After the Draft: Episode IV, The Waiting Game

Good morning, everyone. It’s been two weeks since I came home from WorldCon San Antonio. It was a productive convention, and in the aftermath Any Port in a Storm was sent out to an agent and an acquisitions editor (my friend Michael R. Underwood has some smart things to say about attending conventions as an aspiring author, btw). The invitations to submit meant my little novel needed a query letter. There are many good resources online that can help you write a solid query letter, but I thought it might help if I included what I drafted up for my little novel that might:

 

Mr. [Name omitted],

[Name omitted] introduced us at WorldCon. I had a blast talking with you and everyone else over the weekend, and hope you did as well. As I mentioned yesterday morning, I’ve recently finished a new fantasy novel named Any Port in a Storm that I think compliments [Publishing House Omitted] already impressive line of sci-fi and urban-fantasy titles. So here goes:

Katagida is just another small-time smuggler plying Icarna’s vast and unforgiving seas. Alone in the world except for Zephyr, her faithful Seabat companion, Kata’s horizon never extends beyond finding the next job. But when the dark clouds and thunder of war threaten to engulf everything she knows, Katagida finds herself thrust into the eye of the Storm. As specters from her murky past rise from the depths, can Katagida keep her wits and her skin intact while the weight of unimagined worlds press down on her shoulders?

Any Port in a Storm is an epic fantasy novel weighing in at 108,000 words, including a short glossary and character list. It was written with Adult fans of fantasy and swash-buckling adventures in mind, but would also be a great fit for NA audiences.

My work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, The Crimson Pact Anthology series, and The SFWA Bulletin. I’ve also written tie-in fiction set in the BattleTech universe for Catalyst Games, and am an active member of SFWA. I hope you enjoy the book, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Patrick S. Tomlinson

 

And that’s it. I’ve reminded them of our shared conversation, explained why I think my work might be a good fit for their company, (which also shows that I’ve done a little market research) given a short summary/pitch for the book, given it’s length and intended market, then a short review of my past accomplishments. Query letters/emails should be short and to the point. Much longer than this and you risk an agent or editor glossing over your letter or skipping right to the next one entirely.

It’s been two weeks since I sent this letter out, and since then, nothing has happened. Well, nothing on my end. There has been no reply from either person, nor would I have expected one yet, or for many weeks or months more. Typically, you can expect that your novel manuscript is going to spend anywhere from ninety days to an entire year in the hands of an agent or editor before you get an answer. During this time, there really isn’t anything you can do to help the process along.  After ninety days or so, it’s not considered impolite to drop a brief note reminding the recipient of the manuscript and gently asking if they’ve had a change to review it, but that’s about as far as you should push it. The waiting game can be the most nerve-wracking part of the job.

However, there is one thing you shouldn’t be doing while your manuscript cools its heels, and that is sit around waiting for the phone to ring or your email notification to beep. You’ve probably been writing and revising for a year, perhaps more by the time your book is in good enough shape to send off, so take a break if you feel it necessary, but don’t let that vacation stretch on too long. There isn’t much down time if you want to be a writer, and the best way to increase your odds of success is to get on to the next project.

As of right now, I have two novel manuscripts in the hands of two different editors. Since sending Any Port in a Storm out, I’ve also sent a short story to the Writers of the Future contest, written another short story and submitted it for an upcoming anthology, outlined two additional shorts set in the BattleTech universe, and started working up character studies for a third novel. The BattleTech shorts I’ll have done by next week. The novel I plan to have finished by the end of the year. This is not to brag about my work-ethic or boundless creativity. There are many writers that crank out far larger volumes than I do, of better quality. The point is to drive home the importance of not waiting around. Not only will the next project get your mind off the fate of your manuscript as it works its way through the Labyrinth that is the journey to publication, but it will give you yet another chance to wow someone and get that all important ‘Yes’.

If you put enough torpedoes in the water, you’re going to hit something eventually.

After the Draft: Episode III, Getting CONned

Hello gang. I’m back home and ready to step back into my ‘regular’ life. This installment of After the Draft was supposed to focus on writing a good query letter and synopsis for your novel, (an exercise I’ve previously compared to editing the complete Director’s Cut Lord of the Rings trilogy into a gif file), but as often happens in life, events didn’t adhere to my carefully planned timeline.

I spent the weekend in San Antonio at WorldCon. For those of you who do not know, WorldCon is short for The World Science Fiction Convention. It is home to the Hugo Awards, often called the Nerd Emmys. At six to eight thousand people, WorldCon is a medium-sized convention by today’s standards, but as opposed to the throngs of fans tens of thousands strong at places like ComicCon, WorldCon is a haven for industry professionals and amateurs, veterans and upstarts. Here, you’ll find authors, agents, publishers, editors, podcasters, artists, and illustrators all cavorting through whichever series of bars or pubs happen to be close by. It is, in short, exactly where you want to be if you’ve just finished a novel.

Granted, I hadn’t written a synopsis yet, or even a query letter, and I had only heard back from one of my Beta readers by this point, but I had a first draft (finished the read-through and line edit in the hotel room the first night of the con, actually) and it would have been silly to pass up the opportunity to network, shake hands, and talk to the Key Masters of the publishing industry face-to-face. Now, I’m not saying that new writers trying to break into the industry MUST attend conventions. This kind of dynamic social environment isn’t for everyone, and the ranks of writers have more introverts among them than society at large. Conventions are expensive, and can be both physically and emotionally draining.

My excellent roommate and I described going to conventions as an aspiring author like this: Imagine going to one of those speed-dating nights at a local hotel bar… for five days. Just like speed-dating, you have to dress up, remain witty and charming, not appear desperate, needy, or creepy, and basically maintain a polite lie about your true intentions. Just as you can’t sit down across from someone you’ve just met and say “Hi, I think you’re attractive. We should go have sex now,” you also can’t just come right out to an agent or editor and ask them to take a look at your shinny new manuscript and sign you to a multi-book deal. Social norms insist that some lubrication is required to get the wheels spinning first. Oh, and speaking of lubrication, you’re probably going to be drunk and sleep-deprived for the majority of the time.

So, not for everybody, and there are plenty of authors who have broken through and gotten their work published without ever attending a professional con. However, if you’re one of the more socially-capable among us, these events certainly don’t hurt either. Let me be very clear, after seeing what I have and watching several friends break out into amazing debut authors, I do not believe this is a who-you-know industry. Talent and hard work are absolutely critical. Without them, you’re not going to get very far.

But there are many thousands of talented people out there shouting into the void, and you need to find advantages, no matter how small, that will make you more visible to the people making the decisions so your talent has the opportunity to be judged in the first place. One of the best ways to do that is face-time. We are a social species, and in the age of vast networks of virtual-friends, the simple act of shaking hands and sharing a laugh over a drink has more power to connect than ever before. Human beings are just going to show preference to people they actually know. Fair or not, that’s just how it is folks.

Once you’ve decided to go to Con and network, there are some things you must do to prepare. First and foremost is to work up an elevator pitch. This is nothing more than a short, thirty second spoken commercial for your book. There are many dozens of sites and blogs that can help you write one, but you MUST practice it. Say it out loud many times so you can hear yourself saying it. Just like speed-dating, you must be ready to whip it out smoothly and confidently when the time is right. Fumbling your presentation probably isn’t going to get you the results you want from either situation.

I failed to do this, which with my stand-up comedy side project, is a rather inexcusable unforced error. I found myself in the embarrassing position of having my book pitched better by the friend who introduced me to the acquisitions editor of an important house than I ended up doing myself. Fortunately, it was the last day of con and everyone was exhausted, so there may have been a little more wiggle room given.

So, as of a couple hours ago, Any Port in a Storm has been read by one Beta reader, line-edited, formatted, and submitted to exactly one agent and exactly one editor. And there it will remain until I get word back from them. I have previously learned that it is very bad etiquette to submit a partial or complete novel manuscript to more than one editor at a time. Doing so will not make you friends.