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re: Should I Delete My Short Story from Wattpad When I Turn It Into a Novel?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

The novel I’m finishing is based on a short story I wrote last year, which won a medal in a Wattpad writing contest. Should I leave the story up or take it down since I’m planning on submitting the novel form? (The short story is basically the first two chapters of the book. . . but I’m already making revisions and improvements to those two chapters.)

Sincerely,
Wattpad Woman

Dear Wattpad Woman…

Leave the short story up while submitting your novel, at least, as proof of its medal status. Your future agent or editor may prefer you take it down when the novel goes into production because you’ve revised the story so much, but not necessarily. In pre-Internet days, published short stories that grew into full-length novels had no option to delete the original short story from existence. The two just existed simultaneously. That precedent prepared readers to understand and accept that there are differences between a novel and the short story that inspired it. Since you’re comfortable being on Wattpad in the first place and you’re confident in your short story despite the changes you’ve made for the novel, let your medal-winning story lead readers to your new novel.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: Can You Stay True to Your Story If You’re Reading Others’ Stories?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

In a lit agency’s online submission form, I replied to question about comparable titles by saying I don’t have time to keep up with all the stories that are currently on the shelves. The agent replied: If I want to write middle grade fiction, I must read current middle grade fiction. She said immersing myself in it is the best way to capture the voice and pulse of these stories. I was always taught to write the story that I am comfortable with, my truth, my ideas. Not write what is currently hot now. Am I wrong on this? Should I be reading current MG? I don’t know how to fit in the time—I barely squeeze in the occasional adult novel, magazines, and Publisher’s Weekly. Most importantly, I don’t want to end up writing something that’s already out there. Thoughts?

Thanks,
Time-Crunched

Dear Time-Crunched…

She’s right. Read current middle grade novels. Two reasons: As a businessperson you must know what’s happening in your marketplace. Not so you can chase trends—most of us can’t get books written, bought, revised, and produced that quickly—but so you can position your book as akin to this or that but different in these key, marketable ways when it’s time to submit. That’s what agents, editors, and store buyers do with every book they buy or rep. You’re submitting, so I know this isn’t just your passion, it’s your business. Know your business. On the craft side, reading other MG will deepen your sense of middle grade voice and sensibility, and your writer’s toolbox will expand, improving your versatility as a storyteller. Please don’t be afraid of sabotaging your stories. Writing doesn’t work like that. You’ll mix and match new tools and strategies in ways only you can, flavored by your unique perspectives, interests, and experiences. As for the time crunch, one word: audiobooks.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can Self-Publishing Trigger a Book Deal?

in Publishing Biz/Self-publishing/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

How likely is it these days for someone to self-publish a novel, only for it to be picked up soon after and re-published by a big publishing house?

Thanks,
R.

Dear R….

If your reason for self-publishing is to catch an editor’s eye, you’re betting on a long shot. The self-pubbed books that cross editors’ radars do so because of notably high sales numbers—which those authors earned by promoting the heck out of the books. They didn’t pub then wait for offers to roll in. Those cases make news because they’re rare. More likely: You’ll self-pub your book but continue to submit it to publishers. If you can report you’ve sold 30,000 or 40,000 on your own, then the self-pubbing will help make the deal. The editor will note the exceptional performance, figure you’re a good self-promotion bet, and see an eager audience for this and future books. If you don’t sell in high numbers, the self-pubbing becomes irrelevant to your submission and editors will judge the book as they would any unpubbed manuscript. They’ll sign it because they like it and believe their resources will yield preferred sales. A career strategy that banks on triggering traditional publication through self-publication is shaky.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Did Poor Self-Pub Sales Sink My Career?

in Publishing Biz/Self-publishing/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My agent didn’t have luck finding a home for my teen novels, so I decided to self-publish…but I now wonder if I should have waited longer. I wonder if I acted impulsively and made a mistake. I also broke with my agent (not because she couldn’t sell the work but for other reasons). To be honest, I feel as if I’m a boat drifting at sea as far as my writing career goes, which is sad to say at my age. A friend is encouraging me to try other agents/editors, but I’m not sure if I should contact them since the first book of my series and another stand-alone novel are already self-published and far from doing stellar. So…I don’t see the point in contacting them. Or do you think I still should?

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused…

These days, self-publishing first isn’t the interest-sinker it used to be with editors. If a self-published books does really well (say, selling 30,000-40,000+ copies) then it can impress editors and spark interest. Huzzah for that, of course. But if it hasn’t sold well (which is, honestly, more often the case with self-published fiction than not) but an editor likes the book and thinks she has a bead on its market, the editor will acquire your book and just have you remove the self-published edition from the market. So no, self-publishing with less than stellar results wasn’t shooting yourself in the foot. Your friend is right: Submit.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: OK to Submit to Agents During Summer?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m nearly ready to submit my manuscript to agents, but I’m wondering about submission timing. Is Summer okay? Wait till Fall? Does it matter?

Sincerely,
To Wait or Not to Wait

Dear To Wait or Not to Wait…

Submit when your project is ready. Some agents may have vacations planned for summer, but plenty don’t. And there’s simply no reason to try to “crystal ball” their schedules—if they’re fast responders, they’ll probably respond in their usual manner during summer, and if they’re slow responders, why not get into the queue now? I’ve asked this question of agents in the past and did so again after getting your question, and “Don’t wait just because it’s summer” is their common refrain.

Happy submitting!
The Editor

re: Do I Cite My Magazine Writing in My Query Letter?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m currently doing a lot of writing for a trade magazine and have written for other mags in the past. Nothing published in the children’s market, though, which is the market for my middle grade novel. Some sources say mention all writing experience in cover letters to agents and editors. Other sources say only mention writing experience if it’s in the children’s market. I would appreciate your advice on this.

Sincerely,
Mag Writer

Dear Mag Writer…

Presuming the magazines are editorially discriminating and of professional quality, I support mentioning them in the credentials portion of your query letter. You’re seeding confidence in your professionalism and your writing chops. Ring this bell extra loudly if the magazines’ subject matter jives with that of your book—this establishes your expertise with the topic. A caveat: If the magazines are political or in some other way topically sensitive, only mention them if the topics are relevant to the book you’re pitching.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Stay Mum on My Magazine Writing when Submitting My Novel?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m currently doing a lot of writing for a trade magazine and have written for other magazines in the past. Nothing published in the children’s market, though, which is the market for my middle grade novel. Some sources say mention all writing experience in cover letters to agents and editors. Other sources say only mention writing experience if it’s in the children’s market. I would appreciate your advice on this.

Sincerely,
Mag Writer

Dear Mag Writer…

I presume the magazines are editorially discriminating and of professional quality. After all, you’re not just touting your writing chops, you’re plugging your potential as a business colleague, too. I support mentioning such mag writing in the credentials portion of your letter. If you’re a debut novelist, you can stand to cite evidence of your chops and professionalism. Ring this bell extra loudly if the magazines’ subject matter jives with your novel’s subject because this establishes your expertise with that topic. A caveat: If the mags are political or in some other way topically sensitive, only mention them if the topics are relevant to the book you’re pitching. Or be general about them: “This is my debut novel, although I’m published in magazines.” You can share the deets of nonproject-related interests in later, deeper talks as necessary and appropriate. For now, pitch every hook you’ve got.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Wait Till After Summer to Submit?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m nearly ready to submit my manuscript to agents, but I’m wondering about submission timing. Is Summer okay? Wait till Fall? Does it matter?

Sincerely,
To Wait or Not to Wait

Dear To Wait or Not to Wait…

Don’t let fear of your submission getting buried in vacation backlog stop you. Some agents may have summer vacations planned, but plenty don’t. And there’s simply no reason to try to Crystal Ball their schedules or inboxes—if they’re fast responders, they’ll probably respond in their usual speedy manner or close to it during summer, and if they’re slow responders, get into the queue now. I hear this time and again from agents, and confirmed it with some quick touch-ins after receiving your question. So, ready to submit? Then submit away!

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Put Interested Editors on Hold While Seeking Agent?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I want an agent and am ready to start submitting to agents. But there’s this: At a conference I got “special” permission from two editors to submit directly to them, bypassing their houses’ “no unsolicited submissions” policy. Should I submit to them first, wait, and then submit to agents? Or is it okay to submit to all at the same time? Would agents consider it a no-no that I’m submitting to two editors as well?

Sincerely,
Two Birds in the Hand

Dear Two Birds in the Hand…

Unless those editors required “exclusives,” submit to them and to agents simultaneously. Should one of the editors offer a contract before you sign with an agent, update the agents. They’ll likely review your submission quickly. (Of course, let the editor know you’re awaiting word from agents; he won’t yank the offer because of a few days’ wait.) Your new agent can step in to negotiate this contract, making her the agent of record and earning her the usual percentage of that book’s royalties. Sure, she didn’t work the submission phase, but she’ll get the most favorable contract terms for you at Book One. That’s worth her cut, and she’ll be able to field any rights opportunities (or publication problems) that arise in the life of the book. Plus, you’ll be working together fully from the beginning. If the two editors decline, any agent you get down the line will want their names so she won’t bark up those same trees. There are valid concerns about using up opportunities by self-submitting to editors, but you’re only talking about two editors. I’d go for it.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Skip the Agent’s General Submission Address?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I want to query an agent I queried two years ago, and I’m not sure who to address it to. She liked that first manuscript and asked if I could wait a few weeks to meet with her to revise it. In the end, we did not meet and she rejected it because she didn’t think she could sell it. Now I want to query her on a new project. However, the agency’s guidelines are to send queries to their general email. Since she probably remembers me (my name is unusual), can I send it to her email and the agency’s general email, and address the query to her? Or should I just send a general query so it doesn’t look like I am purposely not following their guidelines?

Thank you!
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous…

This is about more than showing you will or can follow directions. For many agencies, a separate submissions inbox is a strategic workflow tool. By separating non-submission business from submissions, agents can quickly respond to things like editors’ offers over here, while they manage submissions over there. Often agents  instruct authors of even expected submissions to use the general address, telling them to note in the subject line the referral or other exceptional status of the submission. So, submit the new project through the agency’s general submission address per posted guidelines. Within the query, write to the specific editor and lay out your history together. If someone else in the agency sorts the submissions, they’ll get it to the correct agent.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The Whooshing Sound of Exclusive Deadlines Passing

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Super Agent requested my middle grade novel on an exclusive basis, but did not specify a time frame, so I offered it for six weeks. Six weeks have passed with no response, and I’d like to begin sending my novel elsewhere. Should I ask them if they need more time, notify them that I am now querying elsewhere, or keep silent and do as I please?

Thanks,
J.

Dear J….

It’s easy to get annoyed by the resounding silence your submission has received. But who knows, maybe your original submission fell through the cracks. Find out if that’s what happened and get your project moving on to new opportunities with a single email that tells the agent her six-week exclusivity period has passed and you’re starting to multiply submit the manuscript now. Assuming you submitted that exclusive because you really wanted her to represent you, tell her you continue to hope she’ll decide to represent you and that if anyone else shows interest in representation, you’ll touch in again. That way, you keep the door open with that agent even as you move on. Best case, this is the email that’ll trigger the agent to (re)discover the great project that almost got away.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Submitting Finished Art with Picture Book Manuscripts

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Do I need to have illustrations finished for a picture book before I try to sell it? How does that work?

Sincerely,
Heather

Dear Heather…

Do not finish that artwork. If you’re an illustrator as well as a writer, submit a full sketch dummy of the project and only one or two sample finished pieces (as pdfs or photocopies, not original artwork) to showcase your artwork. Also be prepared to show a full art portfolio upon request. It’s almost certain your acquiring editor and book designer will have some revision suggestions for the illustration dummy, just as they would for the text-only manuscript. If you’re not an illustrator by profession or training, don’t submit artwork at all; the manuscript will be matched with an illustrator by your acquiring editor. Artwork that’s less than professional or in any other way not exceptional can hurt a submission by creating a negative impression. Writers who are not also illustrators (a category that includes me) must trust someone else to do the visual storytelling.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Respond to an Agent’s Status Update?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

After I’ve written an agent regarding a status inquiry on a full request, if that agent gives a timely, chatty response about how far into my manuscript she is, how should I respond — or do I wait patiently until they are done reading to respond?

Sincerely,
W.

Dear W….

A brief response of the “Thank you for taking time to send me this update. Happy reading.” variety is a lovely way to acknowledge receipt of her email. After that, let it be for a while. The volume of emails that an agent gets in a day is large, and I’d err on the side of not adding to it unnecessarily. You’ve established a gentle, professional rapport with the email exchange; leave it at that. Later, when she sends another email telling you how much she loved the entire book, you can respond to her chattiness in kind.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Wait for Agent or Enter Contest?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

For several months I had planned to enter a YA novel contest with a small Indie publisher. The window to do this is from May 1 to June 30. Recently I was asked to submit a full of this same novel to a requesting agent that I thought was a no response. The contest is for unagented authors. How do I handle this if don’t hear from agent before the deadline?

Sincerely,
Unagented But Hopeful

Dear Unagented But Hopeful…

Kudos on the request! I hope that’s your ticket, but it’s wise to weigh other options. Plan to enter the contest late in the entry window to give the agent time to read your manuscript; she may reply more quickly now that it’s on her “Strong Interest” radar. I’d also email her to say you’re considering the contest but will withdraw your entry should the agent be interested in pursuing representation. Wording it in the name of communication, such as “I sent you the full ms as you requested. I wanted to add that I’m planning…,” will avoid it coming off as threatening. Winning the contest would make representation of that project moot, so most agents would appreciate the additional context. Really, you have till winner announcement date to withdraw, if the rules don’t say just entering commits winners to publication. That’s unlikely, though not unheard of, either. You’ve got two months till the contest deadline, time enough to email the Indie for clarification. If entering is committing and you don’t hear from the agent despite your heads-up, let your career preferences guide your difficult choice.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Much Do I Tell a New Agent about My Old Agent?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My agent and I recently came to a parting of the ways. If that comes up in response to queries—say, the new agent wants to submit to the same markets the old agent submitted to—how should I handle that?

Sincerely,
Anon.

Dear Anon….

Agents and authors part ways. It happens. Agents know this and aren’t disinclined by that mere fact. What would narrow their eyes would be anything that smacks of evasiveness on your part while you explain the parting of ways. An agent-author relationship requires strong, open communication in order for you to plot your career path as a team and go out with manuscripts that sync with that vision. Help the potential new agent understand what wasn’t clicking. Claiming “creative differences” may sound safe but that could mean a lot of things—from something as simple as having different ideas about what to focus on to something more thorny like disagreements about revisions for specific manuscripts. Assume professional tactfulness by not accusing or besmirching the previous agent even as you get as specific as you can about the factors involved in your business decision. Consider what you would want to know about an author who wanted to co-write a project with you, and how you’d want that author to talk to you about her previous relationship with another author.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Break Into Picture Book Illustration?

in Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

How on earth do I become an illustrator?

Sincerely,
Troubled in Texas

Dear Troubled in Texas…

Assuming your art can compete with that being published in the current market, I recommend you try to get a literary agent who represents children’s book illustrators. She’ll constantly pitch you to editors, she’ll know about manuscripts already under contract with publishers but needing artists, and she’ll help shape your career. Do submit directly to editors and art directors, too, via postcard mailings; those folks will keep the cards on file if they like the art, but you must send new cards to stay on their radars. Also make a portfolio that shows off your style, characters, color palette, conceptual thinking, and design sense to show that you understand the opportunities of the picture book format, like page turns and perspective shifts. To learn that, study picture books in stores or take a picture book illustration course. Above all, join the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators. Its resources include how-to’s and directories of agents, editors, and courses. Your local chapter periodically hosts agents, editors, art directors, and experienced illustrators for portfolio consults, and you’ll learn the pub biz itself, not just how to break in.

Happy illustrating!
The Editor

re: How Do I Respond to an Agent’s Status Update?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

After I’ve written an agent regarding a status inquiry on a full request, if that agent gives a timely, chatty response about how far into my manuscript she is, how should I respond—or do I wait patiently until they are done reading to respond?

Sincerely,
Wendy

Dear Wendy…

A brief response of the “Thank you for taking time to send me this update. Happy reading,” variety is a lovely way to acknowledge receipt of her email. After that, let it be for a while. The volume of emails that an agent gets in a day is large, and I’d err on the side of not adding to it unnecessarily. You’ve established a gentle, professional rapport with the email exchange; leave it at that. Later, when she sends another email telling you how much she loved the entire book, you can respond to her chattiness in kind.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Are Footnoted Illustration Notes the New Vogue?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I know illustration notes should only be used when absolutely necessary in picture book manuscripts, but I do have a few manuscripts that need them. I’ve recently seen them noted as footnotes rather than italicized text between brackets. What do you think of this?

Sincerely,
Wendy

Dear Wendy…

I haven’t seen that, myself. That formatting sounds like it would interrupt the reading experience, forcing the editor or agent to stop reading the main text, drop down to the bottom of the page, and then go back up and find their place within the main text again. Such interruption is the same reason many people dislike footnotes in a published book. Some readers simply skip the footnotes altogether, or wait until they get to the bottom of the page to glance at them. I recommending sticking with industry standard, which is to set the illustration note within brackets alongside the pertinent line of text. Why risk distracting an editor with a formatting detail? Save your risk-taking for revolutionary story content or narrative styles. That kind of “different” wins you fans.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Any Hope for Non-Artists Submitting ABC/Other Concept Books?

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is there any point in submitting a concept book such as ABC, colors, numbers if you are not an illustrator. I have a great idea but I am concerned that editors/agents will think my contribution to the end product was not significant enough. What are your thoughts on this?

Sincerely,
Laurie

Dear Laurie…

That project will probably be tougher to place than a less art-dependent one, but it’s not impossible. It could happen in a number of ways. If you have an opportunity to submit directly to an editor, she likely wouldn’t acquire it until she gets an illustrator to commit. She’d then take you both to her editorial board as a package deal for the final okay. I’ve seen that happen plenty of times with concept book projects that hinge on the illustrations. If you submit to an agent, the agent may decide to handle the pairing herself, pitching your concept to editors with an illustrator she already represents. An option you might consider, if yours isn’t a time-sensitive concept, is holding on to it until you’ve secured an agent or editor with another manuscript, one with more textual “meat.” At that point, you’ll be talking with them about other projects you’ve got in the works and can pitch this concept. Its acquisition may still depend on an artist’s solid commitment, but you won’t be trying to land your first deal with a manuscript that’s more idea than text.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: My Editor Doesn’t “Get” My Project — What Now?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m worried about stepping on toes. I have an editor, and have published a number of books. She’s not quite “getting” my latest project, though. I have her revision suggestions, but I don’t agree with them at all. She hasn’t acquired the book, so I want to try submitting it elsewhere. Do I tell her? Will she be angry with me? What’s the protocol?

Sincerely,
Trying to Tread Carefully

Dear Trying to Tread Carefully…

Tell her. Communication has a better chance of preventing future tension. Imagine the awkwardness you’d have explaining the book suddenly popping up on another house’s list? She did take time and care to make revision suggestions, so thank her for sharing her ideas, then tell her you’re not ready to break away from your original vision yet and want to try the project elsewhere before you try changing it. Editors understand that happens. And she’s likely aware that you two aren’t connecting on this one, in which case she won’t be shocked. Be sure to include that you look forward to working with her on your other projects and, who knows, maybe this one, too. Editors know authors publish with many houses and she’s acknowledged that the project isn’t working for her yet, so the air should stay clear.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: What Do They Mean, ‘Not Literary Enough’?

in Characterization/Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

What does it mean if an agent says your MG historical novel, due to the concept, needs to be more literary? Is that referring to the choice of language and sentence structure?

Sincerely,
P.

Dear P….

The “literary” versus “commercial” distinction runs deeper than vocab and sentence structure, so elevating the language won’t address the agent’s concern. I suspect your concept promises rich exploration of themes or sociocultural issues, while the story itself is action- and dialogue-driven, having the effect of skimming the surface of those themes or issues. I hear the agent calling for richer layering, with more nuanced character work as you explore how sociocultural elements of the era affect your character and, thus, her interactions with others. Does your protagonist act and react to others in discomfiting ways that force everyone to question or defend worldviews beyond the event at hand? Consider To Kill a Mockingbird, in which a child’s fear of the bogeyman plays out against the larger canvas of a town’s railroading of a black man. As the characters confront the overt theme of racism, they also struggle with universal themes of courage, class, gender, and compassion. Layers. Literary. Above all, rich storytelling that mines the era for more than its events. Is your story layered? Should it be?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Kindle Singles Right for My Middle Grade Mystery?

in Ebooks/Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

What do you think about selling a middle grade mystery on Kindle Singles? I’m not sure how one finds buyers after putting it on there. Also would an agent consider looking at it if it was on Kindle Singles?

Thanks,
M.G. Mystery Writer

Dear M.G. Mystery Writer…

The Kindle Singles program, which showcases 5,000- to 30,000-word ebooks, is a great way to distinguish writings that are less than novella length. Readers have expectations, and to get a slim book when you thought you bought a full novel can be frustrating. At the moment, KS guidelines exclude “children’s books”—yet KS pubbed bestselling R.J. Palacio’s WONDER-based short story. If KS won’t take your MG, you can publish it as a regular ebook, being clear about the length in your description and using a lower price point. Your concerns about discoverability are legit, as they are for any MG writer since COPPA limits our ability to engage young readers online. Your social media promo efforts will target parents, adult MG readers, teachers, and librarians to get them chin-wagging. Consider waiting to pub your short-length project until you have 2 or 3 titles; a series or body of work has a larger promo footprint. Self-pubbing it won’t affect agents’ decisions unless the ebook is poor quality.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can I Bend Submission Rules for My Novel in Verse?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is there a standard format for submitting a novel in verse? If I submitted the usual ten pages, double-spaced, then less than ten poems will be sent in. Can I single-space the poems with double spacing between poems and have it look professional?

Sincerely,
Joan

Dear Joan…

No one will think you’re trying to cheat if you single-space poems in a novel-in-verse submission. Agents and editors want samples in order to assess the project, and assessment of a novel in verse usually requires more than a few poems. It’s an exceptional format. Stick to 12-pt font and regular margins so as not to distract from the content, then single-space the poems and see how many fit onto 10 pages. You may not fit a full 10 poems, but this isn’t about subbing one 10 for another. Nor is it about rules. The 10-page standard is meant to manage workflow and avoid the costs and physical manipulation of mailing, printing, and lugging full manuscripts. Even with email submissions, we keep the 10-page standard because that’s enough for the initial assessment and there can still be printing and lugging. You can state at the end of your query letter that you’re sending 10 pages with [#] poems single-spaced to offer them a useful sample. They’ll see you aren’t being sneaky but rather are being thoughtful about the process. Stay true to the spirit of standard formatting and you’ll be fine.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Do I Submit Using My Real Name or My Pen Name?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing my fiction under a pseudonym. Do I submit the query letter to agents with my real name or pen name?

Sincerely,
I’d Sign My Real Name But Then I’d Have to Kill You

Dear I’d Sign My Real Name But Then I’d Have to Kill You…

It’s nice to end the week with a chuckle! I’m happy to support your anonymity here. As for using real name versus pen name during submission, it needn’t be an either/or issue. You’ll be doing business with your agent using your real name, so lead with that even as you present both. Sign your query letter as, “[Your Name], writing as [Pen Name].”

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Pitch the Ethnicity of My Characters?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I keep reading about the lack of diversity in children’s books and that agents are in search of non-white main characters. I am about to query a middle-grade novel (an adventure across parallel worlds) in which the main character is part Native American and her best friend is Chinese. (The characters’ ethnicities do not impact the plot at all.) Should I attempt to work this into the query letter? Any suggestions as to the best way to do it?

Sincerely,
Mary

Dear Mary…

Absolutely include that fact in your query letter. It’s one more feature that distinguishes your project, and its current status on publishing’s radar only helps. Go the extra step of pitching the colorblindness of your casting, which many people consider the ultimate goal of diversity efforts: The hero is the hero because s/he’s got heroic qualities – skin color is incidental. I’d share this at the end of the second paragraph in a three-paragraph query, where Paragraph 1 pitches the hook, Paragraph 2 presents key plot and thematic elements, and Paragraph 3 touts your credentials. Leading with this topic could imply that ethnicity does actively factor into the story; placement at the end of Paragraph 2 offers it as a feature, but not the primary one. Possible wording: “With a main character who’s part Native American and a best friend who’s Chinese, Title of Book features an ethnically diverse cast without driving racial themes. This is an [adventure/love/whatever] story, through and through.”

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can My Small Press Book Get a New Life with a Big Publisher?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I have a book published by a small press. It was never reviewed by any of the major kidlit reviewers prior to publication. However, an editor at one of them later told me she would have reviewed it had she known it wasn’t self-published. The book received positive reviews. I’m working on new projects, but still feel this project didn’t get its best shot. Is there a process for submitting a small-press book to large publishers when sales have not reflected the book’s potential?

Thank you,
M.

Dear M….

Big publishers will consider republishing books if they believe the book is timely and has untapped potential – but you have extra submission hurdles, the biggest one being the low sales numbers in bookseller databases. Booksellers aren’t likely to pick up a low-selling book a second time even if it’s got a different publisher. You have elbow room if part of the problem was that the book didn’t get into bookstores in the first place. The positive reviews work in your favor. Ask your publisher to revert the rights back to you; your contract should have a clause explaining how to do that. In your pitch to new publishers, explain the circumstances of its low numbers and present a case for why you’re able to help promote the book more heavily this time. If it’s a picture book, you need the artist’s O.K. to re-shop the book and s/he must get the illustration rights reverted. Or you can shop just the text, to be re-illustrated. Your new house could then pitch this as a new frontlist title instead of a reprint or republication, giving it a fresh lease on life.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Dare I Tell an Agent to Hold That Offer?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

If you send your manuscript to several agents and one offers you representation, what’s the best response? Is there an appropriate time frame to ask for so you can hear from the others?

Thanks,
Linda

Dear Linda…

Multiple submission is the game these days, and agents know it. Whether the offer comes via email or phone, convey your excitement about the opportunity to work together then say you’ve multiply submitted and would like a week or so to respectfully notify the other agents before you accept any offer. That’s professional, and a fellow professional will respect it. Authors are emotionally invested in their work and can lose sight of representation being a business partnership. It’s O.K. to be thoughtful about inking a deal. In your email subject line to the other agents, write “Submission follow-up: representation offer received.” That may prompt them to review your submission. I just watched this play out for a writer and all agents were responsive and gracious. If you get a preferable offer, tell the first agent that you received another offer and that the decision was hard but you’ve finally made the call to go with the other agent. Everyone has been respected in this exchange, and you’ve honored your career in the process.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Manuscript Auctions Work

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Can you explain how manuscript auctions work?

Thanks,
Laurel

Dear Laurel…

Auctions! Exciting, stressful, and, for editors, sometimes crushing. Agents auction manuscripts they think are hot properties, generating early buzz and above-average advances. They’re pitting houses against each other and must protect their own reps, so agents are selective about what they auction and careful about handling it. Independent authors can’t auction their own manuscripts, lacking the access and trust that agents spend their careers cultivating. Auctions happen fast. The agent contacts the chosen publishers, pitches the project, and explains the rules and timeline. It’s usually blind, with the editors knowing the number of houses involved but not the names. They get a short time to read the manuscript and get offer approval from bosses, then they bid. The agent reports the top bid the next day, allowing others to outbid. Some auctions are one-day “best offer” affairs, others have several rounds. Publishers might add marketing promises, or a big pre-emptive bid can end the auction before it begins. Thrilling, indeed.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What to Say to the Agent Who’s Had My Manuscript a Year?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

A well-reputed agent has had my full for almost a year now. I’ve nudged her once and she says she hasn’t read it yet. Her policy is to inform her if you receive rep elsewhere on fulls she currently has. I’ve received many rejections for this ms already – I’ve been told it’s a tough sell because it has a dystopian vibe – and personally, I want to shelve it. I’ve been working on another ms in a different genre and plan to query that soon. What happens if I’m offered rep for the new ms that’s in a different genre? How do I inform this first agent who still has my old full (when it’s a completely different ms)? Will she be upset that I want to go with someone else? But I can’t sit around waiting for her forever. What’s the most professional way to handle this without burning bridges?

Thank you!
M. L.

Dear M. L….

Darn tootin’ you shouldn’t wait forever. This agent knows that, too, as she acknowledges with her request for notification should you land other representation. Send her a note that you’re starting to submit a new project elsewhere and should it garner an offer you’ll let her know the ms she has is off the table. You’re neither pulling the dystopian submission from her nor submitting that same ms to others, so there’s no hint of foul here. In fact, you’re taking an extra step to be communicative and she’ll likely note that professionalism. Her concern isn’t personal, she just doesn’t want to spend time reading an ms that’s not available. End your note by saying you know agents like to consider only one project at a time from an author, but if she’d like to see the new one you can send it her way, too, as part of your multiple submission. “It’s a [insert genre] about…” and then supply your one-sentence hook statement about the story. If she’s intrigued, she’ll ask for the new submission and then you can provide your full query pitch for your fab new project.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: I Don’t Know What to Make of This Agent’s Letter

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

When querying by email, it’s hard to know if an agent’s response is a form letter or a personal note. This came to me recently: “Thank you for sharing your work with me. Right now my list is full but I invite you to query back in two months. Thanks for thinking of me.” I’m guessing this is more of a form letter response. Am I right?

Thanks,
B.

Dear B….

I’ll take your “form letter” guess and do you one better: I suspect it’s an automated response and the agent didn’t read your query. Otherwise, the answer would’ve been yes, no, or wait to hear back because it’ll take me a while to read it. View this response as a polite (and needlessly vague) way of saying, “I’m not accepting submissions right now.” Instead of marking your calendar to resubmit in two months, put your energy into looking for agents actively acquiring. Look in Literary Market Place and Writer’s Market, check the member resources of your category/genre’s national writers’ organization for a directory of agents, and scan the acknowledgment pages in your favorite authors’ books for their agents’ names. Google promising names to research their interests and author lists to be sure they’re well regarded and rep projects like yours. Your manuscript is important and your time precious—better your chances with strategic submissions instead of knocking on the same closed door simply because you know where it is.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can I Use a Symbol in My Title?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

The title of my current WIP is the name of a fictional corporation, followed by ™. I’m concerned that, in queries, this will look like I’m trying to protect my title from the agent or editor — which I know is a very unprofessional thing to do. How do I clearly communicate that the ™ is part of the title?

Thanks,
Darin

Dear Darin…

Using a symbol in the title could be an issue for your book long after query stage: How will people type the title into their search engines? How will the symbol translate in databases like Goodreads and Amazon, considering databases are notorious for converting non-letters to random symbols? Even simple apostrophes in titles can get warped in email subject lines for launch announcements, etc. Is the trademark symbol vital to understanding the concept of your book and thus worth the potential hiccups in online promotion and book listings? Consider leaving it out of the official title and using it only as a design element on the final book cover. Can you skip it during submission, at least? You can discuss its necessity with your editor and marketing team later. If it must stay in the official title through all stages, add an asterisked line to the ms cover page or somewhere in the query letter’s body text, such as: *Trademark symbol is part of official book title. That may raise eyebrows for being unusual, but it’s unlikely to sabotage the manuscript.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: NaNoWriMo a No-No?

in Creative Process/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am doing NaNoWriMo and am doing surprisingly well! I was looking up NaNo fun (proscrastinating) when I stumbled upon something from another editor saying that they won’t publish anything from NaNoWriMo. They called it stupid and useless! Is this true? I understand not publishing something on December 1st, but can a novel from NaNo still be good if edited properly?

Sincerely,
Still Just a Teen

Dear Still Just a Teen . . .

Publication can be the eventual result of NaNoWriMo. I know a novelist whose debut started there. “Started” being the key word. It’s not reasonable to think you can submit what you draft during this intense month without substantial revision. Likely many drafts. First drafts are about discovery and allowing a big ol’ embarrassing pile o’ Ugly to land on the page. NaNoWriMo helps you turn off your inner editor and vomit all that ugly out. Then the digging for Beautiful begins. Veteran novelists will tell you they spend more time revising than writing Draft One. For inspiration, read my Revision Week interviews with lauded writers here. NaNoWriMo gets you over the Draft One hump, and that’s not “useless.” I’m following prolific YA/NA author Jennifer L. Armentrout on Facebook right now as she posts about touring a bestseller while NaNoWriMo’ing her next book. So erase “stupid” and “useless” from your mind and regain that productive mindset that had you cranking out your personal pile o’ Ugly. Beautiful awaits.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Must Manuscripts Be Done for Agent Conference Critiques?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I submitted a query, synopsis, and first 5 pages of my YA novel to be critiqued at a conference. I wasn’t thinking anyone would ask for it—just wanted to see if I was on track with the revisions my freelance editor suggested. I must be, because the agent asked for the full. It’s not done. Do I fudge—say I sent it to the freelancer and am in the process of revising…it won’t be ready until the new year? Or admit I haven’t written the whole thing? I hate to lie, but I’ve heard admitting you haven’t written whole thing is the kiss of death. Will agents even wait that long for something?

I’d appreciate your advice,
Happy But Worried

Dear Happy But Worried…

Save that R.I.P. talk for Halloween tomorrow. Today, celebrate the agent’s confirmation that your W.I.P. indeed has a strong start, that you’ve got a freelance editor who can guide you to a strong finish, and that you’ve got an invitation to submit to that agent as soon as the ms is ready. Those are the points the agent will hear when you tell her the truth. There’s no reason to lie or even fudge. Agents know that material critiqued at conferences is often still in progress. You wouldn’t submit an unfinished project in a regular submission, but conference critiques really are for critiquing as well as networking. Stress to the agent that you’re working with a freelance editor, and outline your timetable. She’ll wait. Your dedication to submitting your best work will impress her—which is yet another reason to celebrate. Normally I’d recommend chocolate for that, but tis the season of candy corn, so think yellow, orange, and white.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Do Agents Ding International Queries?

in Promotion/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

How hesitant are agents to take on new writers from another country? Are international queries second choice when pitted against local ones?

Thank you,
Writer in a Faraway Land

Dear Writer in a Faraway Land…

I have good news, bad news, and then more good news. Good: Your location won’t stop a U.S. agent from reading your submission because if it’s a great book, they want you regardless of where you live. Bad: You have promotional handicaps. Many U.S. book awards require U.S. residency, and book awards can significantly extend the shelf life of a title—which matters to you and your publisher, so it factors into an agent’s final decision. Not just the high profile awards most of us know about, but the many smaller state awards that local teachers and librarians look to for their book lists. Also, you can’t be easily toured or sent to sign or speak at trade shows (such as Book Expo America) or conferences (like TLA or Comic-Con), which matters to a marketing department. Good: Location does matter but “great” trumps all. So, since you’re already striving for “great” with your craft, your plan of attack won’t change. Great is good, indeed.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Teen Too Young to Publish?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

 

Dear Editor…

I’m a teen and my dream is to be an author. But in the past year it has started to become more of a reality. I have written a rough draft of a novel and have begun revising. But I don’t know whether I should go on. Is it too risky being a teen in this market? Should I wait for my dream when I’m older? Thank you so much! Bye.

Just A Teen

Dear Just A Teen…

Christopher Paolini and Abigail Gibbs prove age is no reason to hit Pause. But you’re wise beyond your years to ponder the path ahead. Be of two minds: 1) Book: Craft, not age, matters. Hire a pro freelance editor to evaluate your ms for craft and market potential and guide you in honing your skills to compete with veteran writers. Or try a local college ‘extension’ class for writing. Get feedback from writing experts. 2) Business: Pubbing a book is the same as opening a business whether you self-pub or sign with a publisher. With your parents’ help, get an agent to protect your rights, manage the money, and devise safe ways to put you and your books ‘out there.’ The Literary Market Place has an agent directory, as do writers’ groups like SCBWI or SFWA. Look into your writing category’s group, read my post Too Young to Be Taken Seriously?, and KEEP WRITING! This may not become your debut novel, but you’ll be a better writer for it.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Will Mentioning Mangas in My Novel’s Query Letter Hurt Me?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

What if my similar books are all Mangas? Should I mention them anyway? Will the agent/editor reading the query yuck upon that with “so this writer actually reads more Japanese comics than English novels??”

Thanks,
Herley

Dear Herley…

You’re pitching a novel, so those Mangas are a nonissue. They sell into a different market, to a different readership; they’re irrelevant to your novel’s reception or performance in its own market. If you feel compelled to show that you’ve done your research, you could include a line like, “The only books with a similar concept are Mangas,” but I think that muddies the query letter with unnecessary information. Focus on the fact that your project is fresh in your market, because that’s nothing to yuck upon.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Eddie Gamarra re: Agents for Your Script or Book-to-Film Rights

in Screenwriting/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I was talking to my screenwriting professor about getting an agent.  He informed me that writer-directors do not get talent agents, but have to get literary agents. I have a producer already interested in my work, so I thought it might be safe if I sought representation. Is this true? How do I go about that?

Sincerely,
J.

ed_bw_headshot-1Eddie Gamarra is a literary manager/producer at The Gotham Group. He represents screenwriters, directors, animators, authors, illustrators, publishers, and animation studios around the world that specialize in children and family entertainment. His main focus is in animation and literature ranging from picture books, novels, anthologies, and graphic novels. His clients include numerous New York Times best-selling authors and illustrators, as well as Oscar, Emmy, Caldecott, Newberry, and Geisel award winners. Eddie is Executive Producer of James Dashner’s upcoming The Maze Runner film. The Gotham Group has a producing component and reps over 300 writers, authors, and publishing company clients.

Dear J….

From the Hollywood perspective, your professor is correct. Actors have “talent” agents; screenwriters and directors have “literary” agents and /or managers; and authors/illustrators have “book” agents. All reps should be working to insure the best opportunities for their clients in their specific fields of expertise and often partner with other reps (“co-reps”/ “co-agents”) when they need expert advice outside their field. If you are an author/illustrator trying to have your book optioned as a movie or TV show (TV movie, web series, etc.), OR if you are an author adapting your own work as a script, then your book agent typically partners with a “book-to-film” agent who can help you and your book agent navigate the dark forest of Hollywood. If you are strictly a screenwriter, then you can have a lit agent or manager help you sell your script.

Many book agents work with book-to-film co-reps and so you can have your book agent help you add that new member to your team. If you do not have a book agent or if your book agent does not have any relationships with co-reps, then you will have to research the best “book-to-film” rep just as you would research a book agent.  Hollywood is less transparent than publishing so the best ways to begin that search are to research Publishers Marketplace, look up reps who have spoken at SCBWI events, and also look at the websites’ of the authors/illustrators’ whose work most closely resembles yours and see if they have any reps listed on their own websites.  Ask your friends who have been through the optioning process to see who they used and liked.

In your case it is also very important to get some inside information about the producer interested in your project. While anyone can use resources like IMDb or Box Office Mojo to research a producer, it is essential to have up-to-date insider information about that producer. Their credits may be amazing, but there are any number of reasons why they may not be the right match for you or your book.

Keep in mind, if one person sees potential in your project, others might too. There may be better collaborations to be made. Your reps will help you figure it all out.

Eddie Gamarra
The Gotham Group

Re: Is It Perilous to Pitch the Whole Series?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m currently writing a five-book series that I want to publish. I know that if editors like your story they’ll have you sign a contract for, say, a three book series. So if I’ve already planned a five book series, should I mention that so they know, or should I let them contact me first?

Sincerely,
JD

Dear JD…

You imply that a series is something to hide when it’s not. Series can do well in most markets, so publishers buy them when they see marketable concepts and strong writing from authors who can consistently deliver. They just limit their commitment so they won’t have to pub books they know won’t sell if the series doesn’t hit. They’re running a business, after all. You just have more to pitch in the query letter than someone submitting a single book. Embrace that! If Book 1 is the first episode in a story that isn’t complete till Book 5, pitch your fab series concept and be clear about how Book 1 is a satisfying, compelling stepping stone in the series arc. If each book can stand alone, highlight that to give them breathing room. Either way, you’re more likely to get a two-book deal than a three. Book 1 typically sells best, so publishers know how a series is performing by Book 2 and can go all in then. And maybe you’ll have leverage for even better terms.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What If My Agent Doesn’t Live in NYC?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

In thinking about finding an agent to represent me, should location be a big consideration? Does it matter if an agent does not live in NY where I would like to submit manuscripts?

Thank you!
Lisa

Dear Lisa…

Location, location, location! may be a crucial motto for real estate, but it needs no place in your agent submission strategizing. Most business between agents and editors is conducted via email and phone, so your agent can live outside publishing’s NYC hub. And plenty do. (My agent for children’s books lives in Flagstaff, my agent for adult projects lives in San Diego, and my agent for Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies lives in Sacramento.) Those agents typically make semi-annual trips to the Big Apple, packing each day with editor meetings, and they supplement those trips with meet-ups at big industry events and conferences like Book Expo America or the Annual SCBWI Summer Conference. When you start talking representation with an agent, ask how s/he keeps ongoing relationships with editors fresh and forges new ones. This will give you a feel for the agent’s connections and networking prowess.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: When an Agent Wants a Second Opinion

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

An agent said she “really enjoyed” my manuscript (!) and wants to see more of my manuscripts to get a more complete sense of my body of work. She says that in the meantime she’ll be sharing my story with the rest of her team and will be in touch once they all have a chance to review it. I’m nervous about a “team meeting.” Do all agents work that way? I’m a little worried that there’s something about my submission that’s giving her pause.

Thanks,
Nervous Nelly

Dear Nervous Nelly…

Don’t feel singled out. Agents often do second reads for each other before signing authors. Representation is a huge commitment, and a second opinion from colleagues who know their personal tastes as well as the state of the market is as important to them as critique partners are to writers. In fact, agents will often do second reads even after signing in order to make sure every project they send to publishers is as strong as it can be, craftwise and marketwise. Now, with that settled, go get yourself a treat. I believe in celebrating every step on your path toward publication, and “I really enjoyed your manuscript” from an agent is certainly good for something decadent and very chocolate.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

News: 1 Call for Submissions & 2 Publisher-Sponsored Contests

in New Adult Fiction/News/Picture Books/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction/Uncategorized by

Dear Readers…

Summer seems to be bringing out the editors! In today’s post I share news about two publisher-sponsored contests and a call for submissions for a new imprint. Check out the rest of the post for details on these opportunities.

Heads up: I post news like this and other publishing happenings on the DearEditor.com Facebook page and DearEditor.com Google+ page. If you haven’t already “Liked” the page, consider checking it out. I do my best to keep the news and inspirational items flowing there.

Happy submitting!
The Editor

Picture book contest: LEE & LOW BOOKS announces its 14th annual “New Voices Award” for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and a standard publication contract. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500. Click here to check out the Lee & Low Books announcement page.

Young Adult & New Adult fiction call for submissions: BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING is announcing their new digital-only imprint Bloomsbury Spark with a call for YA and NA submissions. Bloomsbury Spark will publish fiction eBooks for teen, YA, and new adult readers. Its list will feature multiple genres: romance, contemporary, dystopian, paranormal, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, and more. The inaugural list launches in Autumn 2013. Click here for Bloomsbury Spark’s submission guidelines and email addresses.

New Adult fiction Pitch Contest: NA ALLEY, a blog for writers of New Adult fiction by writers of New Adult fiction, is hosting a Pitch Contest with Senior Editorial Director Karen Grove and Assistant Editor Nicole Steinhaus from Embrace, the New Adult line from Entangled Publishing. Entangled is interested in “submissions of any genre with main characters aged 18 to 24. ‘We’re looking for strong voices, characters who jump off the page, and unusual twists to stories. Fresh. Exciting. Bold.’” The contest starts June 5 at 1pm PST and closes June 12 at 11:59pm PST. To enter, you will be required to submit via comment at the NA Alley blog. Your manuscript must be complete and polished, and it must fall into the New Adult category. Check out the NA Alley Pitch Contest announcement post for details about what to include in the comment.

Good luck!

Guest Editor Danny Fingeroth re: Submitting Graphic Novels

in Graphic Novels/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My husband has put together a middle grade hybrid graphic novel that I’ve helped him to edit. He’s gotten some positive responses from agents but is always told they don’t think they can place the book. Is there something more challenging about selling this type of novel even though they seem to be very popular right now?

Sincerely,
Heather

Danny FingerothDanny Fingeroth was a longtime writer and editor for Marvel Comics, best known for his work on Spider-Man. He has taught comics and graphic novel writing at NYU, The New School, and The MiMaster Art Institute in Milan. A recognized expert on comics and graphic novels, he has lectured about them at venues including The Smithsonian Institution and The Metropolitan Museum. Fingeroth created and edited Write Now magazine, the only how-to publication dedicated to comics writing and writers. He is co-author (with artist Mike Manley) of How to Create Comics from Script to Print, as well as its companion DVD. He’s also written the books Superman on the Couch, Disguised as Clark Kent, and The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels, and co-edited (with Roy Thomas) The Stan Lee Universe, about the life and career of the co-creator of Iron Man and The X-Men. Fingeroth serves on the board of directors of the Institute for Comics Studies. His online writing course “Graphic Novel Writing,” which teaches the entire graphic novel writing process, from producing a proposal to handling Hollywood, starts May 23 at mediabistro.com.

Dear Heather…

The graphic novel market is an especially tricky one. Because of the time and specialized skills required to create a graphic novel, advances are often fairly high to enable the writer and artist to live while they’re working on it. Plus, outside the work-for-hire world of Marvel and DC superheroes, there is really no way to accurately predict what a GN by someone relatively unknown in the field will sell. Is your husband the artist as well as the writer? Either way, having pages of the story drawn and lettered to include with the proposal is generally a good idea, although there is the chance that some editors may not like the look of the art, and so may reject the story even if they like the writing, and even if you make it clear you would be willing to work with another artist. In addition, the “hybrid” part of the description may be confusing or off-putting to some editors. Many graphic novelists are turning to Kickstarter and other crowd-funding venues to finance their work. That may be an option worth exploring for you.

Sincerely,
Danny Fingeroth

re: Dare I Reveal My Secrets In My Synopsis?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

When querying agents and/or publishers, which type of synopsis would you recommend including in the query letter?: 1) a “book blurb” synopsis (similar to what would appear on the book jacket), which does *not* tell the whole story or give away the ending, or 2) a “comprehensive synopsis” that gives an overview of all major plot points from beginning to end, including revealing the ending. I am a debut author who is fairly new to this whole querying business, and I’ve read mixed recommendations about which type of synopsis should be included. I’d love to know what you recommend!

Jamie

Dear Jamie…

Don’t be a tease: submit the “comprehensive” version, all secrets revealed. The reason agents and editors turn to the synopsis is because they’ve read that “book blurb”-type pitch in your query letter and liked the concept, and they’ve read your sample pages and liked the narrative voice and opening, and now they want to know your plans for the plot. ALL of your plans. Now’s not the time to get cutesy or try to entertain. Show step by step, in a 1- to 2-page, single-spaced document that’s more like an enhanced outline, how the plot will unfold for the main storyline. If the subplot is directly related to the resolution of your main plot, lay that out step by step, too. End with showing not only how the plot is resolved but how your character’s internal journey has been completed. Think of this as handing the agent the blueprints to your story.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Mention Erotic Scenes in a Query Letter?

in New Adult Fiction/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am in the process of querying agents for a New Adult novel I’ve written. My question is, should I mention in my query letter that there are a few erotic scenes in the novel (a potential selling point)? Due to the broad definition of “New Adult,” I’m wondering if I should prepare the agent for the adult scenes. If I do decide to include this information, how should I go about doing so?

Sincerely,
Jamie

Dear Jamie…

Leave the steamy stuff out of the query. There’s plenty of steam in New Adult novels, and agents know that, so there’s no need to “prepare” the agent for it. Plus, it’s not a selling point in particular. It’s better to use the short query space to highlight your awesome hook, emphasizing what differentiates your manuscript’s plot, characters, and themes from the masses. Pitch your concept and your craft, not the sex.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What’s the Right Tone for a Query Letter?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My aim with my query letter is to capture the comedic/satirical aspect of my book—but I’m really not sure if a query is supposed to be more formal than this? I’m quite confused: Is a query supposed to be more like a backflap or more like business letter?

Thank you,
Ana V.

Dear Ana V….

Aim for a “relaxed professional” tone for your fiction query, which is more like flap copy than a letter to your banker. Strict formality is at odds with your project and does nothing to demonstrate that you can manipulate the language to tickle funny bones or spark wry smiles. You’re a professional of the creative arts, pitching to a professional who deals in creative products, so draft the query as a professional but then “relax” it with fresh, lively phrasing. Don’t go too far, though: wild wordplay and wackiness can easily overwhelm out of a fictional context.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should a Cliffhangar’s Synopsis Hang Too?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

What is the best way to finish a synopsis to a cliff hanger ending?

Thanks much!
CR

Dear CR…

Write your synopsis as you would were this a stand-alone book instead of one installment in a multi-volume storyline—except that in the final paragraph, when you state how this volume’s problem was resolved, you add a line or two pointing out that the overarching series problem still festers. Then offer an additional paragraph, set off from the main synopsis by a line space, that presents your 40ish-word hook for the next volume. You’ll have already pitched your full trilogy or series in your query letter; adding the hook here gives context for the thread you’ve left dangling in this synopsis. If your character gained a particular strength or fact in this volume that is integral to the plot of the next one, point that out in the hook to emphasize the link between the volumes.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Taryn Fagerness re: Did I Just Double-Cross My Agent?

in Guest Editors/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I have an agent in the U.S, and I’ve been extended an offer for representation in Turkey. I’d heard of authors having an agent for non-English speaking country aside from their agent in the U.S., so I accepted the offer; however, now, I feel that it’s somehow unethical. Can I have an agent in both countries or should I sever ties with one?

Signed,
Double Agent Girl

Taryn FagernessTaryn Fagerness represents foreign rights on behalf of North American literary agents. Before opening the Taryn Fagerness Agency in 2009, Taryn spent five years as the Subsidiary Rights Manager and an Agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She’s sold hundreds of books to foreign, audio, and film markets, and has sold subsidiary rights for New York Times bestselling authors, first time authors, and everyone in between, in nearly all genres including literary fiction, thriller/suspense, commercial fiction, romance, history, self-help, business, and children’s.

Dear Double Agent Girl…

I’m afraid I need to start my answer with another question, and that is: How does your US agent handle foreign rights? All agents I know handle their authors’ foreign rights in some fashion, so that you should definitely not need to form individual relationships with foreign agents. For example, I am a freelance foreign rights manager, and I handle over 20 North American agencies’ foreign rights. I work with foreign co-agents all around the world (like Turkey) so that my agent clients (and their authors) don’t have to deal with the mess and complication of doing that all on their own. Other US agencies have an in-house foreign rights manager who handles foreign rights.

Now, foreign agencies from Turkey and Korea (don’t ask me why it’s these two territories in particular) are infamous for trolling for new clients, and they often contact authors directly saying they want to rep your book in their country. If you have a US agent, you should just forward such requests to them. Your US agent may already have an exclusive relationship with a Turkish agent. If your US agent doesn’t know how to handle such requests, it may be time for a new agent.

So, in short, your US agent should be your main squeeze. They should handle all your subsidiary rights for you (and they may work with co-agents around the world, or in the world of film to do this).

A tip for all writers seeking a US agent: be sure to ask potential agents “How do you handle foreign rights?”

Write on,
Taryn

re: Submitting to Agent at Same Agency

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Three years ago I submitted a full YA novel to an interested agent (the owner of an agency) who ultimately passed. Now one of her new agents at this agency invited me to submit the same but much revised YA from a written critique at a conference. Is this okay or will the owner agent not like this? Love this agency and don’t want to burn bridges.

Sincerely,
Loretta

Dear Loretta…

Take that invite and run with it! In your cover letter, explain that the owner saw the manuscript in a very different form years ago but didn’t feel it was for her. You’re not trying to pull a fast one on anybody, you’re being communicative. The owner will be fine with it. She’s been in the business long enough to appreciate how much a manuscript can change and that each agent has his/her own taste. Do one thing first, though: Check the agency’s submission guidelines to see if they specify that a “no” from one agent is a “no” from the agency. Even if they do, you’ve got an invitation, so send a note saying you’ve revised significantly and let the agent decide if she wants to read this manuscript that intrigued her. That’s being professional, not burning bridges.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Sara Sciuto re: Should I Submit My Picture Book Dummy to Agents & Editors Simultaneously?

in Guest Editors/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

If I submit a picture book dummy to a publisher, may I also query an agent about the same pb, as long as I state it is a “simultaneous” submission? I am thinking of finding an agent. Is this a turn-off to the agent if the ms is out there?

Thanks for the advice!
Lisa

 

Sara SciutoSara Sciuto, today’s Guest Editor, is an agent with Full Circle Literary, representing children’s fiction (picture books, middle grade, and YA) and select adult nonfiction. A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, Sara also completed literature coursework at NYU. Before joining Full Circle, she gained valuable experience working on film and foreign rights with the Taryn Fagerness Agency. Her great passions in life are travel and good food – and good books, of course! (Website: www.fullcircleliterary.com, Twitter: @sarasciuto, Blog: http://sarasciuto.tumblr.com/)

Dear Lisa…

Great question! It does happen sometimes that an author will let me know that their material is currently under review at a publishing house (usually because they had an open invitation from attending a conference), and that’s fine as long as they let us know. However, I wouldn’t suggest planning on submitting to agencies and publishing houses simultaneously while you’re trying to find an agent. Here’re a few reasons why: (1) It could be a deterrent to an interested agent if we learn it’s already been submitted to multiple houses (that’s fewer chances we have to get it sold). (2) Most agents are fairly hands-on editorially (I know I am!) and will work with you to make your project stronger before ever submitting to publishers. You only have one shot with a particular publishing house/imprint so you want your project in its best possible shape before submitting. Having an agent on your side BEFORE you submit will help you make it all the more strong and appealing to publishers. (3) When an author/illustrator (which I assume you are if you’re submitting a dummy rather than just a manuscript) meets an editor at a conference and submits a dummy, that author is typically only sending one project to one publishing house. An agent is able to send the project to several editors at one time in order to find the best match for your project. There you have it—three reasons why I suggest securing an agent before submitting your work to publishers.

Best wishes,
Sara Sciuto

re: What Lurks in the Fine Print of Writing Contests?

in Contracts/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is it all right to submit the same piece of writing to more than one contest?

Sincerely,
Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth…

Some contests require exclusivity, some don’t. Luckily, legitimate contests declare their exclusivity stances in their Official Rules. Scour those rules, because surprises can lurk there. For example, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest has a “Manuscript Shopping Rule” that says you can’t submit your manuscript to publishers during the judging period. That’s not unusual for a contest, especially if it’s hosted by a publisher. Amazon’s “Grant of Rights” rule shows something else that might surprise you: the right of first refusal. That is, in some cases Amazon gets the chance to sign up or reject the entered project before the author can enter into a contract with another publisher for it. Also, Amazon declares the right to post excerpts of your entry on any Amazon-affiliated website, whether you win or not. (Amazon’s rules: http://amzn.to/XkFsk7). You need to be okay with ALL of the contest’s fine print before you enter.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Have I Waited Too Long to Submit Post-Conference?

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

At a SCBWI conference, I had an art director show interest in my pb dummy, however she wanted to see some changes. I have made those changes, but it has taken me five months. May I submit the ms and dummy to her at this point? Or should I submit it with the SCBWI sticker used for conference attendees to the “acquisitions” dept. and send her a follow-up letter it is submitted the usual way? It is a long time after the usual three months. We did connect via email about this project, and she was interested. Which way to proceed? Thank you for your ideas.

Sincerely,
Lisa

Dear Lisa…

Build on the connection you’ve already established – send that revised dummy to your art director contact. Five months is fine as long as she put no time limit on submissions from that conference. I wouldn’t even give it a second thought before six months. An explanation is in order, though, if you take longer than six months. At a year, you’ve pretty much missed that boat. The art director may question your ability to produce in a timely manner, or she just might have left the company altogether. There’s a lot of house jumping in publishing.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is the Vietnam Era a Publishing Black Hole?

in General fiction/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a MG novel set in 1965 in Midwest America. While the story is about a little girl who wants a dog, the background story touches upon her brother, and the neighbor’s son, both in Vietnam. We learn about the war through letters written by her brother. Recently, I was told that 1965 isn’t historical, and that the Vietnam war is a black hole in the publishing world. Well, then! Is my novel doomed even though the story isn’t non-fiction, and isn’t only about Vietnam?

Sincerely,
Rachel

Dear Rachel…

Deborah Wiles’ award-winning MG novel Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy) proves there’s a place for historical fiction set in 1960s America. And yes, 1965 is “historical”—it’s three generations removed from your target readers, with a distinct cultural landscape. Not that I’m sure you have a historical fiction project. It could be general fiction, with your focus being on the girl and her dog wish rather than on the war. To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t officially “historical fiction” even though it’s set in 1930s Deep South. It’s a story about people, race, class, and coming of age. Lead with your themes and craft strengths when submitting, not your time period. As for “black hole,” don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! An unexploited spot in the market could be gold. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who shopped a wizard book when wizard books were barely a market blip. You may have a better shot than those in a genre that’s hot but saturated. Doomed? Hardly.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: My Agent Says No, I Say Yes…. Who’s Right?

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My agent isn’t sure there’s enough of a market for my new picture book manuscript. I’m thinking of subbing it on my own (my contract with my agent is very flexible in this regard), and trying for smaller, independent presses. Here’s where I get a little confused as a writer. The agent is supposed to know the market, so do I just take her at her word for it and abandon the project? My writing group thinks it’s a good story and, my agent did say she thought it was very well written, so I’m not quite ready to just toss it aside. Once upon a time, nobody thought there was a market for boy wizards either until one publisher took the risk. Just wondering if you have any thoughts or insights on this.

Thanks,
Y. N.

Dear Y. N.…

The key factor here is that your agent gave the writing itself a thumbs up. She’s not afraid this project will hurt your reputation; it’s clearly a numbers thing. Knowing that, I say do your round of smaller press submissions. A small press isn’t as dependent on huge yearly sales as a Big House (although they’d sure love to score huge sales) and so may be that risk-taking house you’re looking for. Either you’ll get a book deal (yay!) or you’ll get peace of mind that you’ve given this story a shot at the bound cover.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Stacy Innerst: The Risk of Illustration Notes in Picture Books Manuscripts

in Guest Editors/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

If you have a spare text for a picture book, should you send along another copy of the story with illustration notes? If so, what’s the proper format for the notes? Brackets? Italics?

Sincerely,
Natasha

Stacy Innerst, today’s Guest Editor, is the award-winning illustrator of picture books including The Worm Family, M Is For Music, Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea, Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country), and the upcoming The Beatles: They Were Fab and They Were Funny.

Dear Natasha…

An illustrator’s perspective: I prefer to have the opportunity to have an unencumbered first impression of the story, no matter how spare the text might be.  You’d be amazed at how easily an artist’s creative train can be derailed by having illustration notes, especially early in the process—it’s like a hair in your soup, you can’t forget about it.

The first reading of just words on a page, without preconceptions, is where the pictures start to germinate and the enthusiasm for the project takes hold. I can only assume that an editor would feel the same way.

I understand that with minimal text there is a temptation to sell the story by filling in the blanks, but I think if the root of the story is strong enough the pictures will come. A good illustrator will get what you’re trying to evoke without too much direction.

Best wishes to you,
Stacy Innerst

re: Picture Book Text versus Magazine Story

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’ve been getting rejection letters—that’s okay, I get it, it’s part of the process and I’ve been fine with it until now. An agent just rejected my picture book manuscript with the comment that it would be best suited for a magazine because the hook isn’t strong enough to carry a whole book. It made me feel BAD, I mean REALLY BAD, that she didn’t think it has any value as a picture book. And now I’m worried she’s right. Maybe I’m taking it too hard, and maybe it’s not such a terrible comment. I hope you don’t mind me bouncing this off you….

Thanks,
E.

Dear E….

I’m sorry your spirits have taken a pummeling. Rejection stinks, especially when it seems to undermine the whole project! Is there truth in the agent’s critique? Could be. “It’s not substantial enough” is a common critique because it’s a common pitfall as writers learn to distinguish a nice story for kids from a story that can sustain 32 satisfying pages and an $18 tag. Parents shelling out for books want reread-ability and to extend the conversation beyond the pages, and for that the stories need extra oomph from universal themes presented in a deep and/or fresh way, necessary and well-timed page turns, and lots of visual opportunities for illustrations. But then, maybe your ms is simply a fun romp, with fun language and energy that’ll entice re-reading for the sheer joy of it. There’s an audience for that. This agent feels your ms isn’t substantial enough? Fine. Your book isn’t for her. If you feel you’ve got the oomph or the romp, keep trying.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Tell the Agent She Already Rejected My Manuscript?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’d like to re-query an agent I queried over a year and a half ago. It is the same novel but substantially reworked and revised. She asked for pages the first time, but ultimately passed. Should I remind her of her previous interest and let her know about the changes? Or should I hope she doesn’t recognize the title and premise??

Sincerely,
D.

Dear D….

Furtiveness isn’t your best play. For one thing, the agent will probably recognize the project. I know agents and editors who can’t remember what they ate for dinner last night but who can remember details page-and-paragraph from a story they read years ago. That describes me, in fact. There’s a reason folks like myself choose this profession. For another thing, most agents will take a second look if the project is indeed different in a big way. Just explain in your new query letter that you’ve substantially reworked the story and then let her make the call. That’s professional, respectable, and commonplace. The agent in question was interested enough to request sample pages last time, so clearly the concept intrigues her. I predict she’ll say yes to the second look.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Salvaging Submission Slipups

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Will agents forgive ignorant query mistakes made by a passionate new PB writer? (My learning curve is still quite vertical, but flattening out slowly.) When should I move on from Literary Agency “X” to Agency “Y” or should I simply try the small publishing houses directly for PB manuscripts submissions?

Thank You,
Robert

Dear Robert…

Learning curves can be slippery, and passion intensifies the potential for a crash-and-burn. Agents know that and recognize minor slips for the newbie boo-boos they are. If yours was a thorny transgression, well, what’s done is done. There are plenty of agencies out there; move on without looking back. First, though, force Passion into a seat in front of your computer and intensely research submission strategies and query letters. FORCE that learning curve to flatten! Publishing may deal in creativity, but it’s still a business, so commit to becoming an informed professional. Start by clicking “Submissions” in the CATEGORIES tab on DearEditor.com. When your new submission package is ready, submit to Agency Y—and to A, B, C, and D, too. By submitting in small batches, you can adjust your submission strategy or revise your manuscript based on agent response. Just note “simultaneous submission” in your query.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What the Heck Is Amazon Children’s Publishing?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is Amazon Children’s Publishing a paid market or a pay for print company?

Thanks,
Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth…

You’re not alone in wondering what kind of publisher Amazon Children’s Publishing is. The confusion stems from Amazon’s successful branding of its pay-for-print publishing entity CreateSpace. Anyone can use CreateSpace to self-publish by uploading their own text files and images and paying fees for their printing choices; these books are sold on Amazon.com, with Amazon getting a percentage of each sale. In contrast, Amazon Children’s Publishing is a full publisher in the traditional model, selectively acquiring manuscripts for seasonal lists, paying its authors advances and royalties on each book sold, designing and paying for the production of the books, financing the marketing of each book within a whole-list campaign, then selling the books through Amazon.com and any retailer willing to stock books with the word “Amazon” on them. They make the books available to booksellers and librarians through distributors Ingram and Baker & Taylor, just like any traditional publisher.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Submitting to Amazon Children’s Publishing

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Amazon started a children’s book publishing imprint. I can’t find information about how to submit my manuscript to them. Are they accepting submissions?

R.

Dear R.…

Tim Ditlow, Associate Publisher of Amazon Children’s Publishing, spoke about his months-old program at the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference last week. While official submission guidelines are still being created, he said ACP is indeed accepting unsolicited submissions. For now, send a query email to acp-submit@amazon.com. Attach your full picture book ms or the first 3 chapters of your MG/YA fiction as pdfs or Word documents. There’s no time frame for responses yet. See ACP’s list of picture books, chapter books, and MG/YA fiction at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000775681. Note that for now, ACP appears to function like any traditional publisher, reviewing submissions and then putting acquired books through the full production cycle, which can take a year+ for novels and 18 months for picture books. Proposals for books for adult readers can be submitted to Amazon Publishing at manuscript-submissions@amazon.com.

Happy Writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Bobbi Katz re: Formatting a Poetry Collection Submission

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Guest Editors/Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My writing partner and I have a collection of poems we want to submit. What we can’t find anywhere is how to format the poems. Should we include a list of the poems in the order they are being presented? Should each poem have line or word counts at the top of the page? Should the pages have a header with the overall title and page numbers? Should each poem simply be presented with its own page number since they might be moved around by an editor? We can’t find any information anywhere to guide us.
Thanks,
Rosi

Dear Rosi…

I’ve done collections of my own poems and anthologies, plus I’ve been an editor. That said, my way of preparing a manuscript may not be to everyone’s liking. My system is to make life as easy as possible for the reader/editor.

After deciding on the order of the poems, I create a title page with, of course, the title in caps and the authors’ names and contact info on the lower right. Each poem should be typed on a separate sheet and be 1.5- or double-spaced. Once you’ve established a working order, number the pages in the lower right corner with a circle around them. If any of the poems has been previously published in an anthology or magazine, print the credit on the page. I usually use a different font and smaller type for that. Then I create a (tentative) table of contents page. In most of my books there is an order created by the subject of the poems. In my anthology Pocket Poems, for example, I used poems to create a day for an elementary child from waking up, getting dressed, going to school, etc., until bedtime. Sometimes just the opening and ending poems act like book ends. That’s the case with a collection of my own poems, A Rumpus of Rhymes: A Book of Noisy Poems. All the poems contain onomatopoeic words. I just tried to imagine which poems might go together very loosely by seasons ending with the palpable silence of a “Snow Scene.” Poets order each collection differently, of course. You’ll have to decide what’s best for your current project. These days I believe that editors receive so much material that the less they have to do to see the possibility of creating a book from a manuscript, the better your chances are. Do not staple the manuscript. A sturdy paperclip is best so that the editor can move the poems about easily. Include an SASE when you do a hardcopy submission via regular mail, but be sure to check the agency’s/publisher’s website for their submission guidelines, as they may prefer electronic submissions or have formatting/SASE preferences.

You and your partner have written a collection. I imagine that these are either poems you’ve worked on together or poems by you and poems by your partner. A brief cover letter to the editor is a must. In a few words explain the collaboration. You may mention that while a few of the poems have appeared elsewhere, you control all the rights, if indeed that is the case.

I wish you the best of luck in finding a home for the collection.

-Guest Editor Bobbi Katz

Bobbi Katz has written picture books, chapter books, and even a biography about her hero, Nelson Mandela, but she is best known for her lauded collections of poetry and rhyming books, such as A Rumpus of Rhymes: A Book of Noisy Poems, Once Around The Sun, Trailblazers: Poems of Exploration, Nothing But A Dog, The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme, We the People, Partner Poems for Building Literacy, Pocket Poems, and More Pocket Poems. Bobbi conducts poetry workshops for children, teachers, and librarians. Her classroom workshops make students and teachers comfortable with reading and writing poetry and discovering the joy of language. For more about Bobbi, visit her website www.bobbikatz.com.

 

re: Cursed by a Crappy Query Letter

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am beginning my writing career and am trying to sell my first children’s book. I feel like my stories are great but are not getting read due to my cover or query letter. How can I make my letter stand out better?

Sincerely,
Megan

Dear Megan…

You’ve heard of the dreaded “saggy middle,” that condition in which an ms with a strong opening and finale goes all limp noodle in between? Query letters can suffer saggy middles, too. Paragraph 1 may be swell, with its announcement of the genre and title and clues that the author has researched the agent’s interest. But then Paragraph 2 delivers a brief summary of the story. *sag* Summarizing is for synopses. Agents don’t care how the plot plays out yet. They want to know that this project has a ready audience/place in the market, but that it offers that audience something new. Paragraph 2 positions the book. Introduce your character and his goal/dream/need, state the antagonist/conflict that will hinder him, and sprinkle in a few of the unique details that make your story different from all others sharing your theme. Mention comparative titles if you like, but otherwise be done. Positioning accomplished, no sag in sight.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How to Submit When Illustrations Are Kit-and-Caboodle with the Text

in Picture Books/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My wife and I have collaborated on a 4,000-word children’s book with hybrid animals as the main characters and are growing a brand built around them. Although we have not done the illustrations, we own the copyrights to them and need them to be depicted as conceived. In a query letter to an editor and/or agent, would it be appropriate to include these illustrations and would color be acceptable? As an alternative, could we insert a link to our website?

Sincerely,
Nick

Dear Nick…

My usual reaction to this kind of question is to run around in circles with my arms flailing wildly, screaming, “Don’t include illustrations! Editors and agents really, really, REALLY don’t want them!” And in most cases, they don’t need them. We writers sometimes forget that half of a picture book editor’s job is envisioning potential illustration styles for a story and then pairing the manuscript with an established illustrator. But in your case, the project is all-or-nothing, so here’s how to do it right: Include one or two color illustrations on a single sheet of paper in your submission package and then refer the agent/editor to your website for more illustration samples. Explain the scope of your project in the cover letter. After that, it’s up to them to decide if they like your text and illustrations with equal passion.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Disguising the F-Word in YA Fiction

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a book featuring a 13-year-old main character that has a lot of cursing. It’s completely integral to the story and the character’s arc, and she really can’t be older because of her maturity level. I have no issues with using abbreviations (e.g. f-ing, effing, etc.) so that the book can reach a wider audience, but I doubt I should do that in ms form. What do you think?

Sincerely,
Karol

Dear Karol…

Do in the manuscript as you intend to do in the final book. Your agent/editor needs to know exactly what you’ve got in mind in order to weigh the pros and cons with you in a useful way. And you will have that talk. Cursing may be absolutely right for your story, but it will also absolutely alienate some readers, so that discussion will be a part of the acquisition process. Using abbreviations is an option, but it won’t likely win you a wider audience because the people who would object to the real F-word will know it when they see it written as “effing”—and it’ll still rub them the wrong way. And then there’s the awkwardness factor. “F-ing” and “effing” can sound silly in a scene that shows a character mad or coarse enough to curse, which undercuts the effect of the swearing. If your character has to cuss, then let her cuss. Agents and editors know that some projects are edgier than others, and they take that into account when evaluating the cuss factor.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Life after an Editor Calls You an Idiot

in Submissions/Uncategorized by

Dear Editor…

Writers Digest asked Robopaclypse author Daniel H. Wilson how he got his agent. His answer? “I wrote a query letter to an editor — a friend of a friend. The editor called me an idiot, told me never to contact an editor directly, and then recommended three literary agents he had worked with before. Laurie Fox was one of them, and I’ve never looked back.” So, do NOT contact an editor directly nowadays?

Sincerely,
Kate

Dear Kate…

Gads. I hope Mr. Wilson was summarizing the sentiment of the letter, not quoting it. It’s hard to imagine an editor using such unprofessional verbiage with a writer. Kudos to Mr. Wilson for sticking it out and landing his agent… and a movie deal with Steven Spielberg (2013)! There’s sweet revenge, eh? Wilson’s was a “referral” submission and is quite common. As it should be—that’s called networking. Editors learn early in their careers how to respond to all kinds of referrals and rarely include accusations of idiocy. The best way to go about a referral is to have your friend contact the editor personally and ask if and how the submission could be made. This gives an editor who isn’t open to such submissions a chance to decline and provide agent names or submission hints, keeping everyone’s dignity intact.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Querying a Book That’s Already Sold

in Submissions by

Dear Editor….

I’ve signed with a small press for the first two books in a trilogy. The first is coming out very soon, but I’m almost finished with the second. Would it ever be okay to query the second book (or even the series) even though it’s already sold?

Thank you,
Emily

Dear Emily…

Forget about agents right now. Your focus now should be on promoting Book I and polishing Book II simultaneously, and then move on to promoting Book II and writing Book III simultaneously. Don’t drop the ball on those crucial things because you’re futzing around with querying. There’s nothing an agent can do for you until Book III is ready to be signed. Low sales for your trilogy because of lackluster writing or slapdash promoting will torpedo your chances with agents and other publishers down the line. There are other reasons for low sales, but you can control these two—so do! Writing the best books you can and promoting them to the best of your ability is plenty for your plate. Agents will be open to signing you when Book III is written, as long as you’ve got a sense of projects you want to work on down the road and hopes for your larger career.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can I Query Agents Before My Manuscript Is Done?

in Creative Process/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is it appropriate for an unpublished writer to query agents before her MG/YA manuscript is complete? Provided there is an outline and a synopsis of the work, is it okay to test the waters halfway through? Another thought: Agents are seasoned professionals and would know right away whether they like a manuscript or not. It makes more sense to have someone guide you along the way to completion before you finish the project than to take you through numerous revisions once you have. What say you?

Sincerely,
Rosie

Dear Rosie…

You’re barking up the wrong tree. Agents don’t have time to guide an untried writer through a first draft. They’ll carve out time for their current clients, who are published and proven, but not for someone who may not even stick with the manuscript to the end of that first draft, much less persevere to a polished submittable draft. Lots of people get halfway through manuscripts but never finish them. Life gets in the way. Passion fizzles. Writer’s block strikes. Other projects beckon. Even veteran authors will stuff half-cooked manuscripts into the drawer and then slam it shut forever. Seek guidance from freelance editors, writing instructors, and critique partners. Do not submit your half-written manuscript. Agents reject rickety early draft writing. What’s the hurry, anyway? Getting published should not be a race against the clock. Be patient and polish the manuscript, then step forward with your best foot. That’s how you’ll land an agent.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The Agent “Loves” It… But Won’t Rep It?!

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I follow an agent blog where books are reviewed and the agent says why she would or would not represent the book. Very often, she loves the books, but then says, “I wouldn’t represent it.” I mean, why not? If you love a book, others might too. If you can sell it, you make more on commissions. Isn’t that what it’s about? Selling books that you like and making money in the process? Why so picky? Is this common or just this one agent? Seems very unbusinesslike.

Signed,
B.

Dear B….

If all agents did was read submissions, mail the ones they “love” to editors, then wait for the “I’ll buy it!” reply so they can pocket the cash and move on to the next manuscript they love, I’d share your mystification. But they don’t. Every ms an agent agrees to rep commits her to a slew of work for that project and all that author’s future projects: read and respond to every ms the author wants to sell (often multiple times), create pitches and strategize editors, track submissions and nudge editors, make deals and negotiate contracts, and handle rights and other issues for the rest of each book’s life. Dozens of projects in various phases cross an agent’s desk each day. Then there’s the ever-present submission pile and just the business of being in business. An agent’s time is not infinite, and neither is her client list. That agent’s “love” may be just one notch on a stick, with only those mss that hit the “head over heels” mark joining the agency.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Why Aren’t Chapter Books on Agents’ Wish Lists?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’ve written a couple of chapter books and would like to find an agent. However, very few list “chapter books” as something they look for. Should I query agents who say they represent “PB, MG and YA,” assuming that chapter books fit in between the PB and MG so the agent would be interested?

Thanks so much.
Heather

Dear Heather…

Here’s the deal: Today’s chapter book market is dominated by series, and publishers are more likely to commit to multiple books by an author who is already established and thus probably already repped by an agent. This is why agents aren’t actively prowling for new chapter book writers. So it’s on you to hunt them down. Study the websites and acknowledgement pages of established chapter book authors to identify their agents. Then study those agents’ websites, blogs, and online interviews to see if their literary sensibilities match your own. Build your submission list this way, expanding the list to children’s book agents with your literary sensibilities even if they don’t already rep an established chapter book author. If your project is well-conceived and well-written, it doesn’t matter if “chapter books” are on the agent’s declared wish list or not—they’ll want it. I’m watching a likely chapter book sign-up unfold for a debut author even as I type this.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Pitching a Collaboration

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Dear Editor…

A friend and I are considering submitting a collection of our poems for publication. We have each written about half the poems. How do we handle this in our query? We each have some publishing credits for our poetry.

Sincerely,
Rosi

Dear Rosi…

Craft the first 2 paragraphs of your query letter as if your project had a single author. Pitch the hook for the collection and your interest in that particular editor/agent in the first paragraph, go into themes and topics of the collection in the second paragraph, then explain your co-authorship in the third paragraph: “This collection is a collaboration of Rosi X and Jane Doe. Rosi X is a published poet, with work appearing in [whatever]. Jane Doe is… We’ve each contributed half of the poems in the collection, and we plan to work together to support and promote this collection. Learn more about us at our websites [list sites].” Adapt that for your circumstances, of course. Both of you sign the letter.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Keep My Fantasies to Myself During Submission?

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Dear Editor…

My current manuscript is different from my others, which are high fantasy. High fantasy is such a select genre—do I say something about those manuscripts when I query this one?

Anon.

Dear Anon….

Don’t muddy this submission with stories from your past. After all, it may be that your current manuscript is a new direction in your career rather than the anomaly implied in your question. For now, keep your pitch focused on the manuscript you are submitting. When an agent or editor is interested in that story, you’ll proceed into deeper discussions, at which time they’ll ask about other projects on your desk and your plans for future stories. That’s the time to introduce them to your trolls, elves, and ancient legends. Then you can decide together whether or not you’re a literary match.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

re: I Refuse to Believe Epistolary Novels are “Dead”

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve written a contemporary YA novel in epistolary format. All of the professional feedback I’ve received is positive (I even won an award for the 1st 15 pages). Most agents tell me the writing is excellent, BUT they are passing strictly due to the format. A favorite author told me that epistolary novels are dead. Dead? I don’t believe it. How do I find agents/editors who will consider an epistolary novel?

T. S.

Dear T.S.…

Interest in epistolary novels has waned in YA editorial circles, it’s true. But often a format or category isn’t so much “dead” as just in need of a fresh spin to jolt it out of the doldrums. If you’re committed to this format, you’d better be offering something eye-catching in your concept or plot because, as much as I hate to write this, “excellent writing” isn’t enough to break anyone into a stagnant niche. Look for agents who rep projects with your kind of concept, tone, and audience, then emphasize those in your query: “I’ve got this great novel about X”, not “I’ve got this great epistolary novel.” If it’s still a no-go, why not recast your great concept, cast, and plot as a traditional narrative? Loyalty should be to story over format.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What If the Best Stuff Is In the Middle of My Story?

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Dear Editor…

When a publisher requests a query letter, synopsis, and two sample chapters, is it okay to send the first chapter and a chapter from elsewhere in the book instead of chapter two in order to show something with more excitement or adventure than the second chapter might show?

Thanks,
Rosi

Dear Rosi…

Don’t pull a chapter out of the middle of your story. Agents will be suspicious. They’ll assume that the beginning of the book isn’t interesting enough for you to show off. In their minds, your tactic is as good as admitting that yourself. If you can’t hook your readers with the first chapters of the book, they will never reach the middle. The same with agents. They want opening chapters that hook them so tightly they rush to ask for the full manuscript. Your concern that your opening chapters aren’t as strong as your middle ones is your red flag to go back and make those opening chapters great.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Did That TV Show Just Kill My Book?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Uncategorized by

Dear Editor…

I just pitched my book as “Glee meets West Side Story” to an editor, who loved the idea. Yesterday, I read that Glee is doing WSS. I’ve never even watched the show. What do I do? Is my novel dead? I’ve been working on it for three years.

Sincerely,
Cathy

Dear Cathy…

Brace yourself, because you’re not gonna like my answer: I think you’ve been beaten to the punch. It doesn’t matter that high school music departments have been doing West Side Story for years. One of the most popular shows on television is basing a good portion of its season on its fictional high school’s production of WSS. The burden is now on you to distinguish what makes your book different from what’s happening on TV even though you wrote your story first. Comparisons will be made. You made the comparison yourself in your pitch—albeit without full knowledge of just how on the nose you were. Some editors may be wary about potential difficulties, others may be intrigued by the possibility of piggybacking on a popular show. The concern there is that even though Glee doesn’t have a lock on WSS, the people behind the show have a propriety interest in the franchise and may be active about protecting it. Defending against claims is the author’s responsibility, not the publisher’s. The legal wrangling could be costly and stressful to you even if you prevailed. It would be wise to have an experienced publishing attorney vet your manuscript to judge the amount and significance of the similarities and assess your risk. See, I told you: I’m a total bummer. Sorry I can’t paint a rosier picture.

The Editor

Re: Dare I Submit During the Holidays?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I know that the publishing world shuts down for Christmas and New Year’s. Should I submit my query letter now before the holidays? Or would I have a better chance if I waited until 2012?

Thanks!
Katie

Dear Katie…

If you’re itching to get your submission off your plate so you can focus on holiday fun, send it to publishers now. But don’t expect anything more than stacking on a desk to happen to it before mid-January. Between now and then, editors will be dealing with urgent in-house production deadlines and tying up loose ends on projects already in development before vacationing. Acquisition meetings are pretty rare with everyone coming and going. Even agents reduce their submissions to editors after Thanksgiving . . . which makes this a good time for you to submit to agents. They vacation, too, but their reduced dealings with editors means they have more time to catch up on submissions.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: Do I Pitch My Crossover Novel to YA Agents Only?

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I think my coming-of-age novel is a crossover book, appealing to young adults and adults. Do I mention that in a query letter? Do I market it primarily to agents who are looking for YA?

Sincerely,
Valerie

Dear Valerie…

Target YA agents and editors. They are well informed about the adult market and understand crossover potential when they see it. Agents and editors who specialize in fiction for adults tend to be limited in their knowledge of the YA realm and are more likely to see the audiences and marketplaces as separate. It’s okay for you to say that you think the book has crossover potential in your query letter. Stress that the issues are broader than pimples and proms, and that the richness of your ideas has the potential to satisfy all ages.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Do Agents Give Second Chances?

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Dear Editor…

An agent rejected my sci fi manuscript. I really want to be repped by this agent—he’s impressive at conferences and he reps great authors. Is it okay to submit another manuscript to him?

Thanks,
Anon.

Dear Anon….

Give that agency a second shot. Just be up front about it: “You passed on a previous submission of mine, but I do believe we’d make a good match and hope you’ll take a look at this new project, which is great in all these ways.” Put this in the second paragraph of your query rather than lead with it. If the agent’s rejection letter included specific comments about improving your manuscript, thank him for taking the time to give the feedback and tell him that you’ve incorporated his recommendations into this new ms. If you get a second rejection, then it’s time to move on because this agent isn’t responding strongly to your work. You want someone who’s as passionate about your writing as you are.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What’s the Trick to Pitching a Dual POV Story?

in Point of View/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m wondering the best way to craft a query letter for my new manuscript. It’s told in the 3rd person and there are 2 POVs. It’s also a fantasy novel and the 1st book in a 3-book series. How should I handle this??

Thanks,
Jennifer

Dear Jennifer…

Stop approaching this numerically. Instead of pitching a “manuscript with two points of view,” pitch a story with conflicting points of view. What’s the nature of that conflict? What is one guy not saying/admitting/dealing with that the other guy must handle or shed light upon? How are those characters at odds? How does each push the story forward— and push each other to grow? That’s what makes your story unique and juicy. In your pitch, state the (1) main characters, (2) overall conflict of the story, and (3) way in which the individual journeys conflict with each other for fab overall tension, plotting, and emotional impact. Same with the trilogy fact: Plug the overall themes and arc of the trilogy, then state how Book 1 accomplishes a key task in that arc.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do You Write a Query for a Series?

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Dear Editor…

In all the reference books I’ve read on queries, I have never been able to find one that tells you how to write a pitch or a query for a *series*. They usually only tell you how to write a query for a book which isn’t meant to have sequels following it. Would your pitch have to be for the whole series? Or just for the first book?

Thank you!
Kayla

Dear Kayla…

Pitch the whole kit and kaboodle! In paragraph 1, deliver your series hook, stating in a single sentence the main premise of the series (as in “a brother and sister use a magic tree house to travel through time”). In paragraph 2, position the series, comparing it to similar series for your audience but very clearly stating how yours is unique from the others. If your series has a main thread to be resolved over its course, describe here how you’ll address, sustain, and resolve that thread. Offer the manuscript for the entire first book (which must be written) and provide a page with synopses of two or three other adventures. Paragraph 3 is for your writing credentials. Voila! A series query.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Which Comes First, the Agent or the Editor?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’ve always been focused on writing queries to agents. Recently, I’ve heard a number of authors say it’s far better to sell your ms to a publisher yourself and then get an agent. Other authors say almost all publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. Is it better to approach an agent or a publisher?

Best regards,
L.

Dear L.…

Include both agents and publishers in your submission strategy, going heavy on the agents. Most agents accept submissions from everybody; it’d be unwise to turn your back on that fact. Submit to as many as are appropriate for your manuscript. Also attend conferences or events where editors are present. They often extend open submission invites to attendees, getting you past their “no unsolicited mss” policies. (Yes, most publishers have those.) If you land a publisher first, agents will be more likely to represent you because clearly your work is marketable. If an agent bites first, then you’ve got access to her speed dial—and you’ve got someone who can handle your contract and help you shape your career.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: OK to Resubmit After a “No”?

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Dear Editor…

Is it acceptable to revise a manuscript based on an editor or agent’s feedback and then resubmit to that same person?

Sincerely,

Wendy

Dear Wendy…

Indeed it is acceptable . . . under certain circumstances. The best scenario has the editor or agent giving specific revision suggestions along with an invite to resubmit should you revise along those lines. But even without an invitation, if you’ve revised the manuscript significantly (that word is important, because they didn’t say “no” due to surface problems—they’d probably work on those with you if that were the case), you can resubmit it with a note in your query letter saying, “I’ve changed the manuscript significantly since you last saw it and hope you’ll be open to taking another look.” If they’re not, they won’t. No skin off any noses.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Trash It or Tweak It?

in Narrative Voice/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have been sending out my middle grade fantasy. I was writing to my 8-year-old but the 2 rejections I received speak about voice. I myself am moved by the voice in children’s books and can certainly attain A GOOD voice in a new book, but should I throw this one away? Believe the two rejections?

Sincerely,

Gemini

Dear Gemini…

Two is too few, too soon for the circular file. Use the feedback about voice to re-examine your ms instead. Young fantasies often have a more formal narrative style and can feel stilted. Make sure you’ve chosen dynamic, evocative words and phrases even if you’re stringing them together in a more proper style. Does your character “close the door” when he could “use his hand to smother the click of latch against plate” instead? Is he “easily frightened” or does he “fear the worst because small children easily assume the boogie man or fanged creatures”? Enrich a formal fantasy voice by going one step beyond the first phrase that pops into your head.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: How to Get to Editors

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Dear Editor…

How do you get a manuscript to an editor when so many are not taking submissions at all?

Sincerely,

Sally

Dear Sally…

Get to editors by getting in the loop. Join the main writer’s group(s) for your category/genre, then actively monitor the group’s online forums and newsletters and attend its events. Suddenly you’ll have chances to connect with editors. At group chapter meetings, guest editors may invite attendees to submit a manuscript, bypassing their houses’ “no unsolicited submissions” policies. At group conferences, faculty editors do one-on-one critiques (for a fee). At small group workshops, faculty editors work directly with the attendees on their manuscripts. And in group newsletters, editors post alerts whenever they suspend the “no unsolicited submissions” policy (usually when they’re switching houses). Get in a loop.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Smoothing a Choppy Synopsis

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Dear Editor…

I had an editor comment that my synopsis doesn’t read as “smoothly” as my sample pages. Have you got any ideas for how I should rework it?

Sincerely,

Sue

Dear Sue…

The choppiness may result from jumping around in an effort to account for all the details and characters. Synopses aren’t exhaustive, particularly if the story is a complicated one with a large cast. When the editor is ready for the full skinny, she’ll read the manuscript itself. For now, she’s looking for a summary of your main plot and main character arc. That’s it. So, in two or three pages, tell her what the main character needs or wants to achieve, what threatens the MC enough to kick-start the story, what steps the MC takes to achieve that goal, and what challenges the MC overcomes to get there. Walk the editor through those chapter by chapter, using direct statements. You’re telling at this point, not showing: “In this chapter, MC does X and it worsens her problem by X.” If you’re well short of 2 to 3 pages, you can trace a subplot through the chapters, too. But only do that if the subplot is essential to understanding the main plot’s path. After that framework’s in place, go back and massage the chapter rundown into a smooth story of your story. A hint of your narrative tone can sneak in now, and you can work in sentence variety. The result is a synopsis that does its job and shows off your writing mastery at the same time.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Which Tense Is Best for Synopses?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

What tense should be used when writing a synopsis?  Does it matter what tense is used in the manuscript?

Sincerely,

Mary

Dear Mary…

No matter which tense you use in your story, apply literary present tense to your synopsis. Literary present describes your story as if it were happening right now: “When Khalel’s secret is revealed, he assumes his night daemon shape and escapes into the darkness.” Feel free to inject a hint of your story’s narrative voice into your synopsis, but don’t get wonky with the tense. Sticking with this standard lets your prospective agent or editor focus the content instead of the form.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Can Online Critiquing Hurt My Pub Chances?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Will posting my pb manuscript on online discussion boards for peer critiques hurt my chances of publication?  I have commented on several on SCBWI’s discussion board, but always hesitate.  What are the pros and cons of this?

Sincerely,

Wendy

Dear Wendy….

Editors and agents don’t care if your material has been posted in online critique forums. In fact, some publishers are actively searching for unknowns online, as evidenced with publisher-founded writing communities such as Authonomy (HarperCollins) and the brand new Book Country (Penguin; see today’s Publishers Weekly). But don’t post in online critique communities with the goal of being “discovered.” No one can attest to the odds of that happening or even to the likelihood that publishing companies can realistically maintain such a communal ideal. Post because you seriously want critiques and you seriously intend to give them. Because when all is said and done, the reason such forums exist is to serve your very real need for constructive, objective input on your writing. Before you commit to any critique community, follow it for a bit to get a feel for the quality of participants’ criticism. Then work to build relationships within that community that are built on respect, dependability, and trust.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Feeling Tense about Tense in Synopses

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Dear Editor…

What tense should be used when writing a synopsis?  Does it matter what tense is used in the manuscript?

Sincerely,

Mary

Dear Mary…

The get-to-the-point answer: Regardless of which tense you use within your manuscript, your synopsis should be written in present tense.

The nifty technical-mumbo-jumbo answer: Characters and events in fiction exist in an eternal Now called the literary present. Thus, any writing (such as a synopsis) that describes a piece of fiction should be written as if the events are happening now, this very moment—in present tense.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Mention Series Potential in Query Letter?

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have written a middle grade fantasy novel that could be the first in a series. Is it a good idea to mention the series potential in queries?

Sincerely,
Heather

Dear Heather…

Only mention series potential if you’ve developed a full series and that’s how the project must be contracted. Don’t complicate matters; if this story can stand alone, let agents/editors fall in love with it before you go into all the other things it can become. There’ll be plenty of time for that discussion later.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Submitting on Your Own When You Have an Agent

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Dear Editor…

I have an agent who has submitted my novel to all her connections. I would like to pursue sending it out to some smaller publishers now.  Should I start sending it out on my own with a note to inform them I do have an agent? What do you think I should do about this?

Thanks for your help!

Amy

Dear Amy…

There’s no need to mention your agent to the publishers if you’re the one doing the researching and submitting. Just have a conversation with your agent about the situation before you proceed. That’s necessary for your professional relationship—and you may need to put something in writing to address language about “next published work” in your agency contract. If the agent still wants to be part of this gig, then work out an agreement for this one book where you do the legwork and the agent makes the contact and negotiates the contract for a smaller percentage of your royalty. I’ve personally seen that scenario, with all parties happy about it. It’s professional and fair to all.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Help with Hooks

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am having trouble with query letters. Any tips on writing an awesome tagline or hook? I’ve recently started my second project and I already have that hook down. But my first eludes me, I think I may be too close to it. Please help!

Danielle

Dear Danielle…

Don’t try to nail “awesome” on the first try. As with a story itself, awesome hooks are built through multiple drafts. Start by drafting a pretend CIP summary line. That’s the utilitarian description of a story that appears in the CIP data on a novel’s copyright page. CIP summaries always state the main character, that character’s situation/conflict/goal, and specific details that distinguish the story from all the others in the library—such as era, age of the protagonist, location, that sort of thing. CIP summaries are bland but good at pinning down the details that give each story its unique context. When you’ve nailed that one key element that really makes your story different from the others in its genre, then you can get funky. Rework the wording to emphasize that core distinguishing element, making it tempting, surprising, or in some way intriguing. You’ve struck “awesome” when you can intrigue your hook reader.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Average Wait for Agent Response?

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Dear Editor…

I wonder what the current wait for a response to a pb submission is? I have waited five months, and sent a sase.

Thanks!

Lisa

Dear Lisa…

I know you’re up to here with waiting, so here’s the quick answer: three to six months. The longer version: At three months, it’s fair to send a follow-up letter asking about the status of the submission. Do that now if you haven’t already. If you’ve had no reply after six months, consider this a “no deal” and move on. It’s possible you’ll hear back after that, but not likely. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, multiply submit that ms to other agents pronto, noting “multiple submission” in the query letters. No need to keep your future agent waiting on an agent who isn’t replying.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: 1 Manuscript, 2 Agents. What Should I Do?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I met an agent at a conference who asked me to email my picture book to her. I did and she responded by giving me the names of two other agents who she strongly suggested that I contact.

I contacted a different agent at the same agency where one of the referred agents works. It has been a month and I’ve received no response from the agent. I’d still like to contact the referred agent yet I worry about contacting two agents at the same agency.

Can I contact the agent who was referred at the same agency by giving the name of the agent who gave the referral,  and mentioning the first agent’s name who I had already contacted at that agency?

Please advise.

Sara

Dear Sara…

This isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Simply explain the situation and let the agents decide. Contact the agent you were referred to and say that So-and-So referred you because he thought you’d be a good match . . . you respect So-and-So’s judgment but must point out that the manuscript is already with Colleague Agent . . . you respect the entire agency and would be honored to be represented by either agent . . . you’ll respect the agency’s decision about which agent should handle the submission. That’s respectful (three times over!), forthright, and appropriate. I was in a similar scenario as an editor, and all it took was a quick phone call, one editor to another, to decide who’d handle the submission. Easy-peasy.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Mention High Word Count in Query Letter?

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Dear Editor…

How should one handle a word count that is far out of the norm in a cover letter. Should it simply be stated or is some explanation necessary? Thanks.

Sincerely,

Rosi

Dear Rosi…

I posed this one directly to agents at this weekend’s ALA Midwinter Conference, and the sentiment is consistent: You can’t explain away the knee-jerk skepticism that a word count “far out of the norm” inspires. Don’t try. DO try to go back to your manuscript and justify the final word count to yourself. Does every scene deserve to be there because it is essential to its chapter’s overall goal? Has minutiae crept in, like writing that your character picks up a glass, walks to the sink, and fills it with water when all you really need to write is that the character took a drink? Are you explaining how the characters move from scene to scene or can you just start a scene with the character already there? Is your language as tight and straightforward as it can be within your chosen style? Can the story be broken into two volumes, as with M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books (both of which are quite long)? If you honestly feel no shortening is necessary, that you aren’t just being reluctant about “killing your darlings,” then simply state the word count in your query letter and knock their socks off with a killer pitch.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Too Young To Be Taken Seriously?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am a currently unpublished writer at the age of 16, but I am approaching the stage at which I will start pitching manuscripts soon. Is there a good way to spot agents that will blow me off because of my age?

Sincerely,

A. E.

Dear A. E.…

Who says you have to reveal your age when you submit? Just say, “This would be my debut book” in your query letter and leave it at that. They’ll judge the manuscript on its own merit, with no age-related bias. You can share your age after they decide they like your work. And then, frankly, your age becomes a selling point. An agent would love to pitch the “next Christopher Paolini.” I’ve seen agents go out with that as the lead in their pitch. In fact, that may be an argument for revealing your age in the query letter. If you show in that letter that you’ve got writing chops and then swoop in at the end with the news that you’re just 16, agents will eagerly ask for your full manuscript. Should they ultimately decide it’s not for them, I’m confident “blowing off” won’t be involved. Typically, folks in publishing like to encourage young writers.

One more thing: Do your homework when researching agents. You want a well-reputed one. Start with the Literary Market Place, identify agencies/agents who want submissions in your genre, then google their names to see what other writers are saying about them and who they represent. Their agency websites should state if they’re members of the AAR, an organization that requires ethical practices of its members. Certain names will rise to the top of your list pretty quickly.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Submitting a Memior that “Doesn’t Conform”

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’ve finished my manuscript. It’s about all the drunks, nuts, and abnormal individuals I worked with during thirty years at the Postal Service. Since it doesn’t conform to traditional topics of manuscripts, who do I submit it to?

Sincerely,

Lenny

Dear Lenny…

Well that’s certainly a hook. Here’s what you do: Identify other off-center memoirs and see who publishes them, then search those publishers’ online catalogs to see if your non-conformer would fit in. Knee-jerk comparative titles: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max or Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by Frank Bruni. But even more specifically you put me in mind of the UK bestseller Tunnel Visions: Journeys of an Underground Philosopher by Christopher Ross, who wrote this fascinating Underground/coworker/human nature expose after working in the London Underground for sixteen months. You might say that book was about “all the drunks, nuts, and abnormal individuals” who work in and ride the Underground. You’ll find leads on similar books by looking for these titles on store or library shelves and then examining the titles surrounding them, and also by typing these titles into Amazon and scrolling down to the “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought” feature. One title will lead you to another, to another, to another…. Soon you’ll have a list of publishers to submit to.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is My MG Manuscript Too Wordy?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Is a 50,000-word MG novel too long? If I send a query to an agent with the word-count, will they be likely to dismiss it based on the word count?

Thanks!

Heather

Dear Heather…

That’s not an alarming word count. Middle grade fiction typically falls between 25,000 – 45,000 words, leaning toward the smaller end of the spectrum more often than not. But there are no set numbers. Consider this: Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice is a slim one at 22,000 words (about 122 printed pages, depending on the edition in your hand). Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy, comes in at about 52,000 words (245 book pages, again depending on how your edition has been designed). There you have it, two Newbery Medal books that show the word count spectrum can be stretched either way for great stories.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: But Aren’t Proposals for NON-Fiction?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Please settle a point for me: Don’t proposals only apply to non-fiction? Thanks.

Sincerely,

Robyn

Dear Robyn…

There’s a time and place for everything—even proposals for fiction submissions. Two such scenarios: 1) You’re previously published, proving you’ve got the stick-to-itiveness to finish what you start and the skills to realize what you promise; it helps if you come with confidence-inspiring credentials like significant awards, a solid platform, and strong sales. 2) Your proposal offers something irresistible enough to make the editors take a chance on something that’s not yet written, such as with a celebrity connection or a hot, timely topic. Generally, though, fiction editors require query letters instead of proposals, and they expect to buy completed manuscripts.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Integrating the POV and Narrative

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Please explain this comment from an agent on my midgrade historical fiction ms told in first person: “your POV and narrative are not integrated enough.”

Thank you,

Carrie

Dear Carrie…

Sure, I’ll take a stab at translating. Two guesses, which aren’t mutually exclusive:  1) The agent thinks the narrative voice sounds too old for a story told by a tween. Perhaps the words are too fancy for a kid, or the sentence structure too complex, or the insights too sophisticated. Give each of those a look. 2) The agent thinks some of the things mentioned in the narrative were things that your POV character could not know. Make sure your first person narrator only mentions things she can know first-hand.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Can You Really Land an Agent at a Conference?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

At most writers’ conferences, there’s at least one editor and one agent who review first pages and queries and share critiques, so I’m curious: What is the percentage of published writers who were “discovered” at a conference? Thanks for even an estimate.

Sincerely,

Kate

Dear Kate…

I’m not a prestidigitator by nature, so I can’t pull any numbers out of my hat for you, but I can tell you this: At the La Jolla Writers Conference this past weekend, I clapped along with several hundred attendees when an agent and author who’d met at last year’s conference announced that they’d sold the writer’s debut novel to a top publisher, to pub Spring ‘11. It happens.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Time Frame for Submission to Interested Agent/Editor?

in Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am thrilled to have had several agents and an editor request full manuscripts at a recent conference. Not wanting to blow this wonderful opportunity, I have readers going over it for the umpteenth time & continue to edit, but wonder what is an appropriate length of time to submit to those interested parties?

Sincerely,

Connie

Dear Connie…

Thumbs up for your call on the final once-over. Don’t rush that revision—you’ve got several months before any of those requestors even bats an eye. They’d all tell you, very sincerely, to take as much time as you need to get the manuscript right. That said, if I were you I’d aim to finish the revision and submit no later than six months after the requests. It’s not that they’ll hold a time lag against you (they know that post-conference revising takes time and that sometimes Life gets in the way), but rather that the marketplace could shift in that time, as could the very jobs of those agents and editors. I certainly wouldn’t wait longer than a year, which editors commonly use as their limit when they extend open submission invitations at conferences.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Pitching a Dual POV Novel

in Point of View/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m working on my logline/elevator pitch. I have been told that it should be one sentence, and no more than 17 words. What about dual POV stories? While they do end up together, they also have their own story arcs.  Do I pick 1 for my pitch or is 2 lines—one for each—okay?

Sincerely,

Rachel

Dear Rachel…

17 seems an arbitrary number, but if it keeps you focused, I’m all for it. And focus is what matters here. If you’ve got two storylines for two point of view characters, there should be some point of intersection for them—that’s where you focus your pitch. What’s the common denominator that allows these two people and stories to exist within the same novel? Do they speak to two sides of the question “What is love?” Do they explore the same theme and come to different conclusions about it? That theme is the anchor for your pitch, as in: “In a school where money means Everything, two freshmen find out what happens when Everything is suddenly gone.” What do you know! If you’ll let me ignore the word “a”, then I hit the magic 17.

Happy writing!

The Editor

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