Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Submission Process for Dummies

My manuscript of 'For Always'
When I printed off the first draft of my finished manuscript, I literally almost cried . . . like a proud new parent holding their baby for the first time. As you can see, my first child—ahem—I mean manuscript, was a doozy. At a little over 115,000 words, 'For Always' is a rather lengthy debut novel. Some YA publishers and literary agents won't even accept a submission if it's over 90,000 words. I gasped at this, knowing that there was no way that I would be able to cut anything out, and I didn't. Luckily, Limitless Publishing thought the length was fine and my debut novel is being published as I work to complete book two. Because I was able to get my debut novel published, and rather quickly, I might add, with no formal training or college degree, I thought I would share what I have learned (on my own) with others who, like me, have no clue to what the whole submission process entails.

You have finished writing a book . . . now what?

I am writing this post as a slight follow up to a previous post regarding my journey into Authorhood. It all started with a desire to write and a storyline idea, which ultimately lead to writing 'For Always'. Once I was finished writing my first draft, I reread it, editing as I went along. Once that was finished, I edited it again. I probably edited it three or four times before I was comfortable enough to actually let someone read it and give me their opinion, suggestions, etc. I soon learned that these people who were going to read my manuscript were called beta readers. Yes, you read that right; I didn't know what a beta reader was until after I wrote my first novel. This just goes to show that writing is not all about what kind of, or how many, writing degrees you have; it is about the talent you naturally possess. Some people may go to school for years, taking every writing course they can, and still not be able to write something that people will want to read. So if you are like me and have no formal writing training, don't fret. (Just make sure you don't mention that in your query letters.) I will have to admit, writing courses would have made this journey easier, especially since I'm a Southern Belle (a.k.a hillbilly) and my grammar reflects that. But one thing I've learned as a new, soon-to-be published Author is that there are no grammatical questions that Google can't answer.

Beta Readers

The first thing you will want to do before submitting your work is let your beta readers critique it. Do not limit your readers to friends or family who may tell you that everything you've written is gold just to keep from hurting your feelings or crushing your dreams. You want beta readers that will honestly critique your work, make suggestions, mark copy editing mistakes you may have missed, etc. I only had three, but could've, and should've, had more. I would recommend anywhere from ten to fifteen, because they will all find different issues, plot holes, mistakes, confusing lingo, etc., and this will give you a better feel of things you may need to change or edit. For instance, I mention astral projection in 'For Always', and one of my beta readers didn't know what that was, so it threw them off. letting me know I needed to elaborate on that and explain it better. For new beta readers, make sure you explain what their 'job' is. Give them a list of questions if you think this will help get the info you are looking for. (i.e. Were there any scenes that bored you or went on for too long? Were there any unresolved issues that left holes in the storyline? Would you rate this a must read? Why/why not?) It's tough hearing that your baby isn't perfect, but knowing these flaws will help you reach perfection in your final manuscript.

Query Letter

The dreaded query letter! This and the synopsis (which is a summary of your work that some submissions also require) was harder to write than the actual book. Some agents/publishers want just a query letter with sample chapters, and some want the whole shebang—query letter, synopsis, resume, and sample chapters. Having been a hairstylist most of my life, never submitting anything to anyone, I had to look up exactly what a query letter was. Well, in my opinion, it's just a fancy word for a cover letter, introducing you and what your work is about. I read so many articles stressing that it had to be perfect, attention grabbing, Oscar winning, and was your only hope to ever getting published. Needless to say, I panicked. What could I possibly put in a query letter? I was just a country girl from a small town in East Tennessee who had never published anything; I was pretty sure that winning a poetry contest in the eleventh grade wouldn't impress anyone. So, I decided that if they didn't like me for who I was that I didn't need them and would look elsewhere for representation and publication. That's when I relaxed and wrote my first query letter.
My first paragraph explained why I was submitting to them. If there is another author that they represent that you can compare your writing style to, I'd mention that as well, just so they know that you've done your research and aren't just picking them at random. My current publisher, for instance, mainly publishes romantic paranormal fiction, including YA, which mine is, so naturally I let them know that my book would fit in with their other authors' books. I also pointed out that it did not have your typical vampire or werewolf like so many do now and explained how mine was different and how it had crossover appeal. You may also want to include word count here.
Tip: This is your first impression, so impress. Catch their attention in the first paragraph or they may not even read the second one. Make it personal, customized and addressed to the person at the agency that will be reading your query.
My second & third paragraphs consisted of a brief synopsis of my book and interest intriguing questions, which you can find here. Since the query letter should only be one page, don't go into great detail, mentioning every plot, subplot, and minor detail. Explain the main plot, just enough of it to make them want to read more. That is what your ultimate goal is at this point, after all—to get a request to see the entire manuscript.
My fourth paragraph introduced me, and since I have no formal training, college degree, or awards to mention, I focused on my experience with the paranormal, which lead to me writing this novel.
My fifth paragraph thanked them for their time and let them know that I had a complete manuscript ready per their request. I also listed whatever chapters/pages that were required per their guidelines, which I usually just pasted into the email (many won't even open email with attachments), and I let them know that a second novel was in the works, so they would know it was a series, which has more appeal for some. I also let them know that I was eager to help promote my novel.
You don't have to format yours exactly the same as mine, this is just an outline of how I did mine, which worked for me. I tried to sound professional, yet remained true to who I am.

Submissions

After formatting a generic query letter (which I modified for those I sent it to) and a synopsis, my next question was who to submit them to. For the answer to this, and several other questions I had along the way, I turned to Google. As a new writer, Google became my best friend. (I have listed a few sights below that I used and may be helpful to you at some point.) After finding literary agents who were accepting submissions, and who were interested in my genre (very important!), I followed their guidelines and submitted to them. I then realized that I could submit straight to publishers, too, which I also did. I made a list of agents and publishers who I submitted to, and if you plan on sending several, I would do this, too. You won't believe how confusing it can get. There were several instances where I almost submitted to agents at the same agency, which is usually a no-no. Luckily, I had my list, so I was able to prevent that from happening.
Once I submitted to those who I was interested in, I just sat back and waited. I remember getting my first rejection letter, which I was expecting; I was so excited just to get a response and see what they, the literary agent, would say. Sadly, though, most rejection letters are an informal 'Not right for us' type of response, which didn't help me at all. Why was I not right? I wanted a critique from these professionals, not some generic apology letter. So don't expect too much in regard to learning why you were rejected, and don't take it personally. Not everyone will like our books, just like everyone doesn't like the same type of movie or food. As bad as I hate the thought of getting bad reviews once my book is published, I know I will, and I'm going to try not to take it personally . . . even though they will be insulting my baby. It's personal taste and everybody's is different—not right or wrong, just different.

Contracts

On that fateful day, if you're like me, you will undoubtedly jump up and down with excitement because you just got offered a contract on your book. And then reality will set in, causing a stir of butterflies in your stomach when you realize that you just got offered a contract, not just for a book, but for your baby—the baby that you nurtured and perfected into the beautiful manuscript that it is today. Publishers have the final say on almost everything, from the cover to editing, which bothered me at first. And as with any contract, you should let a lawyer look over it, like I did, just to make sure there's not some legal aspect of it that you may not understand; no contract will ever be perfect, but you want to know what you're signing.
Once I convinced myself that it was okay to let go of some of the control (i.e. parental rights) and trust my publisher and their knowledge and expertise, and accepted the fact that I would now have to birth not one, but two more children (they want at least three in the series), I signed it . . . which was hard to do while dancing with joy. Joint custody isn't always a bad thing.

Where I'm at now on my journey . . .

So far, I feel really blessed to have Limitless Publishing. I couldn't imagine publishing my first novel on my own. Self publishing may be great for some, but at this point in my life, not me. Not only with design, editing, and everything else that goes into it, but with advertising, too. Publishing companies want your book to sell just as much as you do, so most will do what they can to help get your book out there. And my book is also going to be on audio, which would be another entirely new ballgame for me, and on top of everything else, a bit much. Thank you, Limitless Publishing, for taking care of (doing all of the dirty work for) us!
At this point, my editor has my manuscript and I'm waiting to see what revisions have to be made, which I'm slightly nervous about, yet kind of excited about, too. Final manuscript has to be turned into the publisher within the next month, so it's getting close ☺. 
I just sent in my input for the cover designer on how I want my cover to look. The publisher always has the final say, however, I am glad to be able to offer suggestions on what I had in mind for it. I can't wait to get that email revealing the cover to me for the first time . . . I've got butterflies already. I hope I fall in love with it; we shall see.

Useful Websites:

Preditors & Editors - This lists agents & publishers, as well as reviews for them
Agent Query - This site has a lot of info, including query basics, agents, and more
Nicholas Sparks - Who better to get advice from than Mr. Nicholas Sparks?
Jane's Writing Advice Archives - Filled with lots of important info
Literary Agents - A list of updated agents
Association of Authors' Representatives - Agents who accept queries by email
YA Literary Agents (Writers Digest) - A list of new agents who may want to build clientele
Limitless Publishing - This is my publisher, who is occasionally open to submissions for romance/paranormal


This is just my experience, yours may be different.
But I hope that some of the information/links I provide will help someone,
or at least give new authors, like myself, hope that they can get published.