Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Reminder

I probably should have done this last week, but if you want to get something for your agent for Christmas/New Year/Misc, which is not expected or required but a nice thing to do, do not send them perishables, like a fruit basket or something. they may not be around to receive it and it will spoil or they may not be able to to eat the food and have to give it away in the office.

I give my agent a gift card to Barnes and Noble. A present is not expected, but if you do decide to do that for your severely unpaid agent, a gift card to a store he/she'll almost definitely be at is a good idea.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Long Email

Usually I get emails with very specific questions. Sometimes I get these.

Dear Rejecter,

I have some getting-published questions for you, but I feel like you need to understand where I am in order to answer. Thank you for taking your time to read this. I appreciate any guidance you can give me.

I'm working on my first novel. I have about 35k words and an outline I feel very good about for the remainder; probably 100k to 120k words. I have no agent, nor have I ever had contact with a publisher. My only publications are a handful of heavily edited nonfiction business articles--my name is on them but the results do not represent me writing style any more.

Okay, first thing: The novel's not done yet. Go finish it. I mean, take the time to finish reading this post, but seriously, go finish your novel before you start thinking publication.

I'm having a hard time categorizing this novel. It is somewhere near Animal Farm and Gulliver's Travels. Philosophy, philosophy of religion, romance, comedy, tragedy, etc... Most of the conflict is verbal. The little bits of violence are not described graphically. No eroticism. I think that my target audience is High School English Literature classes.

Man, I wish my book was picked for a high school English class. Not because it was a classic of literature (it's not) but because it would mean an insane amount of people would have to buy it every year. Ka-ching!

As you've just put yourself in every genre but not told me anything about the plot, I'm going to say "general fiction unless there's fantasy or sci-fi, in which case, sci-fi/fantasy."

I have 18 other novels in various stages of planning, from 2 to 30 pages. These stories span many different genres: hard sci-fi, historical fiction, mystery, fantasy, and romance. 5 of these are hard sci-fi in a related series. Some of these contain significant sexuality or violence. After collecting ideas for years I decided to focus and try to finish one, and I picked this one to finish because the plot was the most mature.

Deciding to start one at a time instead of 18 a time is probably the smartest move you've made so far.

Writing progress is slow due to other time commitments. I have to take vacation time from the office and hide at the library in order to write. I desperately want to reach a critical mass with writing (read: reliable income) so I can retire from my day job and focus on writing full time.

I hear this a lot, in query letters and from my writer friends. I also say it a lot. Man, I would love to live off my writing. I would also like to win the lottery. The writing's a safer bet, but that's because I don't actually buy lottery tickets.

All of my novels center around moral dilemmas first. I want to challenge how people look at themselves and their place in the world. I want to inspire people to improve themselves and the people around them.

I said that, too. None of the novels I wrote dealing with that stuff got published. The historical romance did. How low I've sunk.

Having said all of that, I'm starting to think about the process of getting published. I understand that I have to get the first novel "done" before I can take the next step. What should the next step be?

Finishing a publishable manuscript. It will probably not be the first manuscript you write.

Should I search out an agent first? Or should I query publishers directly first?

Agents first, though there's no reason not to hit up the few publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts on the odd chance you'll hear back from one in the next century.

I had considered printing a small run on Lulu and giving them out to friends and family to get critical feedback before I approach an agent or publisher. Would this pollute the book--having been printed in any form? Or should I stick with Kinkos? Besides the possible improvements to the quality of the work, would going through this exercise impress a potential agent or publisher?

If you're doing it to get your friends and relatives to read it (none of whom will likely give you a meaningful opinion on it), it depends on how much money you want to plunk down. You can have them print and bound at Kinko's pretty cheap, but Lulu makes THEM pay instead of you. Depending on if they're willing to pay. So, your call. Also: friends and relatives will not be honest with you, and even if they are, they do not work in publishing and probably have little to say that can help you. Or even then, they still might lie. This is why I stopped asking my friends to read my work when I was in high school. It puts both of us in an awkward position.

When querying an agent, do I focus on just the first novel or do I share my larger plans and ideas with them?

First novel.

When querying a publisher, do I focus on just the first novel or do I share my larger plans and ideas with them?

First novel.

How do I find an agent?

Do people really send query letters to addresses in Writers Market and sign contracts with people they have never met--or spoken to only over the phone? Would a potential agent be alienated if I wanted to fly out to meet them before signing a contract? Can I ask to see their office and meet their staff?

A lot of people have not met their agents. I live in New York, my agent (not my boss, my agent agent) lives in New York, and we only met once. Everything else has been phone/email/snail mail. Also, agents don't generally have staffs, nor do they have particularly spectacular offices if they don't work out of their home, so if you do meet them, it will probably be in a restaurant.

What is the process for checking a potential agent's references?

Is the agent a member of the AAR? Good, you're done. No? Check Preditors and Editors.

Do I need to pick a single genre to describe my first novel while I talk with potential agents and publishers, even if it is not very accurate? Or should I discuss the genre problem openly?

Yes, sort of, but it can be very, very broad like "fiction" or "fantasy." The most important thing is to distinguish between fiction/non-fiction, because some people leave that line blurry and we find that annoying, trying to figure out if the person wrote a memoir or made the story up.

What am I missing in the process?