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Novel Submission Questions

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NeilWhitfield View Drop Down
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    Posted: 25 Mar 2020 at 9:28am
Hi all, hope everyone is well, taking care of themselves and each other. 

So since I have more time in the house, I'm spending a lot of time working on my writing projects and in particular a new novel (I'd feel like a cliche but I figure this is a safe space). 

My questions relate to my first Novel, completed last October. I've been submitting it to agents since January and have been collecting rejections in a 'this is not personal' type of way. (Dear Author....Cry

I'm only 20 rejections in (by no means a record) but I got to wondering:
1. Does your submission HAVE to be the opening chapter? My story deliberately starts as an almost pastoral coming-of-age tale before the demons and the machetes and the airships turn up. I don't want the first chapter to read like the first track of a Metallica album just to 'grab the reader'.

2. Does anyone have any experience writing successful submission letters? I've put mine together like a sales pitch, but there is so much conflicting advice out there I have no idea whether this is the obstacle or not.

3. And I mean this in the most humanitarian curiosity type way, please don't misread this as callous or cynical but... how does anyone think Corvid will impact the industry? Are agents and publishers taking a hiatus like the creative industries (I'm currently working on a skeleton crew from my dining table) or will there be a surge in people wanting distraction and entertainment? (anyone tried to buy a Nintendo recently?)

Hope this starts an interesting conversation. 

Keep writing, peeps!

  
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jennifer.quail View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jennifer.quail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Mar 2020 at 11:00am
1. Your submission package has to be what the particular publisher requests, whether it's a query only, the entire thing, the first five chapters, the first five pages, etc. in whatever formatting they request (if they say Times New Roman only no one cares if you like Courier, if you only use a free on-line word processor but they only accept in docx, you have to save it as docx, if they say it has to be printed on pink paper with .75" margins...you get the idea.) I can't think of anyone who ever wants random chapters not at the front, though. 

There's a reason there: most of the time, unsoliciteds go to 'first readers', who are not necessarily editors, whose job is to read and see if they last one line, one paragraph, one page, the whole thing, the whole thing wanting more. The person in the bookstore isn't going to pick up your book and flip to a random spot-they're going to look at the beginning and decide based on that whether they want to keep reading. The overwhelming majority of submissions don't make it past those people because they aren't hooked and don't want to keep reading, meaning chances are the average shopper browsing for a book won't, either. 

That doesn't mean you're always supposed to have some kind of massive in-media-res battle (there are a lot of reasons NOT to do that, either, because dropping someone in the middle of the action isn't necessarily a grabber if you don't know who they are, where they are, or why we're supposed to care.)  But it does mean most authors can't get away with talky infodumps where they explain "This is Bob. Bob lives in Dullville. He doesn't like working on his uncle's farm, but his uncle won't let him run away to the capital and try to become a knight. This is his very boring day. Bob whines like most teen protagonists in this situation." We STILL don't care, we don't know why this is any different than a hundred other things we've read, bored, moving on. We're not going to slog on hoping it gets better. They want the first chapter to know if there's a hook.
 
Chances are, if you're getting very generic/form "Dear Author thank you for your submission" form letters, THIS is probably where you're running into a problem. (I am assuming you're following their instructions for format and what they want to the letter--if you're not, and for example sending whole manuscripts if they only want the first two chapters and a summary, then that's why. They get way too many submissions to bother with someone not following their directions. Also that you are dead sure you're submitting to the right publisher and imprint for your genre.) For whatever reason your open isn't hooking the reader so it never makes it past them. I know when we do stuff like feedback on the forums, we finish things, but tbh that's just other writers being polite, not what actually happens with publishers. Unlike the judges and the rest of us here, if you aren't grabbing a first reader or editor by paragraph one, they're going to move on and not keep reading. 

2. With the caveat this is for short story submissions, not novels, I find this advice REALLY helpful: https://alexshvartsman.com/2016/05/09/how-to-write-a-proper-short-story-cover-letter/ 

While again you need to be sure, absolutely sure, you're telling the publisher what they say they want in their guidelines, being relatively concise is also good. Remember they're reading a LOT of these every single day and don't want a three-page treatise. Sales is good, so long as it's in the order they want, and you're not telling them things they don't need (unless it's directly relevant to the subject of the book, most places don't care what you majored in, how much you love writing, or how terrible OR wonderful your life is. The exception is if they're advertising for 'own voices' or for 'underrepresented' groups and you happen to belong to one and can capitalize on it.) Remember, you're selling the work, not you, and ultimately the actual book rather than your pitch has to sell itself.

3. Wouldn't care to guess beyond there's going to be a rash of plague dystopias. 
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NeilWhitfield View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NeilWhitfield Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Mar 2020 at 11:24am
Thanks for the thoughtful response.

Yeah – I am following their requirements to the letter, and absolutely doing the homework required to make sure they are the right agent for the Genre and work. In my professional life, I get a lot of recruiters sending me candidates for jobs and nothing is more annoying than people who clearly haven't even bothered to read the ad or spec and have no idea what the request actually is. It shows a total contempt for my time and I try to extend the respect to these agents.

Have you been published or found representation yourself?

My book does start In-media-res to a certain degree (not right to the thick of it, but at the point where the 'heroes journey' begins), and I've even worried that using that device is what is counting against me.

Thanks for the link, any advice is helpful. I sort of wish there were agents to help writers find agents... I mean... who has time for this stuff?? 

I have to ask... the Dullville setup... that's starwars, right? LOL

Anyway... I need to focus on my new book. It's about a world where everyone is trapped in a box with a webcam and an incontinent dog...

Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jennifer.quail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Mar 2020 at 8:17pm
Originally posted by NeilWhitfield NeilWhitfield wrote:


I have to ask... the Dullville setup... that's starwars, right? LOL

Anyway... I need to focus on my new book. It's about a world where everyone is trapped in a box with a webcam and an incontinent dog...

Smile


Lol...and no, actually, Star Wars is really a great example how (for film) to do an in media res that's fast, effective, and works! Threepio and Artoo are our 'follow' characters, we get enough from them to have the general idea what's going on and what the stakes are, so by the time we meet Luke, we've got context and know more than he does about the droids (who are our introduction to him-we already know Artoo's on a mission, even if Luke doesn't, and following Luke's problems we find out from Owen's reaction this "Kenobi" probably isn't a coincidence.) By this point we're invested. The problem is books that sort of miss the actual structure and go from the 'whiny kid.' (Even that can be interesting if you do it right, see the Belgariad.)

I've sold quite a few short stories. Only shopped one novel, where I at least all the rejections (even Daw and Baen) were personal and all boiled down to "Liked reading it, like your voice, but have NO IDEA how to market it." Which fair enough, it's fantasy that's not easily slotted into "urban" but isn't high/fancy-dress/Tolkienesque stuff either. I've been hooked on shorts lately, probably because of the instant gratification factor (write, send out, get paid, repeat.) There is one where even the first review from the anthology it's in was wishing it was longer and I really want to expand it, but so far I'm not using my shelter-in-place staycation very well for writing. (Cleaning, baking, dog-walking, making recipes from massive cookbook collection, 'researching,' yes...writing? I am the queen of procrastination.)
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