Thursday, June 25, 2009


While I like having many irons in the fire, sometimes it's nice to get closure. Whatever we've applied for, whether it's a job or graduate school or health insurance, knowing 'yes' or 'no' allows you to take next steps.

I'm not, however, talking about the closure that comes as a form e-rejection less than an hour after querying an agent. I can't help but think it's just an auto-responder, not from a person who actually read my materials.

When I audition, the only way I know I didn't get the part is if the shoot date passes without word. Few and far between are actual rejections, or "Thanks, but no thanks," e-mails/calls, which would be particularly helpful if the job is out of town. Because not only are you holding open the shoot date, you'll probably need to be available the night before and the morning after to get there and back.

And even rarer is finding out if they at least liked your audition. If I knew I was in the top three, I'd know I was in the ballpark and feel better about not getting the gig. Even learning I was in the bottom three would be informative, because I'd know I'd need to work harder/get help with auditioning with that type of copy, etc.

Sometimes I fear my online queries and auditions vanish into the ether of the Internet. But then, poof, I'll get an email saying I booked a job. On the other hand, the last one I got said the final script would arrive late June. Is it late June yet?

With manuscript submissions, it could take months or years to hear. In May I followed up with an agent who had requested a full manuscript a year ago and asked if she was still interested. She responded that she is, but she's just way behind. Six more weeks have passed without word.

Waiting is stressful because we can't really do much to move the process along. So we're encouraged to let our impatience go, to roll off like water on a duck's back, and move on. Keep writing, keep auditioning, keep sending out that resume. But the hope, the 'what if',' lingers in the back of our minds. Getting "the call" that I'd sold a book or another agent wanted to represent me would mean my years of writing and submitting were paying off. Getting that big on camera job or a new VO client would be great for my career and pocketbook.

So it's hard not to wonder, "Is today the day I'll get great news?" Or at least a little closure.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Editor for a Day! Part 2

Last week I offered suggestions of DOs I gathered from being an editor for a day at a major publisher, here. A couple of lingering thoughts before I move on to the DON'Ts:

7. If you have a Web site that looks professional, enhances your brand and has been updated recently (Hmm. Guess I should go update mine...), include the URL in your correspondence.
a) having a site shows that you understand the importance of self-promotion and building an online presence
b) you never know if the editor will check it out.

8. If you're already published, make sure your query reflects that in the most positive light. The way a couple of already pubbed authors described their experience raised more questions than it answered (I checked with the editor, and she agreed). Consider:
a) mentioning the name of your most successful title
b) including a one sentence review snippet from the best known reviewer you have.
c) though this can be tricky to express concisely, think about letting her know why you are switching houses and/or why you don't have an agent. We agreed we'd request some pages in any case, but having that info up front might have been helpful.

On to the DON'Ts:

1. No pet hair in the pages. Not kidding.
Also, if you smoke, consider printing your submission at a non-smoking facility. I didn't come across any in NY, but I have heard editors/agents say they're sensitive to turning pages and getting a whiff of cigarette smell. I judge a lot of contests, and it's hard for me to concentrate on scented entries.

2. Do not say how much your colleagues at your day job or your friends and family like your story/writing/whatever. Yes, people did this. And yes, it made them look like novices.
On the other hand, if you happen to have a friend who is an NYT best-seller or an author who writes for that house, and she'll give you a quote...that's a different story.

3. Do not say, "this is my first novel." Armed with the knowledge/experience that many first novels don't sell, the editor may think you're not ready. In any case, this isn't info that the editor needs. Save valuable query letter space for factoids that make you look good.

4. Don't address your letter using her first and last names: "Dear Susie Editor." Several people did this. To me this came across as a mail merge form and not a customized letter. Follow the business format and use "Dear Ms. Editor." If you've met her, "Dear Susie" is fine.

5. Don't make your heroine's current boyfriend or husband too, too horrible/evil/unpleasant. When a novel starts with the heroine being married or having a boyfriend, chances are he's going to hit the road in favor of the hero (yeah, he may BE the hero, but I think you know what I mean) or be excised to show the heroine's personal growth. Though most readers have this expectation, you need to maintain tension and make them think the current guy might work out. If he's so awful or their relationship is so bad up front, we might think the heroine is TSTL (too stupid to live) because she's with this complete loser. We might not connect with her and stop reading.

6. This is my favorite DON'T: ABSOLUTELY 100% do not say, "I have a better book I didn't pitch/submit." I couldn't believe when I read that. The editor will think, "Then why am I wasting my time with this one?"
You need to pitch/submit your best work. If it's not ready to send out, why risk ruining your chance to impress her?
Yes, you may be in an appointment where the editor will say something like, "I don't acquire aliens with red hair who have secret cowboy babies," and your red-headed alien secret cowboy baby book is your favorite. But if your other projects aren't ready for prime time, it's better to say, "I'll contact you when I have something you might like."

Hope these tips help the next time you submit...any questions?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Editor for a Day! Part 1

While in New York last week, I had an amazing, eye-opening opportunity: I got to be an editor for a day and read submissions sent to an editor at a major publisher.

She showed me to the spare office housing her submission pile, consisting of unsolicited query letters and manuscript requests she made at conferences (agented submissions were elsewhere). She told me sort them into 3 stacks: YES (she should read them), NO (IMO not ready or not something she'd acquire) and MAYBE (something there but not enough for a YES).

She'd told me she was way behind in responding (as many editors and agents are, because they have so many other things to do), so I'd expected a Rumplestiltskinian mountain of envelopes. I found a fairly large pile, but not overwhelming.

I made my way through nearly 50 submissions, running the gamut from historical to paranormal to YA to women's fiction (almost all of her requests were partials-synopsis and first three chapters, not full manuscripts).

I'll divide my gleanings into two posts: DOs and DON'Ts. While the DOs won't guarantee a sale or even a request for the full, and the DON'Ts won't guarantee a rejection, these are things authors can control or work on in order to present themselves in the best possible light. I hope these suggestions help aspiring authors hone their submission packages.

So here are the DOs:

1. Use the cover letter to your advantage:
  • remind her how you met
  • include a short blurb about your book
  • single space

By the time she opens your submission (some I opened were from 2007), she probably won't remember your conversation based on your name alone. I was surprised by how many letters just said something like, "Here is the submission you requested, thanks for your time." These left me feeling unprepared to read the pages. I wanted to know the usual query letter stuff: genre, word count, a few sentences showing you know your hook and/or goal, motivation and conflict, and a bit about the author's experience.

And don't forget to date your letter!! Submissions may get separated from their envelopes or the postmark can be blurred, and if you don't mention where you met or include the date, she has no way to place your submission. Queries are single spaced, not double.

2. Design some sort of basic, professional letterhead. In today's market, author self-promotion plays a very important role. So show an editor on first contact that you know how to market yourself. Letters where the author's name and address were left justified and in the same type face as the body lacked personality and told me nothing about the author or that she knew her brand. I'm not suggesting anything over the top or busy enough to be and address centered with a different font (not a crazy one!!) in a tasteful color was enough to let me know this author could set herself apart in an interesting way. If you're submitting, you should have a business card. So consider incorporating an element from that.

One letter was a photocopy of the author's stationery...I didn't like that.

3. Use the least amount of packaging possible. Those sealed with too much of that plastic-y packing tape were very frustrating to open. And took too much time. Also, I learned that envelopes are easier, even for fulls. Boxes are cumbersome.

In the pages themselves,

4. Make sure you reveal information in a way the reader can understand and that you tell the reader what she needs to know when she needs to know it. I got the sense that some authors were purposely holding back information I wanted to know, maybe thinking I'd be more curious and interested.
Nope. I was frustrated and annoyed.

5. Maintain the reader's interest/excitement/stakes that you establish with your opening hook. I see this a lot in judging contests, too. The first few paragraphs are great and draw me right in. I can't wait to see what happens or what is said next. Then it's as if the rug is pulled out from under me. All the tension, the pace is lost because either the thing you thought was suspenseful really isn't--like you think the hero is in the midst of a medieval battle or a contemporary crime or being chased by an unseen nemesis, but you find out he's just training/on a simulation. Or you think the heroine has a huge decision to make--and it's only what to wear on a date.

6. Make sure something happens in your opening scenes. I didn't see a lot of backstory overload, which I expected, but I did see long scenes where nothing really happens. The characters just stand or sit around and chat. Yes, one use of dialogue is to reveal character, and no, not every book has the pace of a romantic suspense, but I found myself getting very impatient and wanted to skip ahead when nothing was happening at all to move the story forward.
There's can also be too much play by play, which isn't story action, but just your heroine going through her day step by step by step by step by get the picture.

Next week---the DON'Ts.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

New York, NY Take 2

Recently I discussed the possibility of moving to New York to work as an editor or agent, here. Before taking such a big leap, I wanted to get the scoop on what it's like to be an editor or agent, and get advice on how someone with my background and experience might proceed.

Over the years I've established relationships with some of the editors and agents who have rejected various manuscripts. These publishing professionals have all requested more than one of my tomes, but didn't love them enough to represent or buy, though they've had very nice things to say about my writing/plots/premises/sense of humor, etc. So I was able to set up in person informational interviews with two editors and an agent, and phone meetings with two more agents.

The trip was a wonderful illustration of, "But wait, there's more!" One editor asked if I'd be interested in reading some of her submissions! I got to spend most of a day going through her (rather large, but not as hugh as expected) pile of submissions requested from appointments at writing conferences, and some of her unsolicted query letters. (This publisher does not accept unsolicted submissions, meaning you either have to have an agent or meet an editor somewhere to get a request to send part or all of your book.) And one of the agents had arranged for me to meet with her boss...and take an agent test!

Much more on my interviews and meetings and will follow in future posts.

I traveled with award-winning, teen author Simone Elkeles (kind enough to thank me in all her books for my critiquing assistance), who was meeting with her agent and editor.

Our visit wasn't all work and no play (no pun intended). We enjoyed two amazing Broadway shows: God of Carnage and Billy Elliot. And in the small world vein, the actor who plays Billy's father, Tony Award nominated Gregory Jbara, and I were in Michigan Repertory's production of Of Thee I Sing--29 years ago. After he changed out of his costume, we joined him on the stage.

What a very cool exclamation point on a wonderful trip.