Getting a manuscript ready for submission

In the not to distant future, my romance novel will be published. This is the first in a series of blog posts about my path to publication. I hope it is inspiring and helpful to other aspiring writers out there.

I’ve wanted to write a novel worthy of readers’ delight since I first went to university, saw creative writing on the course list, and realised that real people wrote books. Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them.

I struggled on my own for years before I found my tribe at the Romance Writers of Australia. With the support and guidance of various members, I’ve made steady progress. I finalled in one competition, learnt from others, and eventually finished my first manuscript. It placed second in the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. I was thrilled but still plagued by doubts. The praise received was consistent; readers liked the setting, my heroine and the dialogue. The criticism coming back was also consistent – my hero was hard to know. Although I spoke to a few publishers, I never submitted, choosing to rework it instead. I say ‘choosing to rework’ and that’s partly true. Part of me was also retreating. If I wasn’t good enough to win, was I really good enough to publish? Would I make a fool of myself submitting it to publishers? Fear of failure can be crippling. It can also be a strangely comforting bedfellow, one which makes sure you never move out of my comfort zone.

But … I really wanted to be a published novelist. I wanted it more than I feared failure and humiliation. So I set myself a goal. By the next year’s conference I would be ready to pitch my revised and improved romance to publishers. I added 30,000 words to the story and thought about the story a lot, what worked, what didn’t. I also thought about what I would do if no one wanted it. I could self-publish. However, I really wanted to take my first steps in publishing with someone more experienced holding my hand. I wanted the support and the learning curve an author gets when working with an experienced editor and publisher. I’ve worked in the industry for years, so I know how valuable that experience can be.

When the annual RWA conference came around again in 2017, I was ready and prepared to face the threat of rejection again. I’d changed my title from the sweet-sounding Alpine Kisses to the sassier The Millionaire Mountain Climber. I put in my pitch request for the speed dating sessions with editors and agents. As a backup, I also made myself a list of romance publishers who accepted submissions direct from authors. I composed the list from the names of publishers who have attended RWA over the years as well as those who publish the books I like to read. I went online to their submission pages and copied their requirements. If the pitches didn’t go well, I had a plan B.

The pitches went okay. One agent was, frankly, rude, but said I could submit anyway. I did so, but didn’t hold my breath. Just as well because neither I, nor anyone else who pitched, ever heard back from her. One publisher was delightful and enthusiastic, and I submitted with some confidence. Another publisher said I didn’t fit their criteria, so that was a no.

However, with only one genuine show of interest, I didn’t like my odds. A month after conference, I hauled out Plan B and submitted to another ten publishers and one agent. It took time. Each one had different submission criteria. Some requested only the first five pages. Some wanted the first three chapters. Some wanted the whole manuscript. Everybody wanted a synopsis and to know a little about me, but not a one of them matched another. Each submission was unique. Some of the publishers I targeted were Australian; others English and American. I changed spelling according to the submission. While I didn’t get it all right, I reckoned it was respectful to at least make the effort. Those submissions took me another month, to the end of October 2017. I meant to submit to more agents, but decided to first see what came of round one. I also decided that if I didn’t get interest from anyone by end February, I would self-publish. I felt my story had legs now.

Next time: The call … make that the email.

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Getting a foot in the door: agent or publisher?

In my most recent Tips from an Industry Insider blog post for RWAustralia, I review options for getting started in the industry. Once you have a book, should you chase an agent or a publisher … or self publish?

Traditionally, an author needed an agent to get a publisher. This has changed with the rise of digital-only or digital-first publishers and imprints. An imprint is a division of publishing house, for example, Escape is Harlequin Australia’s digital-only imprint whereas titles published under their Mira imprint appear in both paperback and ebook. Many publishers now accept submissions direct from authors.

 

It takes just as much time, research and preparation to approach either an agent or a publisher:

  • Start with shelf research in a bookshop or on your ebook reader.
  • Look on the imprint page to find out who the publisher is.
  • Visit their website and read their submission guidelines.
  • Read the acknowledgements page. Many authors thank their editors, publishers and agents in the acknowledgements.
  • Follow the submission process. Make every submission individual. You can approach more than one publisher or agent at a time, but don’t email them together. Nothing says ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I have not researched your needs’ like a group email. They all have different requirements, for example, some want the first three chapters; others only want to see the first five pages.
  • Some publishers have author-only newsletters. Sign up for these.
  • Keep a database of publisher information.

Agents

The trick when approaching an agent is to understand their business model. They only make money if you make money, charging you a percentage of the advance and royalties you earn. Royalties are the money you make when your book sells, usually a percentage of the retail price as agreed with the publisher. An advance against royalties is money you are given on signature of contract or finalisation of manuscript. Agents naturally favour publishers who pay an advance.

VERY IMPORTANT: If an agent wants money from you, they are not an agent in the true sense of the word. They may offer literary services along with agenting. That’s fine, so long as they are clear about the differences.

If you want to try the agent route, do it before approaching a publisher. Publishers have excellent memories. If your agent approaches them with a book you’ve already pitched and they’ve rejected, they’ll remember. This will embarrass your agent – not good for your relationship.

Publishers

It can take as long to get an agent as a publisher, and only once you have signed exclusivity will they start the process of approaching publishers on your behalf. Starting to see the appeal behind approaching a publisher direct?

Digital-only only imprints usually don’t pay advances. However, they often give authors a larger percentage royalty and pay faster than traditional imprints, who can make an author wait anywhere from three to nine months for payment. The fact that there is no upfront money means agents leave the easiest break-in point for a new author, digital-only, until last on their shopping list. Again, this can be good or bad. However, for an author, the advantages of getting that first book published can outweigh financial incentives. These include establishing an audience and a track record.

Additional strategies for finding a publisher include:

  • Enter writing competitions judged by editors or publishers. Even if you don’t win, you may make a valuable contact.
  • Attend conferences and take part in speed-dating pitch sessions where you get to meet editors.
  • Network. Go to the cocktail parties.
  • Expand your horizons – look locally and internationally.
  • Read books they publish. Will your book fit their profile? Do they appeal to you?

VERY IMPORTANT: A publisher who charges to publish is not a publisher. They may be a legitimate co-operative or they may be a fraud, but they are not a publisher. If you are asked for money to publish, hear the alarm bells and take a step back. Ask questions of them and your community. One of the clearest signals of fraud is that they are not interested in ebooks, only paperback, as they make their money printing for you. Another is very vague marketing and sales plans.

Stay tuned for more industry tips

Coming up in forthcoming posts: pros and cons of large vs small publishers vs self-publishing; publishers interested in romance; learning from a rejection; why you need a brand, and more.

 

Originally posted by Romance Writers of Australia, http://romanceaustralia.com/tips-from-an-industry-insider-getting-your-foot-in-the-door-agent-or-publisher/, on 14 March.

Small steps beginning of big change

Sometimes, the iniquities of the world we live in overwhelm me. It’s easy to be dragged down into a space where it seems change for the better is impossible. Then an individual or organisation will do something to prove me wrong and remind me of the best qualities of humanity, like resilience, resourcefulness and hope. Last year the world seemed to going backwards, reverting to hate and bigotry, focusing on stirring up fears of  ‘otherness’ rather than looking for commonalities and humane, empathetic solutions.

This year bad things continue, but in this first quarter I have seen things to restore my hope. Teenagers marching in the US demanding better gun control. And the Romance Writers of America making a small but significant change to level the playing field of their important RITA awards for indie authors. This year, publishers and authors were required to enter a PDF not a paperback. Why is this important? Because corporations (like publishers) will always tread the conservative, proven path to success. Until proven otherwise by a massive bestseller produced at somebody else’s risk, they will confidently declare is no viable market for:Dreams Key Representing Hopes And Visions

  • wizard boarding school books in the 21st century
  • LBGTQI heroes and heroines
  • romances featuring POC
  • steampunk
  • authors from non-mainstream (read English-speaking, white, heterosexual) cultures)
  • etc. You get the idea.

The authors for these stories have found their voices in independent publishing (self publishing). Many critics still rail against the standards of indie publishing. It’s true the barriers to entry are lower. It is not true that the best of traditional publishing is better than the best of indie publishing.

The changes to the RITAs resulted in 22 indie authors making the finals – out of a total of 78 finalists, almost one third and the most ever. Other minority demographics are also better represented even if not to the same extent.

Jackie Horn has done an excellent job of analysing the data of the RITAs and what it means for diverse authors and characters. I recommend reading her post at Romance Novels for Feminists.

Small changes, big results. Go RWAmerica! Thank you for leading the way.

And go students of America! Thank God for the passion and idealism of youth.

Our Five Favourite Reads

Welcome to The Writers’ Dozen Top 5 Reads Blog Hop

I fortunate to belong to a fabulous writers’ group of women of diverse tastes and interests. If there’s one thing you know about writers, it is that they are also readers. Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading this past two months along with links to all their favourite reads. Whilst mine are all romance (this time), the others feature a broad range from crime to non-fiction. Enjoy!

I’ve been meaning to give Jo Beverley’s books a go for quite some time now. I read Christmas Angel as a post-Christmas indulgence and then went back to start her Company of Rogues series from book 1. To date, I’ve glommed my way through An Arranged Marriage, An Unwilling Bridge, A Christmas Angel, A Dangerous Joy, and Forbidden. They are dark Regency romances exploring the ugly underbelly of reality for women in 19th century Britain. Initially, Jo couldn’t get them published but after she achieved success with lighter Regencies, her publisher relented and they were published to popular acclaim. She won a RITA for An Unwilling Bridge.

I love the range of characters and the way the heroine and hero have to fight so hard for their happily-ever-after. The women face the realities of rape, poverty, prostitution, and the dilemma of being married ‘off’ as possessions, to good men, well-meaning men and blaggards. The men, too, are vulnerable, to bullies in boarding schools and the dangers of war, including post-traumatic stress, loss of limbs and the death of dear friends. I’ve got at least another five to go in this series and then another series from her to lose myself in.

Another fortunate discovery of 2018 has been the work of Kiwi Lucy Parker. She’s writes delightful, funny, heart-warming rom-com set in London’s West End theatre world. They are glorious. Arrogant, vulnerable, handsome heroes. Witty, hardworking, beautiful yet insecure heroines. Definitely drawn minor characters. The reality of celebrity gossip. It’s your average working world with the drama of the stage adding an additional layer of glamour. The first book in the series is Act Like It starring Richard Troy and Lainie (Elaine) Graham, an enemies to lovers novel.  Pretty Face, book two, is just as good, but in this case the stars are Luc Savage and Lilly Lamprey. Rather than a behind-the-scenes look at deserved and undeserved reputations, it looks at how we judge people on appearance.

An out-of-the-ordinary read is Addicted to Love by Jennifer Wilck which has in common with Pretty Face a big age gap between the hero and heroine. Some of Jennifer’s contemporaries have Jewish characters, and this is one of them. Hannah and Dan work through the difficulties of loving someone older/younger, the accompanying ‘baggage’ and the different faces of addiction. It’s about love and the power of forgiveness, both external and internal. Addicted to Love is thought-provoking, well written and utterly absorbing and won’t be what you expect at all.

 

 

I have eventually grabbed Amy Andrew’s No More Mr Nice Guy off my TBR pile and couldn’t put it down. No wonder it made her a USA Today bestselling author. It’s a sexy, funny romance between two best friends, Josie and Mack, who become lovers for the purpose of dealing with her list of unexplored sexual experiences. Only when it becomes time to part, neither one of them wants to let go, but neither has the courage to speak up either. No More Mr Nice Guy is published by Entangled Brazen, and,  yes, it really is hot. If you like the bedroom door kept closed, this is not the book for you.

 

 

My final recommendation is Erica Ridley’s audiobook, Lord of Chance. I’ve been ‘reading’ Erica Ridley’s Rogues to Riches series on my to and from appointments. I think it is her best series ever. She writes non-traditional Regency romances. Not every hero is a duke. In this series one is even – GASP – working class. Her heroes and heroines deal with problems from gambling addiction, illegitimate birth in a class conscious society, the stigma of prostitution, the problems of being typecast. However, they all get their Happily Ever After. I recommend starting with book 1, Lord of Chance, Charlotte and Anthony’s story. This is followed by Lord of Pleasure and Lord of the Night, and, I hope several more, as there are characters I still wish to get to know better.

Want to see what other members of The Writers’ Dozen are reading? Stop by their blogs and find out:

Getting the most from your publishing team

This week I started blogging monthly for RWA. My column is called Tips from an Industry Insider and you can read the full blog post here. I’ll be adding more reflections and insights every month on the 13th.

Amongst other things, I point out that as an author you most likely focus on one book at a time. No one in publishing works on one book at a time. Everyone is multi-tasking, from publishers and editors to cover designers, product and sales personnel, marketers and publicists. The production line never stops (as any indie authors reading this column know only too well). Even if the company only publishers one book a month, the relentless churn of the production schedule means that while they are editing book A, they are designing the cover for book B, typesetting book C and preparing book D for print. When sales reps sell in month 1, they are researching month 2 and reading ahead for month 3. While a publicist is on the road with you, she is contacting journalists to firm up interviews for Author F and preparing long lead pitches for Author G. … What does this mean for you? Understand the deadlines and timelines your team is working to, from editor to publicist. Stick to them. Be available. Plan. Communicate clearly.

Laughs and home truths abound in the Jewel Sister series

Monique McDonell writes delightful romantic comedies that poke and prod at her Jewels 1 and 2characters’ weaknesses until they ‘fess up and earn the right to their happily ever after. Book 2 in her new series came out on Boxing Day, providing me with perfect holiday reading. I started with Book 1 (not necessarily ‘of course’ in my case) and devoured the two books.

Monique McDonell’s new series is set in the small coastal town of Caudal Bay, Australia and centres around  the Jewel sisters, so named because their loving but OTT mother named them Amethyst, Emerald, Sapphire and Ruby. Yes, really. Just imagine!  And aside from their names they have to deal with each other. Sisters! Sometimes you love ‘em, sometimes you fight with them, but you always want them to get their HEA.

Something of a Spark is book one. I really loved this first story about Saffy (Sapphire) and Cam. Cam is super sexy and just all round nice, while Saffy is complicated and overthinks everything in a totally relatable way. She likes to hide all her talents under the proverbial bushel. Cam, on the other hand, is open about his life, his talents and his not so nice family. Their blooming love story is threatened by Saffy’s determination to hold on to her secrets, as is her family’s unity.  The tension creates a page-turning romance written with Monique McDonell’s trademark humor. This is rom-com at its best.

Book two, Something to Sing About is Ruby’s story. She’s the youngest sister and currently AWW-2018-badge-rosein turmoil. I mean, what would you do if you had a crush on your sister’s best friend  – a crush that has lasted 10 years despite the fact that said sister has strictly forbidden either flings or relationships between her sisters and best friend. Ruby has accepted that country music star Ryan Swan will never break his word to her sister Sapphy, but she’s promised herself one night with the man to treasure. Only now there’s a baby on the way. And said crush (aka lifelong love) lives in Nashville, a looong way from Caudal Bay and her comfortable life. Ruby has to overcome her desire to stay in the shadows to win Ryan, who has to overcome his fear of his past to win Ruby. It’s messy and funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming.

I am loving this series and can’t wait for the next sister’s story, which I am hoping will be Emme’s.

If you like romantic comedy, Monique has another series, The Upper Crust, set in New York. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

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