Saturday, October 23, 2010

Q&A with The Lit Coach

Q: "My question is one of submitting when interested in all writing. Freelance and fiction. Just pick some publications from the Writer's Market and take a chance? Is there a specific, organized method? Or just jump in?"

A: In beginning of any profession, craft, path, there is usually always a method and there is most certainly always an organized way of doing it.

It's time to bring focus and organization into your life before you get started down this path seriously. Let that focus and organization carry through to your approach to writing and further, your approach to the publishing world. I understand your passion for writing. That's a good thing. But if you let that passion run wild with all your aspirations, you'll find yourself running in circles. Focus, organize, research, write (to the 10th degree), connect. Repeat.

For fiction, reflect on the stories you've read in the past that have moved you. What kind of characters are you drawn to? When you walk into a bookstore, where do you wind up? Lingering around the new trade paperback table? Do you lose track of time looking through mysteries, romance, chick-lit, YA, sci-fi, suspense, literary or poetry? Dig deep. Could you follow one of these various genre writing formulas or do you see yourself writing something more book club fiction - stories that appeal to a broader audience with a little more attention to language...but not literary.

Freelancing, on the other hand, will be based on where your interests and expertise lie. Magazine and news editors will choose the writer with more experience within the field they're writing than one who has limited to no experience....but there are always exceptions. Be ready to spend some major hours devoted to research and possibly travel; likewise, budget accordingly.

When you're considering publications to submit to, online and in print, you'll want to read through several months of back issues to get an idea of their editorial direction, the tone of their pieces and regular featured segments in the magazine or paper. What section speaks to you? Next, research their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. I suggest you read Writer's Digest Handbook of Magazine Article Writing for some in-depth information.

Good luck!
Q: "How do you know if it is your query letter that is holding you back or something else like my genre? I have sent several query letters out, I had some positive feedback but the one comment that haunts me is I had an agent tell me that they liked my writing but would not know how to market my book? What do they mean by this comment? How do I know my exact genre, when my manuscript seems to cross over a couple of genres. Mystery, romance, thriller, and a bit of fantasy, it's all in there!"

A: Not knowing whether this agent read your manuscript or just your query, it's a little hard for me to give you a straight answer. It could be a combination of both. When considering new clients, agents have to think like a publisher's marketing team...what audience will buy this book? Is that audience large enough to garner loads of book sales? So, think about it...where does your novel's heart lie? If you could pick ONE genre, which one would it be? There are romance novels with a hint of suspense, but ultimately, they're romance novels. Likewise with mysteries...some are thrilling and full of suspense with a romantic connection to boot, but ultimately, they're mysteries.

So, in your query, choose the best genre that fits your work and market it to appropriate agents as that genre (by appropriate, I mean agents who accept work within that genre). Leave out the line, "Audiences who love romance and thrillers will also love this book." or anything remotely similar to that. That's a red flag to an agent. Genre schizophrenia makes you appear like you don't know the book world well enough and it could possibly signal your greeness as a writer.

Now, if your book is about a misunderstood psychopath who finds true love with a mysterious woman from the third dimension who is always two steps ahead of the police...then I think we've got problems. Time to narrow down the plots and get to the heart of your story you really want to tell. ( :

Tell me how it works out!

Q: "Memoir is classified as nonfiction and said to be sold as fiction. Information seems to conflict regarding the need for a proposal vs. a completed manuscript. What percentage of the fully finished book is enough to begin querying agents?
And how are you supposed to shape a proposal about your own life. It's daunting --worse than writing the book itself has been. I'm befuddled. What's the skinny?"

A: This one made me pause because I was wondering who was saying that memoirs sell as fiction? Would love to know where you heard/read that. It made me wonder if things had changed that much since I was an agent. So I pulled in lit agent (and TLCG contributor) Claire Gerus to back-up what I thought I knew and share her insight:

A memoir is definitely sold as nonfiction! A proposal should consist of an overview (why people will want to read this) and an about-the-author couple of paragraphs, plus a couple of chapters and possibly a T of C. It is never considered fiction--unless it's fabricated!

If the memoir is fabricated, then it's narrative nonfiction or better yet, a novel!

As far as proposal crafting goes, there are lots of great books to help you shape your proposal (and this is also a service of mine, pardon the plug!). Check out Author 101: Bestselling Book Proposals to start.

Hope this clears up the confusion!

Q: There is an agent whom I think I might like to query, and she asks that writers submit the first five pages of their manuscript along with the query letter. But, those first five pages are a prologue! Should I skip it and just send the first five pages of chapter 1?

A: This one made me giggle a little because I've been in so many disputes about the real value of a prologue. I LOVE prologues as long as they are truly worthwhile to read and most of all, important to the story. Don't you love prologues from ages ago that address the reader? Dear Gentle Reader...yeah, that won't happen today. I digress.

While I'm sure your prologue holds value, I would send the agent the first chapter sans prologue. The agent will already have your synopsis where he or she can get the gist of your novel. They want to see the quality of the writing, the flow and ultimately, to fall in love within those first crucial pages, if not page one.

Good luck!

More questions answered to come, my dears! Look for part two tomorrow. Have a great Monday, all!



  1. Excellent post. Re question & answer #1: Do you have specific methods of organization. I think my heart lies in creative writing (versus freelancing). I entertain freelance because I feel it would be more productive and get me somewhere sooner (for example, I might spend years sitting and writing stories that do not lead to novels, or are just "practice"). When I visit the bookstore, there are certain genres that draw me in (literary and YA to be clear). But I also linger in the nonficiton aisles of well-being and health. I know what I do not like (mystery and romance) more than what I do like.
    What do you consider "book club" fiction?
    Anyway, lets say, okay I get a feel for some things I might like to explore. Do I have some method to it? Or just sit and write pages that might end up in the garbage can?
    I already read novels as much as I can. I skim writers websites (but truthfully looking at those things overwhelm me more than help, they almost squash any focus or drive I have). Is it a matter of sitting and writing? Or should there be a "to-do" list. An organized approach when one sits to the desk that day?
    Also, any tips on how to schedule a day. I do freelance for money (3-4 hours per day), then I want to set aside time for creative writing, a walk, errands, a quick blog post. Thoughts on a daily schedule that you see working for people? I noticed Writer's Digest site had a brief one put up.

  2. I feel I need to preface this response in letting you know Q&A with The Lit Coach is a once monthly posting where writers are invited to offer one question to be answered. If a writer feels they have more questions they need answered or help with their approach or sorting out their writer's life, they should contact me for more in-depth, one-on-one coaching where I can dig into what the whole creative and life situation is so I can best address their issues specifically.

    I'll choose the most important question to answer, as I feel your question has more to do with craft than anything else.

    For nonfiction, you need to have the experience, platform and possibly the advanced degrees to publish successfully.

    For fiction, focus on your writing. I can't tell you what to write, that needs to come from you. And yes, some fiction takes years to write, but you need to be in this for the love of writing not for the payoff or to finally see your name in print. If you're just starting to write fiction, the best thing you can do to find out what interests you is to just write! Write what comes to you. Explore. Let inspiration flow to you and be open to it. Once you've got a great idea, outline it. Plot it out. Don't worry about time and the need to publish now. Let your writing develop.

    If you can find a creative writing workshop that focuses on fiction, sign up. If that's not an option, start reading some "how to write fiction" books out there. I suggest you read Oakley Hall and Tom Spanbauer.

    This is a profession where only the most patient and persistent (and talented) writers survive. I've got another story coming up from a NYT bestselling author who took 10 years to write her novel. It happens.

    Wishing you success in finding your path.

  3. Erin,

    If I didn't have you to keep me on track, I would be like the crafter that quilts and scrapbooks, all while finishing a macrame hanging table. Sweet Jesus...I could write about a million things! Thank you for focus and direction. I know when my writing 'project' is done I'll be able to stand back and feel the satisfaction of one job completed with excellence. This Q & A was inspiring!

  4. Thanks, Valerie! Yes, focus is totally important in a writer's life. This is something I myself have worked on for YEARS!


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