All About the Authors

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Category: agents

Stuck in Book Publishing Limbo

by Betsy Thorpe

Are you stuck in limbo? Book publishing limbo can happen at any time during the writing process. Currently, I’ve got three friends who are waiting…

  • One, under contract with a major publisher, is waiting to hear whether the head of her publishing house likes the book enough to give it a major investment with hardcover, publicity, and marketing dollars.
  • One friend is waiting to hear back from her agent about whether the changes she made for a specific publisher will be enough to get her a deal.
  • One friend is just resubmitting her book to agents after massive re-writes.

I’m in limbo too. My agent currently has a draft of the new opening to a book she’d already submitted to editors. It got nice rejections (yes, there are such things as “nice rejections”), but a few critiqued that it took me too long to get the story moving. So my super sharp agent and I had a story meeting, and we came up with (hopefully) a fun new beginning that will get the reader into the story far more quickly than the novel’s previous incarnation. But I’m in limbo until I hear from her whether I should proceed with what I’ve done, change some elements, or scrap it and try something else. So I wait until she has time in her schedule to look at my schedule.

Still others wait for edits from their editor, like me. Sometimes they have to wait a little while if their editor has a waiting list. Other times I have to wait to get a hold of their book, because clients need to budget their edit, and save up for it.

If we go further back into the process, some are in limbo waiting for the TIME to write their books. One client of mine knew she was having foot surgery later this year and is convinced that that time lying around will force her to spend time on her book. My friend Holly and I, who also angie-pisel-21-c-robin-parish-photographyrecently had foot surgeries, think she will be so sleepy on her pain medication that she will not be able to concentrate enough to get her work done. However, one of the authors we met at Bibliofeast, Angela Pisel, author of With Love from the Inside, actually did write her debut novel when she was recuperating from breaking her ankle, so she has proved us wrong.

cover150x250Others are waiting for the big idea to strike. They know they want to write a book, but what should it be? For those who are in this part of limbo, I highly recommend a book called Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is all about inspiration. (Spoiler alert – big ideas don’t come 99% of the time unless you’re sitting at the desk, already writing.)

How do you best get out of limbo? In all cases: Write. I’m writing this blog. My friends in the scenarios above are thinking and writing their next books while their current books are under submission. The authors who are waiting for their edits should be writing their next book. Stephen King wrote in On Writing, my favorite book of writing advice that you should send out your book to agents and editors (and I’m paraphrasing here, since I can’t find the exact quote) only when you are so invested in your new book idea that you think it’s the most exciting and best thing you’ve ever done, and so you could care less whether or not the old book sells because you’re so convinced of this new book’s merits.
[Update: As I finish up this piece, I got good news. My agent likes my new start. Full steam ahead on the rewrite. Limbo no more – at least, until the next time I turn something in.]

 

Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult?

Recently, I had a client come to me with the first draft of his novel. He’d told me it was a Middle Grade novel, meaning one written for readers from 8-12 years old, in grades running form 3rd– 7th or 8th grade.

As soon as I read past the second chapter, though, I knew this book couldn’t be a middle grade book. The book had multiple narrators, many of them adult, although two main ones were in their early to mid teens. There were violent war scenes. There was a threat of rape. There was swearing.

I had to write a very tough editorial letter, outlining the reasons why the book could not be a middle grade book, and giving direction in how to make significant content changes in order to make the book middle grade, or how to expand the word count and turn the book into an adult book. He took my advice very graciously, and is now lengthening the book so that it meets the requirements for an adult novel.

The author had thought he was very close to being able to submit to publishers, and now has a lot of work ahead of him. It would have been easier if he’d done a little research about what the parameters are for different age groups. Here’s a little help to those who are looking for guidance:

Middle 41ZC4ElC6wL._AC_US160_Grade Novels, written for those 8-12, word count from 30,000 – 50,000 words. Usually one to two protagonists in that age range, although can be a year or two older, usually in third person but can be first. No sex, no graphic violence, no swear words. Usually a coming of age book, focused on friends and family. Examples: Percy Jackson books (author Rick Riordan), Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling), When You Reach 51VlKD1aucL._AC_US160_Me (Rebecca Stead)

Young Adult (aka YA) novels, written for those 13-99 (these books have many adult readers), word count from 50,000 – 80,000. Usually one to two protagonists, aged from 13-18. Voice third or first, but usually first. Limited profanity, there can be sexual content but not graphic details, no horrific violence. Usually YA books are about finding your place in the world – where do I fit in? The Fault is in Our Stars by John Green, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbowsky, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

New Adult (NA) – written for those 18-99, this is a new genre, not entirely fully endorsed by the reading and publishing world, wherein the protagonist is in college or just graduating and in the new world of work, with her first apartment and job. Length – 60,000 – 80,000 words. First or third person, usually single narrator. I don’t yet have a stand-out, easily identifiable New Adult book to reference for you, but would welcome any suggestions from NA readers, as judging by the books on Goodreads for this genre, there’s a lot of romance overlap.

The bottom line is to do your research, read a lot of books in the age range that you are writing for, and hire a professional editor to assist you. Just as you would not attempt to play baseball without a coach, you should not attempt to write without an experienced coach as well. Find an editor who can be honest, encouraging, and insightful.

 

 

 

What Do Literary Agents Do for an Author?

 

Many of my clients feel overwhelmed by the prospect of book publishing. How is it possible for an unknown writer to access the big, untouchable editors and publishing houses in New York? They worry that you have to know someone in order to get published. Without good connections, it seems, the process of getting a book contract from an established publisher is unreachable.

That’s where literary agents come in. They are the gatekeepers for publishers. The “Big Five” publishers (Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Macmillan, and HarperCollins) in New York do not have time to read unsolicited manuscripts from the tens of thousands of authors (if not hundreds of thousands) who are looking to get published every year. Instead they have relationship with trusted literary agents, who are known for their reputation to find great writers and book projects, and match them up with the perfect editor.

Almost every literary agent (except those who are closed to submissions) is accessible to authors through their submissions policies. Query them via email, and if they are interested, they will write you back and ask to see a sample of your manuscript or a whole manuscript. It’s vitally important that your query letter is professional, follows the format the agent is looking for, and is compelling enough for the agent to want to read more.

If you are lucky enough to get an agent, they may or may not help you to tweak your manuscript to get it ready to submit. Most agents prefer books that are “turn-key” – in other words, that are ready to be turned around and sent out the next day. But some agents think that they can improve the manuscript in some small way, and work with you to make the book more marketable (note, this is rare, and more true in the case of nonfiction). Then they will come up with a submissions list of where they will try to sell your book, pitch your book, and hopefully find a home for your book.In my video about this subject to be posted this week, I’ll be discussing many of the ways literary agents help their clients, what to expect out of the relationship, what not to expect, a typical contract they might ask you to sign, and what to do if the relationship is no longer working.

 

 

Eight Tips for How to Take Criticism

If you’re lucky and if you look for it, during the writing, rewriting, and submitting process, you’ll get some feedback and advice. In my video this week, I talk about why agents don’t often give any feedback (or even a rejection) these days. So if you get some, it’s valuable. It can be hard to take criticism, even when it’s constructive, so here are some tips:

1. If you can’t take criticism early and in private, you’ll get it later and in public.
If you have a hard time hearing where your book might be flawed from your friends, beta readers, and your editor, pause, take a deep breath, and vow to dive in and deal with it anyway. Because if you don’t fix those flaws, they won’t magically disappear. It’s much better to hear this feedback now, when you can still address the problems, then to read about them in a review, after your book has been published, when you can’t fix it, and everyone can see the criticism.

2. Take it with the intention it is meant
Editors only want your work to be the best it can be. We have no skin in the game if you don’t take our advice and don’t address your manuscript’s issues, so there is no incentive for an editor to make bad or erroneous suggestions. Your friends and family don’t want to see you be embarrassed. Your writing group just wants to help you improve and to give equivalent feedback to what they’ve been receiving from you. No one is trying to demoralize you or put you down. This isn’t about you; it’s about the story (even if it’s memoir). If someone does make personal pot-shots, cut them out of the loop permanently.

3. Get multiple opinions—do they all agree?
One of us had a client who had a big flaw in his book. He didn’t take her advice. But he mentioned that another reader had pointed out the same problem. So he ignored two readers’ suggestions to fix it. He was later taken to task for this error in a review. Moral of the story: if multiple readers are pointing out the same problem, then it really is a problem and you need to look at it more closely. If more than one person isn’t getting something in your story, you haven’t made it clear regardless of how you meant it to read. Feel free to get a second opinion. Multiple readers are a great idea. What more than one of them points out is something you need to pay particular attention to.

4. Do not respond in the heat of the moment. Do not.
Sleep on it. Sit with it for a few days. The immediacy of hurt will fade and you’ll be able to see the issue more plainly and without the clouds of emotions. This is especially true if the criticism is something in public such as a review or an online comment. Don’t address those at all. They never end well. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

Letters From People5. Do not awfulize.
Criticism does not equal “I hate it.” The longest editorial letters I write are for the books I really love. There’s a thin line between love and hate. The opposite of love is indifference. That’s where the real danger lies. But if I have a hundred issues I pointed out, that doesn’t mean you’re awful or the book’s awful or you’re never going to get published. It just means you have a hundred issues to look at and think over.

6. Listen to this podcast about dealing with criticism

7. Read this book about hate mail: Letters From People Who Hate Me by Steve Almond 

8. Rone_star_amazon_reviewsead these scathing reviews of books that are now classics.

Appreciate that there are people who want to help your writing improve. And it will. Writing is a skill and it gets better with practice, and with coaching. No one is born writing like Shakespeare, not even Shakespeare himself.