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10 hurdles my submission could fail at

Those hurdles ahead of me look awfully big.

All these hurdles

All these hurdles to overcome… (Image cobbled together from free bits’n’pieces.)

I know at some intellectual level that my chances of overcoming them are almost infinitesimally small. But… some people do make it, right? So it’s gotta be possible.

So you think you can write?

Granted, I could be one of those self-deluded people who go on some gameshow or public contest, actually believing they have what it takes and will blow everyone away with their awesome talent that’s been simmering inside them all these years… only to make a complete fool of themselves and discover in the most embarrassing way that they’ve become the laughing stock of everyone.

I choose not to believe that of myself. I refuse to believe that my awesome beta readers and my close friends and relatives who’ve read my work were just “being nice” to me or couldn’t bring themselves to tell me the truth.

My toolbox

I’ve drawn up my battle plan. I’ve done my research. I know which agents I want to query first. Only two agencies here in Australia actually accept submissions for epic fantasy, and that’s only via snail mail – I’ve kept the printer busy lately – another accepts only a short pitch with synopsis, but without sample chapters, and two more are maybes that aren’t exactly clear on their website about what they do or don’t accept. I’ve found a few more agencies in the U.K. that sound good; for now, I won’t be submitting to U.S. agencies, mainly because I’m not sure whether I’d need to go through my manuscript and change things like “colour” to “color”, and Australian “-ise” endings to “-ize”, and “talk/speak to” to “talk/speak with“, and so forth. I have no idea whether they might think I just can’t spell or realise (ahem, realize) that that’s just how some people spell things in other parts of the world.

I’ve registered on Query Tracker, and checked Preditors & Editors to make sure I’m not submitting to the wrong sort of agents. I’ve done research on them to pick those who have published authors in my genre before with respectable publishers.

My query letter has been written, edited, thrown away and re-written more times than I can remember. The same goes for my synopsis. But… I think I’m as ready as I’m going to be.

Let me count the hurdles… 1001… 1002…

If I start to calculate the odds of finding an agent and a publisher (let’s say each agency gets 50 submissions per day, 6 days per week, maybe accepts two new clients per year… ouch!) I’ll just go insane and give up. But if I make the bold assumption that I’m actually good enough to be published – just for the sake of argument (and my sanity) – then… what hurdles are left, i.e. what might still go wrong?

  1. The submission might not even get there. Lost in the (snail) mail, an accidentally deleted email or a server crash, and I’ve lost before I’ve had a chance. Not getting a response is essentially a rejection, and as far as I can tell, following up or (God forbid) asking for reasons, is a big No-No. Can’t be helped; out of my hands.
  2. They might not like my cover letter (which some people call query, though I’ve also seen that word used to describe the whole submission). I’ve studied several “successful queries” and have tried to learn from them, about being succinct, polite, and professional, to minimise the chance of that happening. That’s all I can do, I think.
  3. They might consider my word count to be too high. At about 130k, my word count is a vast improvement over my first attempt a couple of years ago (where I stopped sending out submissions after realising that rejections were coming back less than 24 hours after I’d submitted, from agencies saying they’d take 8-10 weeks to respond, and figuring out that my 185k word count was just too ginormous for agents to want to take a chance with an unpublished author), but still somewhat on the high side. (Hey, it’s called epic fantasy for a reason, dammit!) Too bad I won’t get the chance to argue that point, and bring up all the wonderful, successful, oversize books from first-time authors.
  4. They might not like the title. With agencies receiving such a staggering number of submissions, from what I’ve read, any reason will do to reduce the size of the slush pile, even if it’s something that can be changed quite trivially. Nothing I can do about it.
  5. They might not believe the author is marketable. Even if the product (the book) is considered marketable, in this day and age, authors need to be prepared to do more than just write. Media obligations, promotions, and that sort of thing, they all come later, and you can’t really tell from a submission whether the author has what it takes. But the thing they can assess is the author’s social media presence. Can they interact with their fans (once they have some), do they have a platform on which to promote their work, are they tech-savvy enough to use Twitter, Facebook, and whatnot? I think I’m actually doing ok on that one. My blog and social media accounts are purely for my “writing persona”, separate from my private life, but I think that’s ok. I have them, and I’m not afraid to use them.
  6. I might accidentally hit the pet-peeve-nerve of someone. I blame the many, many bad writers over the years for that one. They submitted their below-par work, and made the agent to whom I now want to submit not just dislike but actively hate a certain phrase or habit to a point where they’re not just against its overuse but against it appearing anywhere, ever (adverbs, anyone?). The turkey city lexicon is, to some extent, based on some of these pet peeves. Beyond what I’ve tried to do already, I can’t do much more about that one.
  7. The right person might not get to read it. By necessity, agencies can’t possibly completely read through every sample chapter of every submission and need to have ways of reducing the pile. For a submission to make it through to an offer of representation, it needs to be read and liked by a chain of people. The agents who have authority to actually make such an offer, especially in larger agencies, won’t read material unless it’s passed through the ranks of “readers” or junior agents. If anyone in that chain doesn’t like it (even though someone higher up might have), it gets rejected. Again, out of my control.
  8. The agent or reader might just not be in the right mood. Quite possible that a submission can get rejected on one day but would’ve been accepted on another day. Maybe the one they read just before was extremely bad (or extremely good), or reminded them of something, and their mind isn’t completely on what they’re reading now. Maybe it’s just before lunchtime, or they’re about to go home. Not sure how realistic this one is, hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but who knows? Beyond my control.
  9. They might not believe the story will sell. That one is such a subjective point that I would have to admit that they could be right. I’d disagree completely, of course, but I don’t have the experience in the publishing world to be able to claim I know better than… well, anyone else. I can only go by my experience as a reader, what I’d like to read, what I would buy in the bookstore. I’ll have to grind my teeth and concede, “Fair enough.”
  10. They might like it, but happen to know that the publishers they’re in contact with aren’t looking for that sort of thing right now. Ouch. But possible. The market is a fickle thing, and different things sell or don’t sell at different times, based on the whims of… who knows? That one would probably hurt the most, falling at the last hurdle.

Scary, isn’t it? I’m sure there are others I haven’t even considered, these are just the top 10 that come to mind.

Seems very unfair, seen from the angle of the authors submitting their work. Also… necessary, I suppose, seen from the agency’s point of view. They have to get through all those submissions somehow. I get that. I do.

The thing that’s hard to take is that I could fail at pretty much any of these hurdles with any given agent, and I’ll never know what it was that I should’ve done better.

So should I give up?

If everyone stopped just because the odds are daunting, humanity wouldn’t achieve much at all.

Let’s do this!

My submissions will start going out before the end of the week.

Wish me luck… (*swallows audibly*).

A couple of inspiring success stories

Just a quick one to share two success stories that are inspiring to anyone looking to break into the ranks of (traditionally) published authors.

Lynette Noni

First, Lynette Noni, who is starting to officially freak out! She wrote a bunch of lovely blog posts last year about getting a publishing deal with Pintera Press, and since then has worked hard (I’m sure) to get her book, Akarnae, polished for publication. The big date for her is the 2nd of February 2015, so just three days away… if you haven’t already, go visit her blog and send her some love and well-wishes. 🙂

Akarnae, by Lynette Noni

Lynette Noni’s new book, Akarnae, is about to be published!

Good luck for the book release, Lynette! (The cover looks awesome, by the way.)

Sarah Joy Carlson

Secondly, Sarah Joy Carlson has just announced that she has signed with an agent in Ireland, which is also awesome news. In her post “Drumroll, please… I’ve signed with an agent!” she tells all about her journey of overcoming a few rejections, persisting and believing, and finally getting her dream agent for her novel, Hooligans in Shining Armour. (The blog post also contains pretty much every gif about excitement that currently exists on the Internet. 🙂 )

Congratulations to both of these great authors!

Index – A to Z: I

I is for index. I’m going to be sharing my plan is for the A to Z blogging challenge throughout the month of April. A through H are done and dusted, today (10 April 2014) is I’s turn, and from tomorrow I’ll be blogging about topics beginning with J through to Z.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, or had a peek in the menu at the top of the page, you have probably figured out that my theme for the challenge revolves around my favourite books, authors, characters, and writing concepts.

Here are the dates (apologies if I confuse any Americans by using the properly ordered date format), letters, and topics:

I’ll attempt to update this post to link the above topics to their corresponding articles as I post each day (Sundays off).

Many thanks to anyone who has read, liked, and/or commented on any of my posts to date, please feel free to drop back in to view topics you might be interested in 🙂

Chapters – A to Z: C

C is for Chapters. Chapters typically divide distinct sections of a book so that words, sentences and paragraphs that belong together form a logical piece of a book. We all know what chapters are, but have you ever given much thought to how many different ways there are to use (or not use) chapters?

The grouping of pieces of a book into chapters can happen for a number of reasons, such as different points of view, different spans of time, to give the reader a natural time to take a break (or intentionally the opposite, with a mini-cliffhanger at the end of a chapter), or simply because the author wants to emphasise a change of pace, or attitude. A chapter can be a single sentence, or dozens of pages long.

There can be “special” chapters: the prologue and the epilogue to start and end a book, respectively. Often, these can be separate from the main story, or tell a piece of the story that lies outside the “normal” narrator’s knowledge, to offer the reader special insight to what’s going on.

Some authors don’t use chapters, even in rather long books. Wilbur Smith’s African-themed adventure novels come to mind: they’re usually divided into sections (separated by a row of a few asterisks) that can be any length, but no chapters. Many authors number their chapters, but some don’t. A chapter can be called simply “Chapter 5”, or it can have a heading of its own. It can be numbered or not; chapter titles can be unique or repeated. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance, uses the name of the POV (point of view) character as the chapter heading but leaves them unnumbered. Some books, especially in sci-fi, can use dates or timestamps instead of chapter names.

Some authors use simple chapter titles, some use very descriptive or poetic ones. In some cases, chapter names or numbers can even be used to give the reader meta-information of some sort. The number of chapters can be significant or completely coincidental. Wikipedia’s article on book chapters has some interesting examples of unusual numbering schemes. Robin Hobb’s Farseer and The Tawny Man trilogies use short “meta-story” excerpts describing the first-person narrator’s experiences as he is writing the main story. Her Rain Wilds Chronicles use short letters sent by bird between the world’s birdkeepers; taken together, these tell a “meta-story” of their own. Patrick Rothfuss prefixes some chapter titles with “Interlude” to emphasise that these lie outside the main story, in the “story around the story”. Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story has 26 chapters, beginning with the letters A to Z, with fancy-looking drop caps specifically designed for the book by an illustrator – how fitting is that for the A to Z Challenge?!? 😉

The Neverending Story, Chapter 3

The Neverending Story begins each of the 26 chapters with a full-page drop-cap letter of the alphabet; Chapter 3 begins with “C”

Which chaptering style do you prefer a) in books you read, and b) in your own writing? Let me know in the comments.

Favourite films about writing

I recently watched the 1989 film Her Alibi, which I hadn’t seen for a number of years. I really enjoyed it, especially how Tom Selleck’s character constantly turns seemingly harmless events in his life into clichéd exaggerations on paper that are often typical of some of the, shall we say, cheaper mystery novels.

This got me thinking about some of my favourite films about writing or writers, and here’s the list of my Top 5:

  1. Dead Poets Society – arguably, this one isn’t about writing (poetry) so much as it is about finding inspiration in poetry, but it’s too brilliant for me to leave out.
  2. Finding Forrester – wonderful film about a friendship between a young talented basketball player and the old reclusive writer who helps the kid hone his writing talents.
  3. Limitless – exciting film about an author with writer’s block whose life changes drastically when someone gives him a pill that severely enhances his mind.
  4. Moulin Rouge! – won two of eight Oscars it was nominated for; a great musical about a writer falling in love with a courtesan in 1900 Bohemian Paris.
  5. Her Alibi – very funny rom-com about a writer who bites off more than he can chew when he “rescues” an alleged murderess from Romania by pretending to be her alibi.

Actually, they’re pretty much the only five I could come up with. I’m sure there are waaay more that I’ve forgotten or never even seen – feel free to let me know in the comments what your favourites are!

Opportunity for aspiring authors… with a catch

Searching around for blogs and other useful information for aspiring authors (if you know any I should be checking out, please let me know in the comments – blogging newbie here!), I came across this opportunity from Bloomsbury on Writers & Artists:

http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/2014/02/writing-opportunity-bloomsbury-spark

It sounded really great at first, until I read that:

  1. it’s digital-only, and
  2. they’re accepting “between 25,000 and 60,000 words”.

Ouch. As someone currently struggling with what some claim is conventional wisdom that fantasy manuscripts, especially from first-time authors, should be between 80k and 100k (more on that later), that’s a bit of a kick in the nuts.

So my question is this:

Are these word limits as artificial as they seem to me, that is, do they exist mainly to discourage new writers from blabbering on without getting to the point to save printing costs, or do people really want to read shorter stories?

Because personally, when I go to the bookstore to find the next book I want to delve into, I don’t even look at the little narrow ones. I want characters to be developed, not just the bare bones of the story. I want the story to last, I want to find the first part of a series worth getting into. I want the details, the thought-processes, not just the action. Those doorstopper-sized books aren’t usually much more expensive than the little ones. Maybe I don’t know enough about real-life printing costs, and am naïve about costs to proofread manuscripts (which people don’t seem to do a good job at, I can’t read past errors without my eyes starting to bleed), but is there really good cause to want authors (ones who can otherwise prove they can write well, of course) to limit themselves by that much?

I’d love to hear other people’s comments on that.

Cheers,

AMC