In a previous post, I explained how agents and editors expect authors to have a social media presence before pitching a book. I did not mention how daunting I found this fact. It’s similar to how naked I felt when I first began pitching a book to agents and how it has continued to feel pitching the book to publishers and submitting to contests as well.
You see, I’m an “off-the-scale” introvert. It’s no surprise that every time I take the Myers-Briggs personality inventory whether it is a short version on the internet or the very very long version administered by a psychology professional, my “introversion” score is nearly as high as the scale goes. Putting myself out there is truly a stretch.
Add to that recurrent chronic depression and you have a roadblock many might not overcome. I can only do this social media stuff if I find a method that works with my natural talents.
My Facebook author page hadn’t seemed that much of a stretch from my personal Facebook page so I linked it to Twitter. When I posted to Facebook, it automatically tweeted the same thing.
But the books I read about Twitter explained that this wasn’t enough. I needed to interact. To my introverted self, this sounded as terrifying as walking into a cocktail party and shouting, “Look at me!” That was not going to happen.
On a four-mile run, I began to think about how I best communicate: one on one. I wondered what would happen if I just began talking to individuals the way I might in the rest of my world.
So I started responding any time someone tweeted something that resonated with me. For a few days, my tweets went unanswered. A few days later, one or two people replied.
Then, something remarkable happened. One of my running heroes, Hal Higdon, retweeted one of my replies to his tweet!
A few days later, it happened again!
My one-one-one approach not only allowed me to play along with the extroverts who love Twitter, but also effectively increased my social media exposure. I learned that even off-the-scale introverts can Tweet!
“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” – John Steinbeck
Over the past year, I’ve slowly worked through my list of small or independent traditional publishers who do not require agents. I created this list using Querytracker.net and NewPages.com. I began with publishers who only require queries, then moved to those who wanted proposals and the full manuscript.
With each round of submissions, I received feedback. I revised then sent out more. Some publishers who suggested revisions asked to see the book after I made changes. I have sent those out as well.
This month I sent out the remaining submissions including the last set by snail mail. I had saved those for last because, quite frankly, they are painful. Now, I wait.
And, I nudge.
There are two schools of thought on nudging. Some folks think it’s a waste of time and annoys the publisher (or agent). I disagree. To my thinking, and based on the advice of my friends in publishing, emails get lost and editors (or agents) appreciate a nudge to remind them of a project they might have forgotten. I’ve had one editor say she never received my original submission. She still rejected it, but at least she saw it.
For those of you thinking of nudging, here are the guidelines I use:
1. First, recheck the publisher’s submission guidelines to make sure they don’t hate nudges!
2. If you’ve sent a query and have heard nothing in three or four months (again, check the submission guidelines for this), nudge. Things really do fall through the cracks or wind up in the spam filter.
3. If one editor offers to publish your book (or an agent offers to represent you), but there are other editors (or agents) you prefer more who still haven’t responded, definitely nudge the one you prefer! This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m crossing my fingers!
4. If the publisher (or agent) requested the partial or full manuscript, use the same guidelines as above.
5. If you have substantially revised the manuscript, nudge nudge nudge! This is my current position. I’m sending follow-up emails with the revised material.
6. And finally, if you receive a rejection, do not follow up unless the rejection comes after you have made revisions based on the editor’s feedback. And even then, I would hesitate to ask for additional feedback. Editors (and agents) are insanely busy. You will write more books. Do not risk alienating an editor or agent you might want to query with a future project.
So, how do you nudge?
I usually forward the original email I sent, but I change the subject line to read, “Follow-up on (query/submission/proposal)” with the book’s title in the subject line. Mine reads, “Follow-Up on Query: Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two.” Then, above the forwarded material, I write, “I’m following up to see if you’ve had an opportunity to look over the materials I sent on X date. I know how easy it is for emails to get lost. Thank you for your time.” If the material has been revised, I will mention that and attach it. Brief. To the point. Boom.
And then, I go do something else, you know, like write another book!
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
I’ve spent the past two years collecting rejection letters from agents and publishers. If I were to print them, I’d have a fistful.
The generic “this isn’t right for our list” letters don’t bother me. Even the ones that say “memoirs don’t sell” don’t get under my skin. But when a letter is more specific and there’s some possibility the agent or editor could be on the right track, I get twitchy. And that’s what I need to attend to. The more twitchy I get, the more likely they are on to something.
I choose to believe that the vast majority of people in the publishing industry work there because they love the written word. But they are also bombarded by so many submissions that they have to make a quick decision based on their gut and their experience in the market. Do they miss from time to time? Of course! Remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? It received 121 rejections before going on to become a best-seller. But more often than not, since editors and agents work in the field, they know what they are talking about.
My job is to not let this feedback derail me. My biggest critic is myself. As a child, I may have internalized my perfectionist father or a teacher with biting words, but now that I’m an adult, it’s my voice I have to deal with. My job is to listen, thank the voice for trying to help me, because that’s what it thinks it is doing, and figure out if there’s any truth it it.
It’s very similar to what I do with an agent or editor’s specific response. I thank the person for the feedback and for taking time to respond. Few editors and agents reply at all. When one takes the time to write something more than “it’s not what we’re looking for,” I thank them. Then I let my emotions simmer and let the feedback sit.
While I’m waiting for my jets to cool, I do something else. I might read someone else’s work and offer feedback. I might submit to other agents or publishers who only want a proposal, a query, or a few chapters. That way, if I decide to revise, I’m sending parts that won’t be changed later. Or I enter contests that have upcoming deadlines so I won’t miss an opportunity. I stay busy.
Once I’m calmer, I look again. Is there truth in the feedback? If so, how can I incorporate it? I try to see the critic as a friend. I’m not alone in this endeavor. There are helpers all along the way.
“I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” – Cormac McCarthy
I complain a lot about writing books, about how difficult it is, how I’m not very good at it, and how whatever book-length work I’m currently tackling is going nowhere. More than once, experienced writer friends have suggested I work on shorter pieces. “Why not essays, magazine articles, or blog posts?” my well-meaning friends say. I’ve published all of those and they aren’t enough.
I love the enormous puzzle of writing a book. I love the structural problems, the all-consuming nature, and the possibility that one day, I might have my name on the spine. I love the heft of a book and the heft of the book journal I carry with me when I go to a coffee house to write. The book journal for Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two is over three hundred hand-written pages. It details my efforts, step by step, and has come in handy several times when I’ve done silly things like saved two different versions of the book in two different documents with the same name.
And what’s more compelling than pushing myself to the edge of madness? I mean, I’d prefer not to go back to the psych ward, but it doesn’t feel like meaningful work if I’m not dashing myself against the rocks. I hammer out first drafts (often in November) and spend years thereafter polishing and refining, content even as I’m driven nearly insane. My poor husband. Let’s all take a moment to light a candle for him, shall we?
I’m not saying I’m good at writing books. I honestly am probably more suited to shorter projects given my low energy level, short attention span, and the fact that I’m easily confused. That’s why I use yWriter software to keep track of things.
Currently, I’m fighting a bit of depression about Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two having queried more than one hundred agents and received either rejections or no response. I’ve also queried two niche publishers and received no response from either of those. I’m not ready to self-publish, but it’s time to take stock, figure out the next right steps, and continue to nudge agents.
Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked on nine books, none of them yet published. I refuse to give up. Twenty years. Some days I fear I’ve accomplished nothing, but that’s not true. I’ve learned how to write books and trained myself not to quit, both admirable skills. And I have the scars to show for it.
“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” – Thomas Carlyle
I’ve queried one hundred and five agents. From the results (forty-one rejections and sixty-three no responses with one request for pages still out), I’ve learned my book as currently written might be too narrowly focused to interest a mainstream publisher.
I knew from the outset this might be a possibility. Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two: The Memoirs of an Emotionally Unstable, Middle-Aged Marathoner is primarily about running. It’s also about mental illness, Natalie Goldberg, moving to Taos, meditation, writing, and let’s not forget the supporting characters, Morgan the yellow Labrador and Ed, my husband. But mostly, it’s about running. That topic might not interest enough readers for an agent to take a chance. But I had to try.
And now that I’ve gone this far, I’m going to revise and query more. Might it have been wiser to have made those changes before I began querying in the first place? Of course. But I didn’t know. I wrote the best book I could at the time. Now I will try to improve it and send it out again. Depending on the results of that second round, I will find the next step. I will also continue submitting to contests (the book was semi-finalist in one) and research small presses to see if that might be a better fit.
Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed by the amount of work. But all I need to do is the one thing in front of me. I do the next thing and then the thing after that. And when I’m done with those, I will have more information about what to do after that. More will be revealed, but only by working.