Monday, August 3, 2009

My Writing Life: grading on a pass/fail scale

What is the difference between publishing writing out in the world and writing for the classroom? In the classroom, it is possible to earn a "C" grade: yeah, the writing was okay; it got the basic message across. In the world of publishing, the grade is "Pass" or "Fail." Your writing either is printed or it isn't.

Now that I have completed a sixth draft of The Stone Dragon, I have to start sending it around to publishers and agents. It is an extremely competitive world out there in publishing. Let me give you some examples.

Through the professional network LinkedIn, I recently made contact with the acquisitions agent for a small press. Through the network's email system, I sent an email to the acquisitions agent in order to clarify submission procedures.

The email included a two-sentence introduction to my novel: I have written a fantasy novel called The Stone Dragon and the rough draft of the sequel, part of a series of what I call "consciousness-based fantasy." One-line pitch: Dream magic is the most dangerous of magics because it is so difficult to control.

The response back from the acquisitions editor included the one-sentence response to my pitch: I am intrigued by your novel synopsis and I look forward to reading it.

This level of interaction is highly unusual. In fact, on its webpage, this company states they "receive a large number of submissions" and that the company "is under no obligation to provide any communication related to the status of a submission." Many agents even go so far as to state that if they don't like your book proposal, they won't even bother sending an email rejecting it.

I submitted my query letter--a book pitch, basically, to the acquisitions editor, and then realized that by the time she reads the query, she may have forgotten our email interchange, even though the query makes a brief mention of the exchange of letters. I sent another brief note through the LinkedIn email system letting her know that I had submitted.

Her response was the following:
Thanks for the note. I definitely have a full inbox at this point, but I am going through and logging them all and I will get back with you as soon as I can.

Again, a response is highly unusual!!

I have also been communicating with an author of four young adult novels. He is now trying to publish a fifth novel and wrote me the following: "I'm finally finding out just how hard it is to market a book. We nearly had a contract twice with Simon & Schuster, and both times it fell through."

My plan now is to submit 2-3 query letters per week to agents and small, independent publishers. (Most large publishers require an author to have an agent.) These submissions are called "simultaneous submissions."

I recently submitted four poems to a college university literary magazine, called a "little magazine" because usually five hundred to maybe a thousand copies are the maximum distributed. I mailed the poems along with a cover letter and a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Now I will wait maybe three months for a response. And if I'm published, I will be paid with a free copy of the magazine that includes my writing ("pays in contributor copies").

My job this next school year is to regularly submit queries and to get on with my next writing assignment. Pass/fail...and wait by the mail.... I have read that to keep writing is good for the nerves. And that I shouldn't give up my day job!

Copyright 2009 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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