Writing Tip #15 – Preparing for Submission

Hello my lovelies,

It’s another glorious sunny weekend and happily I get to spend the day writing 🙂 In the last blog post, we talked about whether to go the agent or publisher route when deciding who to send your beautiful baby aka manuscript (MS) off to. As predicted, this caused a lot of debate (particularly on the closed RNA group on Facebook) and it’s been fascinating to hear about the different journeys that authors have been on to get published, whether it’s agent first or publisher first, or in some cases no agent or publisher at all, and simply going it alone (aka self-publishing) and happy to stay that way…

So now that you’ve decided who to send your manuscript to, and it’s fully polished and perfectly presented, here are my top tips for submitting: –

  • Do your research

You need to make sure that when you send your MS off (a) it’s to someone who is open to submissions (b) that they’re looking for something in your genre/publish your genre and (c) that you send them exactly what they’re asking for (see point below).

You can Google this if you want, and track people/companies down, however this could take a long time. To minimise hours spent online, The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a great help as it contains listings of publishers and agents, along with useful essays and articles on writing https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Artists-Yearbook-2018-ebook/dp/B071ZJBNT8

Writing Magazine normally also has listings of publishers currently open to submissions in their ‘Writer’s News’ section. Looking in the acknowledgments section of the books written by your favourite authors/the best-sellers in your chosen genre can be a great shout, as authors will often thank their agents or commissioning editors. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, you can follow agents and publishers to get a flavour for what they’re looking for, or if they’re looking at all. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and recommendations for publishers or agents on social media. On the whole, authors are open to questions and happy to help others who are at the beginning of their writing journey. There is room enough for everyone, and readers will devour thousands of books in their lifetime!

Finally, when you have found the right people and have shortlisted 5 – 6 people to submit to (unless you’ve decided to send off to only one at a time; but in this case be warned you could be waiting a long time to get published!) then find their website and have a read. If there are any tips or hints they’ve posted about submitting to them, read these carefully so that you can…

  • Give them what they want

Traditionally, the submission package you need to send out, whether by email or hard copy in the post (though email is much more common nowadays) is made up of three elements (a) covering letter/email (b) synopsis (outline of the whole book) and (c) first three chapters (or occasionally, the first xx pages).

It’s so important when submitting that you stick to whatever guidelines the agent or publisher has supplied. On the path to publication, you will have enough hurdles to jump over as it is without getting in your own way by sending them the wrong information/overly long submissions etc and annoying them. Ignoring their guidelines may look like either a lack of discipline or a lack of care, and that’s not what you want them to think of you!

  • Be brave

Getting ready to submit is also about mindset. Putting the practicalities aside, it’s a scary thought – and exciting too – that someone you’ve never met before, who knows their business, is going to read your book. So you’ve got to be brave to do this – I also call this ‘putting my big girl pants on’ 🙂  I’m not afraid to admit that I always used to find submissions daunting, and even now if I’m discussing a new book idea with my lovely Editor, I still get nervous. I think that’s normal and healthy. We are so heavily invested in our books because we put so much time, energy and emotions into them, that of course we want everyone to love them. They are deeply personal and we want to world to coo over our beautiful book baby. Knowing this might not be the case, and that an agent or editor may come back with a ‘No’ (if you hear anything back at all) can be a bitter pill to swallow… BUT if you want to be published, that’s part of the package. And if you don’t try, you’ll never know. So you have to push yourself, and send those submissions out. If you don’t want to tell family, friends or colleagues what you’re up to, then don’t. Do what feels comfortable for you. Hopefully you can then stun and amaze them all with some great news!

  • Be prepared for rejection

Along with the need to be brave, you also need to accept that you may get rejected. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to make you doubt yourself. It’s going to frustrate you, and let’s be honest, when you read about someone’s new six figure publishing deal, it’s going to make you seethe silently and grind your teeth. But you can’t let it cripple your confidence. Rejection is a natural part of being a writer. How many stories are there of best-selling authors who received rejection after rejection before making it big? Stephen King used to paper his walls with rejection letters.  J.K. Rowling is no stranger to this; Harry Potter was rejected by c. 36 publishing houses before Bloomsbury picked it up. And look at it now – movies, spin-offs, theme parks, merchandise…

So, however long it takes to recover from a rejection, whether it’s a day, week or month, you MUST keep going. You can’t give up. You have to keep sending that submission out; one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt along the way is that persistence pays.

So, are you ready to take the next step? Do you think I’ve missed anything? Comment below!

Look out for some future blog posts on writing a brilliant covering letter, and writing a synopsis (in my experience, you’ll either love or hate the latter!)

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

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Writing Tip #14 – Agent or Publisher?

Hello my lovelies,

After a great few sunny weeks, the sky has turned grey, but I hear that summer will be back soon 🙂 In the last writing tips post, I covered the wonders of constructive criticism, in order to make your book baby as brilliant and beautiful as it possibly can be. And let’s be clear, you should definitely NOT submit your partial manuscript (MS) to anyone until you’re totally satisfied with it’s quality and presentation.

So, once it is ready, what do you do before sending it out? Well, first you should decide whether you want to get an agent who will do the legwork for you, or if you’re going to approach publishers directly, usually through a commissioning editor or submission inbox. I think it’s better to pick one rather than submit to both at the same time. This is because you run the risk of either: –

  •  An agent taking you on and then approaching publishers, only to find that they’ve already seen the partial MS (and potentially rejected it), leaving nowhere for them to go;

Or

  • If you’ve approached a publisher directly saying you’re unagented, and they ask to see the whole MS and later make you an offer, but in the meantime you’ve found yourself an agent who suddenly steps into negotiations, you run the risk of annoying said publisher…

Agent or publisher is probably one of the most talked about topics among authors; the timeless debate. It’s rare that I’ve been to a writing event, or been part of a Fb group or forum, and not heard a discussion about this. To be honest, there are pros and cons to both, and as with everything writing related, it’s a matter of personal style and what you’re looking for.

Agents are (in summary) professionals who spend their days submitting books, negotiating contracts, meeting with publishers, and building relationships in the publishing world. They can be seen as ‘gate keepers’ aka only putting the best and most relevant manuscripts in front of editors/publishers. The best agent will work on your manuscript with you, and give you advice on your writing career and the direction to go in. They’ll always think about the bigger picture, and see you as a brand to be marketed – they’ll be aiming for longevity, so not just this book but the next five – and will care passionately about your stories, and believe in you. They’ll get you the best deal they can, in terms of rights, royalties, and PR/marketing. They should be your champion and your advocate, but above all they should be confident in what they do and be honest with you. They should also be willing to work on future manuscripts with you, even if they can’t sell the current one. It’s a partnership, and you must be able to work professionally together, so getting on with your agent is a must. It’s a bit like a romantic relationship – you have to fall a little in love!

In return for their hard work, they’ll take a percentage of any money you make from writing (normally 10-20% although I’ve seen other figures quoted). They may also expect you to move your career in a direction you weren’t planning on/might not be comfortable with. This really does come down to individual agents, because as in any industry there’s a range of okay, good and amazing.  So, if you decide to follow this route, do your research before you start submitting. (More on this in the next writing tips post). Also, be aware that at the moment it’s very difficult to get an agent!

On the other hand, if you approach publishers directly and get offered a deal, any money you make (the percentage of the royalties as agreed in your contract and the advance if you get one [which is usually offset against future royalties]) is yours to keep. You can also deal with your editor directly without anyone else being involved, and may get to know more about your publisher’s future plans etc. A few of the major publishers are currently accepting direct submissions, (including quite a few of the HarperCollins imprints) and most of the smaller publishers will have a submission inbox. BUT be aware that you will be up against hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who are directly submitting to the ‘slush pile’ – a derogatory sounding but commonly used term for unrequested submissions – and it can be tough to stand out from the crowd. (Tips on how to do this will be in my next post). The other thing to consider is that when you’re negotiating with the publisher directly on any contract, as an unagented author you are more likely to get a ‘boiler plate’ contract with standard terms, which aren’t as good as an agent may have secured for you.

Personally, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong. My writing path to date has been unagented. My first commercial publication (in the RNA Mills & Boon anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply featuring best-selling authors such as Katie Fforde, Adele Parks and Miranda Dickinson) came about through a submission process through the Romantic Novelists Association, and my HarperImpulse titles because I submitted to my lovely editor Charlotte as part of the RNA summer conference (which offers 1:1 appointments with editors and agents).

I’ve been very happy with this to date, although I’ve had a few near misses with agents wishing to represent me, where ultimately I decided against it because of the genre they wanted me to write in. Sometimes it’s a question of head versus heart… However, at the moment I’m seriously thinking about finding an agent, because I’m ready to take the next step and branch out in different directions, so I’ll let you know what I decide and how I get on 🙂

Lastly, don’t forget that your writing career is flexible. If you decide to get an agent first, you don’t have to stay with them forever, and likewise if you go with a publisher first, you can always look for an editor later on.  I know lots of authors who are published under different pen names for different genres, and are agented for one genre and unagented for others. The thing is, if you’re willing to work hard and persevere, doors will open if you go and knock on them!

So what do you think? Agent or Publisher? And if you’re already published, have you done one or the other, or both? Share your experience below…

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

P.s. in case you’re wondering, the building in the photo on the left is the HarperCollins news building, taken when I met my editor recently 🙂

 

 

Rewrites and polishing; the agony and the ecstasy

This week I have been lucky enough to get some detailed and excellent editorial advice from a publisher regarding the full MS of one of my shorter romance novels. The lovely editor has asked me to rewrite it  and polish it and send it back directly to her. I am taking this as a good sign. I know that some writers are precious about their work to the extent that they see all feedback and/or constructive criticism as simply criticism and refuse to make any changes but for me constructive criticism is positive.

This is because I feel it means that someone has become emotionally invested enough in my writing to spend time on it and offer some suggestions as to how I might make it better. And why wouldn’t I want to make it better? If it ever gets out into the public domain, I want it to be the best it can be. The critique is not about me personally, it’s about my writing. And yes, my writing is personal to me, but of all the writing / how to get published books I’ve read, it’s that feedback is like gold dust and is meant to help..it’s not about someone saying, this is a load of rubbish, it’s about someone saying, there might be something reasonable here..and here’s how to improve it to make it good..or even great. The advice from publishers and agents also seems to be that if you want to make a succesful career of writing, you need to be able to show a willingness to take criticism on the chin and work with it. I think the key probably lies in finding a balance. This between what editorial advice you agree with, where you think, yes, that makes sense, they’ve got a point and you change the MS as a consequence. Versus the advice you look at and think, I strongly disagree with that, it won’t work and I’m not willing to change the plot/characters etc to that extent, in which case you stand firm and don’t change it; after all, the work still belongs to you. You have to be comfortable with it and have conviction in it if you are going to, at some point, be persuading people to buy it in the event that it is published.

I won’t pretend rewriting and polishing is easy. It’s not; it can be pretty painful. The agony is in how long it can take and how demoralising it can be to tear your MS apart and put it back together. The ecstasy is in looking at the finished product and thinking..this is much better.

Personally, I go old school for this part of the writing process. I print off the MS and get a pen and physically strike things out, make changes etc on the page, I then (try to) read through the altered MS and once I’m happy with it, I make the changes on the MS in the Word document on my laptop. I then print it off and read through it again to check it makes sense. After that, I send it off. After that….?

I’ll let you know how I get on – in the meantime I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences of editorial criticism; how it was worded, how they handled it, how / if the MS was rewritten as  a result, using what methods..and crucially if the rewrites/polishing lead to any success…or if not, a better piece of writing?

Have a great weekend,

Happy Writing, Nikki x

p.s. you might like to know that my writer’s business cards turned up (early) and I’m really pleased with them!

Good News…? RNA Conference..and shoes!

Last weekend an American romance e-publisher asked to see the whole manuscript for one of the shorter (60K)  romance novels that I’ve written,  having seen the first three chapters. Yes! I thought, they like it!

I won’t try to pretend I wasn’t excited. I was like a little kid on their birthday; I have absolutely no shame in admitting that, especially given that it was my birthday earlier this week and I was extremely excitable at work , which my colleagues coped with admirably, probably in part to the sugar based snacks I brought in for them….ah-hem… Anyway, yes, back to writing…

For me there is nothing quite like the feeling of someone who works as a professional in the publishing industry saying,  yes, we’d like to see more please. It makes all those grabbed minutes of precious solitary writing time over early mornings, lunch times and evenings – ignoring the real world because I’m buried in my own fictional one – worth it. It means that when I talk to people about how much I love writing and they look at me blankly, not getting it, I can give them a huge grin and not care. It means that when people scoff and make comments about my ‘little efforts’ or are derisive, I can  look them in the eye and tell them that I don’t think I’m wasting my time.  Ooh, if that’s how good it feels to have a full MS requested, what state will I be in if ever offered a publishing contract?

So, full MS requested, I thought I’d give it one last polish before sending off, the problem was where to get the time? I had hoped that I’d be able to go to the annual RNA – Romantic Novelists Association – Conference last weekend but for various reasons that I won’t bore you with, it wasn’t going to happen. So the weekend was free of structured activity..but what to do with the hubby, kids and animals?

My hubby kindly offered (was persuaded after some discussion/pleading/bribery) to take responsibility for the kids for all of Saturday and Sunday. So I put in ten hours on Saturday and eight hours on Sunday – usually about 4 weeks of writing time – to honing the MS (again!)  and cutting the word count. I was quietly pleased with it. I sent it off, fingers crossed..Update in the next post.

Moving onto other writing related matters, re the RNA conference, I hear it was fab, with as usual a good amount of wine being consumed and lots of fab shoes on display – obviously other writer related activities went on as well! Check it out at the RNA blog at http://romanticnovelistsassociationblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/rna-conference-2011-gala-dinner-and.html

Speaking of fab shoes – these are my friend Carly’s that a good number of us girls were jealous of when she wore them to our friend’s wedding a few weeks ago. If you love shoes you’ll appreciate this picture, plus the one underneath of some I’ve got my eye on..sshhh, don’t tell the hubby; he thinks I have too many shoes already! How does he not know that is simply not possible?

Until my next post, Happy Writing (or shoe shopping, if the pictures have inspired you)!

Nikki x

Manuscript Presentation and Resolutions

Writers' and Artists'

The first week of the year has already passed and was it a good one? Hmm..I had the flu and was stuck at home in bed for days on end, so not great for me! How about you?

I have managed to stick to most of my resolutions, I won’t tell you which ones.

I am optimistic that I will be back at work for Monday and am raring to go with the short story in progress for the Writers and Artists Competition 2011. It can be up to 2000 words, any genre and linked, however loosely, to ‘compulsion.’ Details are here http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/short-story-competition-2011/competition-rules-2011/  if you’re interested in entering.

Just thought I would share a fab resource for writers that my Aunt Sue has put up on her blog, about how to present a manuscript. Find it here at http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/manuscript-presentation/

There is no doubt that presentation is really important to publishers/agents as it shows that you are serious about your work and will be professional. Some of the other most common tips I’ll pass on for when you’re sending something off to a publisher, is to go on to their website/contact them and read their submission guidelines, make sure that the style/genre of your MS is suited to their requirements, and get the right contact name. There are plenty more helpful hints and tips to be found at this website which has advice directly from agents  http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx

I’m keeping it short and sweet today as not feeling 100% so I’ll finish by recommending the blogs included on my blogroll (down right hand side of the page) for further writers resources..

 Have a great weekend, Nikki.