Write, Edit, Publish: The Best of The Jessica Dall Blog

June 17th is here once again, and that means one thing. It’s my birthday. And to celebrate, I have a gift for all you readers out there:

WEP

Write, Edit, Publish includes some of this site’s most popular blog posts compiled into a downloadable eBook, covering everything from staring with a blank page to working on getting a manuscript published.

Download for FREE right here: Write, Edit, Publish [PDF]

Or FREE on Smashwords: Write, Edit, Publish

(Soon available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble)

 

Write, Edit, Publish articles include:

Section One: Writing

Getting Started

Writing Prompts

Finding Time to Write

Writing through Writer’s Block

Inner Filters

Character Naming

What’s in a Name?

Historical Naming

Who are you, again?

Plotting

From Premise to Plot

“Accidental Plagiarism”

[X] Types of Plot

Characterization

Making Your Characters Believable

Character Flaws

“Plot Device” Disorders

Just a Pretty Face

Dialogue

You Don’t Say

Floating Dialogue

Narrative

Writing Shakespeare

Head Jumping

 

Section Two: Editing

Editing 101

Plot and Plot Holes

The Ever-Dreaded Plot Holes

A Wizard Did It

That’s Just…Wrong

Language

The Problem with Pronouns

The Unneeded Words

All of a sudden, he was suddenly there

Critique Groups

How to Take a Critique

Crises of Confidence

The Nitty-Gritty

Does Length Matter?

Eh, it’s not my style

“Intensive Purpose”

 

Section Three: Publishing

Self, Vanity, Traditional Publishing

Shoot the Shaggy Dog

Submissions

How to Get Published

Submissions 101

Wishlists and Trends

Word Counts

Word Limits

Copyrights and Contracts

Contracts

Novel Blogs

Toe Tappin’ Copyrights

Layout

Novel Layout Tips

Antagonist vs. Villain

And the big day is finally here. My new novel, The Copper Witch, has hit the shelves (or at least e-shelves, print comes out soon). You should totally go buy a copy. You know you want to.

See how pretty it is?

See how pretty it is?

With reviews trickling in (which I’m happy to say are generally positive) a common theme I have found is readers either loving or hating the main character. And honestly, I can’t say I’m too surprised. Adela Tilden, the protagonist of The Copper Witch, is a very strong personality–and honestly an anti-heroine. She was never meant to be particularly “likable” as much as she was meant to be interesting (whether that is a good or a bad interesting seems to be entirely up to the reader).

Antiheroes have been a trend for a while now. While there are still certainly stories with true “heroes” as their protagonists (Good vs. Evil as a literary staple has been around since Gilgamesh–I have to say I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon) protagonists who lack the standard “heroic” traits (antiheroes) are no stranger to fiction these days either. They are written for any number of reason, but they do end up changing the traditional names that might be used when describing characters.

Yay, Antiheroes (who seem to be predominately men, looking at TV Tropes)

Yay, Antiheroes (who seem to be predominately men, looking at TV Tropes)

You see, while performing an author interview for another blog, I was asked a relatively simple question, “How important do you believe villains are in stories?”

This lead me to the answer that antagonists (someone your protagonist struggles against) are very important–or at least conflicts are. Without conflicts, there generally isn’t much of a plot. There has to be something that your character wants and something stopping them from getting that want, or what would your plot really be? That doesn’t, however, mean there has to be a “villain”. You see, thinking about who the villain in The Copper Witch (the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters) would most likely also be our protagonist. That’s a bit what being an antihero seems to be–the name for a protagonist who would likely be the villain were situations different.

And that is why “villain” and “antagonist” can’t really be synonymous. Often time villains double as the antagonists of stories, but they don’t always. Even in stories with more traditional “heroes” (i.e. no antiheroes) there doesn’t always have to be a “villain” there simply has to be something that causes a struggle/obstacle. Not necessarily someone evil (e.g. if your story is about a student who wants to get the lead in a school play, the antagonist could be another student also up for the role…even if the other student is perfectly nice).

So, The Copper Witch doesn’t really have a villain, but it does have things for the protagonist to struggle against. And so, antagonist is truly the word to use for what is important in stories. Not villain.

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The Copper Witch, now available electronically on:
Amazon         Smashwords         Barnes and Noble         All Romance

Print available soon

Valentine’s Day Interview

Happy Valentine’s Day one and all. Today I’m celebrating with an author interview over on The Page Walker (do I know romance or what?) Check it out here.

Interview:

Hello, Jessica, and welcome to The Page Walker!

First, tell us something about yourself.
The Page Walker: Most writers are readers too.  Which writers inspire you?

Jessica Dall: Between writing my own things and editing as a freelancer, I actually have very little time for outside reading, sadly (the irony of reading all the time and not at the same time). I have really enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s books, though, and I did recently go back and reread Liz Berry’s The China Garden simply because it was my favorite book back when I was fifteen. Honestly, I’m inspired by everything and anything, so just about anything I read becomes inspiration to me. Perhaps I’m lucky that way.

TPW: Is there a special spot when you’re writing?

JD: I tend to be one of those lucky writers who are able to write anywhere. I always have a notebook with me and have a MacBook Air which is small enough to carry around in my purse if I like, so whenever I have a moment, I’m generally writing. I just have to be careful that… Read More

The Copper Witch: Cover Reveal

With March quickly approaching, my new novel, The Copper Witch, will soon hit the shelves. For now, a sneak peek of the new cover:

Adela Tilden has always been more ambitious than her station in life might allow. A minor nobleman’s daughter on a failing barony, Adela’s prospects seem dire outside of marrying well-off. When Adela catches the eye of the crown prince, Edward, however, well-off doesn’t seem to be a problem. Thrown into a world of politics and intrigue, Adela might have found all the excitement she ever wanted—if she can manage to leave her past behind.

Book One of the Broken Line Series, available March 13th, 2014.

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Historical, Alternative History

Release Date: March 13, 2014

Digital ISBN 10: 1631120093 ISBN-13:978-1-63112-009-1

Print ISBN 10:1631120107 ISBN-13:978-1-63112-010-7

Find more at 5 Prince Publishing.

It’s been done

Because I haven’t learned my lesson about having to many things on the fire at once, joining my third novel The Copper Witch coming out next year is my fourth, Between the Lines, with REUTS Publications.

Written for the most part in 2009, I remember rather jealously guarding the idea for this novel, which seemed entirely unique at the time. While the world, I still think, is unique–mostly because it’s one I created, and no one shares my exact thoughts (yet)–having more experience with writing, publishing, and books altogether, I have now learned that ideas are relatively cheap. Some are more unique than others, but the idea is not what makes a story. 

And that leads me to today’s post. The question I saw while browsing in the NaNoWriMo forums:

How do you get over the fact that everything’s been done before?” 

As I said above, ideas are cheap. There are a million different ideas out there floating around at given moment and another couple million people ready to write them. Perhaps there’s a brilliant idea out there that the rest of humanity has someone missed, but as of today, I fully believe that if you haven’t found anything out in the world that shares the slightest similarity to your new idea, you probably haven’t yet looked enough.

And so, how do you get over the fact that everything has already been done?

Know that your writing and your characters are what are going to make or break the idea. 

Yes, it is important to have an interesting idea in that you have to be interested in it enough to write it. If you don’t find your story intriguing enough to write, you are never going to actually sit down and get anywhere with it. The fact is, though, even if two writers were fed the same idea, even if they were told to write the same basic plots, their books would not be identical. The characters would be different in how they thought, acted, how they related to one another. All the little things that make a story interesting would reflect the author writing it, not end up as an exact carbon copy.

So write what you like. Write what interests you. Write something brilliant or stupid or derivative. It is who you are as a writer that will make your story unique. If you hold on to that, the fact that everything has already been done but trust in your writing, you’ll always be in good shape.

Novel Layout Tips

News Alert: I am happy to announce that my third novel, The Copper Witch, has officially signed with 5 Prince Publishing for release this coming spring. Updates will continue as release draws closer. So for now, a post about publishing:

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I will be the first to admit that I am not generally a layout person. I do have some experience with it, and now have software that would let me do it pretty simply, but I’m generally an editor, not a designer.

Now, we all have our specialties, it’s to be expected. Being a good editor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good writer, and being a good writer definitely doesn’t mean that you’re good at graphic design. As more and more people go the self-publishing route, however, it’s falling on authors to do their own formatting (at least if they aren’t going to pay for someone else to do it, which is sometimes advisable). As an editor, a lot of my work comes from people planning to self publish. I’m sure there are likewise freelance designers out there to hire to get a book up to professional quality without the help of a publisher and their in-house designers. If you’ve decided to strike out on your own, please keep a few things in mind that even I, with my limited layout experience find annoying in self-published novels (my reviewer self will thank you).

1. Indents and margins. Luckily for self layer-outers, the combination of publishing platform uploaders and many word processing programs saving to PDF make it simpler than ever to turn a manuscript written in Microsoft Word (or the like) into book format. It’s important to realize, though, that traditional manuscript format (8.5″x11″ pages, double spaced, 1″ margins, 0.5″ indents, 12 point Times New Roman font) does not magically become book format just by changing the page size. Most people realize without being told that books aren’t often double spaced, but what people seem to often miss is that indents and margins that seem normal on a 8.5″x11″ page suddenly are giant when something’s 6″x9″. One of the simplest ways of pointing out a book is self-published (or published by people who aren’t used to doing layout) is by looking at the formatting. Indents of 0.5″ rather than 0.3″ make it seem like someone shrunk Word pages rather than formatted a book. Likewise, margins should be made smaller on a 6″x9″ page. Just think about it. 1″ margins on each side of an 8.5″x11″ paper leaves you with 6.5″ of writing space across. On a 6″x9″ page, that’s only 4″. Everything should shrink in proportion.

2. Chapters start on new pages. When writing in manuscript format, it doesn’t always matter if you do a page break or not at the start of a new chapter. In book format, however, each chapter should be on its own page. This can be done simply by just inserting a page break in the document you are using, or you can be a little fancier and have a chapter start slightly down the page from normal. If doing the second, make sure that you use the ruler function on the side of a Word document so all the chapter headings line up on the same part of the page.

3. Scene breaks. When typing in manuscript format, you generally are expected to use some set of markings between scenes (most commonly it is either *** or #). These marks (especially the hash mark) arose as a way to tell typesetters there should be an empty line there as a scene break. While most books just use a “hard break” (an empty line before the next paragraph) for a scene break, using a hard break in a manuscript would make it possible for a typesetter to miss a scene break should it be pushed to the bottom or top of the page. When laying out your own book, however, this shouldn’t be an issue. Get rid of these “scene break” marks for a more professional look.

4. Font choice. Some typesetters have a strong dislike of Times New Roman (feel it looks amateurish) but for someone who isn’t a designers, I truly have no problem with it. The larger point is to use a “professional” font that is serif. After that, Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond–I at least couldn’t tell you the difference.

5. Text alignment. While typing in manuscript format, left text-alignment  is generally the best so you don’t have any strange gaps between words while writing. When laying out as a book, however, justified is the gold standard. If you look in most published books, text is justified to give it a more formal, professional look. Doing so with your own book will lend your layout more credibility.

There are a million other little things that a professional typesetter would be able to tell you about layout that I’m sure I’m missing, but if you take care of these five things, I likely wouldn’t notice it–which at least gives your book a leg up when it comes to first impressions.

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Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

You can’t write that!

News Alert: The Bleeding Crowd is coming out August 27th, for those interested, from Melange Books. In the mean time, you can find my short story, In a Handbasket, available for free here through Boxfire Press. Please enjoy!

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A common theme I have been seeing on my favorite haunt, the NaNoWriMo forums, lately, are questions about what you are and are not allowed to write. The first time I saw this question, I was a little surprised, but now that I’ve seen it more than once, I figured I would take the chance to cover it here.

While the NaNoWriMo site came down for repairs before I could find the original thread (literally asking what you are and are not allowed to write), but today’s post which sparked this post includes this line:

But since a character in my novel is a rapist (and yes, this is essential to the plot and the ending) there are some rape scenes…I heard that you can’t actually show the act happening (I think that’s a bit weird, considering how other acts of violence are considered totally fine) but whatever, it’s not that important.”

Ok, rape is a touchy subject, I don’t think anyone is going to argue it isn’t (especially not after all of the news stories out in the past couple of days). There are many, many people who have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lives (men and women) and there are several more who don’t care to read about things such as rape in their novels/short stories/etc. But does that mean you can’t write about it.

Honestly, my first reaction when reading that post was, “Where did you hear that you can’t write/show a rape happening in your story?” Part of me just really wanted to know if it was a passing comment the poster had picked up and internalized, or if someone in a creative writing class was teaching there are certain things that you can and can’t write about. Because honestly, when it comes to creative writing, there is very little you can’t write about.

This advice might be a little different in countries that are known to censor writing (there are a few out there where less-than-complementary writing about the government can end up with the writer in prison, I believe) but at least in the United States (and any other country with no state-sponsored censorship), the list of what you can’t write is pretty short:

1. You can’t plagiarise. That is, if someone has written something before you, you can’t take it word-for-word and call it your own. At least not without getting sued (same goes for things under copyright you haven’t gotten permission to use, even with proper credit given).

2. Libel. You can’t present something detrimental to someone’s character/life as true that is not. (This is more relevant in journalistic writing, but basically don’t write that your neighbor likes to kill people in his spare time and act like it’s true when it’s not [if it is true, you can write it, but please, call the police first]).

3. Child Pornography (if you’re in Australia or Canada). Both countries have laws banning cartoon, manga, or written child pornography. Outside of those countries, it isn’t illegal (though it is still rather icky, just saying).

And, well, that’s about it. There are a couple more things that aren’t protected under freedom of speech/the press that the Supreme Court has ruled on, but if you’re writing fiction, it more than likely doesn’t apply to you.

The long and the short of it is, there is no morality police who is going to swoop down on you for writing something that could be offensive. We don’t live in a police state. There is no Hays Code that prohibits, rape, drug use, swearing, graphic sex, blasphemy, or any other topic from being put into print. If you are ok writing it, you’re more than allowed to put it down on paper.

This does not mean, however, that people are required to give you a platform to distribute it. While you are allowed to write about something many people might find offensive/disgusting/reprehensible, publishers/distributors are more than allowed to not publish/distribute it on their site.

For example, for romance/erotica publishers, you will often find notices such as this on their submission page: “We  do not accept: scatological stories, incest/twincest, sexual content  involving anyone under the age of eighteen, snuff, rape or bestiality.

You are more that allowed to write something incestual, you may even be incredible popular with it in your story (I’m looking at you George R. R. Martin), but that doesn’t mean you can demand that someone publish your book just because you wrote it.

Far too often, I come across someone who has had a post removed from a forum online, and they start railing about how the site is violating their First Amendment rights. I’ve said it once I’ll say it again, A private company/person/other private entity cannot infringe on any of your constitutional rights. The Bill of Rights protects you from the government. The government isn’t allowed to take down your blog. Someone hosting it for you, however, can. It’s their site, they can choose what they’d like to put out there. (Note that I don’t just say publishers, but distributors. Many right remember some controversy over Amazon.com pulling books and banning authors from selling on their site. If you violate their content guidelines, even as a self-published author, they have the right to remove you. You can read more about that here.)

So, can you write about touchy subjects? Sure. Should you? That’s a little trickier. Like everything with writing, it’s about trade offs. Think about what your goals are. Do you want to market to a wide audience/be able to pitch it to every publisher in your genre? Maybe you should second guess how detailed you’re going to be about that scene. You know the one I’m talking about. Are you writing a gritty, adult novel that will most likely find a home in a niche market? Have at it. If you’re willing to write it, no one is going to stop you.

And so, write what your story needs. Most likely the only thing limiting your writing is you.

Submissions 101

As annoying as it can be to wait the weeks (if not months) it takes to hear back from publishers, one unforeseen bonus of it is the fact that you can still get good news even months after you take a break from submitting. While in the midst of house closings and packing and half a million other things it feels like I’m busy doing right now, I got the good type of letter from a publisher about a short story I submitted back in January. I’m now waiting on a contract and a check for the story to be in an anthology this fall. As always, I’m very happy (always nice to make money off your writing!) but it got me thinking that I’d take a short break from packing to answer some questions about querying that bright new shiny (thoroughly edited) novel/short story of yours.  I’ll start with some general questions, then go to a step-by-step.

Q. I was told you need a literary agent to get published. Aren’t you going to submit to them?

A. It depends what you want to do. Literary agents (good literary agents) can be worth their weight in gold. They will help you with the business side of things and are all but your only shot of having your book published by one of “the big six” For many indie presses, however, you certainly don’t need one, and when submitting short stories I’d personally think of one as overkill.

Q. All of these publishers/agents want a bio with previous writing/relevant experience. This is my first time writing. Am I sunk?

A. It’s like the old job hunting problem, they only want to hire people with experience, but you can’t get experience until you have a job. I think the vast majority of us have been there, and truly it’s annoying as  [expletive deleted]. After all, how are you supposed to get work experience if no one will hire you without it? When people start wanting to see a resume for your writing, it feels like the same thing (I have to have published something to get published…) The good news is, as a writer, all that truly matters is how good your work is. People like seeing a list of credits because it means you (most likely) aren’t a bad writer. Someone else has vouched for you. If your writing is amazing, however, not having a page long list of credits isn’t going to hurt you. A good book is a good book, no matter who’s writing it.

Q. Is there a way I can be sure I’ll be published?

A. Sure, self-publish–or pay a vanity press thousands to publish your book for you. Otherwise, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, getting published is some combination of talent, perseverance, and luck. Yep, luck.  You have to write a book that someone else thinks is good (which is entirely subjective) while they are looking for new projects (a publisher may generally like your story, but their catalogue is full right now, so not worth sitting on it…) Really, it’s about writing something interesting, and trying until the stars align for traditional publishing. If you aren’t going the self-publishing/vanity publishing route and someone is promising to get you published, be wary. They’re probably selling something…or, you know, scamming.

***Submissions Step-by-Step***

Before you submit:

1. EDIT. First drafts generally have some big problems in them. You fix these during the editing stage. Even if your book is perfect from the get-go (was dictated by some higher power or what not) still go over it. Nothing is quite so off-putting as seeing a dozen typos per page when going through submissions. Either it means you aren’t a very good writer (in which case, why keep reading) or you don’t care enough to actually fix your story up a little (in which case, we generally won’t want to work with you since we will be editing). Put your best foot forward, which means editing until it’s as perfect as you can make it.

2. Consider your goals. What are you looking for in publishing this work? Is it a short story you wrote to just try to get some writing credits? In that case, you still want a reputable publisher, but you don’t have to limit yourself to the top name publishers with giant paychecks. A nice college review would be a great place to look. Do you want your novel published by one of the big six and seen on every bookshelf? You’re probably best off trying for an agent. Do you just want your novel published professionally and to see some royalties? Indie presses might not be a bad idea. It’s all about what you want from your work. There’s no right or wrong answer, just different goals.

3. Do your research. Sadly, with as many want-to-be authors out there writing for the first time, dying to see their books published, there are some disreputable “publishers” out there (I complied a list of some of them at the bottom of this post about publishing contracts earlier. Sadly there are many more). Before submitting somewhere that isn’t well known (not a big name or, perhaps, a university press) try looking at Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write Water Cooler, or even just google [Press you’re interested in] scam, and you should get any complaints that might be. For example, here is a google search for a publisher that is becoming known as a back-door vanity press (using “Press Name Scam” as the search criteria). Note the multiple threads about contract problems, scams, other things you don’t want to see surrounding a press to which you’re submitting. On the other hand, here is a search for a very small, but generally good reputation indie press (again, using “Press Name Scam”). No complaints come up, and better it shows some of their catalogue popping up at Barnes and Noble. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re completely legit, but it’s a very good sign in that direction.

4. Put together a list of agents/presses you are interested in. Once you figure out your goals and know these presses aren’t scams, decided whom you are going to query. Also check if they allow simultaneous submissions (submitting to more than one agent/publisher at the same time). It’s good to stay organized so you don’t get into problems later on (including submitting twice, or even three times, to the same publisher…I’ve sadly seen it happen as a slush pile reader).

What you will need to submit:

Submission guidelines vary from agent to agent (and publisher to publisher) so always be sure to read guidelines on a site before submitting, but in general, you will need:

– A complete, fully edited manuscript. Non-fiction authors may find that they can get a publishing contract with just a book proposal, but I have yet to find an agent or publisher who is willing to take fiction (from non-established authors) without the author having the manuscript completely finished. For Short Stories, you probably will be submitting the full manuscript from the start. For novels, you will generally be submitting the first 3 (or so) chapters with the initial submission. This does not, however, mean you should only have 3 chapters edited. It may say on their website you won’t hear back from an initial query for 4-6 weeks, but always be ready to send a full manuscript the next day, just in case.

– A query letter, basically, your book’s cover letter. It will generally include a “hook”, a short blurb about your book, and a bio/why you are the person to write the book (it’s ok to skimp on the bio if you don’t have any other writing credits. It’s worse to try to fill it in with unhelpful information than leave it blank altogether).

– A synopsis. The full story, from beginning to end. You generally won’t need this for short stories (they have the full story, after all) but since you tend to only send in a bit of your novel as a sample, this lets the acquisitions editor know if they’re interested in how the story turns out. Do NOT try to leave it with a cliff hanger (“leave them wanting more”) outline in about one single-spaced page how your characters go from point A to point B and finally end up at pont C.

– Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). This only comes in to play if you’re mailing in your submission rather than emailing it (some publishers insist one form or the other, but more and more are turning to email-only submissions, in my experience). Still, you may see requests for a SASE on submission guidelines. This is so that the agent/publisher is able to mail you a response simply by sticking it in the envelope you sent and mailing it back to you.

– Anything else the press/agent asks for in their submission guidelines. The above three things will cover most places, but some want you to have written a cover blurb (what would be on the back of your book while it’s sitting on the shelf) a separate author bio (generally what would likewise be on your book [Jessica Dall is the author of… etc.]) a break down of whom you are targeting with this book (children, stay-at-home moms, murder-mystery enthusiasts, etc.) or other things of those nature. Don’t give out sensitive information (bank account info, Social Security Numbers, anything that feels scammy) but be ready for extra requests from some agents/presses.

Putting together your submission:

1. Read the full submission guidelines of the agent/publisher you are querying. Make sure they are currently accepting submissions (some agents/publishers have closed and open submission periods. Make sure you’re only sending your query while they’re reading them or the submission may possibly be deleted without being read), and make sure you have exactly what they want (Query, Synopsis, First Three Chapters? Just Query? Query and Full Manuscript? Query, Synopsis, First Two Chapters, Marketing Plan, Author Bio, Back-Cover Blurb?)

2. Put together your submission. If you are mailing it in, put everything requested in a manila envelope to mail. If emailing (and there are no guidelines as to attachments) it is generally best to have your query letter in the body of the email, and then attach the synopsis and first three chapters in an easy-to-open file format (generally .doc/.docx or .rtf work best). If there are no guidelines as to titling the files, it is generally best to structure them with all the important information up front, for example: LastName.PartofSubmission.Title (e.g. Dall.Synopsis.TheBleedingCrowd). Again, be sure to check guidelines about attachments and file names, some agents/publishers are highly specific.

3. Proofread  your query letter a final time. It’s just as bad (if not worse) to have typos in your query letter. You want to come off as a good writer at all stages of your submission.

4. Mail/Send your submission to the agent/publisher’s prefered mailing/email address.

What Happens Next?

1. Wait. It’s possible for Agents and Publishers to get hundreds of submissions daily. It’s possible you’ll hear back the next day, or even the same day, if you just happen to send something in while they’re reading submissions, but it’s just as likely you won’t hear back for weeks (or months). Don’t try to read meaning into it, it’s just how long it can take to work through a backlog of submissions.

2. Hear back (maybe…) As much as rejections aren’t fun, it’s better than one alternative–not hearing back at all. While some agents/publishers are really good about getting back to everyone who submits to them, some you won’t hear back from unless they’re interested in seeing more/publishing you.

If you receive a rejection letter:

1. Brush it off. Yeah, rejection always sucks, but it’s part of being an author. Perhaps they’ll let you know why they weren’t interested, more than likely it will just be a form “due to the high number of submissions we receive, we must be highly selective… blah blah blah. We don’t feel this project is right for us at this time.” It’s possible you were rejected because your novel reads like something a second grader would do, but it’s far more likely they don’t feel the genre’s really right for them, they think it could use a little more editing, or simply their catalogue is full and they aren’t looking for anything more for the time being.

2. Move on to the next batch of submissions. If you’re querying one at a time (by choice, or if you are submitting to people who don’t accept simultaneous submissions), go to the next name on your list and prepare your submission following their guidelines. If you’re querying in groups, pick the next few submissions you’re going to send off and send those.

3. Repeat until you get something other than a rejection.

If you don’t hear back:

Like I said, it can take forever to hear back from some agents/publishers for a number of reason (I submitted the story that was just accepted in February I think…) but at some point it can be fair to assume you aren’t going to hear back. There are no hard and fast rules as to when to give up, but:

1. If the publisher has time estimates (you should hear back in 4-6 weeks, three months, etc.) feel free to follow up at the end of that estimate. For example, if it says 4-6 weeks for the initial query, and it’s been six weeks, feel free to write a quick “I emailed this query six weeks ago, I just wanted to make sure you had it” email. Hopefully they’re still working on it. If you still don’t hear anything in the next week or so, start feeling free to move on.

2. If there’s no time estimate as to when you’ll hear back, give the acquisitions editor 6-8 weeks, roughly, before writing them off. You may still hear from a long-lost submission much later on, but if 8 weeks have passed and you still have no answer, personally I find it safe to assume you won’t be hearing from that agent/publisher. And, again in my personal experience, I don’t find even people who don’t allow simultaneous submissions getting upset if they email back months later to find you’ve submitted elsewhere. There may be some, but if they don’t state you will hear back from them, after a few months it’s generally accepted that you aren’t supposed to sit around waiting to hear forever, especially those who know you won’t be submitting elsewhere while waiting for them. (For example, someone accepted a story of mine six months after I submitted to them once, which caused me to have to pull it from another “no simultaneous submissions” publisher. They were very understanding, as it had been long enough that I shouldn’t have reasonably expected a reply from the first press).

3. Submit to the next batch of agents/publishers. Once again, you keep going until you get something other than a rejection or no response.

You get a “we’d like to see more” letter:

1. First, be happy. Speaking from experience, approximately 95 percent of stories/novels (sent to reputable publishers) don’t even get this far in the submissions process. It means that you have a story interesting enough that someone wants to read it, and your writing is actually pretty good (in their opinion). You aren’t getting published yet, but it’s definitely something to be proud about.

2. Follow the guidelines sent to you in the letter or email to submit additional materials. Generally this is going to be the rest of your novel (if you only submitted a sample) but they may ask for other things as well. Make sure to follow their guidelines exactly (what file format, where to send it, what to include) and send off anything else they want as quickly as possible (if you keep them waiting around for a month after they request a full manuscript, you may have lost your chance. It’s possible they’ve signed someone else and their catalogue/client list is now full).

3. Wait. Yes, more waiting. And for possibly longer this time. It takes more time reading and judging a full novel than it does a submission for the most part. You also should not be sending out more queries/submissions at this point. It is good manners to wait to hear back from someone reading your full novel rather than keep submitting to others. If you don’t hear back for a while, feel free to follow up. As “fulls” (full manuscripts) are requested from fewer authors, it’s general practice that youwill hear one way or the other about the agent/publisher’s decision.

You get a “We liked the submission, but we aren’t actually going to publish you after reading the full” letter.

1. Be bummed, but brush it off. It happens. You’re trying to make it from the 5 percent who get fulls requested to the 1 percent that gets published, some times you are in the 4 percent who don’t end up with a publishing contract at the end of it, sadly. It’s a let down, but think of it positively. Someone liked you enough to put you in the top 5 percent. Hopefully you’ll find someone else who likes it just that little bit extra. All signs are pointing positive.

2. Go back and start submitting to the new batch of agents/publishers. If you run out of your first list, do some more research and look for more reputable agents/publishers to submit to.

You get a “We want to publish you” letter:

This can come either right after the initial submission (generally will for short stories, or can possibly happen if you send in your full manuscript to start with), or it can come after submitting a full manuscript. Either way, it is certainly the best type of letter.

1. Be happy. Jump up and down if you’re the type. Smile. Pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it to the 1 percent (and not the 1 percent that will have Occupy Wall Street after you). It’s a big accomplishment. HOWEVER, don’t write back/call everyone you know until you’ve calmed down.

2. Ask to review the contract. This is why you want to calm down some before responding/telling everyone. Publishing is a business. You need to protect your interests. Perhaps where you submitted didn’t come up with any scam reports, but there’s something fishy when you look at the contract. Read it fully, ask questions, and if you can’t work it out, walk away. Yes, it’s painful after all the submitting and work you’ve done to get this far, but it’s a bad idea to sign the first thing people put in front of you just because you want to be published. Make sure you maintain the rights of your work, that you aren’t paying for anything (you don’t pay agents or publishers, they get paid when they sell your book), and the contract terms are favorable. If it’s your first time looking at a publishing/agent contract, perhaps try to talk someone who might know what to look for. Publishing contracts, like any contract, are legally binding. You don’t want to hurt yourself before you even get your book out.

3. Negotiate. Even if you aren’t planning on walking away from the contract, you can always feel free to try to negotiate. Agents/Publishers do tend to have the upper hand (if they don’t publish you, there are another hundred people happy to take  your place) so don’t be demanding/outrageous (I demand a 1 million book initial run with 75 percent royalties!) but you certainly don’t have to be a pushover. Really, if you’re being reasonable, the worst they can say is no. For my two books coming out this summer, one I negotiated slightly higher royalties, the other I negotiated having a print run at the same time as the ebook run, rather than ebook and then print later on. If the publisher/agent likes your book enough to want to print it/represent it, they’ll probably be willing to work with you a little on contract terms. If they aren’t just decide if it’s something you can live with, or if it’s worth trying to find someone else.

4. Sign the contract. Once you have a contract with any changes you’ve agreed upon, sign it and send it off to the agent/publisher. Some groups will accept electronic signatures/scanned signatures. Some want a hard copy/ink signature. The bigger the project, the more likely you’re going to be sending a signed contract in the mail. In that case, the publisher/agent should then likewise sign the contract and send a copy back to you.

5. Celebrate. Now comes the time when you call all your friends and family, taunt those who belittled your writing, whatever you plan on doing to celebrate. You’ll have edits, and covers, and who knows what else in the next few months in preparation of your book launch, but for now, enjoy it. It’s an accomplishment.

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