Monday, June 25, 2012

Here Goes Everything

I know what you're thinking. The phrase is here goes nothing. While that may be true in most instances, it's not the case for me. Not when I've spent so many years trying to get to this point.

I'm talking about mainstream publication of course. Having recently signed with a new agent, I've been drawing ever closer to my lifelong dream. For those of you who think signing with the agent is a formality to being published, you don't know the industry very well. Even the best of agents may not be able to convince a publisher to take a chance on the work. It's a matter of combining industry trends with editors' tastes.

Getting an agent is definitely a step in the right direction on the road to publication, but it's not a guarantee of publication. My new agent put it to me pretty well when he said authors need agents who not only believe in their work but believe in it enough to work tirelessly to find the right publisher for it and who isn't willing to give up. Finding the right publisher, being the key.

My fellow authors know there are literally thousands of literary agents for aspiring authors to choose from. Unfortunately, not all of those are good. Some agents don't fare any better than authors when trying to get work read by a publisher. Not because the author's work is bad or the publisher is overwhelmed but often because some agents aren't taken seriously by publishers. These are the agents who blindly submit all manuscripts to the same round of publishers without taking the time to cultivate the relationship with the right publisher.

While it's sad to see that happen, and I've been personally affected by it in the past, that's not the case this time. I'm confident in the ability of my new agent. If the work doesn't find the right publisher, it won't be for lack of effort or belief on his part. The slightly depressing thing about that is that I'll have to look to my manuscript as the culprit, but I'll cross that bridge if I come to it.

In the meantime, the agent has let me know that after a bit of tweaking, both of the manuscript and my marketing plan, the novel is ready for submission to publishers. He'll start submitting and if we can't get an offer, we'll hope to get some consistent comments as to why it won't be picked up. That will lead to the need for more tweaking, but again I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Until then, here goes everything I've ever dreamed of.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ask and You Might Receive

Last week, I discussed the topic how long is too long when waiting to hear from a literary agent or publisher.  The discussion was with specific regard to agents or publishers that ask for your work. How long after sending requested materials should a writer wait before sending a follow up?

As I mentioned last week, there’s no hard and fast rule so the question doesn’t have an answer that can be applied across the board. The answer depends on the agent or publisher. I can say that as writers it’s drilled in to our heads not to alienate prospective agents or publishers. One definite way to do that is for an over anxious writer to demand answers. I use the word demand loosely, but it’s easy to understand why it would be viewed as a demand by a haired literary agent.

Most agents are quick to tell you they’re inundated with submissions. Sadly, not all of these submissions are up to par for an aspiring professional writer. Side note to my fellow authors, it’s not a good idea to submit something to an agent that’s rife with grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. Even the best of books might get scrapped for this. However, I digress. Back to the agents.

Not only are they overwhelmed with submissions from eager writers, but they already represent a number of clients who deserve their time and attention. To me, a contracted author is more deserving of an agent’s time. In addition to that, many agents speak at writers' conferences and attend work shops and book fairs and the like in an effort to not only meet potential clients but to generate business contacts to further existing or even future relationships. Moral of the story? There’s more to an agents time than writers can comprehend, especially us greenies. 

So, for those of us who recognize the value of an agent’s time and don’t want to offend or alienate by being over anxious, what do we do? How do we satisfy our need to know without overstepping any bounds? I was led to contemplate these questions after waiting four months to hear from two literary agents who’d asked to see my latest young adult novel. While I can’t answer the questions for everyone else, I wanted to update you as to my story.

After discussing with some of my fellow authors last week, I made the decision to send a follow up inquiry. With shaking hands, I composed what I hoped was a message with a humble tone to ask two questions: was the novel still under review and when could I anticipate a response so that I didn’t need to impose upon their time again? Within a day, one agent replied to ask me to send the manuscript, which I did the following day. Only a few days after that, she emailed to let me know she liked my novel and would review for possible editing and reply to me within a week. I immediately emailed back to thank her for the time to update me and then waited. Let me tell you what, the wait wasn’t long. One day later, today as a matter of fact, the senior agent called to tell me he liked the novel and wanted to work with me and asked if I’d be agreeable to having him send the contracts electronically! The agent then made a point to apologize for having taken so long to reply and to assure me that’s not his standard business practice. I can’t tell you how flattered I am. First, he wants to work with me and second, he took the time to apologize which I didn’t think was necessary at all. I simply wanted an answer as to whether or not the novel was still under review. Well, I got one and then some and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Last week, I wondered whether or not I should follow up. I went ahead and took the plunge and decided to ask. This week, I’m glad I did. My advice to anyone who asks me the same question will be: ask and you might receive. This strategy might not work for everyone, but it can’t always hurt.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is No News Good News?

I’m probably going to date myself with this introduction, but here goes.  When I was a kid, there was a show I used to watch called The Great Space Coaster.  This show was something akin to a low budget Sesame Street with its combination of live actors and puppets interacting with one another.  One of the puppet characters was a sportscaster named Gary Ganu. After every news report, Gary would sign off with: ‘Remember, folks, no g’news is good g’news.’

Don’t ask me why this has stuck with me through all these years. Little else about The Great Space Coaster has. However, every time I’m waiting to hear about something, no matter what it is, I always remember Gary’s sign off phrase.

As a writer, I’m beginning to wonder if no news really is good news. When I query an agent and ask them to look at my manuscript or at the very least look at a sample of it, the lack of response by an agent is not good news. Some agents simply don’t respond if they aren’t interested, which they attribute to the overwhelming number of submissions they receive. The same can be said of publishers when authors query them without using an agent.

What about something a little more in depth though? If an agent asks to see either a partial or full manuscript and then takes months to respond, is that good news? My instinct is to say no. If he loved the book, he’d want to hurry and snap it up, move on it before someone else does. So, what’s a writer to do in situations like this?

Some agents are helpful about this upfront. Their guidelines clearly spell out how long their response time is and what procedures writers should follow when they haven’t heard anything by the anticipated deadline. Great, but what about those agents or publishers that sit on the manuscript and fail to respond? What do we do about those? This is a tricky question to answer because response time is so subjective. From the writers’ viewpoint, waiting four months for a response feels like unnecessary agony. For the busy agent or publisher, long response times are part and parcel for the process. After all, they aren’t just trying to secure new clients. They have a list of established clients who need and deserve their attention.

Bottom line, the rules aren’t hard and fast. If the agent or publisher doesn’t have a response time posted somewhere in their guidelines, or hasn’t provided one when asking for the material, what to do next is tricky business for writers. Here are two glaring examples of how difficult it is to know the correct way to proceed.

I once had a publisher ask for a partial of my manuscript. The editor doubled as the owner of this small press. Her initial email responses were prompt and warm. I sent the full manuscript and then waited. I waited a long time with no reply, and I don’t mean I waited weeks. I waited six months with no answer. I’d pretty much given up, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask if the work was still under review. The editor promptly replied with a profuse apology and explanation of why she’d fallen behind and assured me she was still interested. In the end, she passed on the work, but I finally got that definite rejection I needed to bring me closure.

Conversely, I once queried either an agent and she asked for the manuscript. Again, I waited months with no response. Before ruling it out as a rejection, I opted to send a follow up to query to ask if it was still under review. I got a pretty quick response to this query that was, I’m sad to say, rather rude and scathing. Though I don’t recall the specific content, the gist of it was that I should’ve known no response meant she wasn’t interested and shouldn’t have wasted her time with my follow up. That one stung a bit, but there was nothing I could do but move on.

What’s got me thinking of all of this now? I have two agents who asked to see my full manuscript for my latest young adult novel.  Both asked in the early part of February, and I sent it within a day of the request. It’s been four months now, and I’ve heard nothing from either of these agents. Not a yes or a no. I’d prefer an offer of representation but would be able to recover from rejection. I’ve checked both their web sites and the emails they sent me when they requested the manuscript and neither one addresses response times. So, what do I do?

Again, there are no hard and fast rules here. Once I followed up and was glad I did. Once I followed up and wished I hadn’t. I respect that agents are busy and their first priority must be to their existing clients. I’ve read many an article cautioning against being pushy and demanding of an agents time. Still, I’d like to have an answer. Yet, I’m admittedly undecided about what to do.

Even now, at the conclusion of my article, I’ve yet to reach a decision so I put it to all of you. What do you think? Should I continue to wait for a response from the agents or take matters into my own hands and ask where they are in the review process? Is no g’news good g’news? If anyone has the answers, I’d love to know what they are.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Turn in Trends?

I’m a writer, which should come as no surprise to those of you who read this blog regularly.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, but in case you forgot or are a first time reader, I’m a young adult writer.

When I first started trying to break into the writing business, I was trying to be a chick lit writer.  Those were the type of books I liked to read so I figured I should write them as well. In stepping back to look at my writing style, I realized I was better suited for the young adult genre. Having made this discovery, I had a grand vision for what type of novel I wanted to write.  My vision was to have a line of young adult novels with disabled characters in leading romantic roles.

Despite my grand vision, the timing was bad. The young adult genre was heading in a new direction.  Paranormal novels were the wave of the future. Teens wanted to escape reality and they wanted to do it through paranormal romance novels. At least that’s what publishers said.

I tried to write in this genre for publishers. Sad to say, I missed the boat. By the time I finished my own vampire novel, I was told the market was too saturated and I couldn’t compete with established authors. Ouch! Since then I’ve penned a few more paranormal romance novels that I’ve posted on line, and they’re doing quite well thank you very much. Still, I’ve always felt a bit sad at not having published those works I first set out to publish. I figured maybe one day I’d get the chance to share them.

Well, you know what? I think that day is almost here. Not too long ago, Australian publisher Hardie, Grant and Edgemont sponsored a young adult writing contest in which they asked for novels that featured real life issues only. They believed teens wanted and could handle more than the paranormal romance. I entered, and though I didn’t win, I made the finals with my manuscript. And it doesn’t stop there. Last week, I received an email from Reader View’s. One of their editors is starting her own small press publishing business and is calling for manuscripts in this genre. Not just any manuscripts but manuscripts that speak to real life issues facing contemporary teens. Guess you know I’ll be sending something in for that.

It seems to me that the paranormal genre is about to run its course. There’s a turning in trend back to what I think is the heart of the young adult genre. Let’s hope I can cash in on this turn in the trend!