Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Wrting: How To Find a Publisher or Literary Agaent, Part II

Let me add a few observations to my last blog about query letters. These are only my opinions, and should not be taken as gospel for getting published or as legal advice. Alternate styles may work better for different writers. For example, if you have no published works to your credit, list your qualifications for writing a novel. If you’re a lawyer whose manuscript is about a courtroom drama, or if you’re a recovering drug addict detailing the struggles of rehab, state that in your query. If your published works have received good reviews from reputable and recognizable sources (your mother’s blog does not count), include a link to those reviews. Be creative. You are selling yourself as much as your manuscript.

Below are same basic guidelines to follow for finding a publisher/agent:

-- Publishers/agents are specific in what they want you to submit along with your query, usually asking for sample chapters and a synopsis, and occasionally for a bio or a marketing strategy. Sometimes they ask for sample chapters to be submitted in a certain font. If you submit a query, be sure to provide what is asked for in the manner it is asked for. Although the main reason is to get a feel for your writing style, your submission also provides a sense for how well you follow guidelines. If a publisher/agent asks for a three-page synopsis, one sample chapter in Courier 10 font, and a marketing strategy, and instead you send a one-page synopsis, three sample chapters in Times New Roman 12 font, and a bio, you immediately send the impression that you cannot/will not follow simple directions. Publishers/agents will be cautious about contracting with you, fearing that you may also be unwilling/unable to follow their editorial guidance and meet deadlines. [NOTE: While I’m willing to make certain changes to the text of sample chapters – such as fonts, line spacing, or margins, all of which can easily be done on a computer – I refuse to do extensive reformatting. I did that once for a publisher whose webpage announced they were accepting manuscripts for consideration. I spent two days preparing the submission to meet their strict and unusual guidelines, e-mailed the query, and got an almost immediate response stating that the publisher was no longer accepting submissions. Needless to say, I never made that mistake again.]

-- Every publisher and agent I have talked to decry simultaneous submissions (sending a query to more than one publisher/agent at a time), each relating how they spent several hours reading a submission and accompanying chapters, got excited about the work, and called the author only to find that he/she had contracted with someone else. While I understand their rationale against simultaneous submissions, I find it unreasonable. It can take months for a publisher/agent to respond to you, if they respond at all, and more often than not they are not interested in seeing the entire manuscript. The restriction against simultaneous submissions places an unfair burden on aspiring writers. I see no problem with sending queries to more than one publisher/agent at a time. However, and this is vital, show professional courtesy. If you have one publisher/agent who is reviewing the manuscript and a second one asks to see it, let the second publisher/agent know that someone else is currently looking at it and ask if they still want to see it. Publishers/agents will understand if they contact you based on a query, but someone else has scooped up the manuscript before them. However, if they expend the time to read the entire manuscript only to find out that someone else has already contracted with you, you’ll earn a reputation in the industry you do not want to have.

-- Finally, do not feel compelled to accept any contract offered. I’ve been very fortunate that most of my publisher treat their writers fairly and with respect. Not all are like that. Some are looking for inexperienced writers who they can take advantage of. Several years ago I was contacted by a publisher who said how much he loved my manuscript and wanted to send me a contract. When I received it I laughed. The publisher wanted all rights (print, electronic, audio, radio, TV, movie, as well as the rights to the characters) to my first four books in perpetuity (i.e. forever) and offered a measly 10 percent royalty on all profits. The contract should have been emblazoned with a skull and crossbones in the corner. If a contract doesn’t settle right with you, trust your instincts and question it. Do not sign on the dotted line out of fear that no one will ever again offer you another one. You worked too hard on that book to give all the rights to someone else. As an aside, two weeks after rejecting that ridiculous offer I signed a contract with a reputable publisher for The Vampire Hunter series. 

When it comes to discussing query submissions, this blog touches the tip of the iceberg. But at least it gives you a framework to start from.

“I have my query drafted and ready to send out. Where do I find publishers and literary agents to submit it to?”

Here is where I date myself. When I first became interested in writing, the Bible of the publishing industry was The Writer’s Market. Without the latest edition on your desk, your chances of getting published were slim. However, relying on The Writer’s Market today is about as antiquated as drafting your manuscript on a manual typewriter. Most of the information contained with The Writer's Market is available on line, often through the publisher/agent's own website.

I use four methods to keep track of the market. More are available, but these are the ones I primarily rely on. [NOTE: If I happen to mention a particular service, that should not be taken as an endorsement of one product over another, or as an indication that other products are not as good. I’m merely stating my preferences. Each of you should do your own research and find services that best work for you.]

-- Internet-based publisher digests. There are several out there that encompass all markets and genres, but I use Duotrope ( Duotrope allows you to narrowly define your search parameters to provide listings based on genre, type of publication (short stories, novellas, or full-length novels; print or electronic publishing), length of work, submission guidelines, and other criteria. Each listing also contains a link to that publisher’s homepage so you can get the most up-to-date information. One feature about this service I particularly like is that you can sign up for Duotrope’s weekly e-mail update that lists the markets open to submission, updates those which are dead or closed to submissions, and provides a list of upcoming anthologies by theme. Several of my earlier works were placed with publishers I discovered on Duotrope. 

 -- Your local bookstore. You can find a wealth of information here. Check out new arrivals to see which houses have published books in your genre, and use that as a starting point for your research. Also remember to check out the acknowledgement page, for you often get the names of editors and literary agents to contact who work in your genre. 
-- Conventions. Though less readily available then the first two, writers and genre conventions are among your most valuable resource. Publishers/agents use these to seek out new talent, so they are most receptive to hear what you have to offer. Practice your elevator pitch and make sure it doesn’t sound rehearsed. And be prepared in case the publisher starts asking detailed questions about your work or you. I have seen writers nail that opening pitch and get all tongue-tied during the follow-up talks. Remember, nobody knows your book better than you do. If you find a publisher who wants to see more of your work, contact him/her the moment you get home, reminding him/her in your cover letter that you just met at the convention and that you are sending along the material he/she asked you to.

-- On-line forums and groups. These can be extremely helpful if you join the correct ones. You want to find forums/groups populated by aspiring and/or new writers who are serious about their craft.  Publishers/agents often cruise these sites searching for new talent, and if they are impressed they may contact you offline and ask you to submit. There are also forums/groups where publishers actively seek out authors. That's how I sold Dead Water. And don’t forget Facebook. I placed "Last Flight of The Bismarck" with an editor I met via a Facebook group that was seeking submissions for a steampunk horror anthology.  (These forums/groups are also invaluable in helping you market your book, which I will discuss in the next blog posting.)

All right, ladies and gentlemen. For those of you who have been reading this blog series from the beginning, you have enough tools available to write your novel. You’ve abandoned family, friends, and pets to make the time to write and have spent the last year drafting and editing and revising and re-editing and re-revising and re-re-revising your work. You’ve sent out an endless stream of query letters, suffered through the flood of rejections (or worse, the annoying lack of responses from publishers). But you have prevailed and finally found someone to publish your work. Your book is being released next month.


Now the hard part begins.

NEXT BLOG: Marketing Your Book a
nd Yourself

Monday, November 17, 2014

Interesting Posts From Other Websites

Over the months, I've seen several postings on Facebook and horror blogs about the discovery of vampire burial sites in East Europe. Time To Slay Vampire Burials? is a short academic study that examines the archaeological and social evidence surrounding these burial practices and whether these practices are indicative of a belief in the undead or have a basis in other factors. posted a list of their picks for the 20 Best Vampire Movies as voted on by their readers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Humorous Look at Grammar and Writing

It's the difference between a family-friendly holiday story or a Jeffrey Dahmer Thanksgiving special.

 The importance of commas (or as Christopher Walken would say: "The, importance of, commas.")

 And sometimes that happens all in one day.

And much easier than using a Thesaurus.

Punctuation really does matter.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Writing: How To Find a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part I

“How difficult is it to draft a query letter? And how do I find a publisher or agent to send it to?”

It’s not that difficult to write a query letter. Which is fortunate, because drafting a good query is the most important aspect (next to actually writing the book) of getting published. You may have written the next bestseller, but if you can’t garner interest from publishers or literary agents to look at it, your novel/story is just taking up space on your hard drive. Let me preface this section by stating that there are numerous ways to write a query. Use the format that best works for your manuscript or that you feel most comfortable with. What I’m offering are tips on how I drafted mine, and they’ve been successful for me. Also, this format should be used only for fiction. Non-fiction guidelines are much different.

Start out with a brief introduction on how you discovered the publisher/agent. If another writer referred you, or if you met them previously and they asked you to forward a submission, state that up front. If that's not the case, do your research first and find out which publishers/agents represent your genre and note that you wanted to give them the opportunity to review your manuscript. [NOTE: Don't say: "I noticed you published Zomnado vs Vampnado. My manuscript is just like that." Publishers/agents are not looking for cheap knock offs. They're looking for original and exciting ideas.] Your goal is to catch their attention and
give yourself a foothold to climb out of the slush pile. 
Next, include a brief description of your novel. Keep it to one small paragraph. Make it just long enough to provide a general idea what the work is about yet still entice the publisher/agent to want to read more. How do you do this? Develop what is called an "elevator pitch," which is the sales pitch you would use if you only had a few seconds on an elevator with a publisher/agent, one that needs to be brief  yet intriguing enough for him/her to request your business card. You can get examples by reading jacket covers, the back page of paperbacks, or Amazon summaries. This is the make or break paragraph of the entire query. If you do not immediately snag the interest of a publisher/agent, they’ll throw your letter aside and move on to the next one, so invest the time necessary to fine tune your elevator pitch.

Now that you've sold your novel, your second paragraph needs to sell the concept. The publisher/agent will receive hundreds of submissions for romances, murder mysteries, thrillers, animal books, or whatever genre you write in. Why does your manuscript stand out? Saying your mother or spouse thought it was terrific will not get you published. Nor will telling them that you’re the next Stephen King or Stephanie Meyers. Publishing is a business, and your book will never make it into print unless you can convince the publisher/agent that it’s perfectly poised to take advantage of an untapped trend in the market, or brings a new twist to the genre that has never been seen before. 

Follow this with a brief paragraph noting if anything is attached to your e-mail (sample chapters, the entire manuscript, a synopsis), the final word count, and whether the novel is available for immediate submission. [NOTE: Don’t query publishers/agents with unfinished novels. Usually they’re only interested in works that are ready for publication.] If your novel is part of a series, state that and, if known, offer an idea when the next book(s) in the series will be available.

Your penultimate paragraph should be about you. What makes you qualified to write this novel? Are you a police detective writing about a homicide unit in New York? Were you the victim of an abusive relationship, or a recovering addict, who has fictionalized your life? If you have no specific experiences you can bring to the table (I’ve never hunted vampires for a living), tell them about yourself, whether it's your career, your hobbies, or something else that will generate interest. Remember, you need to sell yourself as well as your book. 

This is also the paragraph to list your previous writing credits. Don’t list more than three otherwise you’ll look like you’re bragging. List the most recent works, or those that are most relevant to your query. If you’re writing in a genre in which you don’t have relevant experience, I recommend trying to get several short stories published before you attempt to query on a book. Being able to say that you’ve previously been published bolsters your credentials. I noticed that publishers/agents showed more interest in looking at my first novel after I had a few short stories in my bibliography.

Finally, end with a closing sentence thanking them for their consideration and noting that you look forward to hearing from them.

NEXT BLOG: How To Find a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part II  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Interesting Posts from Other Websites

For all writers out there, if you read only one thing that I post this year, make sure Cheap Words is the one. This is an article from The New Yorker detailing how Amazon came to dominate the publishing industry, its relationship with the Big Six publishers and how that relationship impacted writers, and the state of the industry today (including self publishing).

Complimenting the above is this piece by Forbes titled Amazon vs. Book Publishers, By the Numbers that offers some interesting (and, for writers, some sobering) statistical information relating to the publishing industry.

Last Monday, Brian Keene posted a blog on The Secret To Crafting Effective Horror. It's a quick read because the secret is quite simple, yet sadly I've ssen too many books that read miserably because the writer failed to grasp this basic concept.

Finally, a somewhat prudish essay from Rachel Lu on Ladies, It's Time To Stop Falling in Love with Vampires.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On Writing: Traditional Publishing or Self-Publish?

"Self publishing? I thought that was the kiss of death for writers?"

When I originally drafted this blog series, it was. I never would have recommended that a writer self-publish their work, for it entailed going to a vanity press to print and distribute their novel, which screamed of desperation. Rightly or wrongly, readers and industry professionals looked down on those writers who went solo, either wondering how bad the book must be if no one wanted to publish it, or assuming the writer to be an amateur who just wanted to see their name in print. Back then, self publishing carried a stigma for writers, and those who went that route felt as though they wore a scarlet SP on their chest.

Then a revolutionary new technology was introduced that changed the publishing industry much the same way that the invention of moveable type did back in the 15th Century. Although this new technology has fundamentally altered the way writers and publishers conduct business, its potential has not yet been fully explored, nor the repercussions it will ultimately have on the industry.

Of course, I'm talking about the introduction of electronic publishing.

Electronic publishing made possible the expansion of independent publishing houses which, in turn, provided thousands of aspiring writers opportunities closed off to them when the mainstream publishers dominated the industry.

Ironically, the technology that generated the expansion of independent publishing now threatens the very industry itself. As the technology becomes increasingly user friendly, and as writers become more proficient in its use, both parties will be able to publish a product of equal quality. Among the services provided by an independent publisher are the editing and proof reading of a manuscript, arranging the cover art, and formatting both the print and e-book versions prior to release. Writers can obtain these same services from freelancers, many of whom perform these functions for the publishers. With regards to getting your books into brick and mortar stores, unless an independent publisher has an arrangement with one of the major distributors, then your books will be published as print on demand (POD) from the company's website or from Amazon. The same holds true for marketing. With the exception of a few independent publishers whose names are synonymous with their respective genre, and thus the brand name brings potential readers to the website, your marketing efforts will be little different from theirs. [NOTE: I'll be covering marketing efforts in future blog posts.]

So what can an independent publisher provide that a writer can't do for themselves?

The answer is nothing.

So why contract with an independent publisher rather than release the book yourself? The main reason is convenience. For the publisher, providing the above services is part of the routine of doing business, and they either have the in-house expertise or a cache of experts on retention. The publisher agrees to undertake all this in return for keeping most of the profit, providing the writer with royalties (on average, 10% for print books and 30% for e-books). For most writers, it's a convenient arrangement.

However, an increasing number of writers are turning to self publishing. While this requires a considerable expenditure of financial resources and time, there are distinct advantages. First and foremost, the writer keeps most of the profit. For example, if a writer publishes an e-book on Amazon's Kindle Select program and prices it between $2.99 and $9.99, they earns a royalty of 75%. This is double what the average contract will offer. The second biggest advantage is that the writer has full creative control over their work, especially the cover art, which is a major issue for many of us.

So the decision is up to each individual writer as to which method they feel most comfortable with. I've already tried it with one of my novellas and maintained my sanity through the process, so I'm going to attempt to self publish my next novel.

"That sounds like an awful lot of work. I don't think I'm ready to try self publishing yet."

Not a problem. It's not for everyone. Although I do think self publishing will become the next trend in the industry.

So let's work on finding someone to publish your manuscript.

NEXT BLOG: Finding a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part I

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Congratulations to the Horror Asylum Contest Winners

Congratulations to the following winners of Horror Asylum's giveaway of an autographed copy of Yeitso.

-- Richard Brandt

-- Tammy Pereira

-- Max Lakshtanov

Your books are in the mail. I hope you enjoy them.