Querying? Here’s How to Speed Up the Process

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Regardless of whether you’re sending off a short 300-word article or a novel, querying is a major part of a writer’s life. The trouble is, it can take an ungodly amount of time if you don’t create and use a strategy. Here’s what you can do to speed things along and get good results.

1. Create a drafts folder in your email.

For every piece you have, create a query letter in your email. Place the drafts in a separate folder that is clearly labeled, and unless the submission guidelines state otherwise, place “[query–[Last Name]–Title of Piece] in the subject line. The only blank areas should be the recipient’s name and the date. This allows you to search for the draft within your email client, and when you send it out and get responses back, you can see at a glance which submission you’re getting messages about.

Once you have your query drafts, when you find a publication, editor, or agent you want to send it to, copy the text into a fresh email. Then fill in the name and date details and add any information you can to personalize it, such as similar titles the publication has run.

2. Set up auto-reminders.

Tasks like sending follow-up emails or noting that an agent is past their typical response time can be difficult to keep track of. Use a system like Query Tracker or even Google Docs to set reminders about each task. This way, you don’t have to spend extra time double-checking whether you’re up-to-date–you can just follow your reminders as you go and get ‘er done.

3. Use color coding.

If you’re tracking everything in a spreadsheet, color coding will allow you to quickly sort your rows and columns by the status of the query, type of query (e.g., fiction), or other factors.

4. Summarize guidelines. 

For every publisher, agent, or editor you want to submit to, create a spreadsheet row with all pertinent information you’d need to submit, such as the agent’s name or the query email address. Include a cell in this summary row with a link to the submission guidelines for later reference. Then, in a final cell, list all of the pieces you plan to submit to that publisher, editor, or agent. This way, you don’t spend time looking up website URLs again, and you quickly can cross off agents, publishers, or editors for each piece after a query is finished.

5. Schedule time.

Many writers query whenever they have a moment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But scheduling time in advance allows you to get in the frame of mind to work with real focus, and you can set yourself up to work when you know you’ll have quiet or won’t get interrupted. It also makes it less likely that you’ll push the querying to the back burner, as it’s an official calendar event.

Remember, no matter what hacks you use to make querying go a little faster, it’s still a process that’s going to take a few months at a minimum. Most publishers, agents, and editors have a standard response time of eight to 12 weeks, although some will respond in two to four weeks. So no matter how many queries you can get out, you’ll have waiting to do. Since you’re going to have time on your hands, my advice is always to have multiple irons in the fire. Work in batches, tweak based on the feedback you get, and then try again.

4 Unusual Tips to Make Your Writing Go Faster

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I’m a firm believer that writing should take the time it takes and shouldn’t be forced. After all, sometimes life happens. We all have times when we feel like crap or are overwhelmed. In those times, it’s difficult to focus in a way that makes the result feel natural and pleasant to the reader.

But deadlines in life also happen, and there’s something to be said for balancing exceptional quality and high output. To make the most of your time and create even more content that could earn you fans or income, try these tips:

1. Verbalize.

Take a few minutes before you start writing to talk through what you want to say. You can use voice dictation software to take notes for you as you go. The process of talking through your idea for a second will help you mentally solidify your key points. Highlight those in your software recording or whip out a bulleted outline. Knowing what your key points are will ensure you don’t get into the weeds when you write, and that you have a logical, organized flow through the work.

2. Turn off editing options.

Tools like Grammarly or Word’s spell and grammar check can be pretty powerful, and they’re available at a crazy level. But if you use them during the actual drafting, the appearance of all those suggestions and red underlines can interrupt your flow, interfere with your natural voice, stress you out, and slow you down. There’s also no point in cleaning the draft until you’ve gone through and made sure that you actually want to keep everything that’s there. Turn your tools on at the end of the writing instead.

3. Skip the details.

Yes, you might be writing something super technical or that needs depth. But try to start with just the main concepts or steps for the bulk of the piece with the assumption that people 1) don’t have a ton of time, and 2) might not be at your level of expertise. There are probably always some points you could include, but the ones you must include probably are fewer than you initially think. Once you have the musts, then go back and consider what details actually would improve the value of what you have. Editors absolutely will tell you if something is missing, confusing, or needs to be fleshed out, and they’re experts at deciding which points out of them all are most important to expand.

4. Imagine it’s a journal.

Writers often get concerned with how others are going to judge them for what they’ve written and let that color what goes onto the page. They lose an enormous amount of time wondering what is right or acceptable.

To combat this, think of whatever you are writing more like a journal that nobody would see. Everything is safe and private. Forget that you’re going to hit publish or submit the piece, and just hone in on whether the work reflects you and is what you intended it to be. Then go back and think about how to improve areas like relatability, connotation or the number of people in your audience (e.g., gender pronouns). Writing groups, online services, beta readers,  friends and family members all can offer feedback to make sure that you’ve considered different points of view or realities. Once you have a draft to use as a template or core, you always can modify it deliberately to fit any publication you like.

Quality always should be at the front of your mind when you’re writing. Nevertheless, there’s no reason to settle for poor efficiency. Use these tips to trim some of the fat and start getting more headlines or titles to your readers.

Bored as a Writer? This Is Probably Why

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You know the feeling. You stare at your computer screen (or your pad of paper) and just think, “Meh.”

It’s “boredom” in all its ugly glory. But does this feeling really mean you’re not interested in putting words to the page anymore? Should you stop prioritizing your writing because of it and move on to something else?

The usefulness of boredom–and the trouble with writing

Boredom is a useful emotion that signals us that, for whatever reason, the task we’re doing isn’t worth our time. Put another way, it’s about perception and reward. Applied to writing, if we don’t feel like the writing is going to yield anything good, if we can’t see that there’s an achievable benefit, then we can feel like the job is ho-hum and lose motivation.

The issue is that, unlike some other jobs, reaching goals like finding an agent or landing a book contract can be ridiculously difficult. We can go days, weeks, or even months without a sale. Rejections can be so plentiful that we start taking the suggestion to use all the “no” letters as wallpaper seriously. Beta readers might have great insights you take to heart, but positive feedback doesn’t come as consistently as it might from coworkers or a boss.

It all starts to seem like there’s no point.

It’s normal to need some wins to stay motivated

If you step back a bit, you might realize that the feeling of boredom you have really is simply that you’re antsy to have something happen. You’re still in love with the craft. It’s just that people naturally want to do things that other people acknowledge. It gives us a sense of belonging and identity. We’re always looking for that. You just need some confirmation that, if you keep putting in the work, then people will admit that it’s part of you and actually useful.

2 tips for eliminating “meh” and getting excited about your writing again

I explored the need for you to have a support group in a previous post. The better your support group is, the less likely it is that you’ll probably get bored with your writing. If you don’t have a great support group yet, though, then it’s incredibly important to reward yourself for the writing you finish. Give yourself something to look forward to related to the page, even if it’s just a drive-thru coffee you normally wouldn’t splurge on, so you can make positive associations with the work.

It also can help to put your work away. Looking at the same drafts over and over again can start to seem monotonous really fast, which can contribute to boredom. Setting your work aside for a little while and then coming back to it can help you see it with fresh eyes and keep it feeling novel (pun intended).

You’re still meant to put words to the page, so do it

The bottom line is, don’t let a feeling of boredom convince you that writing isn’t what you’re meant to do. Instead, make sure that you’re getting rewarded for it, whether by others or on your own. Be able to rotate out what you’re working on so it doesn’t seem like you’re stuck in a rut so much. By building in variety and giving yourself positive confirmations of value, you’ll stay happy and motivated to write.

Why You Need a Support Group as Writer

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In a recent post on his website, author Max Florschutz wrote about the need for writers to have a support group. Writing, he rightly notes, comes with very real stress. To get through it, you need someone–or a few someones–who back you, not only as an author, but as the individual of high value you always are.

I could not agree with this sentiment more. It’s incredibly tough to know if we’re headed in the right direction. We sometimes need some good advice on how to organize, or to have someone talk us through early mornings when writing seems like a chore. A support group can tip us off on tools, prompts, techniques and events that can move us forward.

All of this matters. From my perspective, though, you should have people in your court for an entirely different reason than overcoming technical anxieties and hurdles–to validate writing as a profession. 

All too often, what’s most stressful about writing isn’t figuring out where to send queries or editing a draft (again). It’s not figuring out how to fix plot holes or trying to get words on the page while family life divides your attention. What messes with your head the most is fighting the negative connotations being a writer has, the idea that it is “barely” a job or isn’t serious work.

We tend to get a sense of identity from our jobs, like it or not. Without a support group or individuals who can reassure you, it’s all too easy to wonder who you are or where you fit into the big picture. Without people to counter the feedback that questions your art, it’s simple to think that maybe you’re making a mistake in creating characters and worlds, or that you’re foolish for not doing other work.

And if you think that you’re foolish for writing or that there’s a better path, then guess how high the likelihood is that you’ll quit.

Whether you tap your spouse, find a writer’s group online or toss your writing at neighbors, don’t underestimate the power of finding people to walk your writing journey with you. As Florschutz points out, your support people don’t have to be other writers. They can be anyone who will hear out your dreams, be real with you and lift you up. Commit to finding them and the work will be not only technically easier, but far more enjoyable, too.

How Many Times Should You Query an Agent?

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If you’re thinking about doing any kind of querying to literary agents, or if you’re in the middle of that process, then you’ll quickly find that the most efficient way to go about it is to send off emails in batches. The rationale is that, as responses come in, you can take the feedback, tweak your query/book, and try again, rather than having everybody reject your initial poor first try.

But at what point is it enough? Where is the line where you stop and either self-publish or shelve the work?

Generally speaking, if you read blogs from real-life, active agents, the recommendations range from 50 to 100 queries. The gist here is that, if that many agents are saying no, then there’s probably a reason. This might have much less to do with your talent than the current perceived marketability of your concept.

But is that true? Is 50 to 100 some kind of magic?

There are plenty of stories of famous writers who had to go well beyond 50 to 100 queries. Jack Canfield, for example, who’s responsible for the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, hit 144 big fat nos. So there’s evidence that a lot of agents can be wrong in thinking a book won’t sell, and that a little tenacity can pay off big. If you stop before you reach the agent that believes in you, it’s like giving up on digging a tunnel out when you’re just inches from breaking through.

But let’s look at the number of agents, too. There are at least 1,000 agencies within the United States. So if you’re stopping at 50 agents, then you’re only inquiring at a whopping 5 percent of American houses. Now consider that many of those agencies will allow you to submit the same project to other agents within the house, so long as you allow a specific amount of time to pass and/or clarify that another agent has seen the book already. Many agencies overseas still work with American authors, too.

Are you really going to tell yourself that a 5 percent effort is good enough? At what other job would that ever be considered acceptable? And can you even argue that you’ve seen all the different opinions about your book agents might have if you’ve only tapped 5 percent of those professionals? That’s hardly majority rule.

In full disclosure, I’m around 170 rejections on my current book. And for the reasons above, I’m not going to give up any time soon. My personal opinion is that you should stop querying your work only when you run out of options, you’re mentally or physically exhausted, or both.

Now, if you get to that point and you genuinely just can’t stomach the thought of one more email, it’s OK! Independent publishing is a totally different animal than it used to be and has more sway than it ever has. It can be incredibly profitable. Just because you don’t query anymore doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means that you walked one path, figured out that that one wouldn’t work for you, and set yourself on a different road to the same goal.

I recognize, too, that there can be a race against the clock financially. If writing is your only job, then you can’t go forever without a paycheck. So self-publishing might become a necessity, even if you haven’t queried as much as you’d like. There’s no shame in setting yourself a customized cutoff point in this case. I am assuming, however, that like many other writers, you have other work that pays your bills, and that the querying can take the time it takes.

Agents can have a great sense of the market. But sometimes they do get it wrong, just like Steve Jobs initially thinking that people wouldn’t want a device without a keyboard (hello, there, iPad). So don’t necessarily assume that people won’t read your book, just because the rejections start piling up. Sometimes you really do just have to wade through the agents who are wrong to get to the one who is right. Query until you can’t anymore and be aware of just how many emails you actually have the opportunity to send off. And even if you get to the point where you’re out of agent options, you still can get your work out into the world.

So prepare yourself. You’ll be published. It’s just a matter of time.

 

Current Writing Markets Are Polarized. Here’s Why They Shouldn’t Be

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In a previous blog post, I lamented the fact that genre labels can be limiting for writers, both creatively and when it comes to publishing. But as I’ve thought more about the issue, I’ve also realized that there’s a related problem–clear larger market distinctions.

The book I’m currently querying stands as an example. It has strong themes of faith, but also of violence. So who do I send it to? The secular market will take the violence but not the faith, and the Christian market seems to want the faith but not the violence. Because multiple agents have told me they like the story, praised the proposal and told me it has a lovely feel for its historical period, I do not question my writing. Instead, I suspect an uncertainty about which market to classify it in as the problem. I cannot “fix” that without fundamentally changing the story.

So, should I? Should I conform to fit a specific market, similar to how I might try to hit all the tropes of a specific genre, just to be more sellable?

If I really want to be true to my own voice as a writer, then I have to say no.

The reality is, life is messy. Stories can be, too. They are, in many ways, a reflection of real people and experiences, even if they contain fantastic, imaginative elements. And just like there are many people who are in the center on the political spectrum, there are stories that don’t sit right or left. They can contain gray moral ground, complex beliefs and caveats.

So why? Why assume that this middle ground does not exist, that there are not people who can see both sides of the coin or who are able to see the world in nuance instead of black and white?

My argument here is less for the elimination of poles, which have their place, and more for the acknowledgment of the center of the curve. Books that could be marketed in either direction, in my view, can get ignored, simply because they do not meet all the requirements of one side or the other. Again, it’s not unlike the situation Republicans face right now–many are leaving the party and want to form a new political group that’s more in line with what they believe. They’re not saying eliminate the GOP, but rather that they want to have their own party that reflects who they really are and that offers an alternative to so-called Trumpism.

People by nature want to categorize and label. It helps them feel more in control and make some sense of the world so they’re not overwhelmed and anxious all the time. I totally get that. And I understand the practical efficiency of classification. But sometimes there is no neat box to put something in and it’s impossible to take sides. Acknowledging this bigger picture will let the writing industry bring a much larger number of great authors and diversity of content to readers and ultimately, make money. So let’s see the whole spectrum. We all deserve a choice about where we want to sit on it and read.

Why Classifying Books According to Genre Needs to Die

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If you go to agent or publisher websites, a common call is for writers to create something entirely fresh, something that doesn’t fit the usual molds. But even with those statements, I’m not entirely convinced that the publishing world or general public has abandoned genre classifications as much as agencies and houses would have people believe.

For starters, bookstores, websites and libraries still label books based on traditional genres to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. And if you query as an author through tools like QueryTracker or other online forms, the tool almost always require you to smoosh your book into a category. Agents and publishers also want to know what genre you’re working with and show that you understand how your book fits that target niche or compares to previously published works. They expect a summary for that in query letters and proposals, and most of them are very clear on the site which genres they do or do not work with.

I absolutely understand the need for a system of organization. But what if, for example, I have a mystery set in an earlier period, something a la Enola Holmes? Is that a mystery or a historical? What if I have a love story set in outer space? Is that science fiction or romance? Or what about books that challenge social conceptions or time? The recently released “Bridgerton” on Netflix, for example, is based on Julia Quinn’s novels, but since it is an intentionally contemporary spin on the 1800s era, is it too inaccurate to be a regency anymore?

Some books do fit very neatly into categories. But many do not. They are like sporks in a utensil drawer, simultaneously belonging and not belonging for their “oddity”. And as a writer, I see the current mode of labeling as being truly problematic. If my book does bend genres, it can be very difficult to present it according to the tools and expectations agents, publishers and book stores all have. It even can be hard to determine whether certain agents or houses would want to accept a query, which then can create additional work for authors who submit a preliminary inquiry before formally introducing the manuscript.

But perhaps even more concerning than presentation or organization is the conflicting message of creativity and adherence to group. Writers who are continually forced to slap labels on their work for the sake of the label might mentally limit themselves regarding what their books can be. They might start to think of themselves as this type of writer or that, when in fact a good writer isn’t a “type” of anything–they can write whatever they da-n well please.

We perhaps could solve the issue simply by creating tools that allow writers and others to select an “Uncategorized” or “Genre-Bending” classification. Explaining the mashup with references rather than a label, such as X Book + Y Book, could work in queries, store placement and promotional materials. But such a shift requires people to let go of the knee-jerk desire to mentally classify to a high degree. The freedom we could gain, however, could be truly transformative in terms of what ends up on the page.

How to Deal with Other People Finding Writing Success Instead of You


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You know those social media posts.

The exuberant ones.

The ones where people announce they’ve just found an agent, met some ridiculous word count goal or had a publisher snap up their book in a six or even seven figure deal.

On the one hand, I am genuinely over the moon for the writers who are putting up those messages on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. And that’s because I empathize. I know first hand all the hours that goes into creating the manuscript, editing it and sending it out into the world feeling crazily protective and hopeful. And so I make it a point to congratulate them. They deserve every kudos, and I mean what I say in my responses.

Yet, there’s also the side of those posts that’s kind of like a punch in the gut.

With brass knuckles.

Maybe some razor blades.

And you know what? Just throw in a random bomb embedded with rusty nails and screws in there, because you know, what the heck.

There’s something about those posts, which I admittedly and ironically dream of putting up myself one day, that holds a crappy message. Something that says, “See? If you were just ‘good enough’, too, then you’d have that agent/deal/paycheck/fame. Comparatively, your writing is stinkier than the rear end of a hippo.”

Talk about a motivation killer.

But the thing is, none of those writers is saying that. They’re not trying to rub it in. They’re just genuinely so elated that they can’t contain it. And deep down, I know better. I understand that the industry is highly subjective and very much about making the right editorial connections. And I understand that even “bad” writing that’s a grammatical mess still can have a great story at its heart. So the real question is just how to bounce back from the temporary blech that seeing others’ success inspires. Because if I (or you) can just bounce back from that, you can keep writing, submitting and pursuing the writing goals you have.

So here’s what I’ve found personally works:

  • Read other types of posts. I’m not going to tell you to go on a social media fast, because that might not be realistic given your need to promote your work. But what you can do is focus on particular types of posts. Look at how many people are still drafting, querying, or just looking for advice on which writing tool is best. You might not have the deal or agent yet, but there are tons of people right where you are who can offer support and remind you that you’re not alone. Pay close attention to the posts where people share little bits of drafts–favorite lines, for example–or talk about a beautiful moment they had with writing. Those kinds of posts reveal what matters to other people and can remind you that writing is about a lot more than money or other perks.
  • Stick to a plan. If you are going about your writing inconsistently or without a plan, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t making real headway. But a plan lets you measure progress based on a specific strategy. Every time you post something, every time you send a query or take the half an hour you slotted for outlining, you can say you really did something. You are trying. You are not idle. You’re moving forward. And that’s a heck of a lot better than feeling like you have zero direction.
  • Trash your own writing. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but ripping your drafts to shreds teaches you not to get too attached, and to be open to trying new options that ultimately could make the content work significantly better. Even if you end up going with your original version, the exercise in exploration can give you a sense of progress and development that’s a huge confidence booster. You also might end up with snippets or new concepts that could lead to entirely new works later on.
  • Do something other than writing. Writers are just like other professionals in that they can attach a huge part of their identity to their work. That’s why it’s so painful to see the other “I made it” posts from others–it’s not just about having your project validated, it’s about having you validated. So if the sting is getting too sharp, go spend time in other activities or hobbies. This doesn’t mean stop writing. It just means that the writing should be balanced with other aspects of who you are. Do whatever you enjoy to remind yourself that, although writing is part of you, it doesn’t define your worth.

People who find writing success deserve to celebrate it and brag a little. This applies to you just as much as to anyone else. But since it might be a while until it’s your time to celebrate, don’t just wallow. Be proactive about staying in a positive mindset. You’ll produce better when you aren’t depressed and stressed, guaranteed.