Category Archives: looking for editors

Help with Those Darned “Comps”

Maybe most of us know exactly what genre we’re writing for. Wish I was one of “us.”

mountains nature arrow guide

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

This piece from Penny Sansevieri via Anne R. Allen (the wonderful @annerallen) via Chris the Story Reading Ape (inimitable @Storyreadingape) lays out a path for one of the most onerous tasks for me as I query my WsIP: finding “recent” “best-selling” books that are “similar to my book” yet, of course, slightly inferior.

I. e., “comps” or “comparable titles.”

I’ve read comments by agents on their blogs that if I can’t come up with perfect matches for these descriptors, I just haven’t done my homework.

After wallowing in self-pity for a while, I’ve discovered some of the “homework” assignments Sansevieri suggests, with some decent results. I’ve had the experience of finding that books that come up when I type in my keywords aren’t at all like my books. She offers some ideas for solving that problem I haven’t tried yet.

Tomorrow!

One of my biggest problems, as she suggests, is finding time to read widely enough to locate books in the same universe as mine. I’ve used the “Look Inside” feature to get a general sense if I’m remotely in the right category. Even using that metric, of the three I thought most likely to match one of my books and bought just to see, one fell into a completely different universe. I won’t know if the others are good matches until I read more of them.

Any ideas,  in addition to those Sansevieri provides, for speeding up this process? (Not that I don’t like reading. So many books, so few lives.)

What do you do to find comps?

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Filed under Finding agents, genres, looking for editors, Marketing books

Sigh. Yes, We Have to Write Those &(%%$# Queries and Synopses.

Sad that InDesign is not working rightI’ve given up fighting. I’m doing it, I’m doing it!

I wonder how many creative writing classes and MFA programs include a course in query-writing. I guess if you’re a superbly outgoing person capable of making such a stunning impression in an elevator that you get an automatic request for your fulls, you don’t have to.

Where can I find a class in how to be that person?

Sigh.

Doing the Things You Don’t Love to Get to Where You Want to Be

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Filed under business of writing, Finding agents, looking for editors, novels, Publishing

Power Cutting from Someone Who Had To!

Pair of scissors for cutting text.

Bad news.

The very first line of your query has to tell the agent or editor how long your book is.

The execrable fact is that they expect certain genres to fall within certain limits.

When you’re an overwriter, like me, always able to stroke out one more metaphor, one more lilting phrase, one more neat character detail, hitting those word limits can be a challenge.

The problem intensifies when your writing groups and betas want “More! More!” Or when they push you to look at issues in your story that you glossed over before but now can’t leave unresolved.

So I faced querying a psychological-suspense manuscript at 107,000+ words and an accidental-detective mystery at 106,000+. I’m here to report that both books are now under 100,000 words.

Victory lap after cutting 6000+ words from my manuscript!
Victory Lap!

I’ve read enough submissions in writing groups to know that I’m not the only one in need of a repertoire of tricks (okay, strategies) for corralling a manuscript that has bolted for the hills. I needed “Power Cutting” skills.

I know what a lot of us would say: Cut 7,000 words?!? That will destroy my book! My brilliant writing will win over readers no matter how long it is.

Maybe, but you have to get an agent or editor to read your brilliant writing instead of thinking, “That sounds way too long.”

In fact, my efforts taught me strategies, many of them simple fixes, that actually improved my books rather than devastating them.

Not only will these strategies help you catch bad habits, they’ll force you to think hard about your story: What is it about, what belongs and what doesn’t? At least, that’s what Power Cutting did for me.

Here are some of the big-ticket things I learned.

Have a word-count goal. Until you make up your mind that you MUST cut, you won’t. Watching that number at the bottom of the screen sink and sink inspires!

Start, obviously, with familiar “fillers” like “very” and “really.” Read up on advice for recognizing useless words.

Cut hard now, reconsider later. You might cut too hard and scrape off too much voice, but storing your cuts in a separate, renamed file saves your original language, ready to reinstate after you’ve exceeded your goal.

Remember that no one but you knows what you took out. No one else will miss your golden imagery or your delicate dialogue exchange.

Cut via a complete read-through. You’ll spot problems like repetition that would not show up if you dove in at random, and you’ll maintain the continuity of your story.

Throughout, remember that clarity comes first. Always make sure, for example, that it’s clear who’s speaking before you cut a dialogue tag.

Ask first and last, what does this scene/paragraph/line add? Three cuts to look for:

  • Work you’ve already done. Yes, certain themes and events should be kept before your readers, but when you find yourself thinking, “Didn’t he already say this?”, he probably did. If there’s no new twist to a scene or interior monologue, it can go.
  • Dialogue exchanges that don’t further the plot. Banter for banter’s sake, no matter how scintillating, takes up real estate. Dialogue cuts better when it’s sharp.
  • Piled up details/metaphors/images. In literary fiction, you can interweave whole pages of lyrical description with luscious introspection. In commercial fiction, most paragraphs drag after more than one detail or image, no matter how powerful. Pick the one that does the most work in the fewest and/or most evocative words.

I found some more specific strategies as I progressed with my cutting. I’ll share some of those in an upcoming post.

Some colored pencils for cutting!
You’ll need a few of these.

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Filed under Editing, Finding agents, indie publishing, looking for editors, novels, Plot Development

A Small Riff on “Infinite Revision” (I’m an Expert!)

cresock deserted peer sea

I’ve been deep in revisions of two major Works-in-Progress, with a resultant and perhaps regrettable absence from the blogosphere. The process has led me to think about the pros and cons of “infinite revision”—the impulse to come back to a supposedly polished manuscript again and again and again (and again. . . . ad infinitum).

The impetus for these revisions is twofold: first, responses from my valuable beta readers; and second, experiences at two recent “pitch” events, both of which I recommend: the one-day WritingDayWorkshop held in Louisville in April and the Midwest Writers Workshop “Agent Fest,” a Friday-Saturday affair in May at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

The fact is, every time I attend a conference to pitch or get feedback from agents and editors (REAL agents and editors, mind you), I come home thinking that before I can respond to invitations to send materials, I really need to revise the darn book again!

Which of course means that my pages are sitting here, going nowhere, instead of in an agent’s inbox.

It seems worth asking whether the gains from the process of re-re-revising in response to these conference experiences are worth the inevitable delay. Surely there should come a point when I hit “save” for the last time and say “Enough!”

Well . . . yes. But. . . .

Two major eye-openers from this pitch-conference process have driven my compulsive rewriting, leading me to propose that maybe, just maybe, I’m not wasting my time.

“First-Page Reads”

First, both conferences included a “first-page read,” a feature that seems to be gaining popularity. In the “first-page read,” if you haven’t experienced one, conference attendees turn in, anonymously of course, the first page of their book. During the session, a moderator reads randomly selected submissions aloud.

At WDW, agents had copies to read along, a modification of the original format that I think made it easier for them to hone their responses in a rapid-fire, somewhat artificial setting. Agents raised hands or voices when they “would quit reading.” As one agent at MWW pointed out, ordinarily agents would have already glanced at the query, so they might be more tolerant of less than perfect submissions than when hearing a page cold (especially late in the evening after a long day). Even with those caveats, seeing how a panel of agents responded to my first page has, each time, been one of the most valuable conference experiences I can report.

“The Three-Minute Pitch”

Second, there is nothing like having to explain your book fast to a potentially skeptical listener to make you home in on that perennially vital question: what is this book about?

Think you know the main conflict, what’s at stake, how the main character changes, and why readers should care? Give yourself the three-minute test.

To meet the format requirements at MWW, I honed my pitches to ninety seconds. By the time I applied advice from my writing groups, they took barely a minute. And they both worked.

Things I Learned from Writing Conferences (This Time)

From the first-page read, I’ve distilled a “rule” much more important, it seems, than common prohibitions like “Avoid adverbs” or “Use strong verbs.”

Most obvious to everyone but slow-witted overachievers like me: BE CLEAR. Those agents wanted to be able to locate themselves in space and time in the company of a recognizable character. They wanted to be able to figure out, duh, what’s going on. And all this, of course, with only the tiniest touch of backstory. A hard lesson for those with unquenchable literary aspirations. Turns out all that energy devoted to haunting and mysterious hooks and complex, original metaphors would have been better spent on who, what, why, and where.

From the three-minute-pitch process, I’ve learned something else I sort of already knew but kept resisting: even the most complex plots, with the most tortured and nuanced characters, must have a throughline.

This rule is not in the least simple. It points to a tenet of structure as old as storytelling but one easy to overlook. Even if you are creating convoluted characters who wander all over their own emotions and tangle with fifty secondary characters and subplots, the book has to be about somebody who wants something and will pay in spades if he or she doesn’t get it.

That’s the throughline. Finding it is like that old story about chipping away parts of the marble that aren’t the statue. At some point, what your character wants, why she can’t get it, and what will happen if she doesn’t has to emerge from all the stuff that only supports your story, however important all that other stuff will ultimately turn out to be. The extras won’t work if they have nothing to hook onto.

Bottom Line: Sorry, You’re Not Stephen King or Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood or Any of Those Wonderful Folks

It’s tempting to think that our writing is so special, our creativity so rich, that any agent or editor who opens our file will be so entranced that clarity and throughlines are simply beside the point.

I fully acknowledge that there are literary geniuses for whom this is true. But two hard facts I’ve come to accept more and more: we first have to get our files into that agent’s inbox, and a clearly stated throughline is our best chance of slipping them in there. That throughline, which a three-minute pitch forced me to write, is also one of the best ways I’ve found to figure out where my book goes off track and w

Second, you are almost certainly not the genius who can transcend clarity once your first page is up for scrutiny by people who might actually pay you for the rest. Your genius—okay, my genius—will remain undiscovered if an agent or editor chooses “Move to Trash” before finishing that first page.

Quick Caveat before You Infinitely Revise

Choose your conferences carefully. It’s fun and often inspiring to attend lectures on how to do this or that in your story (“Make Your Characters Dynamic!” “Build Conflict!”). And it’s nice to chat with a “real author” who has agreed to critique your work

But conferences aren’t cheap. You can get “how-to” in spades online. And authors, bless us, don’t come to the chat thinking, “Would a publisher be willing to PAY FOR this book?”

With infinite revisions already behind me, I’ve found that someone who comes to my work with that question looming—who has made me do the work to answer it—is the only one who can definitively tell me whether I should revise again.

Okay, so when do you decide, “I’m never revising again”?

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Filed under Finding agents, Learning to write, literary fiction, looking for editors, Myths and Truths, novels, Plot Development, Publishing, Works in progress, Writers' conferences

8 Query Letter Don’ts

Succinct, clear advice for the OTHER awful task once the book is finished. I’m in the process, so this came right on time. Thanks, @KMAllan_writer. (And Chris the Story Reading Ape, for sharing this).

K.M. Allan

Perhaps the most feared thing after a synopsis for writers is the query letter.

Mostly because it has so much riding on it. It’s your chance to make a good impression on an agent or publisher, and you only have a few paragraphs to do it.

You want your query to lead to a request for your manuscript; it needs to be strong, interesting, and not feature any of these don’ts.

Query Letter Don’ts

1. Don’t talk about yourselfmore than the project you’re pitching. The agent/publisher needs to know about your book first. You, second.

2. Don’t skimp on story hooks. A hook is called such for a reason; it hooks the reader and makes them want to read more. If your query doesn’t mention at least one hook, rewrite it so it does.

3. Don’t give away too much. Yes, this contradicts the last point, but even though…

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That $%*!!?# Novel Synopsis—Again!

Synopsis writing for authors

Down the Synopsis Wormhole

I’ve been caught up in revisions, queries, pitches, and yes, my WIP synopsis for the past month. At least @BillFerris over at @WriterUnboxed gives me a reason to laugh at my wandering efforts to tell a 99,000-word story in 1000 words! Maybe he’ll help you over the hump of writing your synopsis. Enjoy.

I swear I'll catch up my SEO!

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Filed under business of writing, Finding agents, looking for editors, novels, Publishing, Works in progress

Once More into the Dreaded Synopsis!

Frustrated man at typewriter

Via Chris the Story Reading Ape, this post by M. L. Davis at Uninspired Writers provides another template for tackling that hateful beast, the synopsis. We can never have enough weapons in this struggle, IMHO. Let me know if you try this!

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Filed under Finding agents, looking for editors, novels