Posted in Publishing, Writing

Why You Need to Send Out Your Story 100 Times Before You Give Up

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Imagine this.

You’ve been working on a short story on and off for a few weeks. You wrote the first draft, then revised it a couple times. You send it to some writer friends for feedback, then revise it again.

You proofread your story one last time. You feel good about your story. You love your story!

You finally submit it to ten different magazines and wait to hear back. Weeks past. Probably months.

At a certain point, you hear back from eight of the ten magazines. They’ve all rejected your story.

Eight magazines rejected it? Well, I guess it’s time to give up on that story, right? Time to put it in the drawer and start writing another one, right?

Wrong!

Yes, feel free to always start writing another story. But just because you might start working on something new does not mean you abandon the last one.

Rejection is hard. Rejection is frustrating.

Rejection is also a huge part of being a writer. And when you’re starting out, you might not fully understand that. You might think because your story got rejected eight times, it’s not only worth putting in a drawer but worth burning and destroying for the rest of time.

Such is not the case. You know why?

Because when it comes to your short stories, all it takes… is one yes. All it takes… is that one editor looking for a story like yours.

Don’t stop at eight or ten rejections for your story. Keep going. Revise the story one more time (you should always look at your story at least once every six months while it’s on submission), and then send it out to ten more magazines.

Because maybe round two will bring you good news. Or round three, or round four.

You just never know.

In 2011 I wrote a creative non-fiction piece about my love of movie theaters. I sent it out to literary magazines on and off for five years. FIVE YEARS. I probably sent it to 70 or 80 magazines, maybe more. By the end of 2015, I had basically given up on it.

But then in January 2016 I decided to give it one last shot… and I sent the piece to five more magazines. One of the editors said yes.

In 2015 I wrote a short story about an aging couple. I sent it out to literary magazines on and off for four years. By the beginning of this year, I had, again, basically given up on it. But in February I decided to try one more time and sent it to 10 more places.

In late March, it was accepted to a literary magazine. And just this week I received a beautiful printed copy of the magazine that ends with my story. Out of twelve accepted stories, they decided to end with mine. How cool is that?

So don’t give up after ten rejections of your story, or poem, or non-fiction piece, whatever it may be. Don’t stop at twenty, or thirty. Don’t even stop at fifty.

You are not allowed to give up on your story until you’ve sent it to 100 places, okay?

I mean it. 100.

If you send it to 100 over the course of many years, and all you end up getting is rejections, then yes, maybe it’s time to put that one away for good.

But before you get to 100, you’re not allowed to give up yet. Because you just never know.

That perfect editor of that perfect magazine might be around the corner ready as ever to tell you that one beautiful, magical word we writers love to hear as often as humanly possible.

Yes!

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Why Your Novel Needs More Drafts Than You Think

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In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,

Now let’s talk about revising the work — how much and how many drafts? For me the answer has always been two drafts and a polish.

Stephen King does two drafts and a polish when it comes to his novels. It’s probably all he needs to do at this point — he is Stephen King after all. He could probably publish a messy first draft and make millions.

For your own work, though, are two drafts and a polish enough? One significant revision, then a copyedit?


Unless you’re a supremely gifted writer, I would suggest that you do more drafts than that.

I would aim for three drafts of your novel before you send it to beta readers to look at and critique your work.

At one point in On Writing, King talks about sending his very first draft to people for feedback, and I find that worrisome.

I would never send out a first draft to anyone. I was so excited about my newest middle grade novel in January that I actually asked my agent if she might read the first draft, and she had to say, no, no, do at least a second draft before you send it over.

Because first drafts are terrible. There are sentences that don’t make sense. Typo after typo on every page. Character motivations that seem to switch every other chapter.

At minimum you should do two drafts before anyone else reads your work. Three drafts is better. Three drafts allows you the time to not perfect your work necessarily but make it fully presentable to others.


How many drafts should you do before you start querying literary agents?

Again, at least three. For the love of God, at least three.

But this is another case where a couple more drafts will do you good. It’s better to take another month or two to complete additional drafts than to query agents with a manuscript that’s only 80% there.

Why waste six months of your life on a book that only gets three drafts and then only rejections from agents when you could spend eight months, maybe ten, getting your book exactly where it needs to be?

I have at least five unpublished manuscripts in the drawer that might have received more interest from agents if I had just spent a few more weeks working on them, getting more feedback from friends and writers I admire and trust.

Don’t do what I’ve done in the past. Take your manuscripts to the finish line no matter how long it takes.


So here’s a schedule you might try to follow when it comes to writing and revising your novel…

  1. Write the first draft. Write it fast. Aim for 2,000 words a day if possible. Or 1,000 if that’s more manageable. Even 500 words a day is solid.
  2. When you finish the first draft, put the novel in a drawer for at least two weeks, if not a month or longer. Let the book rest for a little bit.
  3. Then do a second draft all on your own. This often takes me 3–4 weeks to go through every chapter, fixing things I see along the way as I also take notes on the side for things I want to improve in the third draft.
  4. Take another break from the manuscript. 1–2 weeks is fine.
  5. Now do a third draft all on your own, and incorporate most of the notes you wrote down as you read through the second draft. By the end of this third draft, you will have a manuscript closer to how you envisioned your story when you first began writing it.
  6. Find three to five people to read your third draft. Give them at least three weeks, preferably four, to read the novel and get back to you with their thoughts. I have had close friends read my work, and I have also had more casual friends take a look. I put out a call last year for beta readers for my MFA thesis novel, and I had fifteen people agree to take a look at it! Fifteen, which I whittled down to five.
  7. Your fourth draft should take into account the feedback from your beta readers. If all five of them don’t like something about your manuscript, you need to do something about that problem. If only one of them criticizes something you love, then maybe it can stay. It’s up to you.
  8. Once you’ve finished this draft, you might be ready to start querying your book to literary agents. You can definitely do a few drafts of your query letter during this time. Research the agents. Put together a database of who you plan to send it to. And don’t forget to write a two-page synopsis of your novel as well.
  9. But before you query, yes, go through your novel one last time. A fifth draft. A polish, as King likes to say. You’re not really changing much story-wise in this fifth draft. This draft is for locating typos, awkward sentences, misspellings, things like that. In this fifth draft, make your work as clean and polished as possible. When you finish, I would go back and re-read your first ten pages one last time too, just because many agents ask to see the opening pages of your novel, and you want those to shine their brightest.
  10. Okay. Take a breath. It’s been seven or eight months since you wrote the first word of your book, maybe longer. I know it’s been hard, and it’s taken forever. But it’s finally time, I promise. Now you can start querying your novel to agents!

This is by no means the only way to write and revise a novel.

You might have a different process of your own that works better. This is just what has worked for me the past few years, especially in regards to the middle grade novel I wrote that finally secured me a literary agent in 2017.

At the end of the day, just remember this: revision is absolutely key to being a successful writer.

Do not ignore the revising process. And don’t just do a second draft and think your work is perfect and ready.

Take revision seriously, and you will go far, I guarantee it!

Posted in Publishing, Writing

5 Reasons Why You Should Sign with a Literary Agent

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For many years, signing with a literary agent was always the goal.

In 2010 I wrote my first novel. I queried it to a few agents, and by the end of the day, an agent requested the full manuscript! The joy I felt that night was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and that joy kept coming in the years that followed whenever I queried a new novel to literary agents and got some requests for pages.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, beats actually signing with an agent!

When you’re an unpublished writer, signing with a literary agent always feels like the beginning of your writing dreams being fulfilled. Signing with an agent tells the world that you’re taking this writing thing seriously.

Signing with an agent means your book might actually be published.

There are certainly reasons not to sign with a literary agent, which I’ll talk about at some point. But signing with a literary agent should certainly be something of interest to you if you are considering traditional publishing for your work.

Here are five reasons why you should sign with a literary agent…


1. A literary agent will make your book better.

Some agents are more editorial than others, but I guarantee you that your agent won’t let your book go out on submission to editors until it’s ready. Until it’s nearly perfect. If that means just one edit, then consider yourself one of the lucky ones. My novel Monster Movie went through ten edit rounds before my agent send it out to editors, but you know what? The book needed ten rounds. It needed many, many revisions to be the best book it could be.


2. A literary agent will be there for you during the highs and lows of your writing life.

They’ll be there for you for pretty much everything. As someone to bounce ideas off of when you can’t decide what novel to write next. As someone to talk to when you’re struggling in the latest draft of your book and have no clue what to do next. As someone who will be your number one cheerleader. A really good literary agent will be there for you, always.


3. A literary agent will have connections in the world of publishing.

This, of course, is one of the big reasons to sign with an agent. There’s only so much you can do in your writing career without connections. And without a literary agent, it’s basically impossible to be published by any of the major publishing houses. A literary agent gives you the opportunity for your work to be considered by editors at these major houses, along with editors at some smaller houses too that only take agented submissions. And they’ll get your work to the best editors possible due to their vast connections and knowledge of the industry.


4. A literary agent will help negotiate your contracts.

Remember, literary agents only make money when YOU make money. Any agent who asks for a penny from you for any reason is someone you shouldn’t work with, shouldn’t trust. You should find an agent who is ethical and reputable, and who has experience and understanding of the publishing industry when it comes to negotiating contracts that will absolutely come your way eventually. Contracts can be confusing for the writer, and your agent will help you considerably with this part.


5. A literary agent will give your writing career credibility.

Once you sign with a literary agent, you’re basically telling the world that writing, to you, is serious business. This isn’t some hobby you’re doing on the weekend. It’s not just a way to pass the time. You’re telling the world, I want to be a published author, I want my stories to find an audience. When people ask what you do for a living, you should say that you’re a writer no matter what, but you should definitely say it once you have a literary agent, no matter if you haven’t had a book sell yet. It’s sometimes hard to feel like a real writer when you haven’t been traditionally published, but having a literary agent definitely helps.


Lastly, always remember to do your research.

Not every literary agent is the same. Not every literary agent is reputable. Make sure you do your research, first in agents who represent the kind of writing you do, and second in agents who have sold books in your genre and who will be someone you might like to work with.

I love having a literary agent. It’s so great to have that one person out there who believes in you, who makes you better in every way, who always has your back no matter what.

If you’re thinking of signing with a literary agent in the weeks or months to come, best of luck to you. I hope these tips will help as you continue in your writing journey!

Posted in Books, Publishing

Why Powell’s Books in Portland Continues to Be an Important Bookstore

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Only a short decade ago, both bookstores and video stores were considered by most to be essential institutions. Although the Internet was certainly becoming more powerful by the day, eBooks were not yet attractive reading tools for the masses and Netflix was still limited to DVDs by mail, the capability of streaming only a dream for most film and TV lovers. In 2007 the bookstore and the video store appeared relatively safe, but as many are aware, technological advances and increasingly fickle consumers can make for fast changes. In the last ten years, one of the two major booksellers Borders Books closed its doors for good, and nearly every video store in the United States is gone, including the heavyweight Blockbuster Video. Owners of movie rental stores couldn’t foresee how powerful streaming services like Netflix and Hulu would be, and the people that ran Borders Books failed to account for the power eBooks would bring to reading culture. Today Barnes & Noble is still around, managing with its online branch and its early adoption of eBook devices to stay relevant as more and more brick-and-mortar stores fall by the wayside.

Although the owners of Barnes & Noble bookstores continue to struggle in the marketplace, independent bookstores, surprisingly enough, are staying strong, many offering deals for customers in store and online, both in physical book and eBook form. The most successful independent book stores are the ones that, unlike the owners of video stores and Borders Books, offer innovation, and one of the most beloved of them all is Powell’s Books in Portland, the largest independent bookstore in the world. Powell’s Books is a marvel for the eyes, and it may be the perfect place for any serious bibliophile to spend a long afternoon, but what continues to make Powell’s one of the most respected, important, thriving bookstores in the current marketplace is its constantly evolving innovation in response to dueling technologies.

Before examining the ways Powell’s Books has used innovation to succeed in the troubling economic times of the last decade, it is important to understand the difference between corporately-owned bookstores like Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores. Of course one major benefit a large chain of a brick-and-mortar store like Barnes & Noble has over smaller independent bookstores is its visibility around the country. Although less populated cities around the country may not have a Barnes & Noble, most cities do have one of the stores or at least is close to one. Secondly, customers know what they’re getting when they walk into a Barnes & Noble; they understand that the store will offer books at both new and reduced prices, as well as a café that offers coffee drinks and food options.

And third, even more so than many independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble offers something pivotal to book lovers, as Nathan Cummings explains: “an enjoyable browsing experience. I would visit Barnes & Noble to scan the shelves for new finds more often than to hunt for specific titles. And the peaceful coffee-scented ambience of my childhood is nowhere to be found [elsewhere]” (Cummings). As Cummings says, there is a familiarity with Barnes & Noble that can’t quite be captured by most singular independent bookstores. However, there is a coldness and a lack of personal connection in most corporate bookstores, and Cummings goes on to explain the one area where independent bookstores succeed in the current marketplace: “Independent booksellers leverage their close connections with local communities to provide personalized book recommendations based on store employees’ or frequent customers’ testimonials” (Cummings). There’s a personal touch that comes through that one can’t normally find at a Barnes & Noble, that a person certainly can never find online. Author Zachary Karabell adds, “The independents offer something neither Amazon nor the chains can: attention to the quirky needs of their customer base” (Karabell). These quirky needs can point to a whole range of possibilities, but at the heart of the argument is that independent bookstores offer more access and affordability, and important personal connection than Amazon and Barnes & Noble ever could. And when it comes to the most popular independent bookstores in the United States, innovation has been key to their successes.

Independent bookstores are everywhere, many of which offer unique opportunities and browsing experiences for the book-buying public. City Lights in San Francisco features three levels of books as well as its own publishing house, and it has a rich history in that it has “drawn in some of the best counterculture artists and thinkers in the U.S.” (McNearney). A notable independent bookstore in Los Angeles is The Last Bookstore, which pairs “their impressive selection of new and used reads and records with tomes repurposed to form art installations and a giant tunnel of books that runs through the store” (McNearney). Parnassus Books is a major draw for book lovers in Nashville, Tennessee, and New York features a host of quality independent bookstores including Bookbook and Harbor Books. Reno, Nevada, has two important independent bookstores that have remained steady for years the same time as corporately-owned bookstores like Borders Books in the region have failed — Sundance Books, which has been in operation for more than thirty years and offers both new and used books in a laid-back country-house setting, and Grassroots Books, which not only offers new and used books but also holds frequent warehouse sales where thousands of titles go on sale to customers for one dollar or less.

Arguably the most important independent bookstore in the country, however, has to be Powell’s Books in Portland, which not only calls itself the largest independent bookstore in the world but also offers the latest in innovation when it comes to staying relevant in the modern digital age. Powell’s Books first opened its doors in 1971. The venture was the idea of Walter Powell, a retired painting contractor who worked at his son’s bookstore in Chicago one summer and was so enamored by the experience that he decided to open up his own bookstore in Portland. According to the company’s website, “Walter swamped his original location by buying every marketable used book that came through the door, finally pushing the whole operation into a former car dealership on Northwest Burnside” (Powells.com). Of course the massive size of the place was immediately a draw to book lovers, but when Walter’s son Michael joined him in the Powell’s Books venture in 1979, he brought his unique approach that remains true to this day: “used and new, hardcover and paperback, all on the same shelf; open 365 days a year; and staffed by knowledgeable and dedicated booklovers” (Powells.com).

The first use of innovation at Powell’s Books is indeed its inclusion of both new and used titles because it gives customers options, particularly when it comes to the money in their wallet. And although many independent bookstores, including Sundance Books, designates its used titles to a specific section of the store, Powell’s offers its used copies right alongside its new ones for all titles in stock. Powell’s does not believe in pushing its used titles to a specific wing for those who don’t want to shell out as much cash as everyone else but instead gives each of its customers plenty of options, with used copies on some titles, depending on their conditions, offered for different prices. Powell’s Books is also innovative in its store design, so mammoth that the owners needed to make the browsing experience as easy to navigate as possible for its customers. Therefore, each room is painted a different color to signify what section a customer is in; for example, cookbooks are in the orange room, while mystery is in the gold room. At 68,000 square feet, Powell’s would be too intimidating for half of the book lovers walking in if it wasn’t super clear in its layout, and one way Powell’s is innovative compared to many cluttered and confusing independent stores in the country — Commonwealth Books in Boston, Massachusetts, for example, is one long hallway of books stacked to the ceiling with few discernable labels on its many shelves — is that customers can get happily lost in its many levels and endless rooms but not actually become lost, its many overhead navigation menus and color-coded spaces easy to make sense of throughout the store.

Powell’s Books remains relevant specifically in the face of changing technology due to its online bookstore and the ability to sell as well as buy. Of course for any business to succeed it needs an online presence, as reporter Amy Haimerl expresses: “After years of losses, [independent bookstores] are emerging from the decimation. In a twist of fate, it is the internet — the very thing that was supposed to wipe them out — that is helping these stores” (Haimerl). What Powell’s Books offers that outranks it over most other independent bookstores in the country is that it gives consumers a searchable database of all their stocked titles and the ability to buy both new and used books over the Internet. Their web site is not only a hugely important element of their business — one can purchase their items from anywhere in the world, not just those who live in Portland — but it also gives consumers a reason to support an online book company that’s not Amazon. Most independent bookstores only succeed by their brick-and-mortar business, and so Powell’s Books is innovative in its online side of the business that continues to flourish.

Another method Powell’s Books enacts to stay relevant is to engage its consumers not only with book buying but also with book selling. The same way Grassroots Books in Reno invites its customers to make money by selling personal items — including books, DVDs, and CDs — Powell’s Books also has a wing of its company that’s devoted completely to purchasing books from its customers. What makes Powell’s Books unique in this regard is that one doesn’t have to sell his or her books in the Portland brick-and-mortar store (although that’s an option); again, using the web site, customers can type in their personal items one by one and see what books they own Powell’s Books is searching for, what will go for little money or lots of money, and what the final buying price will tentatively be. This practice points to a sense of community, especially among those who may live across the country but still get to take part in the daily buying and selling practices of Powell’s Books. It’s a win-win situation, Powell’s Books taking in used and new titles for their shelves, customers making a profit from selling items they no longer need, and a community that works together to make a better shopping experience overall.

Powell’s Books also stays innovative is in its focus on in-store events, like book signings and author talks, and a top-floor section specifically dedicated to rare, out-of-print books, all which can’t be done online or at home. As much as Powell’s reaches out to consumers who can’t be in Portland, they also go out of their way to provide substantial events for book lovers in-house that goes beyond an occasional author visit. Most bookstores, both corporately owned like Barnes & Noble and independently owned across the country, offer author readings and signings, sometimes from big-name authors and sometimes from local ones. As author Caitlin Kelly says, “How often, really, can you get within a foot of any other creator of culture, someone whose work keeps you up late into the night, turning pages? Many serious readers are still thrilled to meet a real author and to chat with them, even for a few minutes, to see what they really look like and whether they’re nice to fans” (Kelly).

But Powell’s Books is unique in that it offers one to three major events nearly every day of the year, an innovation to be sure because it gives customers a daily reason to come to the store to see who’s up next. In March 2017 for example, Powell’s offered a wide range of events that include readings from major authors (Isaac Marion, Christopher Merrill), readings from local authors (Marni Bates), and conversations between two authors at the same time (Bianca Bokser and Karen Brooks), as well as writing workshops for students, kids’ story-time sit-downs, and various book group meetings. Powell’s doesn’t only offer events for serious book lovers and scholars but also customers of all ages who might not want to just read books but also learn to write them too.

For those in the area, the in-store events offer multitudes of opportunities that go beyond the mere shopping experience, and additionally, Powell’s understands that an area dedicated to ultra-rare and used books, some of which are so priceless that they’re placed behind glass, is another incentive for readers to come into the store. Located on the fourth floor, the aptly named Rare Book Room offers a unique entry into the world of book history, with “1,000 square feet of dark wood shelving, ambient lighting, antique furniture” and “several thousand of valuable books, including an extensive library of reference works about antiquarian books” (Powells.com). Customers can peruse an extensive collection of titles that include a De Bello Judaica. [And] De Antiquitate Judaeorum Contra Apionem, published in Verona way back in 1480, and History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark of the Missouri, Thence Across the Rocky Mountains and Down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, a title published in 1814 that currently has an asking price of $350,000 (Powells.com). The Rare Book Room acts as an additional incentive to bring more consumers into the brick-and-mortar store and keep them there longer by offering a diverse book-browsing experience than what is available at most bookstores around the country.

A final way Powell’s Books stays innovative is in its embrace of the self-publishing model. Self-publishing has come into fashion in the past decade with the rise of eBooks, but it’s important to understand that self-publishing has been around for centuries, the act of an author bypassing agents and especially publishers to put their books into the hands of readers through their own personal means. Most bookstores look down on self-published books and never offer them to customers, but Powell’s Book is innovative in not only acknowledging the self-publishing revolution but also enabling authors to self-publish their titles through their Espresso Book Machine by On Demand Books. Introduced in 2012, the machine allows for the self-publishing of one’s own book as well as making copies of previously self-published manuscripts, like those of Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, as well as classic novels that have since gone out of print. The emphasis of the machine is on the printed book, not the Ebook that one normally equates to self-publishing, and reporter Alison Hallett argues that the Espresso Book Machine is a welcome addition to Powell’s Books because “despite owning and liking a Kindle, I still have a stubborn preference for reading in print, and all other things being equal would always take a print book over a digital one. Plus, being able to create physical copies of hard-to-find/out-of-print titles is pretty amazing in its own right” (Hallett). Self-publishing has been at the forefront of controversies and changing digital landscapes in recent years, and so for Powell’s to not look down on the revolution but embrace its possibilities adds to their relevance today and beyond.

Video stores may be long gone in 2018, as is Borders Books, but many bookstores continue to thrive even when faced with dueling technologies, and Powell’s Books remain on top due to its emphasis on innovation. It’s a famous, massive, sprawling bookstore filled with thousands of book titles in all genres, with color-coded rooms and a mix of new and used books for the consumer to choose from. But its innovation goes deeper than that, the store’s emphasis on its online web site allowing book lovers from around the world to both buy and sell titles through Powell’s and become part of a large community that exists beyond Amazon’s omnipresent walls by presenting alternative ways of exploring all aspects of books. In addition, the store offers daily events and a unique rare book room to bring more customers into its brick-and-mortar store, as well as a self-publishing machine to stay current in the practice of the constantly evolving publishing model. Despite what the naysayers may have believed in years past and even today, bookstores continue to stay afloat despite Amazon’s overwhelming influence, and Powell’s Books in Portland remains a truly innovative powerhouse that will continue to grow and stay strong for many decades to come.

Works Cited

Cummings, Nathan. “Brick and Mortar: Lessons About the Future of Bookselling.” Harvard Political Review. 12 February 2016. Web. 21 March 2017.

Haimerl, Amy. “The Neighborhood Bookstore’s Likely Ally? The Internet.” The New York Times. 5 October 2016. Web. 27 March 2017.

Hallett, Alison. “More on Powell’s New Espresso Book Machine.” The Portland Mercury. 4 May 2012. Web. 29 March 2017.

Karabell, Zachary. “Why Independent Bookstores Are on the Rise Again.” Slate. 9 September 2014. Web. 21 March 2017.

Kelly, Caitlin. “People Are Still Buying Books at Indie Bookstores.” Forbes. 30 August 2016. Web. 27 March 2019.

McNearney, Allison. “The Best Independent Bookstores in America.” The Daily Beast. 17 December 2016. Web. 22 March 2017.

“The Rare Book Room.” Powell’s City of Books. http://www.powells.com/findastore/powellscityofbooks/therarebookroom/ Web. 29 March 2017.

“The Rare Book Room FAQ and Trivia.” Powell’s City of Books. http://www.powells.com/findastore/powellscityofbooks/therarebookroom/faq. Web. 29 March 2017.

“Who We Are.” Powell’s City of Books. http://www.powells.com/info/about-us. Web. 22 March 2017.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Why Duotrope is So Important to Your Writing Career

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In one of my recent graduate seminars in creative writing, we had an exercise nearly every class to write a piece of flash fiction that related to that week’s topic of discussion. Some of my pieces were good, and some were pretty damn awful, but mid-way through the semester, I had amassed three stories that I felt semi-good about, and the question hit me…

Where do I send these?

I had some ideas of where to submit longer short stories, as well as stories with YA and LGBT themes, but I didn’t have a clue where to submit flash fiction. Asking friends didn’t help. Google searches led me nowhere.

Thankfully I came across Duotrope, one of the best resources on the Internet for submitting your work. However, upon looking at the site, I noticed it cost fifty dollars to sign up for one year. Was Duotrope worth fifty bucks? Did I need to pay a service that merely allowed me to search for magazines to submit to?

I decided I had nothing to lose, so I paid the fee and started navigating the website for magazines to submit my flash fiction to. By the end of the first week, I decided I would write at least one new piece of writing each month and submit it through the use of Duotrope. In addition, I decided that if I could make more than fifty dollars through the sales of my writing to magazines I found through Duotrope, I would sign up for a second year. If I made fifty dollars or less, I would say no more. Alas, the game was on.

What I love most about Duotrope is its user-friendly search engine. First, it gives you the option of searching for markets in fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction. Since I mostly work in fiction, I use this market page the most, but since I dabble occasionally in poetry and creative non-fiction, I have submitted in those markets, and have been accepted there as well.

You have many options on the fiction page of how to search for literary magazines. There is a genre option — since I write horror fiction from time to time, this is a useful search device — and a style option allows you to choose what kind of tone your story is: dark? literary? mainstream? The length option is especially helpful because it allows you to search magazines that accept only flash fiction, or both flash fiction and short stories, or only novels (the latter of which I’ve used to submit an LGBT novel I wrote that still hasn’t been placed anywhere).

You can search by minimum payment — with any story submission, I look at what pays the best and also what is most prestigious, then go down that list as the months go on if the first batch of submissions have all ended in rejections. I write a lot of young adult stories, and there’s an audience search device that allows you to find magazine editors that are specifically looking for fiction aimed at teenagers. Everything about this search engine page is helpful, and now having used it for a year to place my writing, I can’t imagine no longer having it.

The other great page on Duotrope is the submissions document, which not only keeps a record of every piece of writing that’s been submitted and to where, but also how many days the piece has been out, and how often that specific magazine usually responds to its submissions. I’m able to look at every story I’ve submitted and note what’s ultimately been published in a magazine and what still hasn’t been placed yet.

And what’s really important to note is if I really want to place a piece of work I feel strongly about, even if takes me a year, which it did for one of my pieces, I will likely be able to find a home for it. The first story I submitted through Duotrope, for example, was one of those flash fiction pieces I wrote in the workshop, a dark literary story called “Larry’s Last Day.” I submitted it to ten magazines, and was eventually rejected by all of them. A few months later, I submitted the story to five more. Rejected again. I tried five more, and then voila: Fox Cry Review, one of the oldest college literary magazines in the country I never would have heard of without Duotrope, accepted the piece and published it last summer.

Both stories I workshopped in the seminar I eventually placed, too; it definitely pays to be patient! I submitted my YA short story “Final Shot” to twenty magazines and was rejected by every one of them. Then I tried ten more. All rejected. Then I tried another ten. Tincture Journal, an Australian literary magazine, accepted the story.

The year’s best success story came with the second story I wrote for the class, a horror short story that was, like “Final Shot,” rejected everywhere for nearly a year. It was turned down by at least thirty magazines, and eventually I decided I was going to put it to bed.

But then at the end of the month, I did one last search for horror short story markets, and a brand new anthology appeared through my search: The Deep Dark Woods, which was looking for horror stories specifically set in the forest, which my story is! So I submitted it and six weeks later, ten long months since I first started sending it into the world, it was accepted and placed in the Deep Dark Woods anthology, with a payment of three hundred dollars! Woo hoo! Not bad for a story I had just about given up on.

I’ve written a few poems and non-fiction pieces as well, and while I consider myself much more of a fiction writer, another joy of Duotrope has been submitting my poetry and non-fiction writing to markets, some of which have even accepted my work. I wrote a poem called Sally way back in 2012 that I had almost forgotten about, but then decided to submit to a few markets once I joined Duotrope. I submitted the poem to five paying poetry magazines, and within just two days, the editor at Strong Verse Magazine notified me that I was accepted! This was my first poem ever published in a magazine, so I was elated. Just as exciting was learning that another poem I wrote entitled Hands was accepted to a printed poetry magazine called RoguePoetry.

In addition to poetry, I had written a few academic essays since starting graduate school that I have been able to successfully place. I wrote a piece about gay young adult fiction that eventually found a home with a literary magazine called Southern Pacific Review. Later my creative essay “A Window to Dreams” found a home in New Mexico Review.

Well, it’s time to pay for another year of Duotrope or cancel it forever. What have I decided to do? It’s probably not a surprise to learn that I have already signed up for another year! At the end of my first year, I have made more than the minimum fifty dollars I was hoping for, and instead made more than five-hundred dollars (wow!) through my writing by using Duotrope, and successfully placed two poems, two essays, and five short stories. I don’t know what the future brings in my writing, but so far Duotrope has been a huge help in placing my work, and — gasp — getting me paid for my endeavors. I don’t ever want to be without it!

Posted in Publishing, Writing

How to Choose Between Traditional and Self Publishing

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When I wrote my first novel in the summer of 2010, I wasn’t even aware of self-publishing, didn’t have a clue that anything but traditional publishing was a valid avenue to getting my work out in the world. I knew, unless I was lucky, I was going to spend the next few years writing a few novels, maybe five or more, until I could find a literary agent who would represent me and have an idea about how to sell my work.

I was also aware that getting an agent wasn’t the be all and end all, that an agent could potentially try, and fail, to sell my work, and that I’d have to write even more novels and keep trying for my first sale. I queried my first novel in the fall of 2010, then queried my second novel in the spring of 2011. Lots of rejections poured in. A few requests appeared in my inbox, too, but those requests soon turned in to more rejections, or months of silence. By the time I queried my third novel, I wasn’t feeling too confident; in fact, I already felt like a failure.

When my third novel received not a single request from any of the agents I queried, I started to reconsider what the hell I was doing: was I going to spend endless years writing ten, fifteen, twenty novels, with nobody but my mother and a supporting friend to read any of them? I hated the idea of my novels going into drawers to collect dust for decades to come. I knew my early novels, especially my flawed first one, weren’t perfect, but I felt like there were readers out there who would love them, and I started looking in to alternative ways to get them published.

It was this same week that a trending success story about a young self-published author spread through the Internet and promptly showed me a path to publishing that felt right. Instead of waiting for years in the hopes that somebody out there will discover me, I could put my writing career in my own hands and make something happen. In the summer of 2011, I self-published my first novel, and then ended up self-publishing six more over the course of the next year. At the time, I was almost one-hundred-percent confident I was doing the right thing. Now, with a literary agent and a book on submission, I’m not so sure self-publishing was and is in my best interest.

My friend Katie sent me the link to the news report about Amanda Hocking back in March of 2011. Here was a twenty-five-year-old writer who had been writing young adult novels since she was sixteen. She had queried countless agents over the years, and got nothing but rejections. She piled up about fifteen books, all just sitting on her hard drive, as she worked part-time at a nursing home for about seven bucks an hour. One day, she looked into Amazon’s new indie publishing platform, and decided, why not, let’s put up one of my books for ninety-nine cents, and see what happens.

She sold a few copies in the first week, so she put up book two in the series, then book three. By the end of the first month, she had made a few hundred dollars, and so she put up books four and five. By the end of the third month, she had made thousands of dollars, and within a year, she had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars, all based on word-of-mouth of young readers who loved her stories. I thought, if she can do it, why can’t I?

Of course, I didn’t see quite that much money — not even close — in my first year, partly because I put up a few books in different genres. One was an adult thriller, one was an adult horror, and three were young adult fantasy. By the time I put up a young adult horror in early 2012, I think I might have alienated most of my potential readers just because my work is so varied, but I did earn some young fans around the world who loved my Happy Birthday to Me trilogy and wanted to see more from me.

I enrolled in Amazon’s new KDP program and with bonuses from book borrows, I earned more than 5000 dollars in early 2012 from my self-published books. The future looked bright. I knew I had lots more books in me, and I’m one who likes to write a lot, not just pen one novel and then tinker with it for a few years. I was going to stick to young adult for awhile and try to build up my fan base. And while my young adult horror trilogy didn’t bring the same success as my birthday trilogy, I had completed the first draft of an LGBT young adult Wizard of Oz story that I was super stoked about, along with at least three more ideas I was looking forward to starting.

My passion for self-publishing, however, started to temper in 2013. Since I couldn’t find an agent to represent Over the Rainbow, I decided I was going to go the self-publishing route, and not only would I put it up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes, but I would also go beyond any marketing I had done before and pay for marketing and ads, as well as advertise the book on blogs and review sites in the weeks leading up to its August release. I tried Kickstarter for the first time to help pay for the marketing, and with the help of about seventy people, I successfully raised $1,600. From June to early August I did everything I was supposed to do to bring awareness to my project. Plus I had fans who had enjoyed my Birthday trilogy from 2011, and my horror trilogy to a lesser extent, so I felt confident something was going to happen with my newest book.

Finally, the day arrived. I hit the PUBLISH button, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. In the first week I sold maybe ten copies, and then in the next month I sold maybe five more. A few nasty reviews of the book were posted on Goodreads, and then it was over. Over the Rainbow died a quick death, and since late 2013, any talk about it vanished. The experience was so painful that I started second guessing self-publishing. Maybe the literary agents and traditional publishers are there for a reason, I thought. Maybe not everything I write should necessarily be put into the world, I thought.

In 2013 I wrote another novel, an LGBT young adult novel called Magic Hour, and I planned, after once again a lack of interest in agents, to self-publish the book in the summer of 2014. But that summer came and went, and now, five years since I wrote the first draft of Magic Hour, it’s still in the drawer. I’ve written seven novels since Magic Hour, and I’ve self-published none of them. I finally signed with a literary agent in 2017, and I currently have a book on submission to traditional publishers. The dream is nearly here, that dream I had way back in 2010.

While I earned a few respectable thousand from self-publishing in 2012, those earnings have all but dried up, especially since I haven’t published any novels in two years, and now I’m lucky to make fifty bucks a month. The main reason I’ve stopped self-publishing is that I’m in a different place now. I just earned an MFA in Creative Writing, and I want to be held to a higher standard. It’s so easy to hit that PUBLISH button on Amazon, but I have to be careful now, especially since I want a level of respectability as a writer; a bunch of self-published novels, particularly ones that weren’t well-reviewed, aren’t going to bring it to me.

If I labored over one manuscript for year after year and couldn’t move on to another project, then self-publishing might be a means to an end, but I’m always writing new books, always keeping busy with new projects, and it’s not painful for me anymore to stick the latest manuscript in the drawer if it’s not working and move on to the next one. Self-publishing will always remain an option in my future, but I’ve decided, at least for the next three to four years, to put it out of my mind and focus on the traditional path. I want to collaborate with agents and editors, I want my book in actual bookstores, I want to connect with as many readers as possible. I’m hopeful, one day, traditional publishing will get me there. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and I’ll keep running as long as I have to.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

10 Query Tips to Help You Land a Literary Agent!

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I was lucky enough to sign with a literary agent last year (read about that story here), but it took me years to get to that moment. Here are 10 query tips I learned over the years that will help you land an agent!

1. A great query gets a full request. A great manuscript lands you an agent. A writer friend told me this once, and it makes sense: a great query can only get you so far, and ultimately the manuscript has to be as perfect as you can get it before you even start to write the first query. At the same time, no agent will ever read your novel if the query is written poorly and doesn’t properly reflect the book or the agent’s tastes.

2. Keep a master list of each agent, particularly those who have requested my work before. Pay close attention to the agents who represent books that I love, and that I love to write. These are two bits of advice I followed from the very beginning, and I currently have a master list of agents that goes all the way back to 2010. Of course, every six to twelve months I did a complete update, to make sure I wasn’t querying agents who have quit the business and who no longer represent young adult. I also always bolded the agents who are LGBT friendly, since many of my novels feature LGBT characters and themes.

3. Put YA Query in the subject line. Not YA Fiction Query. The first four books I queried I put YA Fiction Query in the subject line, and I’ll never forget the e-mail I received from an agent, a personalized rejection that included the following note: “How many non-fiction YA queries do you think we get? Just put YA Query.” The note was a little mean-spirited but absolutely essential, because now my subject lines make me look a little less stupid.

4. Personalize the query to the agent. It was difficult when I was sending fifty, seventy, a hundred queries, to personalize each one, but I did, because I felt like if I was going to spend a year working on a novel, I should spend a few weeks picking the right agents to send my work and then told them why. I always told the agent if he or she had requested one of my books before, I always put a little note at the beginning about why I felt he or she would want to look at my work, especially if there’s that LGBT connection. To not personalize a query at all sets you up for failure, and you want to have the best shot possible.

5. Keep plot summary to a minimum. This was a huge problem I dealt with in the beginning. I always felt the query needed to give a clear idea of not just the overall story but the main characters, and ultimately, as I’ve said before, the sole point of the query is to get the agent to request pages, so to overload him or her with too much story is a bad idea.

6. Give the agent a clear understanding of the audience for the book, and what other books on the market are similar to mine. Beyond giving the agent a brief glimpse of the story, the query also needs a paragraph that discusses who I think the audience for the book is and what other books I can compare to mine. For example, I wrote my first middle grade book in 2014 and had to do some research to find a couple of titles that were similar to mine. I had to do some homework, and ultimately reading some of these new titles gave me a richer understanding of the genre.

7. Keep the author bio as short and relevant as possible. In my author bio I could put down every literary magazine I’ve been published in, but the bio needs to be as brief and relevant as possible. All you need to put is two, no more than three, sentences about yourself.

8. Don’t query in December. Or on holidays. Or on Mondays and Fridays. Or in the week before or after major conferences. This one is really baffling, and it’s only something I paid attention to after many years of querying. You can query an agent anytime you want, of course, but it’s in your best interest to query at the slowest times a year when the agent isn’t being inundated with a thousand other queries and isn’t on some sort of vacation. Most agents close up shop after Thanksgiving, for example, and I’ve heard that they receive so many queries in January that they struggle to even read all of them. In all the research I’ve done, it appears that March, June, and October are the best times of years to query, and that’s what I ended up sticking to.

9. Don’t pester an agent with an update on my partial or full manuscript they’ve previously requested until at least three months have gone by. An agent requests your manuscript. You jump for joy and have a celebratory drink. Two weeks go by. Six weeks go by. All you want to do is e-mail them and ask, have you read it yet? But I learned over the years that I had to be patient, agents are very busy, and that if they have interest in my work, they would reach out to me. That being said, sometimes agents actually forget they have the manuscript (this happened to me at least three times), so reaching out to the agent after three months is worth doing.

10. Write the next book. This is the most important piece of advice I was told time and time again since I wrote my first novel, and one that I hear all the time at conferences, and one that I know in my heart is true — keep working on the next project, even when the latest manuscript is out on submission. As much as I desperately wanted my newest book, whatever it may have been, to be the one that got me an agent, I had to keep working on the next one, because the more books I produced, the better chance I had at not just getting published, but by becoming a better writer.

Follow at least some of these tips and you will be that much closer to signing with a literary agent!