Monday, February 15, 2016

Word Count Woes (Yes, I have them, too)

Oh, word count. I can't even begin to guess how many times you've heard me say those words. When we're overwhelmed with awesome contest entries, or when there are so many we're overwhelmed before even seeing how awesome many of them are, one of the easiest ways for me to thin the herd is to immediately skip past any with an inappropriate word count.* And I know a lot of writers who enter those contests probably hate me for it.

Which means that many of you will be delighted to hear: My book is too. freaking. short.

Are you done yet?
 Yes, my adult women's fiction manuscript is sitting stubbornly at a number well below what I know will get it published. Now, I'm not saying that it's 25k words. But it's not 80k, either, and that was my goal. The first draft, was 56k. Out of desperation, I sent the (mostly) unedited first draft to my amazing critique partner for help. I never let anyone see my early drafts, but I needed to know if the bones of the story even worked. Her advice? Cut 9k words.

B...but...but... I asked how to make it LONGER.

So, you see, contestants, I FEEL YOUR PAIN! (I will, sadly, never feel the pain of people who write 200,000 word children's books, but you're in good company. Plenty of talented writers are in the same boat.) But I know it's not complete, and that's half the battle. I've only done a couple of drafts. With each additional draft, I'll add layer and depth. I've got a few more people lined up to read, and I'll ask each of them to suggest subplots that could be fleshed out more, character arcs that could be more defined, things they wanted to see described, and other areas that will not only improve the book but

Now, I am NOT advocating adding scenes for the sole purpose of making the book longer. That would be silly. But when a novel is only 48k words, that's not a book. That's a novella. And that means, if you want to seek traditional publishing, you need to figure out what it's missing so you can turn it into a complete book. Just like I will.

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* No, I'm not going to tell you what an appropriate word count is - Google it. My favorite resource for kidlit is Jennifer Laughran's blog, and Writer's Digest has some good guidelines for adults. And yes, I know that NaNoWriMo is all about writing "a book" in a month and the goal is 50k words. I've done NaNo, and I love it - but what you're writing in that month is a rough draft, not a book. If you're writing an adult novel and you get 50k words down in one month, you have a fraction of a book to be expanded through edits.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Behind the Veil: A Peek Into Submission, Part 2

Last week, I posted the results of a survey I did, asking agented and formerly agented writers to anonymously share their submission experiences.  This week, I'm going to share some of the advice respondents gave for people going on submission for the first time. 

Overall, the advice tended to follow a few major themes: Write something new, drink a lot, try not to think about it. Several authors also noted the importance of communicating with your agent about your expectations. But here it is, in our own words:


Write something new and try not to think about it. Submission is completely out of your control, and had I not distracted myself by writing another MS and putting it on sub, I might not have gotten published. Patience, work, and wine. ;)

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1) Get excited about a new project. Hands down most important thing. 2) Try to find support from others who've been there.

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Write something else. It's the only way to properly distract yourself.

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Keep yourself busy and get to writing your next book. Forget about the submission process.

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Write another book!

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Take up drinking. :-)

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Patience, chocolate, and wine.

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I'm far more Zen when I ask for as little info as possible. I don't want to know who has it. I don't want to know why they rejected. I don't want to know if it's going to acquisitions. I only want to know about an offer. Keeping it off my mind lets me focus on my next project and not be a slave to my email.

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Stay busy.

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Make sure you're with an agent that has connections and a strong history of sales. If an editor has no urgency to read your MS, it won't get read. Without being read, there's no possibility for a book deal.

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Don't read rejection letters! My agent didn't share mine with me and it preserved my sanity. It allowed me to continue writing without letting editors' words plague my thoughts.

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Work on your next book. Period. Never, ever wait on publishing. Always have your next step in mind.

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Find something to occupy your brain. You will need to distract yourself.

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Assume it won't sell and focus on your next book.

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Get invested in writing another book! Once I started a new WIP, I was much less focused on whether the first one sold because I knew I'd have something else to sub soon.

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Communicate with your agent and don't feel like you're a nag if you want to check in after not hearing anything for a few weeks, but also, trust them to do their job. Do your very best to distract yourself and keep your obsessing to a minimum. Don't Twitter-stalk editors you're on sub to; it's not productive and is likely to just make you feel worse. And find a few friends who have been on sub! Their support and knowledge will help immensely.

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Focus on something else, whether it's writing something new, reading, or other interests. Obsessing won't help the process move any faster.

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Do something else.

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Try everything you can to forget about it. Make sure your agent has connections that don't get them automatically ignored.

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Decide what sort of communication you'd like from your agent when you're on sub--how much information you'd like and when you'd like to receive it (as in getting a summary on Fridays or radio silence if that'll help you stay sane).

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Find out what your agent will tell you about it and what you want to know.

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Work on something else & try your best to forget you're on sub!

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Start on your next project immediately. Otherwise the email notification dings will drive you to drink (more).

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Finish your next project so that if your current ms doesn't sell, you have something else to focus on. It really does help.

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Do your own research on editors and imprints. Don't be afraid to offer suggestions on the pitch letter or speak up re: following up with editors who have the ms or sending it out to more houses. Be aware this is one of the toughest fiction markets ever, so let go of any expectations or entitlements and keep working on new books.

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Do NOT wait for the first book to sell to write the next one. I'm in acquisitions on my second book because I didn't stop writing while waiting on the sell of my first.

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Ask your agent to provide submission list after you hear back from editors so you don't burn time obsessing over them. Stay focused on your next project.

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Get a good support system. Don't have unrealistic expectations. Learn how to distract yourself and have a healthy attitude. The whole process can make you ill if you let it. It's not for the faint of heart. But be determined. Be resilient. And you'll be all right.

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Drink wine. Write something else right away because it's going to be harder to do so the longer you're on submission.

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Be patient and don't compare your journey to anyone else. Also, stay off Facebook and Twitter. :-)

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Lower your expectations, because your book might not sell. If it doesn't, be prepared to grieve and feel down. This is normal. Then, pick yourself up and get back to why you got into this in the first place; writing awesome stories!!

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Find something else to do and do it. Devote your thoughts to a new project whether it's writing or not, and fully commit yourself to it so that the waiting doesn't get to you. Find some friends who have gone through it or are currently on sub to commiserate with. Whatever happens whenever it happens will probably be ok.

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Try not to get too excited when an editor requests to see the MS. It doesn't mean much (yet).

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Write the next book. This is the only thing that kept me sane/distracted.

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Good luck and be patient :)

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As hard as it is, try to put it out of your head and stop checking your phone or email. My offer literally came in the five minutes I stepped away from my phone. Put your head down and keep writing.

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I managed to have a quick turnaround, but there's a wide range of experiences. Always be working on your next project!

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Submission experiences vary so widely; try your best not to compare yourself to someone else. You're going to stress and worry about the process and that's okay. That's normal. But put a cap on it--one day, one week, two--and then put those worries in a box and try to ignore it. For me, the only way to keep my mind preoccupied was to write more.

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Work on something else! distractions help. Also, don't get too fixated on imprints or editors. the right fit might surprise you.

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It can be really stressful so make sure you look after yourself while you wait. Also this is cheesy but trust your instincts as much as possible: if you feel like writing another book, do it! If you think revising is your best shot, do that!

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Make the silence and waiting your friend, not your enemy. As an enemy, it will destroy and devastate you. As a friend, it offers a nice quiet space to work on your next novel. Which leads me to my last point: work on something else. It's common advice, but absolutely true. Stay busy and distracted.

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Try not to think about it and keep working on something new.

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It's a cliche, but write something new.

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Don't be afraid to turn down the wrong deal, and know what you want before a book deal comes in. That way, you don't get blindsided by an offer that isn't the right fit for you and your career.

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Do anything you can to forget you're on sub. Work on something new. Find a hobby. Remember that there are many routes to readers these days.

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Keeping everything a secret will drive you crazy. Talk to your trusted writer friends about your experiences. A little transparency can help make you feel less alone.

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Sauvignon blanc.

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Find some friends who are on sub at the same time, and commiserate with them.

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Things can happen quickly, and it's exciting if/when they do, but realistically it's best to be prepared for the long(er) haul. No matter the book, serendipity always plays a role, and there's truth in the adage: right book, right editor, right time.

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Drink heavily.

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Find something that will occupy your time so you're not constantly refreshing your email.

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Writer, know thyself. Protect your sanity however you know is best for you, whether it's knowing nothing or trying to know EVERYTHING. Find a community. Don't apologize for or try to minimize your own struggle. Even if it's good, it's hard. You'll get through it.

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The industry is awful and nothing is guaranteed. I got rejections for the weirdest/most fickle reasons. Have faith in yourself--you're on sub because you wrote something good.

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Start a new project!

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Visit a country with no internet for six months.

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Be kind to yourself! Being on sub is hard!


Do you have any advice for authors on submission? If so, share it in the comments!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Behind the Veil: A Peek into Submission, Part 1

Submission is cloaked in secrecy. For those of you who don't know, this is when agents send your book to editors to try to get a publication contract. It's kind of like querying - but also very much not. Writers don't talk about it much, because we're not supposed to air every good and bad thing that happens to us throughout the process, and let's be honest: there's plenty of good and bad when going on submission. It's a roller coaster. Some people have more ups than downs, and vice versa. But I wanted to give people an idea of what to expect, so I polled agented and formerly agented writers anonymously to see what insight they could give into their experiences.

Fifty-eight of the writers who responded have been on submission with a total of 102 manuscripts. Of those, only 34 had sold at the time of the survey (I counted multi-book deals as one sale). Fourteen writers had books currently on submission that may or may not sell, but still: there’s a good chance that your first book on submission will not net you a book deal. Three of the authors who responded had been on submission with four or more books that did not sell.

Only 20 of my 58 writers sold their first book. Approximately 21% of writers who didn’t sell their first book changed agents after that book was shelved, with almost an even split between whether the change was agent or author-initiated. 

How does submission work?

Agents submitted from anywhere from 5 to 45 editors. (The books that went to less than five editors sold right away, so don’t think those agents weren’t trying.) More than half the writers who answered the survey (52.83%) said their agent sent out multiple submission rounds, to a few editors at a time. Another quarter (24.53%) said their agent sent out several rounds, to many editor sat a time. For 13% of writers, the agent sent out one round to a large number of editors at once. Not all agents talk about submission: Nine percent of writers had no idea how submission was structured.

Sub times were also all over the map. While 6 lucky souls were on sub for one month or less, most people were on sub for about 6 months. For 20 authors, submission lasted more than a year. The longest submission reported was 2.5 years without a sale. This is not a fast process for most people. Never assume you'll be one of the lucky few.



I also asked writers to describe their experience in 25 words or less, and some of the responses were very interesting. You may see some common themes:

Grueling, heartbreaking but eventually euphoric. 

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Felt like I didn't know my agent's process - when she would nudge, when to close something, etc.

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It was a trial by fire. It taught me a lot & helped me become a better writer, but it was often torturous.

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Hellish. Long periods of silence; many, many editors never responded despite promises to read.

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Excellent. Agent super communicative and terrific feedback from editors (despite no offer).

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Long, painful, & stressful

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Not responsive. Was like getting blood from a stone. Sort of disrespectful.

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Quiet.

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Frustrating and fruitless. First sales went sour. Haven't sold again.

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The waiting is the worst part. Having an agent who communicates well is crucial.

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A nightmare. You have handed over total control and can only wait for news. Back in the query day you could send more queries.

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The first time, it was exciting but communication was lacking. The second time was faster and more clear.

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Hell. The refresh button on my email flipped me off the other day.

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Better than querying but still frustrating, and with higher stakes.

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Lots of waiting.

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Long and stressful but there were also quite a few exciting moments so overall it wasn't a terrible experience, but it was difficult.

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A dream come true.

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Stressful. I kept getting my hopes up only to have them crushed.

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Definitely a learning experience that prepared me for submitting my second manuscript

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Awful - I didn't feel like I was kept in the loop on the process, and comments were also all over the map.

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Editors are nice and complimentary in their passes, but the real gold if when they tell you why they pass. So if it's a recurring issue, it can be fixed before the next round.

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Slow. And discouraging that no response means no is becoming more the norm for editors.

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My agent didn't communicate with me much about the process at all, so I remained blissfully unaware for the most part.

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Waiting and more waiting, combined with eroding of confidence.

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Roller coaster ride. Sometimes great, sometimes awful.

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The slow death of hope.

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Death by a thousand cuts.

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Hell. Long. Hell.


Tune in next week to see what advice agented writers gave for people who are about to go out on submission for the first time!