Janet Sumner Johnson
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QueryTracker.net

The Learning Curve of Publishing

Oct

26, 2015 |

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It’s no secret that I’ve been on this ride of wanting to be
published for a long time. And the longer you are in something, the more you
learn about it. Bit by bit you gather information and before long you are no
longer a newbie.

By the time I found my agent, I was quite expert at drafting
query letters. I knew the best places to track the query letters I sent to
agents (querytracker.net in case anyone was wondering). I knew what writing conferences
I liked best. I knew what to expect timing wise, and I was the one answering
questions for those newbies who had just joined the fray.

Now that I’m on the next step of the publishing journey, I
am horrified to discover that I have to start over as a newbie. Only this time,
the learning curve is much, MUCH steeper since there is an actual deadline for
things (oh the forgotten joy of not having a deadline!).

My head is spinning as
I try to figure out marketing, and how to get my name out there and get on
panels and accepted as a presenter at conferences. And let’s not forget school
visits, and swag, and websites. Writing tag lines. Writing author bios. Writing discussion questions. Figuring out author pictures and poses. And of course navigating the world of
communicating with my publisher and editor and all the people involved there
(who are fortunately very lovely people!).

 
The things is, I’d read so many blog posts from debut
authors as they navigated the publishing world, and I’d learned so much about school
visits and marketing, etc. And I had notes from conference presentations on
such topics. I felt so prepared. I was SO ready for the next step! I just knew
I would make it through with ease.

So I’m left scratching my head about what went wrong.
 
And the only thing I can come up with is that having a book
published is a bit like becoming a parent for the first time. You can read all
kinds of books to prepare yourself. People will tell you all kinds of truths
and horror stories about “what it’s really like.” But it doesn’t matter.
The only thing that really helps you understand what it’s like to be a parent
is to actually BE A PARENT. And then suddenly you get it!
 
Not that it’s suddenly easy or that you suddenly know everything.
But you get it. You get how hard and
complicated and unpredictable it all is. And all you can do is your best. You
keep trying every day, and you learn new things. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never be as
good as those other parents you see at PTA meetings and stuff, and sometimes it
feels like you’re failing miserably.
 
But you aren’t.
 
Because HEY! You’re doing
it! And none of that other stuff matters. What matters is that you’re trying.
 
Because despite what Yoda says, there really is such a
thing.
 
(And yes, this is absolutely what I tell myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all . . . which is at least once a month . . . okay, weekly . . . fine! I meant daily. DAILY. Okay?? Satisfied?!) 😉

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Query Helps

Feb

18, 2011 |

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Writing a query letter is never easy, but I’ve found several useful helps that I wanted to share. Most of you probably know of these, but just in case I ever lose my head, I want a record. 😉

The biggest help was Elana Johnson’s blog and her book From the Query to the Call. I stumbled upon her blog about a year ago, and she was just starting a series on writing a good query letter. I found her advice so useful at actually getting words on paper, that I purchased her book (which I still refer back to ALL THE TIME).

With all of Elana’s success, she now generously offers her book free to anyone who would like it. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not useful. Seriously the best $8 I’ve ever spent—I’d still pay money for it. If you don’t have it, go get it post haste. You’ll find it on her website under the “Query to the Call” tab.

Another helpful blog is Janet Reid’s Query Shark. As a successful and respected agent, she breaks down queries that have been submitted by brave souls and points out what is and isn’t working. It’s a fascinating study. While you can submit your query, I’ve found it very useful to simply read through her past posts. You start to get a feel for what a query should be and what you definitely should NOT do. So go, and be enlightened.

The last link I want to share is QueryTracker.net. Not only can you sign up for a free account (they have Premium accounts you can pay for if you want to do more) that will track all the queries and submissions you have sent with the dates and names of the agents or publishers, but they have the Query Tracker Forum as well. You have to request an account for the forum in addition to the QueryTracker.net account, but it is well worth the trouble to do so. Here you can connect with other writers and also receive feedback on your work. They have forums for giving and getting critiques on query letters, the first five pages, as well as the synopsis. They have a forum for any questions you may have about the query process and they have forums for about anything book related you could want.

The forums at AbsoluteWrite.com are similar in nature, and also very useful. (So I lied about querytracker.net being the last link.)

There are many other helpful sites and blogs when it comes to querying (see Matthew Rush’s blog The Quintissentially Questionable Query Experiement, for example), these are simply the ones that have been most helpful to me. In the comments, feel free to share sites and blogs that have helped you the most with writing your query.

And best of luck to all of you working on writing a query letter!

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The Pitch

Sep

20, 2010 |

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Back in June, I entered the pitch for my book in a contest and won. I was shocked and elated!

The thing is, when I saw the contest, I wasn’t going to enter. I looked at the agent’s bio, and didn’t think she was interested in fairy tales. But my husband, being the wise man he is, asked, “Well what harm is done if you enter and don’t win?”

So I pulled out my pitch, which I’d edited and revised and played with after reading Elana’s blog:

“With his country at war, Prince Bob, Prince Charming’s failure of a little brother, is desperate to prove himself and finally escape his brother’s shadow.”

I was about to post it, but that nagging little voice in the back of my head made me doubt. I’d read Nathan Bransford’s blog on pitching and came up with this:

“When war breaks out and Prince Bob is demoted from his captain’s post, he prevents a mutiny, stops a traitor, and leads the army to victory to save the kingdom.”

But to me, it felt flat. So I pulled out the one I’d gotten some good feedback on it at Seekerville:

“Prince Charming’s little brother must overcome a mutiny, a traitor, and his own ineptitude to prevent the downfall of his kingdom.”

And while I liked it better, I still doubted. See, a few months back, I read through some winning pitches on QueryTracker.net, and one of them read something like this: A post-apocalyptic glee club.

It says nothing about the plot. ‘So how could it win?’ I asked myself. Then came the lightbulb.

A pitch is one sentence. How can you really tell someone about the plot in so few words? But see, a pitch isn’t meant to tell the whole plot. That’s what a synopsis is for. A pitch is meant to capture someone’s interest. Make them want to read your book.

That’s when I decided to break a few rules. Think outside the box. I stopped focusing on the plot, and started focusing on what I thought was unique and intriguing about my story. Here’s what I submitted:

“Before Prince Charming rescued Snow White; before he faced her evil step-mother in a knock-down, drag-out battle, he faced his biggest challenge to date: training his inept little brother, Prince Bob, to be like him. This is Bob’s story.” 

While I still got a rejection letter in the end (albeit a very nice one), the pitch did what it was supposed to do: catch the attention of the agent. I definitely think I have a better concept of what makes a good pitch. 

So what makes your story intriguing? Can you turn that into a winning pitch? I’d love to hear yours!

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