Act as If… this is a Writing Day

I am prone to listening to various sorts of… how do I put it, information? There is self-development, but not only that, also TED talks, philosophical books, books about creativity and writing, etc.

I figured, a while ago, that you can’t change your life without changing your thoughts.

I cannot read non-fiction, I get bored, but I love them in audio-books or programs. Recently there was a promotion of non-fiction audio-books and I ended up with nine of them in different subjects. I don’t listen to one, beginning to end, I listen to whatever my mood asks for.

I am listening to two books, one about how the brain works and the other about Aliens. The first tells me how the brain creates conspiracy theories by creating connections that do not exist, because the brain prefers to have a drunken pilot at the helm, a.k.a. shadowy government in control; than having no-one in control or a vessel without a pilot.

The Alien book shows all the proof that Aliens do exist and that there is, most definitely, a conspiracy.

Hard to choose what I really believe in, probably both and neither.

One of my new favourites is Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic”. I agree with her that Artists create in spite of their hunted soul, not because of it.

One of my old favourites is Mike Dooley’s “Infinite Possibilities” that introduced me to a concept I now use all the time: ACT AS IF.

Today I’m acting as if I had full days of writing and have spent the day exactly as I would if I were a successful, highly paid best seller, and a full-time writer.

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How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 3

Part 3 – Getting the Material Ready

See how to build your shortlist of agents in part 1

See how to list the contents you will need in part 2

There is no consensus about anything, I’ve researched the details on how to format manuscripts, how to write book proposals, how to write query letter or a bio, etc. But in the end, there are just many different suggestions. You must do your own research and choose what resonates with you.

In the end if you make any decision and go with it, it is better than leaving your book in a drawer, virtual or real.

The important part is that you will need to research step by step, read on how to write each piece, how long it should be and decide on the voice and tone.

 

Query Letter

There are many articles about how to write a good query letter but I have here a few things that I think all query letters should include:

  • In the subject, include the word “query”, the name of your project, and who it is in attention to (if you are sending to a generic email address).
  • A bit about you, including where you are from or based at, whichever is relevant.
  • How many words your manuscript has.
  • The number of agents you are submitting in total.
  • Note if the manuscript has been self-published before and how did it go.
  • Make it adaptable as a submission letter if the agent wants to see a submission in the first instance.
  • Make sure you address it to the right person and add something in the letter to make it personal for them.
  • Add at least one paragraph for the specific agent mentioning something that either they have represented or their agency represents that is relevant to your project.

 

Other Material

  • Short overview
  • Synopsis
  • Complete Synopsis

Prepare a few different sizes of summaries, I would recommend a one-page overview; one three-page synopsis, and a complete synopsis of about 5-7 pages. You will probably need them all.

  • Format the full manuscript
  • Save it in the different sample sizes requested (3 pages, 3 chapters, 50 pages, 30 consecutive pages, etc.)
  • Prepare a full Book Proposal including:
    • Author Bio
    • Competition
    • Market (WHO will read the book)
    • Promotion (HOW readers will learn about the book)

Put all the material together in an organised way and make sure you have it edited and proofread.

I use online freelancers to proofread and edit my material because it is what I can afford for now.

 

This is my checklist for the reviewing process:

  • Prepare all material in a MS Word document
  • Include an updated table of contents
  • Write detailed add for freelancer online community
  • Post the advert
  • Shortlist the freelancers
  • Chat with favourite freelancer and ask a few questions (it’s a good way to see how they actually write)
  • Make a choice / Engage the freelancer and send material
  • Once the material is back, go over track changes, change by change (never, ever click accept all)
  • Format the final material into the pieces you need (for attachment, in pdf or word; or to add to body of email)
  • EXCITING TIME: Ready to submit!

Only then you are really ready for submission. Reserve quality time, when you are not too tired, to make the submissions. The attention to detail —following each agents rules and double checking nothing has changed since you noted them — is essential to your success.

Good Luck!

How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 2

Part 2 – Listing the Content you Will Need to Prepare

Once you have your shortlist of agents (see how to build your list in part 1) you would like to submit to, you must create a list of what they ask for in the first and second instances.

First Instance – Query Letter

Most agents do not accept submissions, they accept queries. They state in large bold letters WE DO NOT ACCEPT UNSOLICITED MATERIAL, or something of the kind.

But even these, sometimes, accept queries. This means they allow you to ask them if they want you to send them your material. I know, it feels like a begging process where they have all the strength and you have none, but don’t get discouraged, it is what it is and it is important to follow their rules to give you a chance to get through.

As you have seen in Part 1, I am willing, with boundaries, I won’t send my work to aggressive and grudging people, for example. But for the rest, my project deserves the best of me and I am happy to do what is necessary to get it out there. That means queries.

Each agent states what they want in their queries or with their queries. Sometimes they only want the Query Letter, sometimes they ask for a short summary or a few chapters of your book. Make a list of everything all of your agents want from you.

Second instance – Book Submission

From my research I have realised that if the agent likes your query letter and wants to see more, they want it straight away and that is not a simple matter.

Some of the agents will tell you what you should have ready if they want to see your book submission, it can be the full manuscript or part of the manuscript, it usually includes an author bio but they might ask for other book-related aspects.

Again, make a detailed list of what they might ask following. It is important to note that agents and agencies may have different demands if your project is fiction or non-fiction, screenplay or illustrated book. Make sure you note the right demands for your type of material.

Create two lists:

1) List by Agency

Agent Name

Agency

Country

  • Note if they want to receive a query or a direct submission

Query Letter

  • Email address or form-on-website address
  • Specificities about the subject line (yes, they are this detailed)
  • Note if the email is for a specific person/agent, if not, you need to add the agent name in the Subject Line
  • Any specificity of what the letter should contain
    • (e.g. a paragraph about the writer)
  • Specific demands that you fulfil
    • (e.g. that you are Australian for an agent that only represents Australian writers)
  • If they want or refuse attachments and want you to put everything in the body of the email

Submission

  • What you should have ready for the next stage, if they want to see a full submission

 

2) List by Material Needed

Separate what you need to have ready for the first and second instances. List everything all the agents are looking for and get to work.

 

See below an example of what my lists looked like.

Continue reading How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 2

How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 1

Most agents and publishers advise against trying to sell an idea for a book or a manuscript that is just partially written. With so many writers sprouting everywhere, you should not only have a full manuscript but have it thoroughly checked and edited in advance.

This is what I am writing here about, this post is on preparing a submission for a fully-written-manuscript , not a concept, or a partial product. You should look for other advice if that is your case.

Part 1 – Who to Submit to

I have finished a book that gives me this deep weird sensation in my body. It warms up my gut. I am interpreting this warmth as meaning that the work is good, making me decide to send it to the publishing world.

I enjoy the writing process immensely; the re-writing, editing, proofreading, not as much, but I can find strategies to make myself do it. What I cannot find time to do, is to promote myself and my writing, and I find little inspiration in social media, it requires endurance.

I work full time, giving me limited spare time, that is why I like to concentrate on the actual writing which gives me pleasure and is my core strength. That is how I got to the conclusion that I should get either an agent or a publisher, who are professionals dedicated to do what I don’t do well: selling and promoting the writing.

I will still have to sell the writing to them, but writing a book proposal is still writing. At least more than the daily marketing the self-publishing approach requires.

It has taken me seven months to get my book proposal ready, even I didn’t know why so long until I looked at all I actually did to get there. Here are the steps I have gone through to prepare my book for submission:

1) Get it ready

I read in many agents and publishers websites: get the book ready. Read, proof-read and edit it, ask someone you trust to give you feedback. But at a certain point, declare it ready. You can’t keep working on it forever, you need to put a stop to the reworking. You may also want to not over workshop it, too many external opinions can drown your own voice.

A good tip is that when people start discussing their views on the content of the writing rather than helping with the structure, it is time to stop showing your writing to others. Opinions about the colour of your character’s hat are not important, only precise feedback on how to make what you are writing clearer and better is.

2) First question: agent or publisher?

I knew that I didn’t want to self-publish this book straight away. I wanted it to have a good chance at an agent or publisher first.

I started my research defining if it was worth having an agent or not. I concluded that it was a good place to start. I read in may sites that if you first try sending your work to publishers and they reject it extensively, no agents will want to evaluate it because it already has been rejected by the publishers they would send it to. Therefore, between the two, the strategy is clear: start with an agent.

A best seller writer gave me his opinion that agents can do little for you and it is worth going to publishers directly. He may be right and when receiving the offer of an agent, I’ll make sure to do another research and ask all the questions and negotiate the contract to both of our advantages.

Meanwhile, I have decided to send to agents, I’m sure that having a champion with straight lines of communication to publishers and extensive knowhow of the industry can only help. Lower margins of profit but with much higher possibility of success still attracts me. If none of the agents I have chosen decide to choose my work, I will make another decision, but I’ll cross that bridge when and if it appears.

3) Research and choice of agents

I defined that I didn’t want to submit to angry agents. During my research I found many websites with an angry tone, a dictatorial and impatient discourse, repeating instructions in capital letters, and I chose to stay away from these. I cannot believe that people that are constantly irritated at the submissions they receive will give me the best of their analytical skills.

What I have looked for (to create my agents shortlist):

  • A current website
  • A cordial and professional tone
  • Agents open to receive queries or submissions
    • (double check at the time of submission, things change quickly and agents open and close from time to time)
  • Clear instructions of how they want to receive submissions
  • Open to receive submissions by email
  • Open to receive my style/genre’s submissions – VERY IMPORTANT
  • The agent’s name inside the agency, if applicable
  • The agent’s preference and link to my project
  • Agents that accept multiple submissions

 

Electronic submissions

My book isn’t limited to one market and will possibly be sold world-wide. There aren’t many agents accepting my genre’s submission in Australia and I’ll submit to a few agents overseas. All this make it important that my agent be electronically enabled.

 

Style / Genre

Agents and agencies have preferences, specialties, styles they work with or not, for example, some don’t take screenwriting, some exclude poetry, others define genres they don’t want to see, for example fantasy or  young adults stories.

You must find the agency that is open to accept your book and if they have more than one agent, choose the person best suited to receive your material.

Don’t worry, there is always someone who not only accepts your type of project, some are specialised and prefer it, if not in this one agency, in another company. I read everything, from agents who are about Christian writing, others who only read children’s stories, some that love LGBTQ books, others specify they only work with fiction, or non-fiction. In conclusion, there are agents for almost every combination.

 

Agents preferences

I chose the number 6 randomly, as the number of agents I’ll send my project to. It means I am being selective, I can keep track of them and it shouldn’t scary them off to know I’m submitting to six people in total.

Because my style/genre is more or less well accepted I was able to choose my agents (who fulfilled all the items in my list above) by the ones who seemed more inclined to be open to my project.

I researched what other books their agencies had, what where their personal preferences, if they were likely to take the risk of accepting my work. Then, I created specific letters to each of the agents using the information of what my project and their declared preferences have in common.

 

Multiple submissions

I rejected, in the first instance, agents that did not want me to submit to others at the same time as them. It can take months for them to reply. Some state they won’t even send any reply if they don’t like the material. The usual stated time is between 4-8 weeks. I don’t find it very efficient to submit to one agent at a time. If I need to make another decision in the future, so be it, for now, this is my strategy; you must choose yours knowingly.

 

It is like job seeking

From my life’s experience in looking for jobs, I think you are better off choosing a few, very specific people to send your application and doing specific cover letters and preparing the submission exactly like they are asking for, than sending it to everyone without second thought.

In reality it is much more time consuming to adapt your project to each agent than to send to everyone but it may increase your chances exponentially.


Keep reading:

See how to list the contents you will need in part 2

See how to get the material ready in part 3

Writing Travel – How to Organise a Trip for the Writing Soul

It all started with one question “what would I do if I was a full time writer?”. The answer was pretty simple: write, days in a row, all day; if possible, in a nice place.

A long weekend was coming up. I was single (still am) and had no plans for the long weekend coming up and decided to do just that. I chose a mountain nearby, found a Bed & Breakfast, paid with frequent flyer points and spent four days in heaven and finished a book. I travelled with the train, and for that trip, spent very little. Then I was hooked, I am now on my fifth writing trip in one year and a half.

It took me a few more trips to correct, edit and rewrite the book, to get it ready for publishing and I am here, on another trip, working on the book proposal and on my blogs, which get neglected when I’m writing a longer project.

I recommend the travel writing strategy to all aspiring writers who still need to work full time. Make arrangements with partners and children, mothers and friends, make this your time and make it sacred and uninterruptible. I ascribe to Mike Dooley’s precept of “do what you can, from where you are, with what you’ve got”, it cannot fail.

 

What to look for?

  1. What resources do you have, what can you spend?
  2. What type of places and views inspire you the most within your possibilities?
  3. Avoid distractions / do you need a place with no connectivity?
  4. Which sort of place makes you most productive?

Search your soul for your answers and find the resources. At the moment I am cat & house-sitting a friend’s house in the countryside, overviewing green hills, with the sound of a creek in the background and jumping wallabies in the forefront, the sound of birds and crickets lulling me. This is my ideal setup.  Yours might be a busy city with numerous cafes with fantastic Wifi. It might be an ocean view, or a quiet house. Although I love the water, for writing, green hills are even better.

Get the closest you can to your dream. Think of house sitting for a friend, or paying one AirBnb while renting your house out to someone else. It might mean house swapping and looking at a friend’s plastic swimming pool at their backyard. If that is the closest you can get to the ocean, so be it, the different environment, your imagination and your commitment are to be enough enough.

 

No bull, no lies

I have a perfectly nice apartment, with a desk overlooking the neighbourhood, looking out of a large door, I could lie to myself and say I would stay in and write all weekend. It would be so much cheaper than travelling and I could do it EVERY weekend! But, I would be lying to myself. I get distracted and anxious with what I am not doing, not going to the beach or not talking to my friends, the dishes need washing, there is food in the fridge that will go off if you don’t cook it, all 300kg of it, and the clothes might self destruct if you don’t wash them today.

During my writing masters I did that, spent weekends working on assignments and I’ve managed with a great degree of pain. While being away, writing eight hours a day feels effortless.

Remember to think not of what you SHOULD do, but what you DO do. Think of what is reality for you, not what works for other people.

 

Positioning

Make sure your friends and family know the hours you are unavailable, take it seriously and impose boundaries. I love places with limited mobile connection so I don’t feel obligated to answer messages and phone calls. More important than others is to make sure YOU understand the restrictions and don’t let yourself waste days lost in distraction and resistance.

 

The Enemy

Talking about resistance, usually, a writer’s most persistent enemy is her/his own head. The fear about the quality of what we write, the terror of finishing a project, the angst about the research, the character or the plot…

To understand more about resistance, I recommend “The Icarus Deception” from Seth Godin. He explains it perfectly. Work on your internal mindset in advance of the trip. Be emotionally prepared so you can make the most of the effort and time.

 

The Plan

Have a broad plan of what you want to work on. Is it a book? An article? What would you like to accomplish? Don’t be too strict, avoid creating unrealistic expectations that will make you feel under pressure and anxious during the writing time. The plan is just to get you ready to get to work straight away. Once you start, whatever comes of it is perfect.

My plan for this trip was:

  1. Finishing my book proposal to send to literary agents;
  2. Send it for editing and proofreading (hiring the freelancer and sending them the material);
  3. Work on my blogs; so when the agents look at my sites they can see some recent action and a fresh sample of my writing; and
  4. Reserve time for free inspired writing, in whatever inspires me at the time.

 

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Free inspired writing

What I call free inspired writing is what comes out when you are turning off your critical self, sending it off to a vacation somewhere else, far from you, or give it a sleeping pill. To get to it, you must forget all the shoulds, don’t worry about the quality or the quantity, turn off the inner and outer voices that are constantly criticising, analysing, commenting and evaluating. Eliminate judgement, scratch too long, too short, too emotional, too detailed, not enough description, not enough… you got the gist. Let it be, let it be… sing with me.

Free inspired writing is a first-first draft, it is raw and imperfect, full of mistakes and with absurds in logic, but it contains the CORE. The seed of what it will become. And, creating it, writing like that, is the joy.

 

Trust yourself

You need to make the commitment to have your work re-written, edited, criticised, proofread. By yourself and others, pulling up any resources available. It could be writing groups, asking friends to read your material, hiring freelancers, or, if you have the means, paying high-end editing professionals. By knowing that the writing will be put to its highest quality, you free your inner-first-drafter to do the free inspired writing I have mentioned above.

 

Keep the good habits

On the other hand, when writing your first draft, keep some good habits to avoid a proofreading nightmare in the future. At least make sure the ideas are clear, use capitals and good punctuation, set a minimum standard.

 

Mean business

When I get to my writing location I do what I need to show myself I mean business. What works for me is waking up in the morning and getting ready as if I was going to my regular job. I usually dress more comfortably but I still get dressed, put earrings on (earrings mean I’m not naked or sleeping), make my bed (so I don’t feel temped to go back to it and read the day away), have breakfast, make myself a nice extra cup of coffee, get my writing gear to the chosen writing location. Sit down and write for as many hours as I feel like.

What is your signal? What do you need to do to tell yourself that you are here to write? Pyjamas? Lighting a magic candle? A nice cup of green tea with pomegranate? Do it. Make it a symbol to your inner writer that says “ready, go!”

 

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PACKING CHECKLIST

What you need to remember to take with you:

  • Your project notes or file (remember everything you need including voice memos)
  • Your laptop or writing pad or typewriter – your chosen writing instrument
  • Accessories needed: mouse, internet dongle, pens, paper, extra typing tape
  • Power: laptop powering cables, extra batteries for mouse
  • Special screen cleaning wipes
  • Writing/reading glasses
  • Notebook or sketch pad if you use them for support
  • Favourite pen / extra ink (fountain pens) / extra pens and pencils
  • Download any needed research and support material, if you won’t have connectivity
  • Download music for writing; many writers have the right music for the right project, make it ready and available offline. Create the right playlist in advance, if you need it.
  • What item is essential for your highest productive writing
  • Think of food

 

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What is essential for you?

For me, it is coffee. That is why I bought a mini expresso making machine and a portable frother. It doesn’t matter where I go, I can make the perfect cup of coffee. Tea, chocolate, nuts, candles, what is the little thing that works for you? Remember to pack it.

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Thinking of food

Food can be one of the most time consuming and most effective distractions in a writer’s working day. I recommend thinking of food in advance, either preparing a few nutritious easy meals in advance, or researching the food delivery options near the location where you will be staying. I get organised to have a few days of easy food at hand, so I don’t waste too long with meals and can dedicate most of the time to the writing.

 

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Alone and completely connected

Writers are a strange breed… If I told my friends that their holidays would be spending alone writing at least 8 hours a day, most of them would think it’s a punishment. Instead, I feel so connected to the world, to myself and my mission in life, to my real purpose, that I come back happy, refreshed, inspired and can’t wait to start planning the next writing trip.

Right now, I’m on a covered balcony, overlooking green hills. I am listening to the creek’s water music, the birds are singing, a cockatoo is screeching, a light rain is starting to fall… I can smell the grass and the bush, the wet soil; I can see the sun on a far away mountain and the mist crowning another, as a halo, I hear the thump-thump of a wallaby moving nearby. I can almost distinguish the sound of each drop of rain fall, while my fingers fly over my keyboard, and I smile.

These trips make me feel like I’m doing what my soul was put in this Earth to do. I have no idea if that is true or not, but this is free inspired writing right? So, who cares!

Socialise Quietly and Write

Most Tuesdays, after work, I go to a Meetup in Sydney CBD for writers. It goes for two hours and we get together, sit down, and write.

A few people talk and exchange experiences once the clock reaches eight pm, on the dot. Others write until they have to go home. I write until I’m about to drop.

I cannot stop writing, it is usually one of my most productive writing moments of the week. I often get “in the zone” and produce high quality work, writing hard up to nine or ten.

Pumped by a guilty late-night-coffee — which will most certainly keep me awake or make me have an agitated, unrestful night — I think the sacrifice is worth it. Every time I debate, to coffee or not to coffee…

Tonight I have churned some great paragraphs and ticked many items of my to-do list for a specific project.

Trying to write, publish and promote your own books while working full time is a little bit like trying to give birth while driving a horse-cart with a spooked stallion must be. Creating life, giving birth to characters, while your attention is constantly demanded elsewhere…

The road doesn’t end though, so I keep bouncing, reins in hand, YEEHAW!

What are Kindle Singles? Is my book one?

I have recently self-published a Kindle book composed of four short stories. My initial idea was to publish it as Kindle Singles.

I am not sure that Amazon is very good at communicating stuff, of I’m not very good at understanding them.

I had a completely wrong perception of what Kindle Singles are. I thought they were shorter books and that you should add them to this category if your book was shorter than the usual novel length. In my imagination, it was your duty to classify a book as a Kindle Single, if they were smaller, so the client could know what they are buying.

I didn’t realise Kindle Singles are something else altogether. Yes, they are shorter books, novella size, but they are hand picked by Amazon to be classified as so. If your book is chosen, you benefit from Kindle Singles promotions, which gives your book a bit more visibility. Therefore, being a Kindle Single is something special.

This means that you have to apply, to send your work to the Amazon editors and wait six weeks for them to evaluate it. Then you might become a Kindle Single. 

Just when I was about to submit it I read “no collections accepted”. I sent it anyway, probably part of my Brazilian DNA that would not allow me to give up without a try, an attempt of bending the rules.

It didn’t work, so “Sideways Reality”. [at Amazon AU, US, BR] is not a Kindle Single, but I’m still proud to call it my own!