Publishing 101 with BJ Muntain, part two:Querying

So what is querying?

Querying is trying to sell an agent (or publisher) on your book. You do this by sending a query letter. Some agents only want the query letter, some want a synopsis, some want to see the first 5, 10, 50 pages. Send them what their guidelines say they want to see.

A query letter is a creative business letter. It’s a business letter because you want to do business with the agent. It’s creative because you are selling your creativity, and effective selling takes creativity. You want your query letter to entice the agent to read your novel.

When querying, DO:

  • Read and follow the guidelines.
  • Address the query letter to the agent’s name. Agents cringe at “Dear Agent”. You don’t want the agent’s first impression of you to be cringe-worthy.
  • Make a good impression.
  • Keep the query letter to one page, double-spaced. That’s about 250 words. Even if you’re e-mailing the query.
  • Hook the agent. Use the three main points: Character’s goal, character’s obstacles (conflict), and the consequences of their success or failure (what are they risking?)
  • Be polite and professional.
  • Write the best query letter you can. (More on that below.)

DON’T:

  • Never send attachments, unless they specifically ask for them. If they want to see pages, they’ll usually ask you to cut and paste your pages into the body of the e-mail.
  • And don’t send the same e-mail to a lot of people. If the agent sees a lot of other agents in the subject line, or if they see that they were bcc’d (and people can tell if you’ve bcc’d them), they’re going to find it easier to reject you.

Query letters are a skill that needs to be developed – a good skill, because they help you figure out what is important in your novel, and gives you focus.

Luckily, the Query Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid) has been critiquing and helping people with their queries for years. Read all 270+ queries and critiques she’s done there, because each is like a tutorial on what to do and what not to do. She isn’t posting as much these days, because she only wants to cover new problems or ideas. So if you don’t see your problem in the archive, send your query letter to her, and see if she’ll cover it in a future post.

For general information and questions about the publishing industry, Janet Reid is generous with her time and advice. She’s been working in the business for quite awhile, and she has a very straight-forward and straight-minded view of the industry. Read her back posts – she posts every day. You can start with her Publishing 101 category, then go down the list of categories on the left and the topics on the right, and see if you can answer your question. Or, you know, ask her. If she hasn’t covered it already, she might cover it in a future blog post. I highly recommend her blog.

A note on rejections

Rejection is a fact of life in this business. An agent can get upwards of 100 queries per day. They will request to read the rest of the novel about 1% of the time. Of that 1%, they won’t even sign half of them. They already have clients who take up most of their time. Unless they’re new to the game, they’re very choosy over what other clients they will take on. Understand that you will be rejected. Try to gather at least 100 rejections before you give up. Expect them. Celebrate them, because a rejection means you were brave enough to query – then send out another query letter.

Some people get tired of the rejections, and that’s normal. Some will decide to self-publish instead, and that’s a valid business strategy – as long as they look at it as a business strategy. It’s not an easy way to make money. You work for every sale. But if you’re prepared to put in all the work, and to put out the best product you can, then it is one way to go. Here’s a good take on Yog’s rule for self-publishers, according to John Scalzi’s Yog’s Law and Self-Publishing: “While in the process of self-publishing, money and rights are controlled by the writer.”

Do NOT get discouraged. Don’t get desperate. Don’t grasp at straws. Those straws are most likely to be the scammers that prey on desperate writers. NO ONE can guarantee you a legitimate publishing contract. If someone does guarantee this, run away. Run away very fast. Because, most likely, they’re offering you something you pay for, and it’s not going to help one little bit.

Vanity presses (which are completely separate from self-publishing or other form of publishing, no matter what the vanity presses themselves say) will charge you to publish your work. Or they’ll force you to pay for marketing. Or they’ll insist you pay fees of some sort. You pay them, AND give them control over your work. In traditional publishing, YOU get paid. In self-publishing, you control everything you pay for. With a vanity press (and these are described on Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors), you pay them to control you.

Before using any services, check them on the websites above. In fact, check everyone through those websites before doing business with them.

Also: Never respond to rejections. Take note of them, keep track of them, then ignore them. Don’t even send a ‘thank you’. ESPECIALLY do not argue with the agent or otherwise insult them. That is not going to help you get published, and it might actually hurt your chances.

Some further thoughts on scams

Read that list of steps again. Just about the ONLY steps you can skip in this list are 2) and 3): querying agents and revising to their suggestions. It is possible to query publishers on your own. Don’t look for other ways to skip a step. Don’t look for an easy way. There isn’t one.

If you come across a service that will do your querying for you, run away. They’ll take your money, send off a few form queries, and get rejected 99.999% of the time BECAUSE they are a query service and not the author. Agents hate those ‘services’.

Or a ‘publisher’ that says they’ll put your book in front of agents or big publishers – sure, they can send the books to the publishers or agents, but they can’t force them to read them. And publishers and agents will not read books sent by those ‘publishers’. (This used to be a promise made by vanity presses.)

You CAN pay for editors yourself. That’s perfectly legitimate. Find a good one, check them through Preditors & Editors under Editing & Software, and ask for references.

The money flows towards the author. Remember that. If anyone tries to charge you something, take a step back and think about it. Incidentals like postage and photocopying on your behalf are okay (but only once you’re already that agent’s client). Anything else – check it out carefully.

 

 

 

BJ Muntain’s website: http://www.bjmuntain.com/

BJ’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/bjmuntain

BJ’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BJMuntain

Publishing 101 with BJ Muntain

This week I asked my good friend BJ Muntain to come in and share a bit of her experience in the publishing world with you all! Since BJ has a wealth of great knowledge, her guest post will be in two parts, shared this week and next week. Hope you enjoy!

 

Publishing 101 

with BJ Muntain 

I recently read a blog post about a query service, on Janet Reid’s excellent publishing industry blog, and I had a huge Aha! moment.

People just starting out don’t know enough about the publishing industry, so they are easy prey for such ‘services.’ Unfortunately, the only thing these services are able to do is take a writer’s money.

The one thing to keep in mind is, the number one rule of dealing with the publishing industry is the adage known as ‘Yog’s Law’: The money flows TO the writer.

I’m not talking about self-publishing. That’s a huge area, and not where my experience lies. I’m talking about traditional publishing. I’m also talking fiction (and memoirs, which are treated like fiction in the publishing process). Non-fiction has a few differences in the query process, which you’ll need to research separately.

Here’s a quick guide to how the publishing industry really works:

  • Author writes a novel. Then revises it. Then edits it. Then takes more training, and revises again. Then learns something new, and revises again. And again, ad nauseum, until the novel is the absolutely best it can be. Author may even hire an editor to help.
  • Author then sends queries to agents. (See below for information on queries.)
  • Agent may respond in one of three ways: 1. asking to read more, 2. offering representation, or 3. rejecting the query. Rejections are far more common than the other responses. Some agents will suggest revisions, in which case you can send it back to them for a second chance (called an R&R – Revise and Resend).
  • Once Agent offers representation, there will probably be more editing and revising.
  • Agent will send the novel to publishers that might be interested. Publishers will either reject or accept the novel.
  • Then there’s THE CONTRACT negotiations – which, if Agent is good, won’t be as scary as it sounds.
  • Then Publisher will go through it, and the author will have more revisions and editing to do.
  • By this time, the author is now working on the next novel. Or the next. Or even the next.
  • In a couple years after the contract is signed, the novel will be published and the author will be busy doing marketing and publicity in order to sell it. While writing the next novel.

Yes. I said TWO years. Publishers often have all their publishing spots scheduled for two years by the time they buy yours, and editing takes time. Some publishing houses may work quicker. Most smaller publishing houses will accept your submission without an agent. Most of the big ones will not.

While you can possibly skip numbers 3 and 4 by not seeking an agent, don’t try any other shortcuts. By the way, ‘not seeking an agent’ is not a shortcut. Be prepared for a lot of work.

So why do you need an agent?

First, if you want to sell your novel to a large publisher, you almost always need an agent. There are a few large publishers and many smaller ones that will accept unagented novels, but it’s still a good idea to have an agent.

There’s a lot of work that goes into selling a novel. Some agents will help you edit your book. They mediate between the publisher and the author, making sure the author is getting paid and the publisher is getting the revisions on time. They make sure both parties are living up to the contract they negotiated.

Because agents know contracts. They know what to look for in a contract. They know how to make sure a contract is fair – and they’re the ones who will do your negotiating for you. Unless you are a publishing lawyer, it can be pretty complicated to negotiate your own contract. And an agent can get you a better advance than you can get yourself.

And all an agent wants from the deal is 15% of the money you make. That may seem like a lot, but if an agent can get you a bigger advance AND make sure you’re not selling your soul and your first born along with your novel, it’s definitely worth it.

If you don’t have an agent, get a publishing lawyer (or someone well-versed in publishing contracts) to go over everything before you sign. Signing without understanding what you’re signing can get your career stuck in cement-hard muck. Someone who knows the publishing industry will know what needs to be in a contract for it to be fair for the client. There are horror stories about non-publishing lawyers being asked to go over publishing contracts, objecting to things that are industry standard while allowing grievous harm to be done to their client in other areas.

An agent is worth their 15%.

Some tips on choosing agents to query

Research agents. Make sure they’re the people you want representing you.

Unfortunately, there are some bad agents and bad publishers out there, and some real crooks. Here are the three most important links you’ll find:

  • Preditors & Editors – Always take any agent (and their agency) through the site, to see if there are any warnings. Publishers, too, and any other person or business you plan on doing business with. If there are no warnings, then they’re probably okay. If the site says the agent or agency is recommended, they’re a great choice. P&E doesn’t give recommendations easily. They have a lot more information there, too, about writing, publishing, and so forth.
  • The Absolute Write Water Cooler, specifically their CheckBewares, Recommendations & Background Check forum
    • Note: most agents and businesses listed here will be treated with suspicion at first. Read all the posts on an agent or publisher right to the end, because once an agent or publisher gets to be better known, the suspicions fade (or, if the agent/agency/publisher is really bad, you’ll find proof.)
  • Writer Beware — This service, housed on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, is headed by Victoria Strauss and is supported by other writing organizations. You’ll only find the bad agents, agencies, publishers, and services here, so chances are you won’t find the agent you’re looking for – and that’s good. Victoria and the others are very passionate about their work, even so far as to be sued by the unscrupulous people they’ve outed. I have the highest regard for Victoria.

You also want to research agents to make sure they’re a good fit for your novel. And if you’re thorough, you might have a better chance at attracting them.

Places to find out more about an agent and their needs are:

  • Their blogs
  • Their agency’s website
  • Writers’ Digest – especially if you can find a recent interview.
  • Other interviews on blogs, etc. – Search by the agent’s name. If it’s not a unique name, add ‘literary agent’ to your search.

Find every agent’s and agency’s submission guidelines, and follow those guidelines when querying. If you’re going directly to publishers, then find the publisher’s guidelines. Publishers that don’t accept unagented submissions might make it difficult to find their guidelines, and they’ll only say something like, “We’re sorry, but we only accept manuscript submissions from agents.” Agents know how to submit to those publishers, so they don’t need to put the guidelines on their website.

 

BJ Muntain’s website: http://www.bjmuntain.com/

BJ’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/bjmuntain

 

BJ’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BJMuntain

Hymns for the Bastards: Eight.

Nothing Gold Poetry.

I dream of you

The way children dream of monsters.

I imagine you as eyes that stare back at me through the darkness,

Even through I know it’s only streetlights

I feel the touch of your hands on me

Even though I know it’s only my sheets.

I feel your tongue on me

Even though I know it’s only the snow.

I dream of you

The way children dream of monsters,

But without the peace

of knowing that the monsters aren’t real.

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PTSDiaries 11: The Science of PTSD

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This month the wonderful BJ Muntain will be swapping blog posts. BJ’s going to teach you all a lesson from the world of writing, and I will be teaching her fans a little bit about the world of PTSD, specifically, PTSD in service personnel such as first responders.

I’m supremely flattered that Miss Muntain considers me enough of an expert in PTSD to write about it, and I suppose that, in certain ways, the combination of a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and lived experience gives me a unique perspective into the world of trauma. I realised when I was researching for Miss Muntain’s post that I hadn’t really talked about the science or history behind PTSD on my blog at all.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is really freaking complicated. The disorder was mentioned in Religious texts dating back to the Ancient Greeks and the Bible, but it only began being recognised during and after World War One, when soldiers were returning from the battlefield with strange symptoms that psychologists and other medical professionals had difficulty explaining. It was thought that exposure to artillery shells caused these symptoms, so the disorder was named “shell shock”. When the same collections of symptoms appeared again in soldiers serving in World War Two, the medical community began to look into stress as a cause of mental disturbances. However, despite advances in psychology and mental health, PTSD was not added to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) until the 1980’s.

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Much like most psychological disorders, the exact cause of PTSD is unknown. Of course, PTSD is caused by trauma, but not everyone exposed to a traumatic situation will develop the disorder. The overall incidence of PTSD in police officers, for example, is only about 7-34%. Scientists have identified changes in the brain associated with PTSD. Areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning and the fear response have been found to be markedly different in those suffering from PTSD than a healthy control person (Pitman, Rasmusson, Koenen, Shin, Orr, Gilbertson…Liberzon, 2012). There are also differences in the levels of certain neurotransmitters in those suffering from PTSD (2012). Like most things in psychology, there is a question of whether or not the brain differences were pre-existing and therefore caused the person afflicted with PTSD to develop the disorder or if the brain changed as a result of the trauma, as the brain is wont to do.

brain

Treating PTSD is complicated as well. PTSD is associated with other disorders (called “Comorbidity”) such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders (Bisson, Cosgrove, Lewis & Robert, 2015). I personally have lived with comorbid PTSD, anxiety and depression. There isn’t a lot of data on how to intervene in these cases, especially with comorbid substance abuse disorders (2015). PTSD can be treated, as you all know if you’ve been following the series, with prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapies, and with psychotropic medication.

It’s just a big old ball of fun, isn’t it? It’s hard not to be discouraged when looking at all that data. However, there is hope. I try to demonstrate it now when I blog about PTSD. I’m not that scared fourteen year old girl anymore that was so desperate for love that she fell into the trap of a predator. I recognise that some of you reading this might still be. When I was researching for this blog post, I came across so many great resources. I made a YouTube playlist of the videos that I found here, and I will be updating it as I find more. If you want to stay informed about trauma, or just want to know more than I’ve told you here, pop on by and check it out:

I’ve also added some pins about PTSD on my blog board here

I hope you all enjoyed this condensed look at the science and history of PTSD. If you would like to know more, feel free to comment and I will do my best to find you a resource that will be helpful.

Remember to like the post if you liked what you saw!

 

God bless,

Kelsey J.

 

 

Scholarly Sources:

Bisson, J. I., Cosgrove, S., Lewis, C., & Robert, N. P. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 351, h6161. doi:10.1136/bmj.h6161

Pitman, R. K., Rasmusson, A. M., Koenen, K. C., Shin, L. M., Orr, S. P., Gilbertson, M. W.. . Liberzon, I. (2012). Biological studies of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 13(11), 769. doi:10.1038/nrn3339

 

 

 

Reviewsday: Resident Alien

Let’s switch gears and review a comic from a less popular comic book house this week. I’ll be reviewing issue #1 of “Resident Alien” by Peter Hogan (script) and Steve Parkhouse (art) from Dark Horse Comics.  In this series, an alien accidently crashes his ship in rural America, and decides to take refuge among the people of Patience. The alien disguises himself as a semi-retired doctor, using his alien powers to keep the townspeople from seeing his true appearance.  The town’s doctor has been murdered, and “Harry Vanderspeigle” is tasked with helping the police find the real killer–while keeping his cover!

The cover of the comic led me to expect more of a slice-of-life series than the murder-mystery that the book actually is. However, I enjoy murder-mysteries, so I was completely fine with what I got. The story is well written and paced well, so even though the comic was dialogue heavy I was still intrigued. I was a fan of how expertly Peter Hogan wove multiple plotlines together. I hardly see this done well, so Resident Alien was a real treat in that regard.

The art leans towards minimalistic, but is crisp, clean and expressive. The style works well with the story that’s being told. I love love LOVE the design of “Harry Vanderspeigle”, who is distinct from other portrayals of alien life that I’ve seen while being interesting and humanoid.

The characterization, much like the art style, is crisp and clean. The characters are distinct from each other, and though not fully realized, are round enough that they’re still interesting. As this is issue one, a bit of under-development is expected, and I’m willing to let the author have some room to develop the characters.

However, this isn’t the first issue of the comic as I initially expected. The book opens with a note to read “issue 0” of the series before reading issue 1. Since when do comics have an “issue 0”? When did this become a thing? Luckily, Hogan is a good enough writer that issue 1 makes sense on it’s own. My main issue, though, was that the first time I read the comic I skipped the blurb on the inside cover (because I thought this was the first issue) so I didn’t know that “Harry Vanderspeigle” was in disguise. The audience never sees him from the perspective of the human characters. Since the other characters react to him as a human, I simply assumed that this was a world where alien contact was a normal thing. This isn’t a deal breaker, don’t get me wrong. It just changed the flavor of the book.

All in all, I enjoyed this comic. I was invested in the murder-mystery and the characters right away, and I’m planning to look for more of this series so that I can find out who killed the town’s doctor–and if “Harry” is ever discovered.

 

God bless,

Kelsey J.

 

P.S: Please like and comment!

Slam Sunday: “Battle?” by Anthony McPherson

Nothing Gold Poetry.

Every little movement is an inverted apocalypse creating mini universes.

This is one of the most unique poems I’ve ever heard. It’s no secret that I usually post poems relating to social justice or personal issues, and this poem caught me off guard with it’s clever wordplay and the performer’s use of his body. This poem is gorgeous, and you’re going to like it, damn it.

I tried, I really did, to find Anthony McPherson’s social media profiles, but I just couldn’t do it. Anyone who can is welcome to share in the comments so we can shout out this amazing artist.

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My double chin and me

In almost every horror movie there is a scene where the pretty protagonist looks in a mirror and one of two things happen. One: they see something terrible, but look again and it’s gone. Two: they look and see nothing, then look again and see something terrible. They scream in horror and try to escape, but it is too late.

That recently happened to me. One morning, I looked in my mirror and saw nothing but my face. I looked again and I saw it. I didn’t see it coming, it was just there. I wanted to scream in terror, in horror, as I knew what it meant.

I had a double chin.

I texted my boyfriend and told him the news–I wasn’t making the horror movie mistake and not telling anyone about the monster in the bathroom. My boyfriend responded that he didn’t, and I sent him a picture.

“Huh,” he said, “a little bit.”

I wanted to cry.

I knew that I couldn’t eat like a teenager forever, but when I finally saw the evidence, I didn’t know what to do. My mental health had gotten the better of me and I had let myself go. Hiding my imperfection inside empire waists and baggy clothes wasn’t an option anymore; the evidence of my sin was painted on my face.

I know that there are worse things than being fat.

I even know that one person’s fat is another person’s healthy. I know that the BMI is garbage. Most of the women, and about half the men, that I’m attracted too would be classified as “fat”. I know that there are worse things than being overweight.

When I turn on my TV, or look at my mom’s “Prevention” magazine filled with articles like “walk off your belly” or “this drink blasts fat” or my personal favourite, “eat more, weigh less”, it feels like being fat is worse than being almost anything else.

Do you guys want to know a secret, something barely anyone else knows? I started taking a weight loss supplement. I know, they don’t work, they’re full of crap, you’ll get addicted, yada yada. I knew this. I just wanted to reassure myself, despite the fact that I was improving my diet and exercising, that I was doing everything in my power to not be fat.

I also know that, because of the time of year, many of you reading this will be in a similar frame of mind as I was when I discovered my double chin. Because it’s the new year, many people are making resolutions to lose weight and be “healthier.”

As I stared in the mirror at my double chin that day, I took a good, hard look at my face. I saw my big, bright hazel eyes. I saw my beautiful thick curly hair. I saw my pink lips and my pale skin. I saw my whole face. I took it in and took a breath.

I wasn’t the monster in the mirror sneaking up on the pretty girl. I am a pretty girl.

I took another deep breath and looked inside myself. I am a writer, and people seem to like my work. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a girlfriend. I am a scholar, I am a psychosocial rehabilitation worker. These things couldn’t be found on my face.

So what if I was a little chubby. There were worse things than being fat.

Like having a serial killer in your bathroom.