Rejection, Part 2: The Evolution of Rejection

nacreous clouds antarcticaEnduring and surviving rejection is part of every writer’s successful career. Rejection letters can be part of a writer’s toolkit to success. This comes from objectively perceiving them as opportunities in a long process of relationship-building and the business of writing and publishing.

Writers often witness an evolution in rejection letters as they learn more about their craft and about their markets. The ability to recognize the evolutionary steps can be useful in determining your next move in that particular market.

Below I describe one sequence of a manuscript’s evolutionary path. These don’t necessarily follow a chronological path for any particular manuscript; nor am I suggesting that your personal writer’s path will follow this particular pattern. Take these for what they may represent to you for any particular manuscript’s journey to success.

  • Lowest form: the form-letter, with no name or signature—you get no information from this except that they’re probably swamped with submissions. File the letter and try them again with another story; you can even play a game of it to see how many submissions it takes to get “recognized”. Meantime send the rejected story elsewhere.
  • Next lowest form: Personalized form letter with your name on it and a name and signature on it. Congratulations! You are now a person. And you will likely be remembered when you submit another story here.
  • Higher on the Evolutionary Path: a form letter that includes a personalized note about your work and why it was rejected (often with an added comment about the story or your writing). You have made a mark. Try them again!
  • Even Higher on the Evolutionary Path: a personalized letter that explains why your story was rejected—this says as much about the editor as it does about how they felt about your story; that they are taking the time to write to you and give you suggests means you are worth their valuable time. You have an opportunity to begin a relationship with this editor. Play fair.
  • Highest on the Path: a personalized, perhaps even handwritten, note that specifies why they rejected your piece with suggestions for revision (and resubmission) or invitation to submit another piece. Congratulations! This is the beginning of a relationship. Revise and resubmit.

What Rejection Letters Look Like 

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve received a lot of rejection letters in the many years of my writing career. They’ve ranged from the short card form letter with no signature to the handwritten, per-sonalized letter with inviting comments.

Zeotrope-rejectionRejection letters will vary as much as the magazine and book market varies. The larger, busier companies that receive many more submissions over a given time period are more likely to go with the form letter. I’ve heard some agents and edit-ors go this route simply because it is safer for them. One magazine editor lamented to me not long ago that after she had provided a writer whose work she’d rejected with sev-eral paragraphs of explanation, the said writer had responded with an irascible diatribe of her skills as an editor.

Take heart: receiving a form letter like the one above from Zoetrope is very common, particularly from a large publisher. And take it for what it is, a letter that gives you very little infor-mation other than they rejected your story. File the letter and send the story elsewhere. challening destiny-rejection

Some publishers and agents use a checklist, which can provide you with very good feedback (see example below from Challenging Destiny for my short story, Arc of Time which found a home in several places after this rejection).

The next letter that rejected my short story Angel of Chaos (which later turned into Butterfly in Peking) provided enough insight to why they didn’t choose it that I could have gone one of two ways: 1) I could have left the story as it was and submitted elsewhere; or 2) I could have emailed them with a suggestion that I’d be willing to revise if they would reconsider a revision according to their specifications. I’ve done this in the past and published. This time I decided not to because I liked the story the way it was. space & time rejection

One magazine I submitted to gives your story to two independent readers whose comments they include along with their rejection or acceptance. This is great feedback for you! What I found frus-tratingly amusing was that the accolades of the reviewers didn’t guarantee the acceptance of my story. While my story Arc of Time generated very positive comments from both reviewers, the magazine still decided against publishing and the rejection letter gave no reason (see reviewer’s comments below):

Reviewer #1:I love the way this story is set up, switching back and forth from the different points of view. The “trippiness” is very appealing and works well with the modern/fantastical contrast.”

Reviewer #2:This was an intriguing and extraordinary clever story. I didn’t have a clue about the jape at the end until I got to the last page. And then it unfolded beautifully. The theological tie-ins were smart and fun and showed either some Mormon extrapolative thought or extreme knowledge of Biblical lore.” talebones rejection

You’d have thought, eh? But they rejected anyway. Below is an example of a form letter with a handwritten comment added along with signature and an invite to try them again. When this happens, by all means, try them again!

Make Rejection Work for You

One way to see your way through rejection is to find ways to distance yourself from your story once you’ve sent it off and to see the whole process of submission-rejection-acceptance as a business. The very best way to do this is to submit lots of stories and to keep submitting them. With novels, this is a little harder to do but you can certainly be working on the next one once you’ve submitted the first.

When I was writing short stories, I kept a list of what and where I sub-mitted, along with the most important item: where to submit NEXT. At any given time, I made sure that I had at least x-number of submissions out there and each story had a designated place to go if it returned. As soon as a story came back from magazine A, I simply re-packaged it and sent it to magazine B. The critical part of the list was to have a contingency for each story: the next place where I would send the story once it returned. I was planning on the story being rejected with the hope that it would be accepted; that way, a rejection became part of a story’s journey rather than a final comment.

I ran my submissions like a bus terminal. A story was in and out so fast it nacreous clouds antarcticanever had a chance to cool off. And, since I had five other pieces out there, I could do this with little emotion. I was running a fast-paced “story depot”, after all. All my stories had to be out there as soon as possible; if they were sitting in the terminal, they were doing nothing for me. Now, ask me if this worked. D*** right! Soon after adopting this process, I started selling. I think several things were happening and galvanizing into sales: publishers were getting to know me; I got more and more familiar with the market and my professionalism paid off.

 

This article is an excerpt from Chapter R of The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! (Starfire, 2009).

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

 

Rejection, Part 1: How to Accept Rejection

nacreous clouds antarcticaWe’ve all suffered rejection and disappointment. Perhaps that job you coveted or someone you loved who might have even led you on before dropping you. It hurts. But you move on. And it does get better. Eventually. It does, trust me. It helps by starting with knowing that we don’t always get what we want, but we always get what we need…

Being a published writer involves accepting rejection. It’s part of the job description. Think of rejection as an integral part of your road to success. If you have never been rejected then you haven’t really tried, have you? There are several ways that you can gain a good perspective on your rejection letters and even make them work to your advantage.

Adopt a Healthy Perspective

One way is to adopt a realistic, objective and healthy viewpoint on your story’s rejection:

  • View selling manuscripts as a “cold call” business: When you view it this way, you will treat it that way. Until you establish a relationship with your market, selling becomes a numbers game. The more you send, the more likely you are to get a hit. It’s all in the statistics.
  • View rejections as an opportunity. Rejections can provide you with the opportunity to learn and re-evaluate, usually of appropriate market and publisher subjectivity rather than writing quality.
  • View rejections as the beginning of a relationship. Not all rejections are final; in fact most aren’t. Most rejections by a publisher or magazine editor stem from story redundancy, lack of space or editorial requirements. Many rejection letters will reflect this (e.g., “Thanks, but this isn’t a match for us…do try us again.” They mean it. It just means that the story wasn’t right—they may have run something too similar to it already or it didn’t fit with the other pieces or theme or whatever.)
  • View rejections as part of your success journey. Rejection is a given in the writing business and a necessary aspect of your journey as a soon-to-be and published writer (you don’t stop getting rejections once you’re published!). Often a story may be considered “before its time”; too different, a risk and is therefore harder to place. This is often why a book that was rejected so many times becomes a great hit once it is published. The very quality that made it hard for a publisher to accept made it a success with the readership: its refreshing yet topical originality.
  • View rejections as your first step to success. Take heart in the fact that you reached this stage in your writing career. Getting that first rejection in the mail is a great affirmation that you have taken that first significant step to becoming a serious writer. It means that you’ve completed a work and had the courage to enter it into the world.

Acceptance begins with rejection.

Make Rejection Work for You

You can maintain a more objective view on your rejections by keeping an objective view on your submissions. This can be accomplished by submitting a lot and submitting often. Treat your submissions—and rejections—like a business. The best way to do this is to submit lots of stories and to keep submitting them. The critical part of this process is to always have a contingency ready for each story submitted: once a story is returned, you have a place to send it already. Most professional writers will recommend that you do not revise the story before resending it out. This is because many rejections occur not on account of poor writing, but because of poor or unlucky marketing.

Remember that You’re in Great Company

Virtually every writer of merit who has published has had their work rejected several times. Beatrix nacreous clouds antarcticaPotter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit was turned down so many times that she initially self-published. Irving Stone’s Lust for Life was rejected sixteen times before a publisher finally picked it up and sold about twenty-five million copies. Not bad for a story that was passed off as “a long, dull novel about an artist.” Jonathan Livingston Seagull was turned down twenty-three times and Dune twenty-one times. There are a bazillion examples; I’ve just picked a few. Go check J.K. Rowling’s track record for rejections before getting her Harry Potter published…

I’ll be talking more about how to read a rejection letter, how to recognize their sub-text messages, and how to make the most out of them in Part 2, the evolution of rejection letters.

 

This article is an excerpt from my fiction writing guidebook The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! (Starfire, 2009).

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Should You Judge a Book by its Cover?

NaturalSelection-frontHRMost readers—me included—will pick a book off the bookstore shelf because its cover interests us: the title intrigues; the cover illustration attracts; the author’s name is one we trust.

If you don’t know the author of the book, the nature—and implied promise—of the cover becomes even more important.

If the book does not deliver on the promise of the cover, it will fail with many readers despite its intrinsic value. A broken promise is still a broken promise. I say cover, not necessarily the back jacket blurb, because the front cover is our first and most potent introduction to the quality of the story inside. How many of us have picked up a book, intrigued by its alluring front cover, read the blurb that seemed to resonate with the title and image, then upon reading our cherished purchase been disillusioned with the story and decided we disliked it and its author?

This is because, as readers, from the moment we pick up a book, we engage in a covenant with the story’s author (but in actual fact with the entire publishing company) for a story whose promise we have interpreted from its cover image, title and blurb. It begins with the cover. A book’s cover is its sales pitch: “This is what I’m about!” the cover proclaims in shades of color and texture. The cover sets the tone and attitude with which a reader will interpret the book’s title and back jacket blurb and its interior.

It had better be true.

Let me tell you a story…

Some time ago, a writer colleague of mine secured a New York agent—based on her excellent query and synopsis—for her imaginative dragon fantasy. The agent pitched the book to a large publishing company, who made my friend an offer, and the agent secured a three book deal on her behalf. My writing friend’s career as a published author was launched.

Because the publishing company was one of the large firms, my friend’s ability to participate—never mind influence—the cover design and blurb was restricted. Decisions lay in the hands of the people in the marketing department, who may or may not have read the book (most likely not). This is why it is so important to write a blurb/query/pitch that both scintillates AND accurately portrays the story. All too often, the marketing department misrepresents the story (to sell more books) and you end up with an unsatisfied reader. This is what happened to my friend. Through no fault of hers, the marketing people developed a cover that did not reflect the true nature of her story. The trilogy my friend had developed was a dark tale of deceit, betrayal and suffering. The cover portrayed a lively and sultry seductress, draped with flowing robes and bared thighs against her dragon; hardly the ponderous story shrouded within. The blurb at the back was sufficiently vague to aid and abet the deception.

What followed the book’s launch and accompanying ad campaign was a barrage of bad reviews and censure, unfortunately aimed mostly at the author. It was unfortunate that my friend suffered the brunt of the accusations for breaking her promise to the readers, when she had done no such thing; her publisher and marketers had created false expectations. And now she was paying for it.

I, too, experienced the effects of mis-marketing. I’d written a dark science fiction romance that ended with resolution but was far from the traditional happy ending, typical of a romance. The publisher marketed it as a romance with science fiction elements instead of a science fiction with romance elements. Reviewers applauded it but it bombed with romance readers, who expected a different kind of resolution. Science fiction readers, however, enjoyed it; they didn’t have the same expectations.

The take home lesson for writers is this: write a scintillating but accurate synopsis, blurb, pitch and query that clearly establishes your genre and audience. Chances are your publishers will use it in their marketing department. If you don’t get in with the “Big Boys”, and decide to go with the small presses, chances are very good that you will have more control over marketing and cover design; that is a big bonus. If you are like me, creative control of your intellectual property is more important than the big bucks you get at the expense of your art. Don’t give in to the temptations of wolf-marketing.

I’m still learning that lesson.Darwins Paradox-2nd cover

The take home lesson for readers is this: don’t judge a book by its cover; certainly pick up the book if it looks interesting, then read with an open mind and let the story take you to where it needs to, despite what you may have expected from the false advertising. Chances are, the unexpected journey visited upon you may be a welcome surprise. And don’t blame the writer for something he didn’t have control over.

I’m still learning that lesson too.

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

 

What Indie Authors Should Know…

morning mist mountainsAs we enter a new year in writing and publishing, I thought I’d review some interesting statistics and observed trends over 2014 made by those poised well in the industry.

In July 2014, Publishers Weekly revealed some interesting statistics from various surveys and studies worth considering.

The article was based on two recent surveys: one by best selling indie author Hugh Howey; and the other by Mark Coker, founder of e-book distributor Smashwords.

Publishers Weekly cited Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report, in which he claimed that “the report comes to the conclusion that the indie movement in literature is not a blip and not a gold rush.” It is definitely here to stay, said Publishers Weekly. Here’s what they summarized:

  • The Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists.
  • Self-published books now represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store.
  • Indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going to authors.
  • Self-published authors are “dominating traditionally published authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres but — and here is the surprise — they are also taking “significant market share in all genres.

Publishers Weekly contended that “what is clear is that strong indie sales will continue and indie books are now a significant and permanent part of the book publishing landscape.”

Coker’s survey revealed that the 99¢ ebook was no longer “the sweet spot” for e-book pricing. In his 2014 survey, Coker determined from aggregated retail and library sales data of Smashwords books, that:

  • $2.99 and $3.99 are currently the pricing sweet spots for most e-book bestsellers. In general, authors who price their books modestly earn more than those whose average price is higher, but 99¢ is “no longer the path to riches.”
  • Readers prefer longer e-books. In fact, bestselling books tend to be over 100,000 words.
  • Series books outsell stand alone books — but series books under 50,000 words are at a sales disadvantage.
  • “Free” still works as a marketing tool, especially when an author offers the first book in a series for free, but it is much less effective than before — primarily because so many authors are taking advantage of it.
  • Pre-orders give authors a sales advantage. “I think pre-orders today are where free was five years ago,” says Coker. “The first authors to effectively utilize pre-orders will gain the most advantage, just as the first authors to enter new distribution channels gain the most advantage,” he says.
  • Non-fiction earns more at higher prices. “Non-fiction buyers are less price sensitive,” says Coker. “It appears as if most non-fiction authors are underpricing their works, and they should experiment with higher prices,” he says.

Coker is quick to point out that this analysis is based on his own interpretation of the findings, and should only be used to provide authors with possible clues to help them make informed decisions about how to market their own unique books.

In an excellent article, summarizing 2014, award-winning author Kristine Kathryn Rusch summarizes what indie writers learned in 2014. She prefers to use the terms indie-writer and indie-publishing over self-publishing, “because so many writers who are not with traditional publishers have started their own presses. It’s not accurate to lump all writers who are not following the traditional route into the self-publishing basket any longer, if it ever was.” This is an interesting acknowledgement and considers a movement by established authors toward a different publishing model, including hybrid publishing.

Rusch’s rather pithy article suggests that writing and publishing “is hard”, no matter what model you use. She adds that if you don’t learn to love the business side of the industry, “self-publishing can be a soul-sucking experience.” Rusch is quick to add that business destroys the dreams of many writers. “If you don’t learn to love business, you’ll get destroyed in traditional publishing. It’ll just take ten years, where in self-publishing, it’ll take less time.”

Read her section entitled “Achieving Real Success is Hard” for an insightful and candid study of “success” in writing and publishing.

“We all measure success differently, and we should know what it is before we start publishing. But most writers don’t. Success is finishing a novel (check). Success is getting that novel published (check). Success is getting good reviews (check). Success is getting paid for that novel. (check) Success is making a living. (um, what?)”

Read Rusch’s section entitled “The Gold Rush is Over” for an excellent reality-check of the indie publishing industry.

“The days of slapping something up and making a lot of sales were gone by the end of 2010. But the rumors persisted and a lot of people got into indie publishing expecting to get rich…You are not entitled to fame and riches just because you published a book.”

In his blog post of November 2014, Mark Coker said:

“The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over. Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it. … Some authors are considering quitting. It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either. When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on. Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all.”

To Coker’s comment Rusch adds, “I’m pretty sure more writers quit than survived publishing in 2014, but that’s because more writers always quit than survive. As I said above, the entire profession is hard, and for those people who want to get by without working hard, this profession is not for them.”

Rusch sums up, again rather pithily, eight things indie writers learned (or should have learned) in 2014:

  1. Gaming the system is impossible: e.g., “every time we figure out how Amazon’s algorithm works, Amazon changes it”; “free doesn’t help me sell my books any more”; 99cents doesn’t help me sell my books any more”; “the tags are gone”; I can’t seem to get enough reviews”; “now when I post on social media, no one responds”—trying to milk the system doesn’t work for the writer because the system is geared for the customer, not the writer—and it’s always a step ahead of you…
  2. Amazon doesn’t love you: Kindle Unlimited? It isn’t about helping its writers; it is about helping its customers.
  3. No one loves you: writers are not entitled to have their books on a shelf, virtual or real.
  4. Your readers don’t even love you (all the time): “you don’t collect and hoard readers; readers can collect and hoard books. It doesn’t work the other way around,” says Rusch.
  5. Sales based on price no longer work: “even the most denial-filled indie writers are starting to figure out that just because their books are cheap, it doesn’t mean readers will pick up that book,” says Rusch.
  6. Running with the big dogs is hard: “Now that the last thing that differentiated traditional publishing from indie—price— has leveled out, indies discovered in 2014 that they’re no longer competing with each other. They’re competing with traditionally published books, including long-term bestsellers,” says Rusch. As Blake says, “Pro basketball players don’t tell themselves that they don’t have to be all that great because there are plenty of mediocre players.”
  7. There is no status quo: “Working in the arts means accepting constant change. Constant change… One of the stupidest gambits I’ve heard from writers in recent years comes from the indie world. Apparently, writers are now searching key words on Amazon bestseller lists—and writing books based on those key words. Oh, heavens, folks. The Amazon bestseller lists are a fraction of the market in the first place, and in the second, they only reflect what sells well now. What will sell well next Christmas is anyone’s guess—and generally speaking, anyone will be wrong… All these gamings and gambits and strategies are based on status-quo thinking,” says Rusch.
  8. There is such a thing as an Indie Midlist Career: many indie writers are finding that they can earn a living writing, essentially earning out what they earned working for someone else. Indie authors are indeed quitting their day jobs, understanding the financial value of the artistic freedom that indie writing gives us. This, Rusch shares, “is what the self-publishing revolution has brought us.” Not some get rich-quick thing; but the means to do what we love.

So, what’s the take home message here for established and particularly new budding indie authors and publishers?

Writing and publishing is a collaborative effort. Take pride in your work. Embrace your passion for writing. Treat everyone in the industry with professionalism and respect, and above all else, enjoy the journey. It’s worth it.morning mist mountains

Oh, and last but not least: ensure you get your work edited by a professional!

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Demystifying the Synopsis

woman-writing-a-bookA synopsis is a larger version of the book jacket blurb you see on the back of most paperbacks in the bookstore. You write a synopsis for the same reason: to sell a story idea to a publisher and ultimately to a reader. It is an in-depth summary of the entire book that weaves in thematic elements with plot to portray a compelling often multi-level story arc. Although a well-written synopsis may be the hardest thing to write—particularly for a novice writer and you haven’t finished your book—it is precisely what an editor or agent usually wants to see first of your work (often alongside sample chapters and a query letter).

 

Why Write a Synopsis

The synopsis is a highly valuable tool to writers for a number of reasons.

  1. A synopsis helps get your manuscript read by an editor. Writing a great synopsis is just as important as writing a compelling first three chapters to hook an editor. Editors most often ask for a combination of these three things in an initial submission: 1) query letter; 2) sample chapters (usually three); and, 3) synopsis. However, publishers’ specifications for synopses vary greatly. For instance, the length of a synopsis may vary from one page to twenty pages and its style will vary accordingly. Whether you submit a synopsis with your novel sample chapters or not, writing one will directly benefit your novel by helping you to sort out what’s important and what drives the theme and characters of your story.
  2. The synopsis can answer questions that may perplex the author, stuck on a scene or plot item. It helps you weave your novel’s elements into a well-integrated story that is compelling at many levels. Let’s face it; if you can’t tell describe what the book is about, what’s important and what drives the story you may have to re-evaluate the story. Certainly don’t expect an editor to know if you don’t. For this reason, it makes sense to write drafts of your synopsis as you go along in the novel; that way it’s useful to both you and to the editor and then it’s more or less written when you need to submit it along with sample chapters…and not quite as daunting a task either.
  3. The synopsis you write for your novel may be used by the publisher’s marketing department to advertize your book and by their cover artists on your cover. Therefore, it’s important to make the tone, flavor and intent of your story clear in your synopsis so that it’s properly represented.

 

What is a Synopsis?

It helps to know what a synopsis is before embarking on one. Unlike an outline, which is basically a plot summary, a synopsis integrates plot with theme and characterization so a publisher can gauge the meaningfulness of the story. A synopsis can contain the following items: 1) theme; 2) setting and period; 3) plot summary; 4) character sketches; 5) dialogue; 6) emotional turning points; and 7) subplots. The synopsis combines these components to reveal the story’s unique nature and what makes it stand out to both publisher and ultimately reader.

 

Writing a Synopsis

Theme is the backbone of the novel, the “so what” part. If you are able to reduce it to one sentence or even word, this will help you to focus the other aspects of the synopsis, and novel, around it. For example, “there’s no place like home,” or “to have a friend, you must be a friend.” You can provide setting and period in one or two short sentences, while describing other key elements to your story. Plot summaries provide the skeleton upon which you flesh out characters and their motivations, they form the “what” of the “so what” part. The actual “so what” parts are the emotional turning points or the focal events of the plot that directly link to important thematic parts of the story. Character sketches get woven in as part of theme and plot. Dialogue or quotes (very short excerpts) can be effective. They break up the page and makes it more interesting, while providing a sample of your work.

If this all still sounds daunting to you, think of writing the synopsis in steps:

Step 1: write the outline, using each chapter to write a one or two sentence summary of important points.

Step 2: create a thematic skeleton, by adding the motivational aspects of the plot with the various characters and what’s at stake for each of them. Think of the overarching thema or story arc and include important sub-plots that tie-in to this.

Step 3:flesh out the storytelling by writing it as a story. Use all your fiction writing skills to create a compelling story summary.

Write your synopsis like a story, complete with hook, building a crisis and then climax and denouement.

 

Some Basic Rules

Despite the varying specific guidelines among publishing houses, they agree on several universal rules that every synopsis should follow. These include:

  • Summarize the complete novel (beginning, middle, and end) regardless of whether you’ve included sample chapters and don’t leave out the ending (as a teaser);
  • Always write the synopsis in the present tense (e.g., the Budong eats Jarek; not the Budong ate Jarek)
  • Write the synopsis from the author’s perspective and use vivid language (e.g., use active power verbs and avoid modifiers)
  • The first time you introduce a character in a synopsis, type the name in CAPITAL letters, but do this only the first time the character is mentioned.
  • Stay consistent with how you describe a character (e.g., not John the first time and Mr. Smith the next)

Remember to check the guidelines of the publishing house to which you are sheep in wintersubmitting before finalizing your synopsis and the rest of your submission. Every house will be a little different.

 

References

Munteanu, Nina. 2009. The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! Starfire World Syndicate. Louisville, KY. 266pp

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Beating Today’s “S” Curve (or Why an Editor is Every Writer’s Best Friend)

mushroom forestI’m an ecologist and a limnologist. I conducted environmental research and investigations for over twenty years; as senior scientist I investigated and reported on environmental phenomena to both the scientific and lay community. I find it interesting when something I’ve been reporting on for over twenty years finally makes it to the mainstream; like it’s news. So, when a New York City cab driver turned to me recently and lectured me on global warming, I nodded slowly in mute agreement and didn’t tell him that I’d been studying it for over twenty years.

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on out there right now. Maybe you noticed it. Economists are all abuzz with it. Social scientists and psychologists are gossiping to each other about it: the exponential growth curve—or “S” curve—that we are currently in the middle of is fueling our food shortages, oil shortages, inflation, economic collapses, tensions between countries, population rise, and everything else to do with humanity on this planet.

Ecologists have long been studying this biological—and sociological—phenomenon in nature. The typical “S” curve has three parts to it: 1) the beginning, where it lags and shows a slow rate of rise; 2) then the steep rise of exponential growth; and 3) the eventual leveling off when the supposed carrying capacity is reached. There is another kind of curve, the “boom and bust” curve that instead of plateauing at the end toward sustainability, plummets just as steeply back to or below levels in the first step (that’s a whole other topic and blog post).

Why am I talking to you about this? Because it has everything to do with your writing. The publishing industry is currently experiencing its own version of the “S” curve and the “boom and bust” curve (for traditional publishing houses, I’m afraid). We are currently witnessing a growing influx and legitimization of self-publishing and Indie publishing. Thanks to a few crazy success stories and the new affordable paradigm of POD digital publishing, publishing hasn’t been easier. This new model heralds an unprecedented renaissance of self-expression and creativity, shared worldwide.

Consider these statistics: in 2009, Publishers Weekly reported over 750,000 self-published/micro publisher titles, over twice the number of traditionally published titles that same year. The figures (I couldn’t find more recent ones—let me know when you do) are assuredly much higher today. From 8,000 to 11,000 new publishers currently enter the field every year and most of them are self-publishers or small indie publishers. Seventy-eight percent of titles brought out come from a small press or self-publisher. Fifty-two percent of books sold are not sold in bookstores; they are merchandised through mail order, online, in discount or warehouse stores, through book clubs, and nontraditional retail outlets.

As a function of this renaissance of self-expression, the number of books hitting the market is rising at an exponential rate. There’s that “S” curve again. Check out Amazon: they have over seven million books on their virtual shelves. And now, thanks to their new policies, it’s growing exponentially. What does this mean for you?

It used to be that the screening for excellence in books occurred behind the closed doors of prestigious publishing houses; if a book wasn’t deemed worthy of the standards or didn’t fit the style of that publishing house (with its own reputation), it was not accepted and didn’t see the light of day. The rejected and dejected author often went back to the drawing board to improve their artistic work before resubmitting. That was then. Now, works are published without prejudice in the open for the world to see.  It used to be that writers complained of their writing being “sterilized” by the editor of the publishing house, which was only conforming to the house style and their vision of what is salable. Now, authors wishing for creative control simply self-publish.

Self-publishing has created a kind of anarchy in publishing; anything can be published (so long as you have the money). And while this is incredibly liberating for authors around the world, it is also incredibly dangerous. Here’s why: once you publish your material, it will be out there for the world to see forever. That means FOREVER. It becomes a permanent record of your standards of excellence and taste; essentially a statement of who and what you are. You had better be proud of it then and for a very long time. It is no longer the responsibility of the publisher to determine publishing worthiness; the onus is on YOU, the writer. What will you do to ensure the best possible work for your readers?

Competition will become ever more fierce AFTER you’ve invested and AFTER you’ve published; your book will then compete with a world of self-published authors in addition to those published by traditional publishing houses. In order for your book to rise above the massive competition, it’s more important than ever to produce a concise, clean, clear, polished-to-perfection manuscript that you are proud of. With an awesome cover (see my July 2013 post on book jacket covers).

Self-published author Dave Bricker shares that, “Poor editing is the number one complaint heard from critics of the independent publishing industry. Though the standards of mainstream publishing houses are overrated, I’ve read many indie books where spotty spelling and lack of polished prose present barriers to enjoyable reading. Unedited authors sully the publishing waters for the rest of us.” He’s talking about poor packaging. Poor manuscript presentation can seriously undermine an author’s chances of being taken seriously. A good reputation is earned slowly and tenuously; a poor reputation, like the plummeting “boom and bust” curve can end a writer’s career.

“Why not produce a pressure-tested product that has already withstood the scrutiny of a professional critic whose standards are much higher than those of the average reader?” says Bricker. “As with your typesetting and cover design, the best route to success is to engage a professional.” He is right. If you want to be treated as a professional (by readers) then be professional and engage professionals.

What do professional editors do?

Editors aren’t proofreaders, although this might be one task in several they can provide. Most editors are what are variously called structural or story editors; someone capable of commenting on the work objectively and with competence. Is the story believable? Are there unexpected temporal jumps or unexplained threads in the narrative? Are the article’s assertions properly supported? As with affairs of the heart, it’s easy to understand the problems of others and difficult to acknowledge what we’re too close to see—and if you think writing isn’t an affair of the heart, you haven’t started your book yet. Get that third-party perspective.

No one likes to be edited. Of course you feel protective of your material; that is natural. You’ve put so much into it; how could a stranger possibly understand and treat it with the respect it deserves?

Professional editors are accustomed to interacting with authors in a mutually respectful relationship. Editors have to make a living, and they would quickly find themselves unable to if they treated their clients in any way other than professionally and respectfully. A professional editor is more likely to serve your true interests in getting published than a friend or relative who likely knows little of “storytelling”, plot and character; and may side-wind you with inappropriate advice or platitudes. In fact, showing your work to a friend or relative may be the reason why you have decided that you “don’t like to be edited.” Before I was published, I once showed my work in progress to my husband, who was too close to the subject and its writer; he made very unprofessional remarks that were more damaging than helpful. If you go with a professional you will not have this problem.

Throughout history, authors have relied on their editors to be their sounding boards, to represent the eye and ear of the reader, and to help bring a viewpoint that can’t arise spontaneously in the author’s head. In the past, the traditional publishing house has typically provided this service. Many publishing houses now expect the writer to provide a manuscript that has already been edited. Indie and self-publishing scenarios leave the onus on the writer.

Two of the most common excuses that authors find for not engaging a professional editor include cost and venue.

I can’t afford an Editor: can you afford to put out a book for the world to see that is full of mistakes? If you aren’t serious enough about writing and publishing to invest in your career with good guidebooks, courses & workshops and coaching and editing, then perhaps you should rethink your career. No one would think twice about training and getting professional help to become a successful nurse or pilot. Writing is the same. For it to be successful, it requires investment. Especially if you are considering self-publishing.

Self-published author Dick Margulis reminds us that “Self-publishing is a business – the publishing business – and if you hope to succeed in it, you have to manage it like a business. You have to look at your skill set and decide which of the many tasks associated with publishing you are suited to doing yourself and which can be done more effectively and more economically by others. Your time has value, and you have to decide how it is best spent.”misty forest path

It’s Just an E-Book: a common mistake, particularly with digitally published books, is the notion that because you haven’t invested in typesetting or printing you can fix the mistakes later. That is a poor notion. And a risky approach that smacks of laziness. Letting your readers find your mistakes for you is a poor show and will hurt your reputation as a writer (no matter who publishes you). With books, no matter what format, the first impression is critical. For some readers that may be the first and last time they meet you and your work. Make sure it counts. Word gets around pretty fast on the Internet. Ensure that it’s a good word.

So, now you want to find a good editor… Where can you find them?

Here, in Canada, most good professional editors belong to the professional editors association known as EAC (Editors Association of Canada). You can browse the association website for an editor’s profile with information.

Many good writers also freelance edit, like myself (see what I do as writing coach and editor under the Coaching/Teaching tab here). My Major Services Page describes my services in more detail.

Hiring an author/editor is a good fit, particularly if the author/editor writes in your genre interest.  SF Canada, a professional writers organization in the science fiction and fantasy genres, is another good place to find author/editors in that genre.

I know and have worked with several excellent editors, including non-fiction, technical editors, fiction editors, etc. You can drop me a line if you are looking.

And, while you’re looking, check out my interview with Jennifer D. Foster of Boldface (Toronto Branch of EAC blog) On the Author / Editor Relationship and what makes a good editor.

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

The Indie Book Tidal Wave …What Does it Mean for Bookstores, Publishers & Writers?

wave-clark-little03We’re all agreed: the publishing industry is in upheaval. A kind of change that ripples in fractal waves throughout its entire expression and existence. A kind of change that creates a great paradigm shift. A kind of change that heralds in a new world.

Of course, much of this is due to a change in perspective: how we approach things and direct ourselves; the models and designs we use as our vehicles of expression; and how we apply them in relationship with our world.

So, what I’m saying is that the publishing industry is changing because we are changing, not the other way around. We are directing that change. We are directing that change every bit as much as we are directing changes in other important elements in our lives.

You don’t need to embrace new-age spirituality, mystery school teachings, non-locality particle physics, quantum entanglement or “intuitive science” to appreciate that our entire existence as a species, a living community and a planet is in upheaval.

You know what I mean. Wherever you look, it’s crazy (put your own examples here; there are too many). And in the midst of all this, miracles happen. What does this have to do with indie publishing? Well, nothing…well, everything. Let me tell you a little about me and my books…

I’ve had over a dozen books published with small to mid-sized presses as well as my own small press, recently started up. My first book made it to the shelves of big bookstores like Chapters/Indigo and Barnes & Noble. I’ve seen my books on the shelves of small indie bookstores in Toronto and Vancouver areas and in a Paris bookstore. I’ve also had the heartache of seeing too many of my books returned from these same large bookstores, no longer “stocking” a particular title (although they kept it in their online catalogue). Over the years my thinking as both writer and publisher has shifted: mostly to do with what bookstores are doing; who to publish with; and what formats to provide my readership (e.g., e-book, print, audiobook).

Along with that shift, my definition of “big thinking” also changed. The possibilities are endless in a world where an unknown individual can achieve worldwide fame through a single twitter feed.

In the first in a new series of articles devoted to “Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing” Dean Wesley Smith recently shared some interesting facts and opinions about how changes in book production along with reader technology has affected the industry.

He dispels the notion of many indies that their books can’t easily get into bookstores. Distribution channels for books, particularly indie books, are more than arcane. Smith advises indie publishers and writers that, “If you are already doing some things correctly, there’s a big chance your books are already in bookstores and you don’t even know it.” He’s right. I’ve published several of my books with indie publishers and both my publisher and I were unaware of some of the bookstores my books ended up in all over the world! I only found out because I frequently google my books for just such surprises. “And of course, in this new world,” Smith continues, “you don’t even know what it means ‘to have your books in a bookstore’.”

What does it mean to have your book in a bookstore? It’s in the store if it is sitting on one of the shelves, says Smith. It’s also “in the store” if it’s in the bookstore’s online database, which is where most indie books end up—virtually there, if not actually there. Considering how most people shop for books these days, and the inadequacy of shelf exposure (only so many books can appear on the shelf with their covers visible as opposed to their less compelling spine), this is not necessarily a lesser thing for the indie writer and publisher.

Ten years ago, says Smith, most bookstores used to order “to stock”. Today smart bookstores order “to replace”. This is now possible because of quicker distribution, and swift and high quality digital POD methods of book production (including neat quirky things like Espresso Book Machines or EBMs). Along with this new policy comes another potential change in the transaction model—that of returns. Smith reports that the returns system is “drifting away and is now under 18% standard and still dropping.” They were more like 50% not too long ago, which can be potentially disastrous to a small publishing company or self-published author with small revenue-base. Smith reports that many large publishers are even offering no-return choices, usually with higher discounts, which bookstores are accepting. This is great news again to small and new publishers, who cannot afford the uncertain and sudden cost of returns. Of course, returns will likely remain as a reassurance to booksellers when picking up unknown titles. In fact, this practice was adopted to permit booksellers to carry more new and untried authors without putting them at grave risk.

Smith confirms something I envisioned a while ago: that bookstores won’t disappear; instead they will morph into a more diverse set of small and specialized stores, stocking less numbers of any one book (one or two copies tops) for show with the ability to order new books and get them quickly. This is the new model Smith talks about: stock low and order to replace. So, “instead of ten of the last Patterson, there are two of the Patterson and eight other author’s books in the same shelf space,” says Smith.

So, for indie book publishers and writers, and bookstores who carry them, we are seeing the rise of a new paradigm; new trade arrangements that include consignment agreements, small but diverse inventory, and huge opportunity.wave-clark-little05

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.