funk.

Edit, Edit, Edit One of the nice things about publishing your work in smaller presses that nobody’s heard of is that they’re pretty accepting of your content. Especially if they’re not paying you for it. I’m not saying that small indie e-zines can’t put out some stellar content, because a lot of them do. But for me, I got really lazy about the things I was submitting. Most of it was checked over for typos, but not much more. So when I tried to sell that sort of stuff to more illustrious titles, I got laughed right off the website.

Practice Your Craft I stopped producing new stories. I just recycled all the old stuff that I couldn’t sell and wouldn’t improve. It was shocking how nobody wanted my sloppy seconds. And I got so out of practice at writing a tight, compelling short story that I couldn’t even see the flaws anymore.

Don’t Stop at No A problem with submitting to mega-famous well-paying magazines is that everyone else is. With such a large pool of talented writers to choose from, your odds of getting rejected are much higher. It’s just part of the game. But rather than reworking the stories, writing new ones, or submitting to less in-demand publications, I just gave up.  I stopped completely.  And what do you call a writer who’s not writing?  A… uh… well, I don’t know.  But not a writer, that’s for sure.

So, as was mentioned in my resolutions post, I’m trying to get back into short stories. Publications tag me as a professional, helping to build up my bio; with the proliferation of the internet and mobile devices that can access it, there’s more opportunity than ever to sell short stories; writing shorter stories, wherein readers expect a payoff and expect it quick, helps me keep my writing tuned up; and, with all our uber-tech and pathetic attention spans, short stories are more popular than ever.

It’s a new year and I am fully recommitted to short stories. At only a week and a half into the month, I’ve already started two new ones. So what’s holding you back?  And will you instead commit to throat-punching that road-block into submission? 😀

NaNo Prep

This is the last Monday I have before November, which kicks off National Novel Writing Month. (If you aren’t doing this, you should. If you don’t know what this is, I don’t know you.) Paradoxically, NaNoWriMo is not the busiest month of the year for me. Really, my pace of writing isn’t much higher than it usually is, and it’s probably actually easier because there’s so much support and encouragement. The busiest month of the year is the month before NaNo. In particular, the week before NaNo is killer.

Different people approach NaNoWriMo preparation differently. Some like to compile playlists. Some like to outline. Some like to character sketch. Some like to stock the kitchen with ramen and Snickers bars. I dabble in most of those things. But my biggest time sink during NaNo prep often has little to nothing to do with my NaNo project.

This month I am preparing and sending out six short story submissions to various magazines across the internet. I like to do this so that all that nail-biting while I wait for responses gets sucked into the attention black hole of writing a new novel. Likewise, I’ve prepared a batch of five agents who I’ll be querying with City of the Dead. Also, I am planning, prepping, and writing (where appropriate) all the blog posts for next month so that I can concentrate on NaNo. The problem is that the month is nearly over and I still have much to do. And I’ll be spending two of the next four days in a local high school mentoring for the Young Writers Program (the youth oriented version of NaNoWriMo) during the precious, rare time that I usually spend on my writing career. (I regret nothing! I love spreading the writing love around, and this is exactly the sort of project I would have swooned for in high school.)

So you will of course understand if I more or less blow off a meaningful blog post this week. Sorry. I remind you all of the looming deadline for Apocafest (tomorrow! see this post for details) and encourage you to put up your best apocalypse scenario of 200 words or less. See you all next month!