Rejections happen. The more writing you send out, the more rejections you get. I got one while I was working on this post. The wording usually follows a pattern: Thank you for letting us see your work. Unfortunately we will not be able to use it. We received hundreds of wonderful submissions and wish we had room for all of them. Sorry for this impersonal response. We wish you the best of luck.
For some reason, this makes me think of those dating breakups where the man or woman says they have to end the relationship, but “It’s not you. It’s me.” Right? You’re never sure whether it really is their problem or they’re trying to let you down easy. Either way, it’s over.
As one of the poetry editors of a new literary magazine called Timberline Review, I have been involved this month in the process of accepting and rejecting poems. It’s a discouraging process. We have only so much space, and we have two poetry editors and two managing editors who need to agree on the final selection. That means that some poems I love are not getting in and others that I was less thrilled about are getting acceptance notices today. It also means that while poets are allowed to send up to five poems—and most send five—we are probably only going to use one or two, even if the others are fantastic. We’re only using one from Oregon’s poet laureate, for Pete’s sake.
In addition, we are trying to create a good mix of styles and subjects, so if we have too many similar works, some will not get in. Ditto if it just does not fit. The process is flexible. When we thought we had our final list, a couple of us had second thoughts about some poems we wanted in and kicked out a couple of others that had been in the definite-yes group.
I’m sure the same process is happening with the prose submissions.
All this explains why a) sometimes it takes a long time to get an answer and b) good work gets rejected.
Discouraged? I don’t blame you. This whole experience has affected how I think about my own submissions. But what I’m saying is that rejection does not mean your work is bad. It could be great and still not make it. When you go shopping, don’t you pass up a lot of products because you just can’t use them right now? It’s the same with selling your writing. Most of the time, it’s not you. It’s us. Brush it off and send it out again. Rejections happen, but so do acceptances. Don’t give up. Next time they might say yes.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about how authors don’t make any money off used books. In the latest edition of Writing-world.com, Moira Allen offers another view of the subject. We authors might not get royalties, she says, but there is great value in having our books being shared and sold second-hand because it lets new readers find our work and become fans who will pay full price for the rest of our books. Click here to read her piece, “Books: Read and Delete, or Read and Share?”
Now let’s go write.
In recent weeks, we have talked about approaching agents and book publishers to get your book published. Another path to publication is by entering contests. Many university presses and small independent publishers, especially those who do literary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry, hold contests in which they will publish the winning books. This can be a huge honor and a stepping stone to greater things in your career, or it may turn out to be much ado about not very much, a handful of copies that no one but you will ever see.
You can find contests in many books and websites. Here are a few: Funds for Writers, Moira Allen’s Writing to Win: Colossal Guide to Writing Contests, Poets & Writers, Writers Digest, Freelancewriting.com, and the Creative Writing Opportunities list at Yahoo groups.I So, you read the listings and find some that sound good. Now you need to answer some questions.
Who are these people?
Who else have they published? Do you like the books they put out? Would your book fit in? Go to their website, take a look at their books and see if it feels right. Then study the guidelines. Do you and your book fit their qualifications? Many contests look for authors who have not published books before or at least not in that genre. Some have requirements for age, ethnicity or place of residence. Others only want to see books that have already been published.
What do they require for entries?
Usually they’re looking for a finished manuscript. Will yours be ready by the deadline? Will it be the right length? Do they want hard copies sent by mail, email entries, or entries fit into a form? Do they want your contact information on the manuscript, or does it need to be anonymous with a cover sheet explaining who you are. You can lose a contest in a hurry by not following directions.
Is this contest worth it to you? Nearly all contests have entry fees, often ranging from $20 up. If you enter several contest, the fees add up. What will you get if you win? Is there a cash prize? Do they guarantee publication? How many copies will they publish? What rights will they take? Will they pay an advance or royalties? Will they help with marketing and distribution? Are there secondary prizes for runners-up and honorable mentions? Do they offer critiques for non-winners?
If you’re thinking entering book contests sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. It is. But if you win the right contest with the right book, it can be the best thing that ever happened to your career.
You can’t enter a book contest without a book, so …
Now go write.
Pitch, pitch, pitch. With some writing groups and conferences, the air is filled with that word. It has a lot of different meanings. We can pitch a baseball, pitch something into the trash, select a key for a song, pitch a tent or pitch a fit. The dog can get covered with pitch from the pine trees in my neighborhood. But for writers, pitch, as my Webster’s says, is “to make a sales pitch.”
Most of us are writers not salespeople, so it’s going to take some extra courage to start pitching, but it also requires writing skill, which we have.
The pitch is the basis of a query for a novel or any other kind of book, whether you deliver it on paper, by e-mail or in person at a conference. For a pitch, you need to distill your story into a few sentences that describe what kind of book it is, what it’s about, and who’s going to want to read it. Then, if you have time, you’ll describe, briefly, who you are and why you’re qualified to write this book. In writing, it should fit on one page. In person, you may only have a minute or two to spew it out before the listener loses interest.
The pitch is the most important thing you’ll write for this book, and you’ll use it long after it’s published for every interview, media appearance and conversation with book-sellers and readers. Even in casual conversation, if someone asks what your book is about, you need to be able to tell them in a few clear sentences. You can’t go into all the details of the plot. “Well there’s this girl, and she meets this guy, and oh, she only has one leg, and the guy’s a doctor and, um…” That’s not going to fly. What is the essence of this book? For example, I say that my novel Azorean Dreams is a Portuguese-American love story in which an independent newspaper reporter of Portuguese descent falls in love with a newly arrived immigrant who has old-fashioned ideas about how women should act.”
For good ideas about how to describe your book, read the descriptions on the back covers of books or the summaries on book sales sites. Check out movie descriptions online or in the TV guide.
Once you get the story across in a few lines, you need to know where it fits in the bookstore, whether virtual or bricks-and-mortar. Is it a mystery, a romance, historical, fantasy, literary? Can you compare it to other books? If you say it’s Stephen King meets Harry Potter, we know where you’re at. A little Anne Tyler and a little Ann Lamott? Okay, we get it. Now don’t go saying your book is better than any of these. No bragging. Just offer information and let the reader/listener decide that it’s fabulous.
Now it’s time to tell about you. If you have relevant experience, say it right away. If you’re writing about politics and you’ve been involved in campaigns or been elected to office yourself, that’s an important selling point. If you set your story in the Grand Canyon and you’ve worked there as a ranger for the last 10 years, say so. If some event in your own life drove you to write this story, put it in your pitch. And yes, if you have writing credits, if you have experience in the media, if you have developed a big following for your blog, tell it to help sell it.
A writer’s pitch is a sales pitch. Your book is the product, but you’re part of the package. Yours are the face and the voice that go with the book. Agents and editors want to know what they’re selling.
There’s a lot more to talk about: synopses, sample chapters, who to offer your book to and how. Stay tuned; it’s all coming up here at Writer Aid. I welcome your questions.
One of many helpful references on this subject is The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposalsby Moira Allen. I wrote the chapter on pitching to agents at a writing conference, but the whole book is filled with useful information.
Meanwhile, you can’t sell what you haven’t written. Before you pitch a novel, you need to finish it.
So now go write.
Once a week I am offering three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work.
Writing-World.com has been offering great advice, information and markets for writers for 12 years and is still one of the best sites I’ve seen. Whatever type of writing you do, it has articles to help you do it. Click here and give it a read.
While we’re talking about Writing-World.com, editor Moira Allen has some books you might want to read. I’m proud to have contributed sections to two of them. Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer focuses mostly on nonfiction writing and covers everything you need to know to run a freelancing writing business. The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals tells how to approach agents, editors and publishers with all types of writing. Her latest is Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.
Have you noticed how most of the headlines on magazine covers seem to have numbers? 12 ways to please your man, 5 foods that fight cancer, 8 romantic getaways. Numbered pieces sell and are easy to write. So, fill in the blank and starting: 10 ways to _______________________. It can be a how-to article, an essay, a humorous column, a poem, a short story, whatever suits your fancy. Remember Paul Simon’s song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover?”
Now Go Write.
I want to get my novel published, and I keep reading that I need something called a “synopsis.” That sounds like a disease. What is it and and How do I create one?
In plain English, a synopsis is a summary of what happens in the book. Tell the story of your novel in condensed form, from beginning to end. You write it up in paragraphs , using present tense, even if the book is written in past tense. For example:
Tim Brady, a divorced high school math teacher in upstate New York, wonders how he can possibly keep going until retirement. Then, one day, into his classroom walks the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. “I’m your new assistant,” she says.
Okay, this sounds like a lame book, but it’s an example of how you start this thing. Paragraph by paragraph, you describe the main events and the characters involved, adding bits of dialogue and brief quotes from the text of the novel, working your way to the conclusion. Don’t try to put everything in, just the highlights, the most important things that happen, and don’t keep the ending a secret.
You can find two great articles on writing synopses at
Writing-world.com. “How to Write a Synopsis” by Marg Gilks and “Writing a Synopsis from the Ground Up” by Dee Ann Latona LeBlanc offer step-by-step advice on how to write a synopsis. Also, Writing-World.com publisher Moira Allen explains it all in The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals.
How long should a synopsis be? It seems like it would take a lot of pages to sum up a whole book.
It certainly could take a lot of pages, but it’s a summary, not a book. Opinions on length vary. I have heard of synopses going as long as 50 pages, but editors and agents generally don’t have time to read that much. Limit yourself to 10 pages maximum, and if you can do it shorter, that would be great. I’m not saying it’s easy.
What else do I send with my synopsis?
Your package, which could be sent by snail mail or by email, depending on what the editor or agent wants, should also include: a cover letter, briefly explaining what you are sending and who you are, the synopsis, the first three chapters, and–if using snail mail–a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply. If you’re using email, make sure you include contact information, and use the subject line to describe what you are sending, e.g., “suspense novel submission.”
Got questions? I’ll be happy to answer them.