Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 1 of 3)

"I know there are mistakes, but an editor can fix it. That's what editors do, isn't it?" While I was doing a Q & A on a radio station, a caller said those words.

Yes, that is what editors do—after they accept a manuscript. They expect well written, grammatically correct submissions. Their job is to improve a good manuscript and make it into an excellent one. As a professional, I'd be ashamed to send anything to an editor that was less than my best work.

"I want to write good," one woman said at a writers conference. (She should have said well.) "But if I spent all my time learning to spell and write better English, I wouldn't get any good writing done."

"I wouldn't hire a carpenter who didn't know how to use a hammer," I replied. "Good writers know their craft—that's their box of tools. If you don't know sentence structure, learn before you submit."

She shrugged and walked away.

Professional writers take pride in presenting quality manuscripts; 
those who don't care remain amateurs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Overselling Yourself

(This post by literary agent Dan Balow is excerpted from an article that first appeared on The Steve Laube Agency blog. It is used with his permission.)

The desire to be noticed can lead to overselling yourself.

The emphasis on marketing platforms tempts authors to oversell themselves in an attempt to gain more attention. (I define overselling as a series of activities made to make you appear smarter, better, or more qualified and famous than you are in reality.)

And this is partly my fault, along with everyone else in publishing. We demand you spend a lot of time proclaiming, “Look at me” in social media, then we are appalled when someone overstates their credentials and status.

Some things to remember:

You are not a bestselling author if the sum total of your publishing is free downloads. (Note the word is bestselling, not bestgiving.)

You are not an internationally known writer if someone in another country reads your book. The description indicates a deeper kind of connection to those in other lands.

You are not an award-winning author if you won an award anyone can get. There are no awards for participation in publishing. There’s an expectation of the term “award-winning” which includes a level of objectivity and importance.

You do not have an impressive author platform if the way you get 50,000 Twitter followers is to follow 75,000.

You don’t become a “scholar” for self-study. Scholar is a term bestowed by respected institutions of higher learning, not yourself.

You don’t become an expert in something because you wrote a book. You write a book because you are an expert in something. And you can write.

Agents, publishers, and readers easily spot overselling credentials and experience. We would rather someone be transparent and honest than push something they are not, by overstatement.

When authors don’t oversell themselves, an amazing transformation occurs.

Authors become real people, flawed-but-redeemed men and women. Once overselling ceases, the real person comes through and is far more attractive to “follow” or “like” in social media.

Overselling yourself creates a gap (more of a canyon really) between you and your readers, which will be difficult to cross in either direction. If an author wants to maintain an oversold persona, they will come across as aloof and isolated. In turn, the readers view them as distant and are not drawn to them.

Overselling yourself is a result of trying too hard to impress. It rarely works to accomplish the intended goal. In fact, most often it is counter-productive to achieving the purpose for overselling in the first place.

Sometimes very famous and successful authors can be quite lovely people to be around. They don’t have to oversell; they can be themselves and readers like it. It’s “the bigger they are the nicer they are” principle. The reason? They let their work and success speak for itself.

Just be real in everything you do, and write a great book people will buy and want to read.

Everyone loves real.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Being in Print Doesn’t Make It Good Writing

As we grow in our writing skill, we also grow in noticing weakness and errors in print. Not always wrong as much as careless is the author using the same word twice in the same paragraph or (worse) in the same sentence.

Mary Higgins Clark’s The Melody Lingers On has this awkward sentence on page 91: “At least you have to give him credit for being a thoughtful son, Jon thought.”

Two things hit me. First, the cliché you have to give him credit, but worse, she uses thoughtful, and three words later in the same sentence, she uses thought.

I haven’t liked reading The Message because of the abundance of clichés, but I determined to read it from Genesis through Revelation. This morning I hit this sentence in 1 Thessalonians 1: “Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were to take great joy from the Holy Spirit—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.” I can overlook the triple use of joy because it flows. But he wrote take and then taking. It would have been easy for him to substitute receive, derive, or experience, which would have made the prose smoother and not changed the meaning.

What weaknesses have you noticed in print?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Send Simultaneous Submissions or Not?

(This article is written by literary agent Steve Laube and first appeared on his agency blog. It's reprinted here with his permission.)

Bryan Mitchell asked, “What is the max number of submissions you should send at a given time? I’ve heard ten but that sounds off; to me, it seems it should be less than that if you are carefully considering the agents you reach out to.”

When approaching agents I encourage simultaneous submissions, as long as you let us know you are doing so. But, as Bryan answered his own question, there is no magic number. The number should include those you think are the best fit for your project based on what you’ve discovered in your research.

Please do not ever send your proposal to multiple agents in the same agency at the same time. This happens to our agency nearly a half dozen times a week and it is annoying. It is almost guaranteed to receive a rejection.

There are some services on the Internet who will sell you a list of agents and make it simple to hit them all at once. We can often tell when this happens and it is not a good thing for the author.

Why Simultaneous Submissions to Agents?

Since each agent has a backlog of proposals to review it can take time to properly evaluate them all. If you send it to Agent ABC and it takes two months to get a “no thanks,” then you send it to Agent DEF and it takes two months… By the time you get to Agent XYZ it could be a few years.

Better to target your first group of choice agents and send to them all. That way within a couple months you can find out if any have interest. If they all say no or let your proposal languish in the inbox (a form of benign rejection) then you can move to the next group of agents that you have researched.

A simple sentence at the end of your letter can say “This is a simultaneous submission.”

Where Do You Start Looking?

The Christian Writers Market Guide has nearly 60 agencies listed with around 100 agents from which to choose. That is a good place to start your research.

You can also go to any number of quality writers conferences and meet with the agents who attend. I was at a conference at the end of July and there were six agents in attendance.

If you are a part of a writers group or a larger association like RWA or ACFW or AWSA, you can ask for referrals from those who you trust in that network.

Do Your Research, Please

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating. A book proposal is like a job application. If you are looking for employment, I suspect you would research the company to which you are applying and would customize your application to that organization.

The same thing applies when approaching an agent. We try to make it relatively easy to contact us and we do not hide our names. Why then does the occasional writer think they can get away with the salutation “to whom it may concern” or “dear agent”?