Monday, August 22, 2011

Why do submissions take so long?

Sometimes I get a question from a client and instead of just answering it I realize it is an answer I need to share with others. I mentioned the other day that I had spent the whole day trying to get a couple of submissions out on a client and was asked why it took that long.

The client in question had given me the name of several publishing houses they thought would be appropriate and all I had to do was shoot them a proposal, right? Not that easy.

You see, there is generally more than one editor acquiring at a publishing house, the larger ones there may be a dozen or more. So if a client tells me that Random House has published a book that is a great comparable for their manuscript that is a good tip, but it is a long way from being the correct intel for a proper submission.

First, Random House has multiple imprints and chances are only one of them is right for it. Send it to another one and it will be promptly rejected. Second, in the proper imprint there are multiple editors, and if I send it to the wrong one it will probably be rejected. I need something that tells me a particular editor is the right person for what I am trying to pitch. This research is what takes time. Finding that right person can be very difficult.

On occasion one of my clients talks to an editor at a conference and finds out such a lead for me, the right editor for a project. A number of the sales that we have made started with just such a lead.

Third, the timing has to be right. A similar book can show us an editor has interest in a certain area, or it can be an indication that they just published one and is not interested in doing another one. Hard to tell which one of those two possibilities it might be.

Fourth, I am often in possession of more information. A client may see something that looks like a great possibility but in my database I have info that says they are only doing published authors, or maybe are no longer taking a certain thing even though the market guide lists that they are. Or maybe I know they are not actively looking at submissions until a certain date. There are lots of factors like this that all of us at Hartline share with each other to help us stay on top of the rapidly changing industry. And the things clients pick up in their writing groups and at the conferences they attend often contribute to the picture to help us stay on top of things.

No, it isn't as easy as just looking in the market guide, pulling out everybody that lists a certain genre and shooting off submissions. If we did that our agented submission would stand no better chance than one just coming in blind, except it would probably get looked at a little quicker.

Doing something well means doing it right. I tell people who follow up on submissions they sent to me within a fairly short time that I can give them an answer right now if they want, but the only fast answer I can give is no. A yes takes more time. It's that way with the editors I  make submissions to as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I don't like the word

One of my clients made it all the way through committee and they were supposedly putting the deal points together when it suddenly got nixed from somewhere upstairs. "We haven't had much luck with apologetics," was given as the reason.

The client's response was that the book was NOT apologetics, but I told him they had read it and if they thought that was what it was, then arguing with them about it would be futile.

But it did cause me to think. I know what apologetics are, defending a position (usually our faith) with logic and reason, a rational explanation against objections and alternate views. But I don't like the word, never have. It sounds too much like apology or  apologizing to me and I never have and never will apologize to anyone about my faith.

I wish there were another title we could get the genre label switched to. It's a lot like evangelism, but that word has a little different connotation. Maybe some word that had iron to it and didn't sound like passive defense but more like strong offense. I don't know what the word would be, do you?

Of course it will never happen and I will just have to continue to live with it, but...

I don't have to like it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is it Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

I give up, what is it?

I just got a submission for a steampunk manuscript, the first I have received. Do I handle steampunk? I don't know.

I had kind of a general idea what the genre was but I needed to know more. I googled it and came up with a blog from Lena Nelson Dooley on the subject. Lena is a good friend and a Hartline client (Joyce's) and generally a pretty reliable source of information. She says, "Early templates for what steampunk would become include Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. So far modern film examples have been pretty lacking and not received strong critical responses, but they include Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and some even argue the new Sherlock Holmes film can be included because it uses technology far ahead of its time, explained with older methods."

Okay, I'm quite familiar with all those and enjoyed all of them. So it is books set in the past but uses technology far into the future, or at least far in the future for its time. That's a little closer definition than the rather nebulous one that I was working with. Our agency submission guidelines say that we do not work in the science fiction or fantasy markets so that would rule it out, right?

Not that clear. Is it sci-fi because it is melding technology into the story that did not exist at the time? Or is it just a historical with a twist? We do historicals. I saw Wild, Wild West, was it a sci-fi? Or an imaginative western?

I finally reluctantly turned it down, not because of the sci-fi definition, but because I didn't know where to go with it. Looking through the exhaustive editor databases that I have I just don't see that I am working with any editors that have shown an interest in it. And I don't sell to publishing houses, I sell to editors that I know and have established a working relationship with.

But I'm open to the idea, and will be exploring it further. Maybe someday when the future technology catches up with my historical editor preferences . . .

Thursday, August 4, 2011

An honest question

The question was honest and it was simple: “Having followed your interest and willingness to help new authors, what would be your advice as far as a "first" step in publishing?”

How do I give an honest answer that would probably entail a dozen different writing courses in one email? I came up with the following:

I see how you to have a message or a story to tell but of course what I don't see here is how you have prepared yourself to tell it. Starting to write without the preparation is like opening a restaurant because you cook a great hamburger on the grill. You may have done so, and it is just not mentioned here.

When I started writing I took college courses, online courses, Writer's Digest courses, got into online writing groups and a local writing group and critique group. I started learning my craft, and I got rejected . . . a lot . . . which was also part of my learning experience. I published a lot of small stuff, but it took me six years of hard work after I started trying to get it published to get my first book length work in print. Having a story to tell or a message to present and knowing how to write it in a manner that it will be published are totally different things.

I get several hundred submissions a month and other agents and editors get at least that many, a lot of them many more than that. None of us can handle or publish that number of course. That means having a good book is not good enough. It has to be an exceptional book that stands out from the crowd. It has to be a unique subject written in a unique voice aimed at a market that the person it is being submitted can see and feels they have the right contacts to sell the book into that market. That is the hurdle the author is trying to clear.

As to what the odds are, a book has to be presented to the right person at the right place at exactly the right time and has to be on the subject that person is looking to handle. That means even with a great project that all of those pieces being in place right at any point in time is slim. There may only be one place in the entire industry where a project fits right at any given moment which means a lot of doors will be knocked on where one or more of the pieces are not in place. Patience and persistence may be as important to getting significantly published as talent.

I also encourage new authors to pitch to both agents and editors. A lot of authors publish before they manage to make a connection with an agent. However those publishing submissions need to be to small houses that will work directly with an author. The larger houses require an agent so if an author manages to get rejected at one of those and later gets an agent they will find those bridges have already been burned.

None of us really want to do the business part of this, we want to write, but to get our writing out we have to do the business. We have to be constantly working to improve our craft, and have to be learning how to do a professional job of pitching our work and have a good professional looking proposal to pitch it with.

I hope this helps.