You spent a year or two or ten writing your book, sought feedback from trusted critiques mates and mentors, lost track of the true number of drafts, questioned every word and punctuation mark. You agonized over a synopsis and query letter, erasing again and again until you found the perfect balance of summary and voice. Then, you tackled the agent research. Who is open to submissions? Are they looking for your genre? Have they recently sold a book too similar to yours? Are they reputable? Do they suit you? Slowly, you compiled a list of agents, carefully noting their submission policies.
That was me a couple weeks ago, agent list in hand, manuscript and query ready to submit. I chose seven agents to start . One accepted only email queries, one, electronic submission, one asked for three chapters in an attached document and the other four called for query and five to ten sample pages pasted into the body of an email. In this technologically advanced age, it seems silly to waste paper, postage and time mailing bulky printed material. I was thrilled to be a green submitter.
Two days later, I would gladly have endured snail mail. Pony Express. Anything other than sending manuscript in the body of an email. I had no trouble pasting my query or downloading my data into the online submission form. But when I tried to paste my ten pages in the email, the formatting was stripped, removing spacing and indents. I won't detail the hours of online research, trying to track down a solution. Or the day I thought I had it figured out, sent emails to the top two agents on my list and later realized the formatting was stripped in transmission. That was a day I'd like to forget.
We found a couple online solutions to this problem but none of them worked. SCBWI, The Writer's Market (print version) and literary agencies offer guidelines for formatting print or attached submissions but nothing about email versions. I'm not tech savvy. But my husband works in the IT field and this had him stumped. Near as he could figure, the problem stems from either our internet provider (Verizon) or our email provider (Yahoo) or a combination of both. So the next day, I set up a Gmail account. Using Control c to copy and Control v to paste, I successfully transferred the original Word document, formatting intact. Then I sent my husband a test email and when that came through clean, I submitted my query to the last two agents.
Still, I felt I had blown my chance with the agents who received the jumbled mess and it made me sick. Even more troubling, how many innocent writers are sending properly formatted queries, not realizing they may change in transmission? Writers work way too hard at finishing a book to have their chance of publication ruined by a sloppy submission. I understand and respect why the industry calls for emails submissions. But this glitch needs attention. My husband tells me there are so many variables to this problem: internet providers, search engines, email providers, computer, computer programs used to create and save documents, etc. It makes my head hurt.
Writers need solid information to ensure they're sending a professional submission and we need that information available through trusted resources. After this experience, my best advice is to always send a trial version of your query to yourself and a trusted friend or family member before you send it to an agent or publisher. And if it's a mess, try another email provider.
It's been two months since I've blogged. To tell the truth, the blog slipped to some dusty corner of my mind while I typed a thousand words a day, finishing the first draft of a novel. When the book loosened its grip on my mind for a sec, I remembered I had a blog! Now, I'm deep into revising and obsessed with making the story the best it can be. But I thought I'd take a minute to update this site.
Since my last post in April, my critique partners have been all kinds of busy. Sandra Markle's
picture book Waiting for Ice
made Bank Street's Best Children's Books of the Year list, Janet McLaughlin
released Psyched Out
, the second in her Get Psyched
series and Augusta Scattergood's
debut novel, Glory Be
has won multiple awards, including the prestigious Crystal Kite Award. That's a photo of us above, celebrating Augusta's win last week with other Tampa Bay children's writers. I'm honored to be part of this talented, dedicated group.
They deserve credit for my productivity and the growth of my writing. I come away from each critique energized and eager to get home so I can write more story and improve on what they've read. This week, they'll review my synopsis and find the weak points in my plot so I can shore up those places as I revise. In the weeks ahead when this book is ready to submit to agents, they'll be there to keep me sane while I wait for responses. They know the cost of rejection and the value of even the slightest encouragement from an agent or editor.
I was motivated recently to join Goodreads
so I can review books, including those of my new writer friends. It's a rewarding way to support authors and good books. The more published authors I meet, the more I realize how important these connections are to success. And it isn't all about money or selling our books. It's about sharing our love for children's literature and our desire to create books worthy of a child's bookshelf.
Besides polishing my manuscript, another summer goal is to revamp my blog and website. When I created it, I was studying picture books, thinking my art background would translate into that genre. But I learned after two years, that I don't have a picture book voice. I'm not sorry for the experience. Learning is never wasted and I met the most wonderful, talented people. Now, my writing travels a young adult path and I'd like the website to reflect that.
I wish you happy writing and encourage you to connect with other writers. If physical connections aren't possible, meet writers online. It will enrich your life and your craft.
For the next few months, maybe longer, I'll be posting once a month and I celebrate the freedom to do this because . . . I don't have a book to promote! That's right. There are some positives to not having a book deal. At a local SCBWI
event, writing coach, Joyce Sweeney
, encouraged us nonpubs to embrace this time. Published authors in the room shared knowing glances and smirked. They remember their prebook days with fondness: no agent and publisher prodding you to do backflips and handstands to sell your book; no full calender of signings and school visits; no mad scramble to lure readers on blog, Facebook and Twitter.
Joyce offered many sage morsels that day. I sat in a back corner, womanning the sign-in table, and though Joyce couldn't see me, twice her words struck like a bullet. First, she talked of focusing on your sweet spot as a writer. She said often new childrens' writers explore every avenue from picture book to young adult and that's helpful if you use it to find your strengths. Then, it's time to concentrate. If it's PBs, start cranking out stories like a factory. If it's middle grade or YA, write short stories and work your way up to novels.
I've been writing for four and a half years and I've juggled PBs, MG and YA for almost the entire journey. I've always felt that my voice is better suited to MG and YA but the artist inside urged me to try PBs. I've been blessed to belong to the best PB group (in my biased opinion) in Florida, Rob Sanders'
PB&J, Picture Books and Java. They are my writing family. Perhaps my attachment clouded my reasoning because from the beginning, I've heard: "Your voice is too old for PBs" (my words not there's. They were always much kinder.) So, Joyce's advice hit the target. I needed to quit struggling with PBs and focus on my novels for older children. A small part of me rejoiced, the sensible writer who fought the artist for my attention. A large part of me silently wailed at my inevitable resignation from PB&J.
As I recovered from that shock, Joyce addressed branding and how not focusing on one genre can affect new writers. She cited a writer who had a pending deal on a MG novel. The interested agent (or editor, I can't remember which) Googled the writer and up pops a website featuring the author's self-illustrated PBs. The agent wasn't interested in representing PBs so she turned the novel down. Joyce continued, saying agents and publishers want to see an author committed to building devoted readership by producing consistent books. OUCH! I slunk down in my chair, feeling as if a path had cleared from Joyce to my seat and all eyes targeted me. My website is all over the place. I tried to focus it on writing but . . . well, look at it; there's a giant, clothed rabbit hosting the home page! And even though there's only one portfolio page, the art is what viewers notice. No one ever comments on the writing. So, guess who will be revamping their website? One day, I hope to have agents and publishers Googling my name and when they do, I want to be ready. Until then, I'm enjoying my freedom. Today, I don't have to worry about branding or book promoting. The Bible says there's a time for every season. Rejoice fellow nonpubs! This is our season of learning to write the best book we can.
Since, I'm only posting once a month, I'm throwing everything I've got here. If you're in Florida, Tennessee or Missouri, please watch for events promoting Rob Sanders' debut PB, Cowboy Christmas
. The launch party is Saturday, Nov. 3 at Inkwood Books
in Tampa and you don't want to miss it. Rob's hired cowboy strummers and there's sure to be tasty refreshments.
Happy Halloween everyone. Wishing you treats, no naughty tricks!
A friend recently shared her disappointment over a loved one's lackluster response to a piece of her writing published in a literary journal. I understand her angst. A few years ago, I shared a story I was very proud of with friends and I was bewildered by their reaction. They seemed to have a hard time finishing the story, as if they were bored. Later, when that story won a contest, they asked, "what story was that?" They didn't even remember it.
My writer friend's experience made me wonder why normally kind, considerate people who clearly love us, respond insensitively to our writing. I tried to sit where they sat when they read those stories. First, none of them are writers. They have no idea how much a writer sweats over a piece. They can't envision the excitement at the start of a story, the anxiety waiting for feedback when it's finished and the grueling hours of revision. They haven't watched their email or snail mail for responses to submissions, cried over rejections and squealed when they read: We'd like to buy your story.
When non-writers read our work, they compare it to polished, published pieces. And not just any published piece. People read discriminately. They put down what they don't enjoy and tastes vary widely. I have friends who read nothing but non fiction, others who favor only one genre. Most of my friends are older and have no reason to read children's books. So, I imagine when I handed them a story meant for ages eight to twelve, they were also bewildered. How could they connect to a twelve-year-old protagonist's point of view or care that her conflict was successfully resolved in 750 words?
I don't share my writing with non-writers anymore unless someone asks (except for my husband, bless him!). It's kinder for all concerned. I do share my successes but I've tempered my expectations. Only writers can fully relate to this journey.
This week, my fingers are glued to the keyboard and my mind embedded in novel. (I fought off greedy words, phrases and sentences to get here!) So I'm ushering you to Julianna Baggott's blog
where author, Kim Wright
guest posted about her experiences with large traditional publishers, small presses and self-publishing. I found it very insightful and more helpful than the usual fare.
And below, some eye candy: Fall foliage taken blocks from my home. Proof Florida does autumn just fine, thank you very much.