Lesson Four - Coming Home


 The final stage of the submission process journey is evaluation – coming home. You've reached the end of your trip, and it's time to get back to your everyday life.

You've pressed the "send" button or watched the mail carrier drive away with your proposal packet. How do you feel about it?

Playing the waiting game – how long, how and when would you follow up?

What do you do while you’re waiting? And dealing with denial – the disappointment of being back where you started.

Q: I just learned something that would make the proposal I already sent stronger. What do I do? Update and send again? Send the correction?

Q: I just realized I made a terrible typo in the proposal I sent. What do I do?

Both of these questions will get you several answers. Some will tell you that good writing will win out – and on a good day, it might; some will tell you to go ahead and confess the error in another e-mail to the editor or agent. On any given day, either will work or get you booted. Every publisher and every agent has a different method of handling this problem. Of course you want to not let it happen in the first place. When I look back on some of my first query letters written with the Writer's Digest guide on my lap, I cringe. I have come a long way. You do the best you can, and don't give up. Pray about it; seek advice and do what you feel led to do.

One encouraging article in Writer's Digest several years ago was by a young author who set a goal to achieve a hundred rejections in one year – not by trying to be bad, but through honest efforts to keep submitting her work. That year I made it my goal to send out something every single week. So, once in a while I fudged and sent out a couple things in one week and skipped the next, but I sent out over fifty articles and proposals that year. They can only say no was my mantra. And its opposite is true: They can't say yes unless you send out your proposals.

Q: Should I write a thank you note whether or not my work has been accepted?

A brief polite e-mail often suffices when you receive a "denial"; at least a response and thank you for looking at my work, with perhaps a hopeful "perhaps we can work together in the future" message isn't out of place – but be very brief.

Andrea Boeshaar (http://www.andreaboeshaar.com) says: Persevere and be patient. Your idea might not fit a publisher's needs now, but it may fit in 3 years from now. Don't give up!

Kathy Carlton Willis (http://www.kathycarltonwillis.com) says: If an editor tells you when you will hear back, mark it on your calendar and give one month’s grace for emergencies and time delays before you contact the editor again. If an editor doesn’t give you a timeline, then consult a market guide and see their standard turnaround time. Again, give a grace period beyond that before you re-contact.  When you do follow-up, make it short and non-pressing. Mention the date you submitted the query or proposal and say you are writing to inquire on the status of the book proposal in their house, so that you can continue to move forward with your project. See if they need anything else in their consideration of the book. And then thank them for their time.

What do you do while you’re waiting?

o   Finish writing the book if you haven’t already; go back and look at it again

o   Start another book to keep your mind occupied, always moving forward

o   Work on your branding and platform

o   Network with industry pros to build connections

o   Make a list of other markets that might be a good fit, so if a rejection letter comes in, before the emotions hit, you can get it right back out the door again with a new publishing house. Always have a Plan B prepared so you don’t get bogged down when you get an unfavorable reply back from the editor.

Assignment: if you don't have a website, I strongly suggest that you consider it. For everyone, find three or four author web sites that you like, report back with why you like them.

A final word of wisdom from Lynnette LaBelle. 

And, lastly:

Q: Why wasn't my work accepted?

So many reasons, so many stories from so many editors and agents. Some of them include the hard and fast fact that maybe your work simply isn't ready. The editor might have recently accepted or published something similar. The editor or agent had heard this concept before. The editor didn't care for your word choices or style or plot. The publishing panel didn't want to take the chance. The professional readers couldn't make a decision. The genre wasn't a good fit for the direction of the company. The company didn't find your platform enticing. Your platform is too weak. The editor is about to take a different position. The agent had to cut off his or her client list. Your package got lost in the mail or cyberspace. The company cut off submissions for XX reason.

Do not take anything personally. There are so many stories of how long someone tried to find a buyer or an agent. Don't burn your bridges. The editor or agent may remember you and or your work when he or she is in a different position and able to look at you more critically.

Q. When can I submit again/submit again to the same company/agent?

Again, there will be many opinions and many experiences in this realm. I wouldn't recommend you keep submitting the exact same material; if you make requested or substantial edits to your work, unless otherwise requested, you can send the material to the same person or company again…but I'd recommend waiting at least six months to show that you have improved or changed the work, and that you have actually taken the time to do your best.

However, unless the company/person requests "NO SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSIONS" you can certainly submit the same material to more than one editor or agent at the same time. If you're mostly happy with your work and received no particular comments regarding the work in a rejection from one company, you can turn around and send it out again to the next publisher or agent on your list; but I always recommend going over your material again before doing so, even if you got a standard form rejection. You may easily have missed something. I love what Terry Burns said at the end of his class last month: "When are you through with a book? When someone gives you money and makes you leave it alone." I'm pulling out manuscripts that are four years old and going back to work on them with the help of new eyes and crit partners and the Chicago Manual of Style.

Unfortunately you may never hear from some of these people again, or even have your submission acknowledged. It's the nature of business today…and that's what professional writing is – a Business. The publisher/agent/marketer/author all need to make money. We're all on the same side and we all need to work together.

After THE Call by Lynnette Labelle

Do you know what to expect after you get THE call and sign with an agent? A lot more work.  Why not complete some of those tasks either before you query or while you're waiting for a response from agents?

Here are ten projects you can tackle before an agent offers representation:

1.  Join a writers' group.  This is different from a critique group. A writers' group can offer support, candid advice from published authors, contests, workshops, and most importantly, the opportunity to network.  Plenty of writers' groups are online, so you don't have to leave the comfort of your home.  The best way to take advantage of an online writers' group is to participate in a reasonable and positive way.  You want your name to get out there without spamming or annoying anyone.

2.  Write an author bio of yourself. You'll need this for your website, and your agent will require this information when pitching to publishers.

3.  Have a professional headshot taken. This will also be required for the same reasons as #2.

4.  Create a website. A blog is optional, but a website is a must. Don't think that because you're not published you don't have anything to share on your website. Use your bio and headshot.  Set up a "books" page to list blurbs for the novels you're querying or writing. This will change once you've sold, but it's something to catch a reader's eye until then. Showcase contests and writing awards you've won. If you've had any articles published, have a page with links to them.  Don't forget to list writing related organizations you belong to like Romance Writers of America, or others. Your website might not look like much yet, but it shows an agent and editor you're serious about the business.  They want their authors to have a web presence.  Plus, once you sell, you won't have to worry about starting a website, just updating it.

5.  Set up a dependable email account. Free email accounts are great, but have limits. Some aren't stable and you can lose everything in your inbox. What if you had a request from your favorite agent in your box, but never knew because that message was lost in cyberspace? The other problem with a lot of the free email accounts is they tend to limit your storage space. Most often edits are done electronically.  What if your editor or agent sent you your manuscript with editorial suggestions?  Will your email account allow a large file, the size of your full manuscript, to be sent to you or will it bounce back to your editor? What about your fans?  At some point, after you sell, you should expect to receive fan mail. Do you have a different account for that?

Make sure your email address reflects your professionalism. This is not the time to be cute with an address like:
imthebest@freeaccount.com or buymybook@freeaccount.com. You want your name to reach people, so use it in your email address. Better yet, use the email through your website server and double up on free advertising.  For example: yourname@yourname.com.  This tells the recipients your name AND your website address. Clever, huh?

Every email you send can be a source of advertising for you. Simply craft your signature tag with your full name (or pen name if you're using one), website URL, and blog URL.  Just don't go overboard with this list because a long signature can turn people off.

6.  Grow a marketing list. This way, when your novel is released, you can contact people who might want to buy your book. They've already shown interested in your writing or they wouldn't have given you their email address.  Be careful with this.  Only contact people who’ve given you permission to do so.  Setting up a form on your website or blog to “catch” email addresses is not the best way to form a list.  If someone hasn’t specifically given you their email address so you can contact them when your book sells or is released, then they’ll probably consider your message spam.  And nobody likes spam.  You’ll be lucky if all the person does is delete your message.  The reader may report you or refuse to ever buy your books.  Not the best way to start off your career.

If you set up an email capture system on your website or blog, make sure people know what they’re signing up for. (This is the little box where people who visit your sites can sign up for a newsletter, enter a contest, request a free bookmark, or whatever you have in place.) You want your reader to have a reason to trust you with their email address. Don't ever betray them by selling that list.

7.  Have a marketing plan in place.  More and more publishers expect the author to do a majority (if not all) of the marketing for their book. If you sign the contract without a marketing plan, you'll have to come up with one fast. Why not take the time to create a well-thought-out plan right now?

8.  Write the synopsis for your next two books. Yes, you read that right. Often, agents like to sell a new author as a three book deal, but that doesn't mean you need to have three books ready to go. A synopsis for your next couple of novels will show the publisher you're not a one-book-wonder.

9.  Brainstorm titles for the novel you're querying. More times than not, your editor (and possibly your agent) won't like your title. This can be really crushing for some new authors, but if you have other titles to suggest, you have a better chance of ending up with something you created.

10. Write your next book. Don't sit by the computer waiting for a response from the agents you queried. Move on to the next project. This will help make the time go faster and set you up with Plan B in case an agent or editor likes your style, but not your first book.  As tempting as it may be, if the novel you’re shopping is the first in a series, don’t work on the second book right away.  It’s too risky.  What if an agent comes back and says she likes your writing but not the concept behind the series?  All you have to offer her is a book in the same series.  Instead, work on something else.  If the agent likes the series, you can switch to book two once you’ve signed with her.