Monday, March 3, 2008

Q&A #2

This is the personalized license plate I ordered today. I'm sure that makes me really vain, but I just thout it looked so dang cool. Okay on to the next question. Which comes from the lovely and talented Anna.

Q How do you get a contract with a publishing company? It isn't as if most fifteen year olds have agents, so do you send some sample chapters in as a book proposal, or do you write the whole book and then send it? And how do you do that? I haven't finished a book yet. Once in my head, I think...but I'm working hard on plot lines and stuff right now, so I'm really curious if I'm supposed to write the book first or get a contract first. Both sound really scary, but it'll have to come to that eventually....right? I'm really enjoying your blog by the way. :)

A Anna, first let me say that I’m really jazzed you like the blog. Your question/s is/are great, funny, and um . . . long. But all of us start out wondering the same thing. So I’m glad you asked, and hopefully I can give you a good answer. For articles or short stories—which are a great way to start out by the way—you can send a query without an agent. A query is basically a letter asking if the editor might be interested in what you have written or would like to write.

So let’s say you want to write an article on how to trim the nose hair of Shetland Ponies. First you’ll need to make sure there is actually anough information to write an article. Then find out what publications do stories about horses or nose hair. Especially if they specialize in Shetland ponies. You can do this most easily by using a book called Writers Market. This book should be available in any library or you can buy a copy for I think about $20. Since it changes every year, I would recommend the library. In this amazing book, you’ll find a list of magazines and internet magazines (called e-zines) that publish on various topics.

Next you’ll want to send query letters to the publications that seem like the best fit. Query letters are a whole other topic, but until I cover them on this blog, you can find some great examples by googling how to write a query letter. (Don’t pay for this info! There is a lot of great information on writing query letters for free.) Send out your queries and wait for your responses. At first you’ll get a lot of rejections. But the more you work at it, the more positive your responses will be, until you get your first yes. Remember, you can spin most articles more than one way. One query might be about horse hygiene, another might be about how properly trimmed nose hair helps horses win shows. (Yeah I know, this is a really lame example, but I just got back from taking my kids to my mom and dad’s house and I think I ate too many chocolate chip cookies.)

Once you get a request for an article, it’s time to send in your very best work. Check for typos. Read similar articles in that magazine and others like it. Read articles about writing articles. The key is that the more you write, the better you will get. Of course you’ll get rejections along the way, but those are badges of courage. Nearly every author gets at least some and most get a lot. They just mean you are getting closer to getting published. Stephen King had a whole spike filled with rejections before he sold his first story.

Short stories are usually the same process. Check Writers Market to see how the publication wants you to submit. Some want a query, some want the whole story. Some want both.

Okay let’s move on to books. First, DO NOT try to sell a book you haven’t finished writing. It can be done, but the chances are great that it will backfire on you. Nothing takes the wind out of en editor or agent’s sails like asking for a full manuscript and finding out you haven’t finished it. So, get your book done first. That’s the cardinal rule. Once your book is done and you’ve gotten lots of feedback and done lots of polishing, it’s time to try and sell it.

Whether you need an agent or not depends on what kind of book you are writing and where you want to publish it. Many small publishers do not require agents. Also some fantasy publishers and some children’s book publisher do not require agents. You’ll have to go back to WM again to find out for sure. TOR does not require agents, and neither does my publisher, Shadow Mountain. But even if you do sell your book without an agent, it’s still good to get one as they can negotiate on your behalf, get competitive offers, sell foreign rights, movie rights, and all that cool stuff.

The other reason for having an agent is that now days almost all the big publishers will not even look at you without an agent. Since an agent works completely on commission (usually 15% of sales,) the publisher knows that the agent will only send them writing that is good. So the agent is the one that actually gets your work looked at.

Guess where you go to find an agent? Yep, that’s right. Back to WM. They have a whole list of agents, what kind of books they represent, how they want to see submissions, if they take on new writers, all that cool stuff. Most of time they’ll want a query letter first, then the first three chapters of your book, then the whole thing. The whole process can take six months or more, so it pays to submit to several agents at a time.

Okay, the chocolate chips are wearing off and I’m sure my other good author friends will cover what I missed, so I’ll call it a night. And you thought you’re question was long, huh?
Okay I’ve got five more days to fill with posts, so if you have more questions, fire away!


Anna said...

Are you kidding? I always have questions!!!!!

Got any advice on how to write really awesome villains? They are so hard! The one I have now also has a pretty dumb name. I think my plot is improving though, and the over the past couple of weeks I somehow came up with some really good plot twists. Surprising, but I did.

Thanks for the info on agents and publishers and book proposals. Now I will NOT worry about perfecting the first couple of chapters and just worry about getting a first draft written out.
(BTW, if you want to post about something else tomorrow, villain stuff can wait. :) )

Melinda said...

Love the license plate. I'll honk if I ever see you on the freeway.

Question: How do you decide the best place to start your story? I hear, in the middle of the action. To draw your readers in. But what if that means chunks of backstory to get to that point? I have heard that you must first make your reader care about the character. OSC said you must have the promise of a good story. Hm. How to do that? Others have said at the turning point --the start of action. What is your opinion? What about prologues in children's lit? Good or bad?

Tristi Pinkston said...

I don't think the plate is vain -- I think it's pretty cool!

Queen of Chaos said...

I LOVE your vanity plate!!!!!!!! I wouldn't of thought of doing this if it were me. You're awesome!

-Autumn Ables

Stephonie said...

Do you still have the plate?

BTW thanks for saving my bacon.

Cenendra said...

Thanks a ton! I'm kind of in the same situation as Anna. But I have finished the book, and am now heavily polishing and plotting for the sequel. Thanks for the info!