Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Covid Query Process for a New Novel


On the Publishing Roller Coaster -- again


My second novel is almost done so I'm preparing to query agents and then, if I have no takers, small presses. The small press that published my first novel, God Bless Cambodia, has first right of refusal on the new novel but in light of my less-than-stellar sales (about 400 copies), it might refuse.

To prepare for the worst case, I attended a recent writing conference  and paid $200 a pop to two agents who read my query letter, synopsis, and first twenty pages.

Worth noting:  

- Of the 65 agents at the conference, all but two said they were looking for books by featuring LGBTQ and BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) authors/themese.

- most were young white women

- five were men

(Full disclosure: I am a whiny, middle-aged white guy and my books feature a narrator who is a whiny, middle-aged white guy. Oy, vey)



I met with the two agents who seemed more open to books from authors who look like me. One was a young Asian woman and the other was a guy about my age. 

What the Agents Said

Neither agent found my material offensive but both agreed that my odds of finding an agent and a big publisher were slim because of my genre: absurdist, raunchy, comedy featuring white guys behaving badly – a genre that used to be known as "laddie lit." The book is a heterosexual love story and the female love interest is an Asian woman – since I am not an Asian woman, publishers might ding me for cultural appropriation. 

Both agents empathized with my book being out of sync with the times and one expressed concern for their existing author clients who were middle-aged white guys and having a difficult time finding publishers. Despite Covid, publishers are still acquiring books, the agents said.

One agent was OK with the query letter, said they never read synopses, and thought the opening of the book and the first twenty pages were fine.

The other agent loved my query letter, didn't like the opening scene of my book, and suggested I boost my social media presence from my current 10,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Youtube, etc. to 60,000 followers.  (I always thought that social media was not important for fiction writers but I am going to follow this agent's advice.)

Note: To promote my first book, I created and attended events where I read scenes and performed two one-man shows about the book at amateur theater festivals, libraries, and other venues (link to calendar). Due to Covid, all my events during the last year have been virtual – this has been a poor way to sell books. When I was doing in-person events, people occasionally bought books. Hopefully, this will change by this fall when I can go live again.

Another note: I had no previous theater training but took acting classes and hired a theater director. My acting isn't great -- but I'm what's known as a story-teller: my material is memorized, has a story arc, and I tell the story (scenes from my book) with minimal acting. 


Here's a sample (yeah, you could probably do this)


My Book Marketing To Do List

1) I revamped my website using one of these template. The idea was to simplify the home page and add more images.

2) I am brushing up on my social media by following the advice of book marketing experts like Fauzia Burke,  Jane Friedman and others. Future posts will describe those efforts and what's working and what's not. I am also sharpening my skills with tools designed to make managing social media easier such as:

- Hootsuite: let's preschedule posts to appear on multiple platforms. Last Saturday, I scheduled a week's worth of posts to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

- iunfollow – to jettison people I'm following who are not following back. If you're following more people than follow you, you can be perceived as a social media loser.

3) My Social Media Accounts

a) On Twitter: I have two accounts:

- @rsquaredd (currently have 6,021 followers) for professional posts about publishing and for following industry news, libraries, and agents.

- @chronicsingle (currently 1,283 followers) for raunchy comedy and edgier fare. I am attempting to woo fans of authors/comedians with work similar to mine: Curb your enthusiasm, single life, fringe theater festivals. I also need post using hashtags they use.

b) Facebook: I have a personal page (3,230 friends) and an author/performer page (1,843) I will likely post personal and raunchy comedy stuff on the pages

c) Instagram (53 followers) I have a professional page to which I am posting comedy stuff – photos with captions.

 d) Linked In (3,030 Connections) for posting publishing and professional stuff. I haven't done much with this in years but may start. 

c) Youtube (16 subscribers) I've posted probably 40 videos over the last eight years. I am a Youtube loser but the videos do generate some traffic for my website.








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Monday, April 23, 2018

Pt 2: Debut Novelist's Rocky Road to Getting Published

In the previous "Rocky Road" post, I described efforts to position my book. I thought it should be a travel memoir, a male version of Eat, Pray, Love. Then I spoke to three agents who thought otherwise:

Over eight years, I received advice from agents on how best to position my book.

In the end, I decided the hell with it: The novel has been the most fun, I'm sticking with it. Around this time, I also hired an editor, a woman I met in one of my writing classes, who knew more about creative writing than the instructor.

The Query Letter

Another 1.5 years, a new draft of the novel and a query letter that I vetted in a class on how to write query letters.

click to enlarge image

In image above, I followed the basic query format:
1) Why I'm writing you, Ms. Agent. (as I started to run out of relevant agents, I started used very generic intro lines like this one.)

2) The positioning of my book, the market, and comp titles and authors. A web site called Literature Map was helpful.
3) A description of the book using the tone and writing style of the book. (Yeah, this section is a little long.)

4) Why I was qualified to write the book. (Yeah, I had no real qualifications or writing credits.)

Querying Agents

How many agents did I query? At one writing conference, I met an agent who had sold a book for a debut author who had queried 120 agent -- the agent I was talking to was number 120. The book was picked up by a large publishing house and made into a movie. Works for me.

My stats:
1) I queried 110 agents:
- half didn't respond
- of the remaining agents, seven asked to read all or part of the manuscript and none wanted it. (My manuscript request rate was about 6 percent or one out every 16 queries resulted in a request.)
- reasons given for rejections:
"It's a guy's book and, except for sci-fi, guys don't buy a lot of fiction."
"Humor is a hard sell."
"Not enough action."
"It's offensive."
"You suck and you're a worthless human being." (implied)

2) I queried the 110 agents over eight months.
- Initially, I sent out ten queries to agents with whom I had a legit connection: one of their authors gave me their agent's name or I had met the agent at a writing conference.
- Then I would send out five email queries three mornings a week.

3) Midway through the process, I realized that I may not get an agent so I did two things: I started a second novel and began querying small presses who took email queries.

4) Around month seven, I began querying agents and small presses who didn't take email queries, the old-school folks who wanted a snail-mail letter.

Be sure to read submission guidelines!

5) One of the small presses, The Permanent Press, bought the book.

6) Worth noting: Six months after signing a contract with The Permanent Press, an agent contacted me and wanted to see my manuscript.

Querying Tips (from someone who didn't get an agent)

My blog posts on how I found 110 agents and other things I learned about querying agents and small presses:
- The Query Letter and Synopsis: Lesser Known Tips

<to be continued next week>  

Don't want to wait till next week? The end result.


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