Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Graphically yours

I have written a fantasy adventure story (that does not have elves, dragons or vampires). The story is complete at 11 500 words. I am now considering if the story would be better served / more likely to be published by sending it to a publisher that could treat it as a manuscript for a graphic novel or just try to get it published as a short story / fantasy piece. If I can get it published as a short fantasy piece will it support or limit my options to later sell / adapt the story for a graphical format?

Graphic novels, while increasing in popularity, are not handled by Australian trade publishers in any real, meaty way (I'm presuming you're in Australia - if you're not, I can't really help you). That's because the market here is still small. The French and the Japanese are mad for a graphic novel but they've not (yet) formed a significant part of the Australian national culture and thus they don't seem like a winning business proposition. So the main thing I have to say to you is: go yonder. Submit overseas first. Whether you're submitting this for a graphic novel or as a short fantasy story, it's probably better to go overseas as that's where most of the activity is. Of course, there is a robust fantasy community in Australia and you should immerse yourself in that (if you haven't already), and that may lead you to explore some avenues here, but we're still small potatoes, really, when it comes to fantasy or graphic novel publishing. One only has to go to Galaxy bookshop in Sydney to see where all the books are coming from (clue: not the southern hemisphere).

However, I freely admit that I am not an expert on graphic novels or fantasy, for that matter, so if any readers have anything to contribute here, please do so!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ruled by rules

The genre I read to death, that I love the most, is chick lit (the typical ones like Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella and Catherine Alliott) so when I wrote my book, that's the sort of tone I feel I have written it in. HOWEVER the storyline has a love triangle that includes a ghost. It doesn't delve into the whole afterlife aspect a great deal, but basically the main character moves to an apartment haunted by a young male ghost and after learning to communicate with him she eventually falls for him.

When I first attempted a query letter I described it as chick lit. After posting it on a website to have others critique it I was told it was a 'paranormal romance' and therefore the word count was insanely too high (115 000 words). What are your thoughts? What genre (given my very simple description) would you class it as, and based on that do I need to cut the word count down a huge amount? I suppose I'd also like to know if an agent likes the query letter, thinks the storyline sounds interesting but the word count seems too high, would they still be interested or reject it based on word count?

Paranormal romance, like all genres/subgenres with 'romance' in the name, has specific rules. I am no expert in them, although I do like to read a bit of the ol' paranormal romance. With the rules come rules about submitting: if you want this story to be categorised as paranormal romance, then you need to submit to agents and publishers who handle that genre and you may, accordingly, need to trim down your word count if that's what the genre calls for (and I must say that the novels are on the 70 000-words-or-thereabouts size).

There is no rule, however, that says you must submit your manuscript as paranormal romance. If you think it's chick lit then it's chick lit. Or 'women's contemporary'. Or just fiction. Accordingly, you can keep your 115 000 words and submit to agents and publishers - just don't submit to those who specialise in paranormal romance.

If an agent/publisher likes the cut of your jib but thinks you are word-heavy, they'll likely tell you. However, I never advise cutting just for the sake of it. The story takes as long as it takes. If your story needs 115 000 words and there's no fat in there, then there's no point cutting just because someone else thinks it's too long.

So your task now is to decide what sort of novel you think you have written, identify agents/publishers to submit to accordingly and do not under any circumstances say in your query letter that you are prepared to cut the length if the agent/publisher thinks it's warranted. We know that authors will usually cut if we ask them to - if we think it's needed. But you shouldn't lead with that, as it's tantamount to saying that you don't have confidence in what you've written.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Please stop sending me query letters

Dear folks who keep sending me their query letters: I don't do it on a regular basis. This is not usually a query-letter-critiquing website. You'll have to wait until the next time I feel like saddling up that particular horse and, until then, I'm going to politely ignore your emails.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Anonymous means anonymous

I was wondering how people send submissions to you without knowing who you are? May I ask who you are and which agency you work for so I know if I’ve sent a submission to you or if you’re the next person on my list to send to?

Sure, you may ask - but I may not answer. Because, well, if I wanted people to know who I was I'd use my real name, wouldn't I?

Sometimes I'm sent submissions through this website but my About me page clearly states that I'm not doing the blog so I can be sent submissions; I see enough of those in my offline life. So it doesn't matter if you've already submitted to me in the real world or if you're about to, because you're not going to double up.

If you're asking the question because you'd like to make sure you're really submitting to the real-life version of me, perhaps this will narrow it down: I look after fiction, non-fiction and children's authors. So if you're one of those, I'm probably on your submission list ...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Conundra about querying

The particular agency I have chosen to try first has great specific submission guidelines on their website BUT says that the initial contact needs to be via phone or email. Does this mean I send my query letter (without anything else) via email? A ditzy question I imagine but no amount of googling has found me the answer! Also, there are agents' names listed on their website ... I've had a snoop via google into each of them and whilst they all seem great, I'm not sure whose name I should put on the initial query email?

And breathe ... two ... three ... four ...

Just relax. You're not going to be rejected just because you're not sure which agent to send it to. If this agency's guidelines are unclear that's their fault, not yours.

'Initial contact by phone or email' is a little unclear when there are also specific submission guidelines, so hedge your bets: send just the query letter by email, with no sample text, and it's also okay to say that you weren't sure how much to send initially, and you're happy to send more if required. You're not going to be rejected for being thoughtful and polite.

In terms of whose name to use: use the agency's name. 'Dear [agency name] ...' The agency I work for gets enquiries about which name to use but, really, it doesn't matter to whom you address the query - it will get read regardless. Just don't say 'Dear sir' unless you happen to know it's run by men. The Australian agents are overwhelmingly female in number and nothing sets the teeth to grinding like a 'Dear sir', because it indicates a complete lack of attention to any sort of known detail about Australian agencies.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

No, I can't help you turn your website into a book

Continuing a theme from the previous post ...

More and more I'm being sent submissions that aren't really submissions. Rather, they are letters or emails that say, 'I've been doing X and I've made a website. Can you please give me advice on what I should do next?' or 'Can you please tell me how to turn it into a book?'

I've probably said it before but just so we're clear: agents aren't a general advisory service for writers. If I'm not getting letters like this then I'm seeing things like, 'I want to write a novel but I really don't know how. What advice can you give me?'

Well, none. I'm not running a public service. Having said that, I would love to have the resources and time to give this type of advice, if only so that ultimately fewer and fewer people will be in the dark, but luckily I don't have to: writers centres (or writers' centres, depending on whether or not you think it's a centre for writers or a centre possessed by writers) already offer this service.

No doubt agents seem like logical people to ask for advice about writing, but the parameters of our jobs are fairly clear: we work with authors who have already written something (well, most of the time). There is enough information available on the internets for fledgling writers - I'm fairly sure none of that information suggests that agents are the go-to people when you are first thinking about writing something or pre-thinking about writing something. And every one of these letters and emails that asks for advice has to be answered, meaning my submission-reading time gets squeezed (hence this ranty-type post).

So, please, if you are ever tempted to ask an agent for some general career advice and they're not already your agent: don't. There are writers/writers' centres to help you. And the Australian Society of Authors. They're all helpful people. They would love to help you turn your website into a manuscript. And then you can contact me and any other agent you wish.