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

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.

Best of 2015

Before I start the list of my most popular blog posts from 2015, I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for being a part of my year. Without you, this blog wouldn’t be what it is today. I had a great 2015, and I hope you join me next year as I take this blog to new places.

Without further ado, here are the best posts of 2015, as determined by you, the fans and your likes:

PTSDiaries (you guys made it so popular it needed it’s own category!):

My Poetry Journey

Black Widow: Photography

Alternate Way to Present Poetry

Writing as Conversation

Flash Fiction: Ganymede

Poor Old Jack: A Nightmare Before Christmas and Depression

On Finishing Things.

This post doesn’t have a lot to do with writing. Or mental illness. Or even big sad alien robots. You have been warned.

So my subscribers may have noticed that I’ve been radio silent for the past few weeks. I’ve been okay, don’t worry.

Oh, you weren’t worried? Well then.

It was for a good reason, at least. I was neglecting any notion of fun to finish my degree. I finished the last two classes that I needed to complete my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in English, specializing in Creative Writing.

Is that a good enough reason? Am I forgiven?

No? Okay then.

From what I understand, I am supposed to take this as a rite of passage. My parents and older relatives are treating finishing my degree like one of the final gates to full adulthood. My friends are telling me how great it must be to be done.

I don’t feel great, or more like an adult.

I don’t know why this is—I imagine part of it is due to not receiving my piece of paper that says I learned stuff diploma until October. I think part of it is because I made the mistake of getting a psyche degree, which means that I can’t do what I want to do (art therapy) until I get another degree, so my job prospects with my psych degree haven’t changed since I was a psych student. Except now I can’t get student discounts on subs.

Remember up there, when I said this post didn’t have a lot to do with writing?

Here is where it has something to do with writing.

Finishing my degree feels a lot like finishing a story. According to google, Leonardo DaVinci once said that Art is never finished, only abandoned. That is how I feel about my stories. There’s a brief high when I finish the first draft, because all the ideas are on the paper and there’s one less story crowding my brain. Then there’s a lot of drafting, and then there’s finding someone to take my misshapen word-child and parade it around like a severely disabled show-dog (I’m in one of those “I hate my writing” phases, can’t you tell?). I read the story later and see so many places to improve, but I can’t be bothered to. I am done with it.

This is also how I feel about my degree. I put a lot of work into the papers, I did all the courses, wrote all the tests and now I have a piece of paper to show for my heart and soul. But now I have to find somewhere who will give paper and I a good home, and then use the paper to get another paper. I look back on my university experience and see so many things I should have done or I should not have done but it’s too late, because I am done with it. I just have to do better next time.

What I have come to understand as the truth, after four years of university and many, many years of creating, is that “finishing” something is inconsequential. I’m not going to say that “life is the journey, not the destination”, because that’s too cliché. What I will say is that life operates in cycles. Nothing is finished forever. And that’s beautiful, because it means that no mistake is forever, no regret is forever, and that we have countless opportunities to change and grow.

That’s enough waxing poetic for me.  Back to our regular scheduled programming.

God bless,

Kelsey J.

Kelsey J.

Poetry Month Wrap-Up: What Worked, What didn’t

Guten tag, friends.

As you may or may not know, April was National Poetry Month and I did a series of themed posts. I thought that, now that the month is over, it’s a good time to reflect on the month and what worked and what didn’t. A lot of bloggers don’t really want to publically admit that things didn’t work until months later, but I’m not a lot of bloggers. I am a singular, all too human entity, and I make mistakes. Sharing them with you guys might help make both of us better bloggers in the future.

Not that I view anything I put up last month to be a mistake. I did accidently reblog my own post back onto my site instead of to my poetry site, but that has to happen to everyone at least once. That’s a new rule that I just made up.

This month I uploaded my first vlog. I wouldn’t really call it a mistake or a failure, because I finally did something I’ve been saying I’m going to do since January. However, one of my videos didn’t upload to it’s full length, which is a royal pain, and the other one only has six views. I know that everyone needs to start somewhere, but I worked hard on those videos and I was hoping to have more of a reaction. Even a mean comment would have been nice.

Most of the posts themselves got a few more “likes” than my usual work (with the exception of the PTSDiaries), which tells me that people enjoyed the themed posts on poetry. However, I averaged less new followers this month than other months. This tells me my current audience likes poetry, but it might not appeal to the wider blogisphere. So what I must do is try to balance poetry month posts with my usual fare to keep it fresh.

My most successful post was on my own personal journey as a poet, and the post I’d consider the least successful was my link collection, which are the posts I spent the most and the least effort on, respectively. Coincidence? I am humbled that the most popular posts of the month were the ones where I talked about myself. It means a lot to me that I have all of you on my poetry journey with me.

Next Year: My biggest mistake this year was not preparing content ahead of time. I’m a student as well as a writer as well as working part-time. April is finals months, and I was deluded in thinking that I could create new on-the-spot content while trying to study. Next year, I will prepare at least a month ahead of time. This extra preparation time will also allow me to prepare guest posts.

That’s it for poetry month 2015! We will be back to our regularly scheduled program on Tuesday. What do I have planned this month? Stay tuned and find out!

God bless,

Kelsey J.

P.S: Show my neglected youtube channel some love here

On Vlogging

Guten tag reader, and welcome to the new update day!

So I’ve been at a bit of a crossroads in my internet “career” for some time. I’ve read many articles that say that vlogging is a great way to grow your following and gain fans and fame and all that wonderful stuff. I’ve written before about my experience with video editing, and given that you’re reading me right now I probably have something halfway interesting to say. So why haven’t I started vlogging yet?

I think it’s a combination of things. At a very internal, personal level, I have self-esteem problems. I’m getting better, but most days I look in the mirror and I hate what I see. I know I plaster my picture as my background or as my banner, but I get to play with filters to make them look the way I want. If I try that with my video editing program my computer will crap itself. I hate the idea of a whole bunch of people getting to see what I look like and have the ability to anonymously make fun of me. I worry that I look terrible, I sound terrible and that I come across as a ninny.

My computer isn’t spectacular either. It’s due an upgrade, but at the moment I can’t afford one so I’m stuck with a machine bordering on obsolete. The nice webcam and microphone I bought won’t mean dip if the playback is choppy because Windows Media Player keeps nodding off.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to a fear of trying new things. I mean, I have clothes that I wore in high school. I don’t like new things. That’s a human thing. Most people, deep down, fear the unfamiliar. It doesn’t make you a coward or a loser or whatever. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of succeeding. I’m afraid of things that represent a shift from what I’m doing now. But if I want to grow up into an actual adult instead of wearing the body of one, I need to change.

So, as you all are my witnesses, I’m going to film a vlog this week.

-Kelsey J.

Speak for the Dead.

In my abnormal psychology class, a classmate suggested, in response to statistics that rates of depression fall in middle adulthood, that people with depression “grow out of it”. Before I could rip into this ignorant excuse for a human being like a starving zombie, my professor said something that stays with me to this day.

“It may look like that,” she said, “but in reality, a lot of young people diagnosed with depression simply don’t make it to adulthood.”

I wish I could say that I didn’t believe her, but the scars on my stomach lining tell a different story.

The fact that I never met my uncle tells an even darker one.

It is a different world than the one my uncle lived in. To be mentally ill now is a paradox. More and more people have become aware of the stigmas and falsehoods surrounding mental illness. Campaigns like Bell’s “Let’s Talk” have brought mental illness awareness to the television sets of millions. High-profile people being honest about their illnesses have led many people to greater understanding. Academics are dissecting the affects media has on perception of the mentally ill.

I’m not saying that this isn’t great.

But now there’s another problem.

A lot of the academic work surrounding the portrayal of mental illness completely ignores the experiences of the real mentally ill.

I’ve been blogging about psychology and the media, specifically literature, for a long time. Only one of the articles I’ve encountered acknowledges studies where mentally ill people were directly asked about how portrayals of their disorder in television and films affected their daily life. Others simply made generalizations about how mentally ill people felt victimized by these portrayals, and how the characterization of mental illness in the media made them afraid to seek help.

No, these media portrayals aren’t the problem. Not all of it. But I doubt these academics will listen to what I have to say.

The core issue at both media portrayals and these foolhardy academics is that these people are not letting the mentally ill speak for themselves. They are not letting us tell our own stories of victimization, of frustration, or, indeed, of hope. The issue is that, perhaps because of our disordered status,  they assume that we are in no position to do it. That we don’t know how. “Oh, the poor oppressed mentally ill!” they seem to say, “we must tell their stories, take these vial media pundits to task! Oh, we are truly selfless, speaking for the voiceless!”
With all due respect, shut up.

Just shut up.

All of this reminds me of critiques of the “white savior” archetype: the Caucasian knight who rushes in and solves the problems of racism for the poor oppressed coloured folks. Except this time, it is the “Neurotypical savior”. The mentally ill, for the first time in many centuries, aren’t voiceless. We can tell our own stories. We can point to where society has failed us, where the media has made us into monsters. We can slay our own dragons.

For instance, a children’s film that these articles cited often was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In the film, Belle and her father Maurice are labelled mentally ill by the townspeople. At one point, the townspeople attempt to force Maurice to be taken to a “Looney Bin”. Articles that mentioned this said that this reinforced harmful stereotypes. But, if one looks closer, this is not the case. It is the townspeople, not Maurice, that are cast as the villains for these actions. This sends the message that treating people like this is wrong. That’s a good thing. The lyrics from the Broadway version take this further:

            “We don’t like

What we don’t understand

In fact it scares us”

These lyrics are from the mob song, where the townspeople rush off to kill the Beast, who the audience knows is a kind being, based on the suggestion of one person. They are being portrayed as the bad guys. The “mentally ill” characters aren’t.

Here’s my favourite example. These academics point out adolescent are listen to music with themes of mental illness, framing it in such a way that this music is a problem. Your tax dollars at work, truly. Most mental illnesses manifest in adolescence, a fact that anyone with access to google can find out. Perhaps these young people are listening to music that makes them feel less alone. This issue frustrates me as a poet. What was suggested was that the fact that artists are making music about mental illness is the problem. Pardon me, but artists relate with their inner world through their art, and inner worlds often contain hints of mental illness. Should artists be forbidden from making music about their inner demons because an adolescent might learn that suicide and psychosis *gasp* exist? Should artists be regulated to making safe music for everyone, for “normal” people to enjoy? Should the mentally ill be forbidden from telling their own stories, because it makes people uncomfortable that kids might be listening, and it might “give them the wrong idea”?

Pull your head out of your ass. This attitude is just as harmful and damaging as only showing mentally ill people as serial killers. It is saying that, because our experiences differ from the norm, that they must be kept out of the public eye, away from children. It is saying that we are different, and therefore bad.

It is saying we don’t get to tell our stories. Our “neurotypical saviours” do.

So I’m writing this.

This blog tells my story of mental illness. It’s not glamourous, it’s not academic and it sure as hell isn’t easy. But it’s my story, and I’ll be damned if anyone else tells it.

I can’t speak for all mentally ill people. But someone should start speaking for the dead.

 

Post written in memoriam for Robin Williams, Sylvia Plath and Douglas Mills. 

Sources:

Adolescent mental health

Anderson, M. (2003). ‘One flew over the psychiatric unit’: Mental illness and the media. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 10(3), 297.

Klin, A., & Lemish, D. (2008). Mental disorders stigma in the media: Review of studies on production, content, and influences. Journal of Health Communication, 13(5), 434-449. doi:10.1080/10810730802198813

Lawson, A., & Fouts, G. (2004). Mental illness in Disney animated films. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 49(5), 310-314.

Stuart, H. (2006). Media portrayal of mental illness and its treatments: What effect does it have on people with mental illness? CNS Drugs, 20(2), 99-99. doi:10.2165/00023210-200620020-00002

Wahl, Otto. (2003). Depictions of Mental Illness in Children’s Media. Journal of Mental Health, 12(3), 249-258.

 

Mob song: lyrics and 

song here

Read about some celebrities with mental illness here