Sunday, July 26, 2009

Follow the Rules -- of Submitting and other fun things


I'm a little late posting this morning because, miracle of miracles, the dog and cat decided to be nice and wake the rest of the household instead of me. So, without further delay, here goes....

Several months ago, the local library asked if I'd be interested in helping start a critique group there. Mind you, it's been something I've asked about off and on for a year or more. The problem has always been space. Our library is bursting at the seams right now and we are anxiously awaiting the completion of the new building next year. Any way, I digress.

The critique group has been an interesting experience for me because I'm the "pro". I'm the one with the experience and the only one with any pro publications under my belt. More than that, it has shown me the importance of research. Not only about your current project -- you know, making sure you don't have your character from Tudor England using plastic toothpicks or your aliens from a totally non-Earth planet drinking coffee on their spaceship -- but also about your target market, be it an agent, an editor or readers.

Part of knowing your target market for an agent, and even for a publisher, is knowing what they want AND knowing their submission requirements. There have been several blogs this week where agents discuss the how-to of their submission processes. Jane Dystel, of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, discusses the "etiquette" of submitting to their agency. First on her list is "read the agency's submission guidelines". That seems so simple and yet it is ignored so often. As writers, we sometimes seem to think the rules don't apply to us. After all, if we send our murder mystery to Agent X printed on blood red paper and little hearts with tiny knives sticking out of them decorate our envelop that will have to get us noticed and moved to the top of their to be read stack, right? Wrong. It will get you noticed. But you'll find the bottom of File 13, not the top of the TBR stack.

Another one of Ms. Dystel's rules is to be sure you include all your contact information. Apparently, there are some of us out there who think agents are also mind readers. They don't need our email addresses or phone numbers. If they like our project enough, they'll be able to magically devine how to contact us. (That sound you near now is my head thudding against my desk as I wonder if I remembered to put my email address on the last submission I sent out...oh, I did. Whew!) More to the point, in my opinion, than Ms. Dystel's rules of how to submit is Jessica Faust's blog entry on how to get an instant rejection from her agency (BookEnds, LLC).

In short, you need to read up on the agent and what he represents, what he's looking for and then, if submitting to him, follow the agency's submission guidelines. In other words, reseach.

(steps off of soapbox)

Some links of interest this week:

  • Rachelle Gardner wrote a five-part series on "Proposal to Publication" this past week. While I might not agree with everything she says, there are some good points there.
  • WriterJenn has an interesting post about how, as a writer, you need to be patient.

And, as always, ebooks are in the news:
  • Barnes & Noble announced the launch of its own ebook store. It will have something along the line of 700,000 books and, in conjunction with this, B&N announced it has entered into an exclusive agreement with Plastic Logic to provide ebooks for its reader.
  • PBS took on the issue of how the publishing industry is confronting "changing reader habits". It's an interesting article/interview about how ebooks are changing not only the face of publishing but also how they are impacting the brick and mortar stores.
  • Finally, the Idea Logical Blog discusses "A context in which to evaluate ebook strategies" and the four phases that will, or have, occurred in the process of ebooks becoming a true major player in the publishing landscape.
Lots of links, a little soap boxing, so how about discussion now? What are your thoughts on any of this?

14 comments:

Dave Freer said...

The problem is - to be fair (and I don't think it is intentional on Agents or publishers that take direct subs part)- that guidelines are sometimes more than a little ambiguous - if you're not in the biz and not in the loop. If you are they're very clear. Mike K - who is sensible - got me to read his, cold, when he wrote them. I recall suggesting a minor change, but I am not really the ideal first reader either. While it would be nice if agents realised this and got first readers who were ignorant as possible (and some do I am sure) if you - who are about to submit and are new to this - are in doubt, ask other writers. Don't mess your chances. There are lots of good lists, besides this one (vision the Australian one I belong to is good for that for example. But I am sure the web-goddess Amanda has some others to recommend. Always be polite, considerate and accept you may be wrong.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

This week my older son made his first on-paper submission to an editor -- Analog -- and in the process made me feel like a dinosaur. The whole process of sending out a story, with SASE and cover letter is soooo alien to him who grew up in the age of email that it was almost funny what we had to explain.
OTOH more an more, when people ask for my signature and I say, "Sure, send me the book with a SASE and I'll sign and send back" they no longer seem to get the second S of SASE -- STAMPED. I don't think they're trying to annoy me, but why do they think I would insist on an envelope but not on stamps? It's mind boggling and I think has to do with the ignorance of these once-familiar terms.

We are a generation caught in the middle of a massive transition. Those older than us can ignore it, those younger will step into the new model. We are the ones tearing out our hairs.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

This is a quote from the Suarez article:

I think back 20 years ago to the rise of the audio book, there was great concern that the audio book would cannibalize the real book. And that is not true. It helped increase the sales of books.

RAY SUAREZ: How did it do that?

RAPHAEL SAGALYN: Well, because I think it increased the distribution, increased the desire for people to own storytelling, and storytelling is at the heart of what books are all about.

This is really interesting. Cory Doctorow takes the same attitude towards making books available on the web. He believes the more people read via the web and downloads, the more likely they are to buy copies of his books.

Amanda Green said...

First off, let me apologize for the only somewhat coherent post this morning. I've been fighting Micros**t since yesterday. The one machine in the house that runs Vista, and the only one I can't take the ms os off of, decided it wasn't going to play nice any more. So the majority of the last 24 hours have been spent reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling and I am not a happy camper. But enough of that.

Dave, you're right when you said that sometimes the guidelines are more than a little ambiguous. I was looking at one agency's submission requirements the other day and began wondering if I was applying for a job. The online submission form had little to do with what you wanted to send them. Then, the crowning point was that the promised button at the end of the form that would allow you to attach your first so-many pages wasn't present -- on any browser I used.

Still, it's the big "wtf?" moments in submissions that get to me. Those where the author does address the submission to the agent's dog -- and it has happened -- or where they use colored paper and strange fonts as an "attention grabber" even though the guidelines say 12 point Times New Roman, 1 inch margins on white paper.

As for other resources to check on agents, etc., the best advice is to look for agent blogs. See what they are actively looking for. Also to check out Preditors and Editors and the Absolute Write Water Cooler. I'll pull together a list of good sites and post them later this week. In the meantime, if anyone has any sites to recommend, post them here in the comments and I'll add them to the list.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, you are so right. And that "alien" feel the younger generation has for doing things like addressing an envelop and putting on a stamp, much less enclosing an SASE, is why it is so important that they read the guidelines. Are they using the right sized envelop -- yes, children, there are more than two sizes. Don't look at me like that. I'm not kidding. -- are they addressing the return envelop correctly so USPS will deliver it? It is all so foreign to a generation that no longer writes letters as a means of communication.

In all seriousness, I find myself searching for those agents or editors who accept email submissions because it is easier and you can submit at any time. But then you run into the situation where more and more of them, especially agents, are saying that we shouldn't expect a response from them if they don't like our submission because they have so many email queries. I won't even go into the problem of emails being lost in cyberspace, routed to spam folders, etc, etc., etc.

There is something else I've noticed about snail mail responses that I haven't seen that often in email responses. Editors, and agents, if they like your work but just don't think it's a good fit for them, will often add a personal note to their snail mail responses. It is that little pat on the back, even though you're getting a rejection, that helps keep you from crawling back into the corner and hiding. I think it is just too easy to hit send on email and toss a form rejection. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's been my experience. And, to me, a little encouragement goes a long way.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I have to agree with Doctorow about this. It is also something Baen has found out. If you give a reader a taste of what is out there -- be it a snippet or a book -- and they like what they read, they will spend money as a result. They'll look for your next book. If the book they just read online is available for purchase, they'll buy it. More than that, they will tell their friends about it and those friends will buy it. It is a great marketing tool. Sadly, too many publishers don't realize the market is changing or are scared by the changes. DRM is not the answer to their problems. Let the reader have the ebooks without DRM limitations and the return on investment will be much higher, imo.

Mike said...

Um ... I was trying to figure out what that "exclusive" agreement with PlasticLogic was, and stumbled across this Washington Post editorial? Looks as if B&N requires you to use their reader for all those ebooks, and DRM? Now that's poor... Why does everyone insist on trying to hobble the electronic media?

Try this approach. Generatives. Assume that the internet and electronic media will spread copies freely. What are the points that people will pay for, besides manacled copies that fail? See http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/kelly08/kelly08_index.html for some ideas.

Mike said...

Oh -- the Washington Post article is at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/24/AR2009072401067.html?hpid=sec-tech

Amanda Green said...

Mike, I've yet to figure out why they keep insisting on DRM. Of course, I have the same problem where the music industry is. I think it is a whiplash reaction so many people -- and businesses -- have to something new. They don't understand it and, more importantly, they don't know how it will impact the public. So the normal reaction is to either fight it or limit its impact.

I know I've mentioned the Baen e-book model before -- a lot -- but I do think they have it right. The free library gives the readers a number of books to hook them. Then you have webscriptions at a reasonable price. Five - nine books for the price of less than two e-books from most other publishers. Better yet, many of those who buy the ebooks also buy e-ARCs and dead tree versions of the books as well. How many other publishers can say they have readers buying three - four when you add in the PB version -- of any single title?

Amanda Green said...

Mike, also re: the B&N announcement, I'd been wondering how long before they did something like this after hearing they'd purchased Fictionwise. While I like the fact there is going to be some competition for Amazon and the Kindle, and I like the fact B&N are making their ebooks available on more forms of equipment than an ebook reader, I am concerned by how the software is described. It really sounds like B&N is placing most, if not all, of its eggs in the ebook reader.

I also wonder what the response is going to be from those who pay their 25 bucks a year to get their store discounts when they realize they will NOT be getting the discount for ebooks? Am I the only one who wonders if this is an enterprise designed for a slow death?

Mike said...

My personal opinion on DRM is that people are trying to force the new media into their existing paradigm. Books... when you sell one, it doesn't magically copy itself. So how do we force that electronic media to act like a book (or record, tape, etc.)? Ah, ask the programmers, and they'll come up with DRM -- aka some way to lock that copy down so that it isn't quite so easy to copy.

But it's like requiring that someone run in front of the automobile with a lantern to avoid scaring the horses (a law which apparently is still on the books in some states) ... an attempt that fails and later looks foolish. So let's look at what the media does, and see how to work with it, instead of trying so hard to force it to fit our existing models.

The real pain about realizing that they are building their business strategy in a way that seems doomed is that they will then declare that this new ebook stuff is just a disaster. And may delay its growth significantly because they couldn't make it work the way they wanted it to.

Amanda Green said...

Mike, they'll try. But they are fighting so many other issues that it may become a moot point. The industry is changing, just as the demands of the purchasing public is changing. If the big publishing houses don't adjust, they will face some very serious problems.

On a related side note, I had the radio on earlier this evening and the Kim Komando show was on. Someone called in asking how to sell more books. Komando's answer -- put your books/stories up on your website. Offer something for free. Hook them that way and then start selling. Not only ebooks but audiobooks as well. As she said, "the rule of the internet is if you give it away for free, they will come -- and buy."

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?

Mike said...

That's probably where we're going -- a true disruptive technology, opening up a new market with new users. The tricky part is going to be how we manage to reintroduce "editing" and "publicity" and all that stuff. I mean, one of the problems is likely to be that everyone is writing stuff -- how do you find the good stuff? That selection and taming function of the publishers/editors is worth something. What will the reinvented version be?

Amanda Green said...

I agree -- and disagree. Yes, I'm wishy-washy this morning [G]. Actually, I'm going to go back to something Pam, I think, said in response to another blog entry earlier. I think what we're going to find, at least in the beginning, are a number of authors banding together and branding themselves that way. The reading public will surf the internet for what they want and will give those sites offering samples and free short stories or e-books more traffic than those that don't.

As for the "selection" and "taming" the publishers now offer, well, that's not what it used to be. I think we can all agree there. True, very few really bad books make it to the shelves from the major houses, but the quality has gone down. They are focusing more and more on "names" than on quality -- as proven by a book I just read by a best seller that did nothing more than tie up a series that should have been tied up three books earlier. The method used to tie up the series was to kill off all the characters of a certain generation and pass the metaphorical flame to the new generation. AND then it ended on a cliffhanger even though it was announced that this was the last book.

For me, I'm excited about the changes taking place in the industry, even though they are a bit scary. Hopefully, the "growing pains" won't last too long and some sort of happy medium will soon be found.