Tag Archives: Author Info

Checking Your Brand…

In my last blog, I discussed the importance of establishing a brand, both for authors and small publishers. It’s also important that you regularly check your brand to see what people are saying about it. The easiest way to do this is by doing a Google search. I regularly perform searches for Divertir Publishing to see what people are saying about us. When I find something good, I’ll sometimes link to it. If I find comments suggesting we need to improve in some area, I try to make improvements. It was a well-written comment a while back suggesting that some of our covers needed to be more modern that caused me to rethink some of our current cover designs.

In a recent Google search, I found a blog by an author that stated we had sent him a form rejection letter twice. He commented that form letters were not really “doing things differently” and then went on to swear while making “suggestions” for improvement (these “suggestions” were not PG – thus the reason for not providing a link for the blog). First, I would like to apologize to the author – a mistake was made and I promise we will be more diligent about not sending these types of emails twice in the future. Second, I actually agree with him that form letters are not really “doing things differently.” Authors who have followed Divertir Publishing since our start know that we used to send a personalized email to every author. Three things happened to change this:

  • The growing slush pile. Last year we processed well over 1,000 queries. As much as I like the idea of replying to each query individually, the truth is this is no longer practical if we are going to continue to accept queries from authors.
  • Reality. Our current rejection letter says our reason for not pursuing a manuscript is that we are “not the right publisher.” This is an accurate statement, and to say anything else would be pretentious. I no more know what the next blockbuster will be than the people publishing books by reality TV stars and the dogs of celebrities. What I do know is what I like, and that’s what we publish. In instances where a manuscript seems like a good idea but is just not my cup of tea, I’m not sure how appropriate it is for me to say much more than that.
  • “Fan” emails. People who have read my blog for a while know that is my polite way of describing the nasty emails we get from authors calling us everything from “hacks running a vanity press” to “tools of the publishing elite, who lack the vision to see real genius” when we reject a manuscript (those are in quotes because we really did get those two emails). This is a case where a few bad apples have spoiled the bunch – because of emails like this, I no longer provide advice to authors (whether it is on changes they could make so their query letter stands out or things they should think about for their manuscript) unless they request it.

So what does this have to do with an author’s brand? I think I’ll break my rule here and give a general piece of advice that I hope is useful. When an agent or publisher is considering sending you a contract, often they will take the time to find out as much as they can about you, including looking at your Facebook page and reading your blog. An unprofessional rant (that includes swearing) about a simple mistake is just as likely to demonstrate to those agents and publishers that your brand is not something they want to consider as it is to demonstrate that your brand is worth the investment…

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Postage Due…

This week, I could continue to rant about the nasty emails we sometimes get in response to rejection letters, like the one yesterday that suggested the author should put a part of his anatomy up a part of mine because I failed to see his genius (I wish I was making this up). Instead I want to rant about something else: the Post Office. Our submissions guidelines state that we only accept electronic submissions, but a few times a week we receive queries to the P.O. Box. Because I understand that authors do not always get our contact information from our website, I do try to answer queries we receive via the mail. That is, unless they come postage due…

Truth be told, I suspect this is usually not an author’s fault. The woman at our post office weighs every package that comes in, even the ones where the postage has been printed by another branch. If the package is even slightly overweight, I get a yellow slip telling me I can rescue the package for a small fee. I once asked, given the postage had been printed by another branch (and thus the package must have been weighed), whether the package was really overweight. I watched the package as the woman dropped it on the scale from eight inches in the air. It bounced twice before settling on the scale, which promptly displayed the package was two-tenths of an ounce overweight. Busted…

It has gotten to the point that I receive so much mail postage due to the P.O. Box that I have taken to having it returned to the sender. I’m hoping that enough people will complain that there was, in fact, enough postage on the envelope that eventually the Post Master will do something about it.

This is one of the reasons we recommend electronic submissions. Think for a moment what needs to happen if a query is sent using the US Mail. First, you need to make sure there is enough postage on the envelope so that it won’t come postage due. Let’s say that, for an average query, the cost is around $3.00 for postage (I’ve had some full manuscripts come with as much as $8.00 of postage on them). I often send queries to anywhere between 2-5 people for review. Thus, I need to have 2-5 copies of the query photocopied and then incur the additional $3.00 per package to send them out for review. Thus, just for me to review your query is going to cost all parties concerned $10-$20. I suppose I could scan the query and create a PDF to mail out for review, but that takes time which could be spent on other things.

I often get asked what authors can do to stand out during the query process. This is unfortunately one place where authors stand out in the wrong way. When I receive a query that requires a large amount of handling to send it out for review, the truth is that I’m much more critical of that query because of the cost both in time and money. When I receive a query that is a scanned PDF of a typewritten manuscript, the first thought that goes through my head is “transcription costs.” The best way to make a good first impression is to follow our submissions guidelines and send your query electronically as an RTF file. If nothing else, you’ll be assured it won’t be returned postage due…

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A Public Service Announcement…

The story you are about to read is true. Some names have been changed to protect the less-than-innocent…

In May, 2011, Victoria Strauss at Writer’s Beware wrote an excellent blog about how a certain “traditional publisher” had started a fee-charging literary agency. I’ve recently started to receive queries from this agency (along with other fee-charging agencies), and I thought it was important to write this blog and share my views on the quality of the queries from the fee-charging agencies that contact us.

In the case of the publisher-turned-agency, we received a query that contained a list of 22 manuscripts (none in genres we publish) that included nothing more than the title, author’s name, and a links to the product pages for each book. I sent a reply noting how unprofessional the query was and suggesting that no publisher would take the time to click through a list of 22 links to find out what each book in a query letter was about. The next query we received from the agency included 5 manuscripts with a 1-2 sentence description of each title (taken directly from the product page) in addition to the product page link.

That’s right. For the $199 fee you’re being charged, the links to your manuscript’s product page and the pages for 5 to 20 of its “closest book friends” are being sent like spam to publishers, with inadequate descriptions of the titles and no discussion of the merits of the individual works or why they would be a good fit for the publisher. The publisher-turned-agency couldn’t even be bothered to send separate query letters for each manuscript.

In general I’ve noticed three common trends for queries from fee-charging agencies. First, it is usually apparent that the agent has not taken the time to learn much about Divertir Publishing and what we publish. Second, not one of the queries has followed our submissions guidelines – which is an automatic rejection. Finally, the query letters are much like the one from the agency above, with no discussion of the merit of the manuscript or why I should even be interested in reviewing it.

The simple truth is that most fee-charging agencies make their money off the authors they represent, selling everything from representation to critiques to editing services; selling the rights to your book is often an afterthought. If you decide to consider this type of agency (which I do not recommend), ask the agent a simple question before sending your first payment: Where has the agency placed works for the authors they represented in the past? If the only answer they can give is that they have placed manuscripts with a “sister company” of the agency, you might be better off investing your money elsewhere. Because the real question you need to ask as a writer is simple – is a query letter containing 22 manuscripts with no descriptions really the best representation for your manuscript, and should you be paying for this type of representation.

Caveat Emptor.

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Amazon Never Forgets…

Once your self-published book is successful, you can negotiate with a larger publisher from a position of experience and strength.

The above quote is from a self-publishing web site, and lately this seems to be a common theme for companies selling these types of services: the best way to land a publisher is to self-publish your book to “show publishers how it will do.” It may surprise you to hear this, but I’m a big fan of self-publishing and think that any author with the business know-how to self-publish should. What I’m not a big fan of is blanket statement like the one above that fail to disclose the potential risks of this strategy.

First, as I have blogged previously, only one-in-ten books is successful, meaning it sells over 5,000 copies. The average book only sells 500 copies (Publisher’s Weekly, July 17, 2006). Once you have self-published, a potential publisher will always looks at your sales figures as part of the review process; a publisher is not likely to pick up a book with poor sales regardless of why a book didn’t do well. Second, you can spend a lot of money with a self-publishing services (some charge thousands of dollars) that you may never recover based on these average sales. But, in my opinion, the third reason is the most overlooked reason for why a publisher might not pick up your self-published book:

Elephants never forget, and neither does Amazon…

Even if you remove your self-published book from circulation, there will always be an Amazon listing for that version of the book. The reason is that there is a potential secondary (used book) market for the book, and people using Amazon Advantage can always relist the book to sell a used copy even if you ask Amazon to remove the old listing. You can’t fault Amazon for this; in fact, there will be listings for your book in several places (like Books in Print) in order to service the secondary market. This means that, unless you change the name of the book, everything from the original cover to the reviews will follow your book wherever it goes, even if it goes to a new publisher. When you ask a publisher to reissue your self-published book, in essence you are asking them to carry this potential baggage and to possibly lose sales to the secondary market for the previous version.

So the simple solution is to change the title so that the new version will show up on Amazon as a completely new work, right? No. What this strategy doesn’t take into account is that an author has probably built a fan-base, however small, for their work. How would you feel if an author you followed came out with a “new” book and you were to purchase it only to find out you’ve already read it under a different title? My guess is that this is a good way to lose fans and get a bad reputation.

If your goal is to publish your own work and never to approach a publisher, and if you have a basic understanding of the publishing business, then there is no reason you shouldn’t self-publish. But if your goal is to one day land a publisher, then that should be your strategy and you should avoid self-publishing. The history you create for you book will follow it wherever your book goes, because Amazon never forgets…

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You’ve edited your 50,000 word novel–now what?

First off I would like to say Happy Holidays to the half-dozen people who read my blog. I hope it has been informative, or at least entertaining.

In my last blog I made suggestions for editing your novel once you’ve completed an initial draft. Assuming you’ve completed the editing process, you are now ready to begin submitting your manuscript to publishers and agents. This process can be almost as much work as writing a novel, and in this blog I wanted to give a few tips for navigating the process.

  • Take the time to learn about an agent or publisher before you submit to them. Our website says we do not accept paper submissions, yet we average two queries a week to the PO box. What do you suppose these queries say to us before we’ve even opened them? What they say is that you haven’t taken the time to learn anything about Divertir Publishing and you probably haven’t visited our website. What books has an agent recently represented or a publisher recently published? Does the agent or publisher even accept submissions in your genre? Have there been any complaints about the agent or publisher on sites like Writers Beware? Targeting your queries to the agents or publishers that will most likely be interested in them will greatly increase your chances of getting published. Checking out agents and publishers before submitting will also help you avoid scams.
  • Follow the submissions guidelines. Just as an author sending a query to the PO box tells us something, so does a query from an author who has obviously read the website but not followed the submissions guidelines. Does a query that does not follow the guidelines tell us you will be easy to work with, or does it suggest you think you are a “special snowflake”? Our submission guidelines are set up to allow us to review several queries in a short period of time. If nothing else, failing to follow the guidelines (for example, sending a complete manuscript and stating you feel we really should read the whole thing) tells us you think your time is more valuable than ours. It’s not.
  • Networking is just as important in publishing as it is for a job search. During National Novel Writing Month in November I attended several write-ins and gave my business card to over one hundred aspiring authors. It may surprise you when I say this, but past experience suggests I will receive queries from only a few of them. There could be several reasons for this: perhaps the authors never finish the novels they told me about, or perhaps they have decided a small press is not the right home for their work. But one thing to consider is that most people, including agents and publishers, would prefer to work with people they’ve previously met because it removes an unknown. You should treat getting published in the same way you would treat looking for a job, and this includes asking your social network for assistance. You might be pleasantly surprised by the response. One word of caution, however: harassing busy people is not the same thing as asking for assistance, and you should make sure you’re not doing the former.

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Writer Idol…

The Boston Book Festival was yesterday, and I wanted to wait until after the event to write this weeks blog. Overall it was an interesting event, although most of the sessions were geared towards fans of specific authors. I must admit that, as a publisher, I found the people I met far more interesting than most of the sessions. There was, however, one session that I found fascinating—Writer Idol.

The concept was pretty simple: You anonymously submit the first page (250 words) of your novel to be read aloud. Three agents were on stage as the judges, and they would raise their hands when they heard something in the first page that would make them stop reading the manuscript if it had been submitted as a query. Only one of the twenty-plus first pages made it to the end without getting ‘rejected’, and some of the comments by the panel about people’s writing were less than charitable (to be fair to the panel, people were warned up front to expect brutally honest comments about their writing).

While the event made for great theatre, one thought kept popping into my head: this is not the way most publishers and agencies review queries. First off, if you’ve behaved in a professional manner, your sample chapters came with a well-written query letter that told me whether your manuscript is about hunky blue-eyed minotaurs, the earthquake in Haiti, or the 2012 election. Thus, I already know whether the subject would be of interest to me. Second, if you’ve included a synopsis or chapter outline I already know the plot (or thesis) of your manuscript, which again will assist me in deciding if your manuscript is of interest. In short, I already know a lot about your manuscript, your voice, and you before I have even decided to read the sample chapters.

This is not to say that your first page isn’t critical; the agents did make some very interesting comments about the importance of your working title and first page that I will share in my next blog. My point is that the other information you send with a query is just as important. If this information doesn’t grab an agent or publisher’s attention, they will likely never read the first page of your manuscript, unless it’s on stage at Writer Idol

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Proofreading…

Good Moaning. This week I won’t to continue my discussing of common writing errors us see in submissions. First let me kneecap my past few dogs. Make sure your readers know who you’re pronouns refer to, because if she says to him while talking to her “Butt, the time travel clock has stopped and now I must await the next dick” it’s really necessary for the reader to know who she is talking to. Next, Chekov’s Gun suggests that 1 should not include any unnecessary elements in a story. So you should not mention the pecker shaker unless it’s impotent, in which case you should shake it for all it’s worth. We then talked about why you need to vary your sentences length and not to use too many long very complex sentences, because if you write like that too often your reader might get confused, and then they will have to go back and reread your righting over and over and over again, and they may get lost and not recall what was following the butt because it was following just too close with no brake in the action as it waited for the next dick from the time travel clock. See Ken prattle. Prattle, Ken, prattle. Finally we talked about levels of diatribe.

“You shouldn’t use said too often to say what a character has said when he is saying something, especially if you can identify the speaker in another way,” Ken said smugly.

“Is it better if find other words for said?” the editor pontificated questioningly.

“No,” said Ken knowingly, “it’ll just sound like you broke out a stegosaurus to try and help your writing; right after you mentioned the pecker shaker.”

“I guess I’ll just go back and try to figure out what followed the butt before the dick of the time travel clock,” the editor mused confusingly.

“Oh, and be careless when using adverbs because that’s not really showing, it’s still telling” Ken said approvingly.

I know this may sound dominating, but when submitting yourself please use goof grammar and punctuality. Pooper writing shows you are a professional whom takes your writing serially. Also, manuscripts with a large number of errors are a distraction, just like the dick of a clock…

§ § §

By the way, the above did pass the spelling and grammar checks for Microsoft Word. Also, with the exception of “Good Moaning” (which is from the British comedy Allo, Allo), most of these are mistakes I’ve actually seen in manuscripts. In case you’re curious, the current record for a submission is 147 words in a single sentence.

First impressions are everything. You always want your work to be portrayed in the best light, and a manuscript riddled with errors like the above example doesn’t do that. If a publisher needs to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what an author meant because the manuscript contains too many errors, there is a good possibility the publisher will just reject the manuscript. As I’ve stated before, it’s hard to enjoy a manuscript with so many with errors—unless it’s written that way on purpose.

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