Industry

The Three Walls

6a017d3e74d693970c01901e4f6719970b-320wiGetting an agent these days is a tough achievement and if you do manage to score one, it doesn’t mean instant success. I had an agent a few years ago, and while we had a great relationship, she struggled to sell my book. In the end, we parted ways and I sold the title to my current publisher.

In the world of agents, plucking a winner from the slush pile seems like a mean feat. They are extremely picky with who and what they choose. From what I’ve experienced over the years, I find there are three walls to break down before securing an agent:

  • The Query – This step manages to befall even the best of writers. Your query letter must be like a resume – professional, quick and relatable. What I mean by that is, you have to edit each query to every agent you query to. Like a job application, you wouldn’t send a CV with experience of retail to a doctor’s surgery. Every agent has different specifications you must adhere to and if you don’t, you’ve screwed your first impression. Always read the agent’s requests and follow them. Most of the time, they don’t accept unsolicited mail, so always copy and paste your sample into the body of an email. 99% of agents will ask this.

If you’re successful in your query, the agent will ask for sample chapters.

  • The sample chapters – Sample chapters will usually involve the first 1-3 chapters or the first 50 pages – whichever comes first. Always ensure your work is tip top shape before sending it over. Remember, the agent is keen to see more of your work so make sure it’s edited and formatted as per their site (if they request this). If they don’t, I usually submit in Times New Roman, font size 12 and line space of 1.5 or 2.

It will take time for them to get back to you, so BE PATIENT! The agent will usually specify how long it will take to come back with an answer on their website. 6-8 weeks is pretty standard for samples. Some agents might even take more. If you get itchy feet and its hitting the 9-10 week mark, send the agent a polite email chasing up your work. If they don’t reply within a normal time frame, don’t keep sending emails. Just assume your work wasn’t successful.

  • The Full MS – By this point, you have secured the agent’s interest. Well done! It’s an exciting and hellish time. The agent can take up to 3 months to read your work and get back to you. This wall is the hardest to break. The smallest thing can alter their decision – the main character ticked them off or the book’s ending didn’t satisfy them. It’s important to invest in good beta readers to ensure your work is covered by different types of readers. Each person is unique in what they like and spot in your work.

It’s okay to send a reminder to the agent if they haven’t gotten back to you within their time frame. It’s during this time, you should do some background on the agency in case they offer representation. This should be done from the query side, but it doesn’t hurt to look now. Contact their authors and politely ask what they are like etc.  If you are happy with what you’ve found out, sit back and wait for their response.

While the rate of authors being picked up isn’t rare, the numbers are small. Some agencies only sign 5-10% of their slush pile. If an agent likes your work and sees potential, they will offer representation. Congratulations!  The next step is world domination!

 

Rejections

Rejections are a part of every writer’s repertoire. I’ve received hundreds in my years of submitting – I even have a folder in my email dedicated to them, though I dare not to look!

For new authors, rejections are hard to swallow. Feelings of inadequacies often follow. Is it me or do they hate my writing?  I thought like that for years, and hated my work because of it. But you must never take it personal. Agents or publishers don’t dislike you as a person- your work doesn’t suit them at the time or they didn’t feel a connection to the work.

I’m currently in submission for my historical WIP Unspoken. I’ve received nothing but rejections for 2 months. It stings but I keep on trucking. Someone out there will like this work, a book I spent 12 months pouring blood, sweat and tears into.

I submitted to a well known publishing house recently and they seemed keen on reading the work. I heard back from them today and I knew the email wasn’t going to be an offer. They said the work had great detail but read like a soap opera. I don’t disagree with them – I see it, but I never intended for the “drama to go on and on”. It needs cleaning up obviously, despite having 3 beta readers and two edits by me. A book can never have too many edits.

They mentioned it needs a good copy edit and my past tense is all off. Unfortunately that’s my weakness; I can’t seem to grasp past and present tense well enough. My current publisher is always pulling their hair out because of it.

I expect a lot more rejections to come with this new revelation. I wish I had spent more time editing it before submitting it to 20+ publishers. I get too impatient and can’t wait to submit it.

I’ve spent so much time and effort on the book I couldn’t wait to get it out there and out of my mind. Never listen to your head! If the book doesn’t feel finished, don’t send it out!

Rejections are a part of life and something you must never take personal. Just think: JK Rowling was rejected by dozens of publishers before being sold. When a publisher or agent rejects your work, they are not rejecting you as a person and its only one person’s opinion. There are many other avenues out there for you work. Just keep on writing!

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What are Beta Readers?

Book advances. The word gets thrown around a lot in the publishing world. As a new author or a seasoned one, you have most likely heard fellow authors discuss their advance from their publisher.

Some publishers offer advances to their authors, some do not. These can range from $30 – $20,000 depending on the author and if their agented or not.

So what are advances? Advances are based on the number of copies the publisher thinks the book might sell upon release. If it’s a potentially big book they’ll increase their marketing budget to help ensure that the sales are high.

An advance is a payment against royalties. If the publisher thinks your book will sell 10,000 copies they’ll work out how much that means in royalties, so that amount will be your advance. Then you’ll not receive any further payments until your book has sold those 10,000 copies, as you’ve already been paid for them.

If your book sells more copies you’ll start receiving royalty cheques: they’re usually paid twice a year by the bigger publishers who focus on print sales. Publishers who focus on ebook sales predominantly pay them more frequently, such as quarterly.

If your book sells fewer than those 10,000 copies you’ll not receive any royalty payments–but you won’t have to pay back any of your advance. Good, reputable publishers won’t require you to do this.

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Why I use Beta Readers

I’ve been writing for a very long time, but only recently been introduced to beta readers. When I wrote my first big historical fiction, Darkness before Dawn, I had no idea how much work was needed before publication. I submitted it to an online forum and it got pretty good feedback. This feedback helped improve the book. I, like most writers, are frightened by criticism. What if they don’t like it? Is the book boring? If other authors don’t like it, what would readers think?

These questions circled my mind. I knew the feedback would greatly improve my book but I was scared of what other people thought of the novel, the idea, concept, characters, accuracy. Did Stephanie Myers or Suzanne Collins  rely on beta readers for their novels? Maybe. We might never know.

I incorporated the beta’s ideas and started to submit. Darkness was offered seven contracts in the year of 2012, but I knew it wasn’t ready. I declined all offers and got back to editing. When I did find my current publisher, the book editing process wasn’t as arduous due to the feedback I received previously.

Sadly, I didn’t use this method when I wrote three books after Darkness and they took longer to find a publisher. Was it fear of rejection? Laziness? Lack of time? It was all three.

I just didn’t have the time or passion to seek other’s advice. Looking back, I paid for it greatly. Those three books weren’t the highest quality and the editing process was very difficult and time consuming.

Nowadays, I have learned from past mistakes. As I write my current WIP, Unspoken, I have sought feedback from three beta readers. Each one has provided different feedback. That’s the beauty of beta readers. No two betas are the same. One might pick on a character development, sentence or even dialogue and the other might pick on something else.

I have been a beta reader for two authors now. Not only does it give me the opportunity to make friends, it also allows me to see what other writers are writing, to see their dreams and hopes in their work.

I used to fear beta readers, but now, I rely on them. You only need to know where to look. Sign up to author forums or follow a fellow author on Facebook or Twitter. Make contact. Some people are quite happy to read one’s work for a free read in order to provide feedback, while others are keen to ‘swap’ books. Some are writers, some are hardcore readers. Either way, using a beta reader improves your book tenfold. They might pick on something the publisher might not see.

I have seen great improvement in my WIP by using my betas. I enjoy reading their work and keeping in touch. We are all aiming for the same thing: To be published.

Every author pours their blood, sweat and tears into their work. It takes courage to hand it over to a stranger, an unbiased reader, and allow them to tear your work apart word by word. Honestly, I would rather give my work to someone I didn’t know, compared to my husband, or family. It’s too close for comfort and I don’t like people I know reading my work.

Invest in a beta reader. They are truly an author’s best friend.

Have you had any experiences with beta readers, good or bad? I’d love to hear your stories.

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Promoting your book

Every author knows promoting your book is like fishing in a huge ocean. The market is saturated and makes it difficult to find your market and most of all, readers. For those authors who want to become the next E. L James or Stephen King overnight, think again. It takes years of hard work and persistence.

Promoting your book in a polluted sea might seem like a hard feat, but it can done. The age of social media and the Internet has made book promotion easier and user friendly. The best advice I can give to new authors is write, write and write. Keep releasing books. Those authors who strike it gold overnight are rarities, and those left behind have to quiver in their shadow. Jealousy rears its ugly head and makes you second guess your own work. I was there this week. I was seriously thinking about giving up writing for good, even though it’s my lifeline, passion and love. My latest sales for my books weren’t earning enough and it really bought me down. But writing isn’t about making money, its about connecting with your readers. I’ve done Book Tours and received a good response. I don’t make sales? Who cares. All I want is my readers to recommend my books to their friends and family.

Writing is about repetition. The more books you write and release, the more people will get to know you. In the SEO world, this is called Customer Awareness. Your readers will see your name out there more often and feel inclined to see ‘what all the fuss is about’.

I’ve published 4 books and, I’ll be honest, hasn’t made me much money. It does knock you down a few pegs to see other authors in your genre get picked up by the big publishers and you compare their work to yours. Never do that! It will only lead to more heartache. I used to criticise and loathe EL James because I didn’t think she was a ‘good writer.’ Now, I let my judgement pass. Us writers should flock together.

This article from the Entrepreneur might help when it comes to social media promotion.

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Publishing advice

When I tell people I’m a published author I usually get the typical ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, but to me, writing a book is normal. It’s been such a massive part of my life that I see it as the norm. So when new writers ask for publishing advice I try to give them the best I can. Recently my grandfather asked me to contact a friend of his who was looking at publishing a non-fiction book. I was flattered that someone of his age was seeking advice from a twenty something.

Here is what I told him:

Note: Before you read this, the text is of my own opinion and experience and representing no one’s views but my own.

I’ve had three fiction books (soon to be more) published traditionally over the years. I’m not an expert at it but I hope I can provide you with some good advice. Ian informed me it was a non-fiction book you were looking at getting published. Have you written it? If you have and you’re content it’s completed, I suggest having someone who’s not affiliated with it, such as a friend or work colleague, read over it. Beta readers are great because they can offer fresh ideas and suggestions you normally wouldn’t think of yourself.
I haven’t written non-fiction, and the submission process is a little different but I hope I can help either way. There are two routes you can take: self-publishing or traditional publishing. I’m not sure if you have looked at either, but self-publishing has become quite popular, but it is pricey. You do have to pay to have your book published. I used Zeus Publishing in QLD. I paid at the time $2200 to have my book published, and it didn’t sell. That’s a risk you take, but I also didn’t do any marketing. Traditional publishing is free (you never have to pay a cent to have a book published). Be aware of vanity publishers. These companies pose as traditional publishers, but have secret fees that catch you. Always read the site carefully. They provide false hope because they pretty much take anything – bad or not, so beware. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is.
There are many non-fiction publishers in Australia, but they are generally hard to get in to, unless you have an agent. I suggest you look at an agent if you wish to publish traditionally. Visit http://pred-ed.com. This site has a network of global publishers (non-fiction and fiction) and agents as well. The site also warns writers of bad apple pubs and agents. I’m afraid people learn the hard way and get burned. It’s a good site to have bookmarked.
There are some good Aussie publishers who don’t need an agent, such as Pantera Press, and I believe New Holland. I went overseas for my books. My publishers (I have 3) are based in USA. If you do chose an overseas publisher, particularly in the US, please be aware of their tax laws. You will have to go to the IRS and get certain forms. I got an ITIN (which is hard to get) but its like a tax file number for overseas writers. Don’t let this dishearten you. For your first book, I do suggest looking at an Aussie publisher to minimize this hassle. Google ‘Australian non-fiction publishers’ and it will come up with a good selection.
When you do come to selecting a publisher, I suggest to keep note of all the ones you submit to. It’s not uncommon for some publishers to take weeks or months to get back to you (I’ve waited 6 months before). Writing a book, non-fiction or fiction is a long process, and sometimes it can take up to a year from the moment you submit it for it to be released. Another piece of advice I’ll give you is to read the submission guides carefully. These always take authors by surprise. They weed out people who don’t take direction. Some publishing submissions guidelines can be long and arduous, while others are short. For non-fiction, I’m not too familiar with submission guidelines but you generally need to submit the first 3 chapters, contents, why you wrote the book, what makes you qualified to write it etc.
Most publishers that aren’t Harper Collins, expect their authors to do their own marketing. Look into getting a website built, do blog tours and delve into social media. I have a little network that I use to promote, such as Twitter and Facebook. Also take the time to join a writer’s site such as authonomy.com and Absolute Write. I am on both and have met other authors and publishers. Its an excellent way to promote your book, but also be around like-minded people. Sites like Authonomy is run by Harper Collins, but they mainly do fiction novels. Absolute Write features both. Scribophile is a good one too where you can feature and provide feedback to other writer’s works.
If you have any questions about this post, please contact me. I am not an expert in book publishing and the above text is only from what I experienced.

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