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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Handling the Fear Factor

To self-publish or not to self-publish: that is a question that haunts many nervous authors nowadays who are steeped in queries with no response. While we wonder if agents have read our sincere and severely-crafted missives, we also wonder whether we should persist in writing more of them or hunker down with a plan to go it alone.

Image found here
A funny thing happened on my way to self-publishing: just as I began to refine a serious plan, I get a request for my full manuscript from an agent. I want to get excited, I do, but then the fears come creeping in.

It's easy to let them rule you. You've been around this block. Why try again? Are your instincts worth anything?

Questions about my self-publishing ideas pound me, too: will readers think self-pub is for hacks--and all my friends who've been following my journey think I've given up? Can I learn to market my wares? When will I find the time? 

But you do try--both the queries and the self-pub plan--because that's what real writers do; they don't stop. They also get information. Like Hope Clark's primer of wisdom about the facts, just the facts, ma'am, on self-publishing versus traditional. The self-pub plan I'm building is full of strategies to tackle the fearful unknown. These strategies are gleaned from a wealth of great information on the Internet. We live in a world-wide library, folks--there ain't nothing we can't learn! Check out this helpful list of tips from Meghan Ward, too. I'll elaborate on this plan in another post.

Expect that as you conduct your research, the fearful questions will pile up, and that's a natural part of the process of change. Write the questions down, and approach each like a research paper in high school. Make notes. If you go the agent querying route again, as I am, you'll start thinking:

How many is too many simultaneous queries? How much research should I do on each agent--should I put ten hours into an agent search, write a query, only to never hear? (And not write in the meantime--there's the rub!) Did the fact I started with a synopsis of the novel instead of "why I want you as an agent" deter the agent reading this--is that why I never heard? Should I have gone into more detail about why I want this agent or does it sound like flattery? Do I sound too formal, stilted, not at all like my novel's voice--when many model queries out there are playful and "cool"? 

When you've written as many queries as I have, these questions have the whiff of the rhetorical, unanswerable. From what I've researched, there are different opinions about how many queries to put out simultaneously; some say five to ten, then hunker down and wait. But if only 10% respond to you, why not double or triple that amount?

Research can tell you some things but talking to a person tells you much more; so I choose to limit my research per agent to an hour. I have a personal rubric that vets an agent based on preferred genres, client list, and statements made in interviews. An agent who has a web presence whether interviews or a personal or agency blog is someone I can get to know fairly quickly. The last criterion is that the agent accepts e-queries. It's also a psychological strategy to limit my research: why get too invested? If the agent meets my criteria, then it's worth sending out an email. He or she doesn't have to be my perfect match on paper, whatever that is, and again, I can't tell that from online research. I will be able to tell from a phone call where I ask good questions (see below).

Then there is the fact that agents who receive 50+ queries a day have an inbox beyond full, and that may be the one good reason no one cares if your synopsis comes first or last in your query; the point is, the agent may just not have time to read yours. And if you've done your research well, the agent will tell you exactly how he or she wants the query on the agency page.

In other words, there aren't great answers; what you have above are "Lyn's Answers." There isn't a sure path or an Obi Wan to mentor us through this. You have to pose the questions--to query or not to query, to self-publish or not to self-publish--to the universe and then let the answers rise as they simmer in your brain. When you know, you know, as a friend used to say.

I know that I would love to hear from a particular agent, but that's not in my hands. What is in my hands is the best query I can write, the best research I can do in the short time I have, and the best self-pub launch plan I can craft. And this time, I'm really not scared.

If you pay attention to the blogosphere, it appears many other writers are feeling what I'm feeling, and even agents: go forth, bold writer, and try thy way in the wilderness. Agent Jenny Bent has an interesting perspective regarding books that fall between genres (Wendy Redbird Dancing, anyone?). Ones like mine, that are YA + women's fiction, are often ones publishers don't understand because they aren't sure how to market them. So if you are an intrepid soul with energy to get your work out to the masses, have at it: you might find the market is there for you.

I also have a great list of questions should an agent call. Based on my last experience, I will now tackle fears head on by asking the questions below.

When in doubt, and when fears rise like fog around me, I start to write. Write down potential ideas, write down potential plans. I may discard 99% of them or never get the opportunity to make them happen, but at least I've talked myself off the ledge.

  • What do you like about my manuscript? What would you change?
  • Does it have potential as a hybrid work--women's and YA? Is this more women's fiction or YA?
  • How close is the manuscript to submission? What revisions would you suggest?
  • Do you see film potential?
  • Do you see foreign rights potential?
  • How many publishers would you submit to, and which ones?
  • Will you share the submission list and responses from editors?
  • What YA or women's fiction have you represented that you are particularly fond of, and what do you think is the secret to their success?
  • Who would the primary contact be--you or your assistant?
  • What is your response time to emails and phone calls?
  • How often would we be in touch?
  • What's your expectation for a next book?
  • What advice do you typically give authors as they build their careers?

The possibility of talking with a successful agent once again is a nerve-wracking premise. But armed with some questions, I know I'll be okay.

In the meantime, the self-pub ideas simmer, and I'll be sharing those soon. Vote at the next post on my brand ideas; I'll need this whether I self or traditionally publish.

Will you self-publish? Have you already? Or are you waiting to hear from an agent? How do you handle your fears in the process?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

That's a First-World Problem for Ya

"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

-- Matthew 20:16

Image found here
Tonight I couldn't get more than $40 cash back from the super-healthy organic co-op store. Then I went to an ATM and my card wouldn't read. As I exited the building where the ATM was, several children rushed through the door and the parents behind them let it happen. After everyone charged through, adults included, I stepped forward, thinking the guy in front of me who'd held the door would keep doing so. No. He let it shut just as I walked through with both hands carrying groceries, and so it slammed on me.

Then I sat in my car to await the end of a teen-ager's piano lesson--the reason I needed the $60 in cash, because the teacher won't take checks. I'm hacking and snorting the whole time because the older I get, the more gluten and lactose intolerant I get. Every meal presents a question mark of how my body might not like this or that for dinner. And like I have the time to craft a healthy, organic diet that ferrets out all the mystery allergens or keeps every meal pure.

I won't even explore the fact that lately, I no longer have time to write.

I did lift out of my irritable fog to delight in this--community wireless. Thanks, Town of Carrboro. Without it and my laptop, I would have a way to tap these rants to life.

And I am not stuck in a hospital bed right now. A forced sitting in a carseat isn't that terrible. In fact, a blog emerges from it.

And most importantly: everyone I know and love is safe at home, none of us facing chemical weapons, rocket launchers, or genocide in our neighborhoods.

As Friar Laurence once told Romeo: "There art thou happy." That was in a scene where Romeo was whining, big time.

First-world Folks, take a note: just because we've chosen to lead lives that are jam-packed and so technologically rife with instant gratification doesn't mean we have it bad. And writers who have the most time to write and reflect are probably in one of two situations--a sane location with enough food and safety--or prison.

Tonight I'm going to take this moment to stop whining and remember what matters most: I've got a lot of reasons to be thankful, and if my first-world life has become too much for me, I most likely have means to change it. Starting with my attitude.

Shakespeare's words that thrilled my soul at 14 remind me that there are words to be written in every spare moment and only one crack at this life. If I also take a moment to remember who's last in this life's race, am I really going to moan about faulty machines and going second or third through a door?

As a Holocaust survivor told my stepson recently while interning on a documentary shoot: You make a decision to choose life everyday. You've got this chance; stay positive; make the most of it.

What pack of blessings lights upon my back? The first thing this first-world gal must do is ask that. The last thing she should do is live an entitled life of demands on the world around her where she wonders why she isn't first in everydamnthing.

I'm going to mull on that and read the good Friar's words to the self-pitying Romeo just one more time.
What, rouse thee, man! thy Juliet is alive,
For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead;
There art thou happy: Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slew'st Tybalt; there are thou happy too:
The law that threaten'd death becomes thy friend
And turns it to exile; there art thou happy:
A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love...
Act III, scene iii