This post was originally written addressing a frustrated writer’s search for publication, but I’m featuring it now since it has lots of ideas for writers still struggling to get the words on the paper. So ignore the cyber mice–if you dare. :-)
I wasn’t sure what to write this morning since I’m chunking along on the novella and prepping PR for next month’s release, BLOOD WORK, and there’s nothing to say but that it’s work as usual. But then I got an email from a hopeful writer who wants my special attention because he/she feels that his/her work is not getting attention in NY because of the sensitive subject matter, that he/she has a story to tell, but no one is willing to risk public outcry because of its explosive nature. That I must have some special knowledge myself, because I touched upon what this particular writer dove right into and explored to its fullest.
I don’t answer personal emails, period. If it can not be said in a public forum, then it should not be asked me “off the record.” But it did strike me how often new writers can fall into a trap where they start blaming the industry for their lack of progress in getting their book published, claiming that NY is too short-sighted or timid to handle the timely topic that the writer has boldly, frankly, and sensitively delved into.
The honest truth is that NY is excited to find books they can sell, and if your book about space aliens struggling to find their sexual identity while masquerading as kids in a cosmopolitan ghetto being invaded by cyber mice intent upon taking over the world isn’t selling, don’t blame it on NY being afraid to publish a book with cyber mice in it.
The writer who came to me has my total sympathy. I know the frustration of having something to say and no one listening. The hard truth is that I don’t have anything special to tell him/her about how to become published with his/her manuscript full of cyber mice. It’s not the cyber mice that is getting him/her turned down. Stop blaming the cyber mice, and take a cold hard look at your manuscript or cover letter the way an editor or agent would.
Do you have a fast, quick opening that grabs the reader and dares them to turn the page? Your first novel has to start quick, especially if you write genre fiction.
Do you have a unique writing voice that is attractive? Agents can tell this from your cover letter. Unique writing voices take time to develop. 5-10 years. There is no shortcut.
Do you have writing credentials or mention a job that involves writing in your cover letter? If you don’t, it’s not necessarily a “thank you, no,” but the next cover letter in the pile does, so if you are serious about writing for a living, perhaps you should slow down and get some credentials in the short story market or a job that involves writing every day. Again, no short cut.
Do you clearly have the basics of grammar down, because that’s not the job of your editor. I didn’t, and it took me a long time to find them.
Do you present yourself as a professional in your cover letter, or do you spend 4+ pages telling the story? Cover letters are one page. Spend one sentence on the plot. Maybe two.
Does your cover letter bribe, bully, or try to be clever? That’s an immediate “thank you, no”, especially if you try to be clever. Agents hate clever. Chances are they have seen your clever twice already that morning. Be professional. They haven’t seen professional since lunch last week.
Your story is unique and special. So is every story on that overtaxed editor’s or agent’s desk. But there is hope. There are a few things you can do to get your story of cyber mice published.
First, are you prepared to work for ten years with no pay? Do you have someone who can help support you for those years before you find an editor or agent? On average, it takes ten years for a person to say “I want to write a book” before they ever see their name in print, and several years after before they can quit their job, if ever, and have their writing sustain them.
If you are, here are my tips for people writing about cyber mice.
1. Write every day, same time, same place, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. This will train your creativity to turn on at a drop of a hat. Two weeks of agony, and you will start to notice you will not be staring at a blank page when you sit down, but writing immediately. I don’t know any authors who write only when they feel like it. They treat it like the job that it is, even if it is a part-time job. This is hard, but it is worth it.
2. Once you’re producing work regularly, join a writer’s critique group, one that meets face to face on a regular basis if you can find them. To stand before strangers and read your work, then hear what they say they think you can do to make it better is hard. Be nice in your own critiques. These are the people who are going to help you become published. They will help you learn what is good advice, and what is bad. They will help you develop your thick skin for the caustic readers who don’t like your work. They will keep you motivated, and you will stand next to them when you go to writer conferences where the agents and editors go to find new talent. You will be glad you have them beside you after several years with them. Friends make it easier. To seek out strangers and show them your work is hard, but it is worth it.
3. Once you have 2-3 completed manuscripts, start going to writer conferences where agents and editors go to find new talent. I suck at cover letters, but I can properly convey my enthusiasm for a project in person. Dress professionally at conferences. Your favorite author may show up to a signing in a T-shirt and torn jeans, but I bet he/she didn’t when they met their agent or editor for the first time. Don’t get tipsy–be dependable. Agents/editors hate having to go to their superiors and explain why their client doesn’t have the ms ready as promised. Don’t mob the agent or editor you want to talk to. Please. Don’t. Spend two minutes and walk away. Ask if you can send them a synopsis of your work when they get back to the office, and then remind them of meeting you in your cover letter. (this is a huge in) Be professional. Do what Nora, (or Patterson, or King, or whoever) would do. To see someone who can make your manuscript a book and not blow it is hard, but restrain yourself. It is worth it.
But don’t blame NY for your lack of progress. This job is the hardest, most frustrating, joyous, bestest job in the world. And yes, bestest is a word–I just used it. You have to want it so bad that you run the risk of alienating your family, ruining your health, and possibly missing an entire season of Game of Thrones. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it won’t if you don’t put the time in. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.