Inspired by true events . . . authors, agents, and publishing.

Last Saturday, I trekked 60 miles – about an hour and a half – to hear a ‘publishing panel’ at the Wichita Public Library.

I didn’t really know what to expect, and since I was about 15 minutes late (darn my addiction to white chocolate-cinnamon chip scones!) I honestly can’t tell you who the panelists were – I know one of them was former Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low-Weso, who is co-publisher of Mammoth Publications (https://mammothpublications.net/). (No, the information’s not available on the library’s website, either, sorry!) By the time I got there, they were taking questions from the audience.

Most of the audience seemed to be beginning writers – there were some that were already published, either by small presses or self-published. I have to say that I think the panelists would have been best if left alone to answer the questions. However, there was a facilitator – a librarian – who simply wouldn’t let that happen. By the time it was over (half an hour early), my inner teacher had kicked in and I wanted to stand up and say LISTEN PEOPLE, IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW THE ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS, LET’S GO OUTSIDE AND I’LL GIVE IT MY BEST SHOT! It was pretty clear that most people had come to get specific answers to specific questions – but they didn’t get them. And I felt so bad for them.

But I did want to address one question that was handled so poorly, the advice given was useless. Here it is:

I’m already self-published, but I haven’t had much success. How would I break into mainstream publishing? The facilitator wouldn’t let the panelists answer this question. She answered it herself and her answer was total crap. Her suggestion was to get a blog and get your books listed on Goodreads.

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2Here’s the real answer:  GET AN AGENT. It really is the only way to break into mainstream publishing, even with small houses. Very few reputable publishing houses will accept unsolicited manuscripts. They just get too many! Last year, a fairly well-known sci-fi publisher accepted open submissions (no agents) for 30 days. They had more than 5,000 submissions. They did not read them all. Agents, for better or worse, have become the gatekeepers of the publishing world.

Agents aren’t just a gateway, though. They may be the first people to really critique your book and give you honest, unflinching, realistic views about it. I love my beta readers in large part because I know they will tell me that crap is crap. But so many people don’t have those kinds of betas – they have the kind that gushes over everything and proclaims it perfect. (Much the same way I imagine Trump’s handlers must do every time he opens his mouth and tries to utter a coherent sentence and fails spectacularly.) Agents don’t have time to do that, though. This is their business. They’ve got to sell books to publishers in order to keep their cars and houses. That’s why they’re so choosy about the projects they take on. On average, agents will only take on a teeny, tiny fraction of authors who actually query them. They don’t have time to do more.

Your first taste of how critical agents can be will come with the query letter. (For more on this, see my blog post https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/agents-authors-and-query-letters-oh-my/ ) But I will say this:  the days of a form query letter addressed to ‘sir or madam’ are OVER. If your query letter isn’t 100% right, kiss that agent goodbye. Agents have requirements on their websites. Follow those requirements. Follow them to the letter.

There’s several responses you might get to your query letter. A lot of agents don’t even respond to query letters if the answer is ‘no,’ and I think that’s just wrong. Some will send a form letter back – ‘thanks but this isn’t for us.’ If the manuscript is good, but not their thing or not quite ready, they might send a personalized note – ‘Hey,  I really liked x, y, and z about this, but I’m not the best fit for the project,’ or ‘Like the concept, but the main character needs work.’ If they like the manuscript and they think it’s close to being ready they might say ‘look, I’m excited about this project, but there’s changes that need to be made to it. I’ve got them listed on the next page. If you’re willing to do that, then resubmit when you’re done and we’ll talk.’

If you get that last one, the agent’s interested. Really interested. If they take the time to not only read your manuscript, but also to make detailed notes about what they’d like to see changed, they’re interested.

Of course, what you really want is an email that says “OMG, I love this – can I call you at x time on x day to talk about representation???? Please????” 🙂 Been there, done that, best feeling in the world!!!! But even then, you might find that the agent isn’t the best fit for you and your work – and it’s up to you to make that decision. They might be asking for changes you’re not willing or able to make. That’s where you have to take a step back and say okay, do I want to be published – or do I want to be a writer? No, they’re not the same thing.

But to get back to the original question –

Agents are the ones who know what editors want. A lot of them started out in publishing, as either editors or junior editors. They know how to make a pile of pages into a book. They know which editors are actively seeking new projects – and what they want. And agents are the only good way to break into traditional publishing.

The sad fact is this:  yes, there are a handful of self-published authors out there who had the traditional publishing world come knocking at the door. A handful. That’s it. Hugh Howey had this kind of success with Wool (it started as a short story that evolved into an online novel; but by the time Simon & Schuster came along, it was already making more than $100,000/month on Amazon). And of course . . . E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey. But seriously? That’s like IT. So the odds of your novel a.) making it big on Amazon and b.) attracting an unsolicited bidding war between the Big Five are c.) astronomical.

I did a blog post a while back that included a bit about self-publishing – https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/what-the-bleep-do-publishers-want/ – and the fact is this:  if you’re self-published and your novel isn’t doing well, it’s time to pull it and think about why that is. That’s what a good agent can help you with. (Also, a good freelance editor, who will – for a fee – read your manuscript and make suggestions. If you’re not good at editing, spelling, grammar, etc. I highly recommend you do this.)

One last sad fact to leave you with today:  most writers won’t break into mainstream publishing, depending on what your definition of ‘mainstream publishing’ is. If you’re only shooting for the Big Five, it’s a long uphill slog. If you’re okay with a smaller press, you’re in luck – they’re much more willing to take on new authors and more willing to work with you to make that novel successful. Again, these are things your agent will discuss with you.

But if you want to be published ‘mainstream,’ finding an agent is the only way to do it.

Some helpful links:

http://www.writersdigestshop.com/writers-digest-october-2016?utm_source=writersdigest.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wd-bak-bl-161001-oct16-preview – this is the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, which had some great insights into what agents are seeking, as well as a list of new agents seeking authors. No, there’s no articles here, but you can run out to your local bookstore and grab it. 🙂

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/11-steps-to-finding-the-agent-wholl-love-your-book – from Writer’s Digest.

http://www.sfwa.org/real/ – from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, on how to find an agent.

 

 

 

 

 

The Procrastinating Writer

If you’ve read any of my blog posts, you probably know one thing about me:

I like to procrastinate.

Well. Wait. That’s not really true. I don’t like to procrastinate; I need to procrastinate. Yes, there is a big difference.

One thing I know about my writing – or anything in my life – is this:  If it feels wrong, if it feels forced, there’s a reason for it. Something with a capital S is telling me wait a minute, hang back, let’s see where this is going, this isn’t quite right, we need to regroup . . . a bit like Bill Paxton’s character in Twister when he thinks the tornado is going to change tracks and if they keep going they’re going to be right in its path.

A lot of people procrastinate for the wrong reasons – they’re bored, or they don’t want to do the work. That’s NOT what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until yesterday when I heard this fantastic TED talk by Adam Grant. Here’s the link:  http://www.ted.com/talks/adam_grant_the_surprising_habits_of_original_thinkers/transcript?language=en#t-300538

Grant is also the author of a book I almost bought yesterday, Originals:  How Nonconformists Move the World, and his belief is this:  procrastinators are more likely to be creative, and more likely to be world-movers, than non-procrastinators. Let me be clear:  this doesn’t apply to all procrastinators!!!!!! Some are just goof-offs and there’s nothing to be done there. But for some us – and yes, I’m including myself in this subset for one very good reason – procrastination serves a purpose.

It gives us space to think.

It gives us space to be creative.

Seriously. Walk with me for a minute. Let me explain.

We’ve all had writer’s block, yes? I don’t need to explain the mechanics of it to you – the numbing doubts, the overwhelming choices, the dread of putting fingers to keyboard and finding nothing there. Some will tell you it doesn’t even exist; some will tell you the only way to get through it is to keep writing, even if it’s nothing more than dribbles of cold pudding. Write, damn it! Write! Write! Write! Sort of like a prison guard telling prisoners to move these cement blocks over here and stack them and now take them and move them over there and don’t you dare stop! There’s no purpose to moving the cement blocks; it’s just something to keep the prisoners active. Writing, when you have writer’s block, can be the same way.

Here’s what I find, and this was the big revelation for me in Grant’s TED talk:  procrastinating gives you the chance to, as he puts it, “doubt the default.” You were 100% sure your novel was going in X direction. But then you get writer’s block. Why? Maybe your brain is doubting the default. Maybe this isn’t the best idea after all. Maybe it’s trite, overdone. Maybe it’s not what your characters would really do. Maybe, if you walk away for a bit, you’ll come up with something better. Here’s what Grant had to say about that:

Vuja de is when you look at something you’ve seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes. It’s a screenwriter who looks at a movie script that can’t get the green light for more than half a century. In every past version, the main character has been an evil queen. But Jennifer Lee starts to question whether that makes sense. She rewrites the first act, reinvents the villain as a tortured hero and ‘Frozen’ becomes the most successful animated movie ever. So there’s a simple message from this story. When you feel doubt, don’t let it go.”

Because here’s the thing:  your brain doesn’t stop thinking about your novel and your characters just because you’re not writing actively. It’s still processing. Somewhere, deep inside, little gears and gizmos are whirling away. Or alternatively, your characters are waiting for you to listen to them again. However you personally look at it. 🙂 Grant noticed this, too:  he said that one reason we like to-do lists is because once we cross something off the list, we can stop thinking about it. But those ideas we procrastinate on? We can’t cross those off the list. They’re just – there. So our brain works on them. We may not know what to do about them. We may not want to do anything about them. We may not know what direction to take next. It’s okay.

We’re procrastinating with a purpose.

Grant talked about this as well. He was writing the book I mentioned above, and had a chapter on procrastination. So:

I thought, “This is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate, while writing a chapter on procrastination.” So I metaprocrastinated, and like any self-respecting procrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made a to-do list with steps on how to procrastinate. And then I worked diligently toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal. I started writing the procrastination chapter, and one day — I was halfway through — I literally put it away in mid-sentence for months. It was agony. But when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas.

So being a procrastinator can help generate new ideas and more creative angles and solutions to problems than forcing yourself to work through to the end.

Right now, I’m stuck again on Nicky. I had that great revelation a few weeks ago about how the rest of the novel should flow, and that opened me up to a wonderful, absolutely wonderful, run of writing. But now – I’m stuck again.

I’m not worried, though. I’ve been here before. I’ll be here again, with Nicky and with other books. I’m procrastinating, but I trust the process. (Meanwhile, these two new characters just showed up on my doorstep one night to ask if I’d write their story and of course I said yes, get in queue . . . but they’ve decided they’d rather try to jump ahead of everyone else.)

So that last bit is very important – I’m not not writing. I’m still generating ideas and jotting down scenes and listening to these two characters and their crazy romance and doing research. It’s just that I know if I push it on Nicky right now, I will get crap. I don’t want crap. I don’t want to waste time on crap. More importantly, it won’t be the right crap. It won’t be anything I can work with. I know that about myself and my habits by now. Heck, even if I walk away from writing completely for a while, I know I can come back to it and pick up where I left off.

Of course, you can’t procrastinate forever. And there’s a very fine line between creatively procrastinating and being lazy. One gives you space to generate creativity; the other generates nothing.

But if you’re stuck on your novel – give it a try.

 

Here’s some other links on the same topic:

 

When life hands you kittens . . .

babies 1Tiny:  Hey, Mum, here we are on Day Four, and you know, when you crawled over all those hay bales and climbed down the barn wall to get to us, I figured we were goners – ’cause, you know, our real mom sort of left us. But there you were, and you bundled us up and then climbed all the way back out again and here we are!

Maximus:  First, let me say THANK YOU for finally figuring out my True Name. I mean, the nickname you had for me those first couple of days was cute, but let’s get real here:  my name is Maximus Imperius, not “Dr. Phil.” I yowl because I NEED THINGS NOW.

Tiny:  Ignore him, Mum. He really does know that you saved us. And the way you get up every two hours to feed us – even though we know you’re tired. I mean, our eyes aren’t open yet and we really can’t hear anything, but we know you’re tired. We don’t mean to be problems when we can’t find the eyedropper – that’s just not what it’s supposed to be, you know? But the new formula you crawled out of your death bed and went to the vet to get? That stuff is YUMMY!

I started this blog post seven weeks ago, when these two, Maximus Imperius and Tiny, arrived. (Maximus has the white; Tiny is the solid gray tabby.)

They were premature; a feral momma cat had four babies in the barn, and abandoned them. I found them hours later, nearly frozen to death. Maximus and Tiny survived, although they are still behind on certain things – their eyes opened late, they started crawling and running around a bit late, they’re just now able to sleep through the night without a 2am feeding, and although Maximus is eating canned food like the world will run out in a week, Tiny just discovered how yummy it can be yesterday. THANK GOODNESS. 🙂

It’s been a huge struggle to raise these two. I was already sick, exhausted, and depressed whbabies 2en they arrived. Going four weeks without any quality sleep only added to that. I started a full-time job in August that I am not used to yet and frankly, I don’t feel I belong there, which only adds to the stress. But I could not leave them there to die. And once I’d taken them in, I was in it for the long haul.

For the first two and a half weeks, they were so little that they ate with an eyedropper. And OMG, that was so hard. Lay them in your lap. Hold them just so. Get the eyedropper in their mouth and squeeze, just a teensy bit at a time. Repeat. I’ve raised many kittens, but never from Day 1, and never premature kittens. At nearly three weeks, they finally graduated to the bottle. I almost cried that day!

Today, they are healthy, thriving little things. Maximus has discovered, the last few days, that he loves to sit on my shoulder and survey his domain – my bathroom – while Tiny prefers to curl up in my lap and stare up at me with those huge blue eyes, so trusting and so loving. Though they are seven weeks old, they are really about two weeks behind in development in some areas, as I said, but they are incredibly smart. For instance, I left them out one night to run around while I did a few things and fed the other animals, and when I came back, the bathroom was empty. Just – no kittens! Small panic attack – and then I heard purring. They’d gotten back in their crate, curled up, and gone back to sleep. 🙂 It may take them longer to learn to eat on their own, and they may always be the teeniest, tiniest cats around, but it doesn’t matter.

I really don’t know what the future holds for me at this point. I’m pretty sure I didn’t need two more cats, but sometimes, the universe gives us the things we need rather than the things we want. Our job is just to trust that it’ll sort itself out in the end, I guess. And trust is not my strong suit. But I’m at a point where I look at my life – I look at the things I used to want, and I look at the plans I had, and the things I wanted to do – and I don’t even recognize any of them anymore. I don’t feel remotely connected to anything in my life. I no longer know what I want.

But for the past seven weeks, what I’ve wanted is for these two to survive. So far, so good.

 

 

Photo Challenge: Beneath Your Feet

snail 1 vg

About a mile from my house, along my running route, there’s a place where the snails love to congregate. And after it rains, they come out of the ditches and cross the road. I have no idea why the snails cross the road. But I always spend way too much time picking them up and moving them so they don’t get squished by cars.

On this particular day in May, I had my camera and got down on the road to photograph this snail as he made his way across. Then I gently picked him up and moved him into the ditch with a few hundred or so of his family members. 🙂

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/beneath-your-feet/

Here’s the cover of my debut Young Adult novel due out June 2nd, 2015. Go to Bittersweet-Enchantment.com for a chance to win one of five ARC copies!

I believe the ARC contest ends Oct. 31 — so hurry! http://www.bittersweet-enchantment.com/2014/10/cover-reveal-deadly-design-by-debra.html There are already 237 entries . . . don’t get left out!

debra dockter

DeadlyDesign_newtagline

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Announcing . . . the cover for Deadly Design!!!

Have to share!

Today is the cover reveal for Debra Dockter’s YA thriller Deadly Design, and here it is, on the Bittersweet Enchantment blog:

http://www.bittersweet-enchantment.com/2014/10/cover-reveal-deadly-design-by-debra.html#comment-form

Plus, there are ARC giveaways! So head on over — it’s an amazing cover, and an even more amazing book (I should know; I’ve read it already!).

As always, you can follow Deb on Twitter:  @DebraDockterYA, or on her blog at debradockter.com.

Yes, once I get published, I expect the same shameless publicity from her, too. 🙂

Stay, Summer, Stay

This is a really stranleavesge start to the school year.

For one thing, it’s the first time ever that all of my schools have been using the same learning management system — LMS — for their online components. That’s led to some confusion for the students, and a sense of unreality for me.  For another thing . . . I simply wasn’t ready to give up my summer. Not yet. I want to fight for it. Grab on to every last molecule of every last sunbeam, dig in my heels, and refuse to let go until the first frost arrives.

At 38, I’m finally realizing that the summer is not as long as it should be.

I always teach in the summer. Most college instructors do; as an adjunct, I can’t afford not to. This summer, though, my course load was a little less hectic, a little lighter. I had more time. More time to go running in the mornings, and stop along the way to take photos of all the fuzzy-wuzzies and creepy-crawlies that came across my path. More time to write. To start thinking about the next novel, pulling out scenes to keep and let my subconscious start mulling over the things that have to be created new. Time to research.

I rediscovered my love of rummage sales and thrift shops, and spent an inordinate amount of time digging through boxes and baskets, finding the treasures left behind by other foolish people. Most will end up in my online shop; others will stay with me. I’ve been learning about vintage jewelry, learning once again to trust my instincts and pick the good from the bad — and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, the extraordinary from the ordinary.

swingAnd I spent a lot of time on my first real porch swing, which I dragged into the shade and painted a beautiful shade of not-quite-white — it’s called Swiss Coffee — reading and talking to my friends on the cell phone. Every now and then they’d pause and say, “Where are you? I hear creaking. Are you on the swing?” And I would say yes, I was, and I needed to get some WD-40 for those chains and we’d both laugh because we both knew I’d never do it, because there’s something so comforting and calming and unobtrusive about those creaking chains.

No. I am not ready to let go of summer yet. I am not ready to relinquish the deep green carpet of grass for a deeper slush of snow. I am not yet ready to see the leaves turn yellow and gold and red. Though they will be gorgeous to photograph, they will also be sad.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I have never known an August that didn’t mean the start of the school year, for me personally. My mom drove a school bus, so even before I went to school myself, I had that rhythm in my life. I went to preschool and kindergarten, and then first grade slammed me upside the head. I went to college, and for most of my adult life I’ve worked for a college in one capacity or another. What would it be like, I wonder, to live a life where August didn’t automatically mean school? Maybe one where August meant . . . preparing to take a trip to the lake? Or England? Maybe August wouldn’t mean the end of summer then, but something else . . . something gradual and good.

I set up for a photo show a few weeks ago at a local library, and I was telling the librarian about everything I do — teaching, the online shop, etc. — and she gave me one of those funny looks and said, “It must be nice to be able to live life on your terms like that.” That struck me as an odd thing to say because the truth is, I don’t feel like I live life on my terms. Is that how others see it, though? I feel like I live my life based on the vagaries of others. Will students enroll? Will the colleges give me classes? Will they give me enough classes? Will people buy the items in my shop? Will they like my photos?

But maybe I do. Live life on my terms, I mean. I haven’t come to a conclusion about that yet. I certainly lived this summer on my terms. Remembered things I’d forgotten I loved.

Like summer.