Sunday, November 28, 2010

Q&A With The Lit Coach

I hope those of you who celebrated Thanksgiving are jumping into your week well rested, well fed and ready for a productive week!
Here's the latest round up of questions collected for Q&A with The Lit Coach as we wrap up our monthly focus on Discipline in the writer's life. Thanks to those who submitted.

Q: "I recently read that those who review manuscripts look for any reason to reject them rather than for reasons to accept them because they receive so many. Other than some of the obvious, e.g. no coffee stains, no previously used paper, or no double sided printing, are there clear guidelines that we should follow before submitting? I also heard that anything other than Times New Roman font is passe. It all gets confusing when all you want to do is write a good story."

A: Just as you would follow the rules of grammar and punctuation to appear like a writer who knows his or her craft, so too would you follow the rules of submission to keep an over worked agent reading. And even though these rules are available from numerous sources online and in print, there will always be writers who break them and risk their professional credibility by submitting a novel single spaced or a nonfiction book proposal typed in papyrus - I've seen plenty of both and a hand-written novel to boot!

Here are the rules:

Novels: Double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font, 1 inch margins on all four sides of the page. You must include a clean title page, don't get fancy, but do include your name and contact info in one of the corners in a smaller font size. Page numbers are a must and do be sure to let each new chapter begin on a fresh page, not at the tail end of your previous chapter. Make sure there are no blank pages within the work. No typed pages! Find your inner Type A perfectionist! That is all.

Nonfiction: Your proposal can be single spaced but keep your sample chapters double spaced. Stick with Times New Roman, 12 point font with a 1 inch margin on all four sides. Follow closely the nonfiction proposal formula, and you'll make a sharp impression (provided your proposal is well written and compelling). You will need an Overview; Market Analysis; Competition Analysis; Author Bio; Author Promotion; Chapter Outline where you offer in more detail than your Overview, the focus of each chapter; and at least three sample chapters.

This said, even if your novel or nonfiction proposal is mechanically sound, your writing must grab an agent or editor's heart and mind; the premise must be fresh and/or valuable to a large, definable audience.

Do agents and editors look for reasons to reject you? Yes, but try not to take it personally. They simply do not have enough time in the day to read through the hundreds of submissions they receive in a week - so make sure you're sending them quality pages, my dears.

Q: "What are some best practices for balancing work, family and disciplined creative time?"

A: Know your priorities. Your first priority should be focusing on the work that pays the bills to support yourself and your family - I don't believe hunger makes the artist more brilliant. Your second priority should be spending quality time with your family - I don't believe isolation make the artist charmingly eccentric. Third priority is your creative time. Now, what about keeping the house clean, bills paid on time, errands, etc., the detail stuff that needs to get done (writers, this stuff simply needs your attention - handle it before it piles up and totally derails all your best creative efforts)? If you have a spouse/partner/children old enough to co-shoulder responsibility, create a plan where everyone is contributing to your home's smooth running, so you will have more creative time and make the most of it!

Those of you with families to care for...your creative time might only happen before your kids wake up or after they go to bed. So be it. Savor that time - it's yours!

You'll find that with some weekly organization and lots of clear communication with those in your home, you can absolutely balance a fulfilling work/family/creative life. The trick is keeping that routine going. If you have an off day, pick yourself back up and get back to it.

This next question is complied from several I've received over the past couple of months.

Q: "Is it worth it to hire an editor to polish your work before you submit to an agent and should you admit that your work has been professionally edited?"

A: Yes and yes. It's important to first make sure the editor you choose is well established, has a good rack record and a list of successful authors to their credit. If you're choosing to go with an editor who is less established, who is just starting out, ask for professional references and do your homework.

Feel free to disclose in your query letter to agents that your work has been professionally edited and by whom, especially if one of the books they edited is represented or published by an agency or publishing house you hope to be a part of.

Taking every step to not only make sure your work is sound but your approach to the publishing industry is polished, is a very worth while investment in your writing career.

Thanks for your questions! I hope I've answered them clearly. Have a fruitful week, writers!


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