To Query or Not to Query

When I talk to people about my publishing plans for my next couple of books, people ask me if I’ll ever query and try for a traditionally published deal. I always say, “No, I’m not writing anything queryable right now.”

People can take that a lot of different ways, and mostly that sounds like I don’t have faith in what I’m writing, or that my work is crap and only suited for self-publishing.

That couldn’t be further from that truth.

What I mean by that is, I know what I’m writing. I know what it’s suited for. That doesn’t mean what I’m writing isn’t being traditionally published; it just means I don’t have to find an agent to get it there. I write fluff. Maybe that’s demeaning to my genre when I say that, but I also am not pinning my work with any more importance than it deserves. Harlequin, the publisher that brings you the lines Temptation, Desire, Blaze, and the like (they’ve done some remodeling, so I don’t know what their lines are now) prints hundreds of books like that every year. In my Barnes and Noble, they take up a shelf in the corner of the building near the floor. All the shiny red spines with titles like One Night with the Billionaire or The Cowboy’s Baby. Women read these by the handfuls; a quick read you can get through in a couple hours before tossing it onto a pile and reaching for another one, like candies in a heart-shaped box. You know what you’re getting, you savor it as it melts in your mouth, but you have no problem reaching for another one when the chocolate is gone.

My books are like that. What I write in three to four months will be devoured in three to four hours, and I’m okay with that. I’m more than okay with that. Romance is a huge genre, and where there are millions of writers cranking out millions of books, there are also millions of readers. They don’t call the Romance genre the bestselling genre for nothing.

But along with pages of guidelines for how they like their books to be written and their preferred word count, Harlequin has its own dropbox on its website. I don’t need to query an agent and let my manuscript sit in a slush pile to wait for an agent’s assistant to skim my query letter. I can upload my manuscript onto Harlequin’s website myself, or to Carina Press, the digital-first arm of Harlequin, and let it rot in their slush pile without any help, thank you.

If I were to query, going back to the original question, I would query something more serious. Something I worked harder for. We all have visions of our books sitting on the display table at Barnes and Noble in the center of their main walkway. Trust me when I say Don’t Run Away would never make it there—agent or not. No, looking at the New York Times Book Review right now, I would want to write something more akin to Women’s Fiction, not Contemporary Romance. I would want my manuscript to mean something, to say something, to point out an injustice, to try to right a wrong, to help someone. I would want my manuscript to come from my brain as well as my heart.

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I’m not trying to degrade romance, not at all. But any romance writer or reader knows the difference between In the Arms of Her Boss and Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward, a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction. And let’s be clear, a reader who picks up either one of these knows what she’s getting. You have to be in the mood to read it, and a writer has to be in the mood (not to mention have the talent and skills) to write it.

I’m not in the mood to try to write something of Sing Unburied Sing’s caliber. I’m perfectly happy editing Chasing You. (You can weigh the two books by title alone, can’t you?)

If, or when, I plan to query, it will be with a book that will make it worth my time, and it will be with a book that will be worth the pain and heartache of rejection. Because I know the score. Querying is a whole lot of rejection, and I won’t put myself through that for a computer file full of fluff.

You might think that I’m too hard on myself, but I prefer to think of it as a realistic POV of my work. And, quite possibly, more indie writers should have it. Querying a story that won’t make it onto a table at the Barnes and Noble will sour you on the whole process. Traditional publishers only publish so many books per year. Why query a book that would never make it? That’s not to say your fluff isn’t good enough for Harlequin or a small press. (The back of bookstore on a shelf near the floor is better than nowhere at all, right?) It very well may be, and you should definitely go that route if you feel your book is worth it. Query to find an agent knowing/admitting where your book is going to end up, or use Harlequin’s dropbox and let your book sit in cyber purgatory for a few months while interns wade through the submissions.

But I won’t bother to try to find an agent for something that will sell just fine when I self-publish it.

After I’ve grown a bit more as a writer, or maybe when I have a nice backlist I can be proud of and want to challenge myself, or when the perfect plot plops into my head, I’ll write my book and I will query it to find an agent who loves it as much as I do, and maybe one day it will end up at the Barnes and Noble on a table in their main walkway.
I’ll pass it and brush my fingers over the cover as I walk to the café for a coffee. But for now, I’ll finish writing Running Scared while chocolate melts in my mouth.

You’ve Written Your Book. Now What?

There’s a lot of talk in the publishing/writing community about what to write. Ask anyone, and the unanimous answer will be, “Write what you love and worry about the rest later.” And that’s okay; definitely write what you love because if you’re not, it will show in your writing. If you don’t love it, no one else will, either.

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But after you’ve written your book, what then? If you want to query, what you’ve written will decide almost 100% if you’ll get picked up. Agents sign books they know will sell, and they know what books will sell because they are in close contact with editors in publishing houses and know what books the editors will buy.  But what are those books?

There are books that will never go out of style because they encompass the bigger genres: romance, mystery/suspense (combine the two and you’re golden), a little science fiction, some fantasy, maybe. When you choose one of those, you’re choosing a subject or topic that will never stop selling.

But indie authors rarely go generic, and that’s a lot of the problem. Say I’ve written this wonderful story about a fairy princess set in modern times who is a pediatrician and she’s in love with the warlock neuro surgeon down the hall. Her father demands she go home to the fairy world to claim the throne and she’s torn away from her warlock lover. After she’s home and takes up her duties as royalty, she finds out she’s pregnant with her warlock lover’s baby. Now what?

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This story is near and dear to my heart, maybe. It’s all written out, all 99,000 words of magical goodness. I have plans to turn this into a trilogy.

Excitedly, I shop it around.

Agents pass, editors at publishing houses pass. A kind agent takes the time to email me and says, “This is great, the writing is solid. But fairies in adult fiction aren’t selling right now, and I don’t know when they will. I can sell it if you turn the fairy and warlock into humans.”

What she did was make my story generic. She turned it into a simple romance she’d probably sell to Avon.

But that’s not what I want, so she offers me, “I’ll sign you and keep it in my drawer. When fairies come around again, I’ll try to sell it.” This isn’t exactly what I want, either, and I wonder if I want to take her offer because how long do I want to wait, exactly? Selling my book could take years, or she could never do it. It doesn’t mean my book or writing is bad, it just means the publishing industry isn’t selling that kind of book right now.

We can all think of books that have had their day: vampires/werewolves (Twilight), dystopian societies (The Hunger Games), mommy porn (Fifty Shades of Grey).

But look on the NYT Bestseller list and we can see what’s hot right now: mysteries, The Woman in Cabin 10 (Ruth Ware), The Couple Next Door (Shari Lapena), Seeing Red (Sandra Brown), The Store (James Patterson). Simple romance, Two by Two (Nicholas Sparks). General Fiction, Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate), Exposed (Lisa Scottoline).

 

There isn’t a fairy, vampire, or elf on the whole list. Even Young Adult has is having a grown up moment: The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas), One of Us is Lying (Karen M. McManus). Third on the list is about faeries, but it’s part of a series by Cassandra Clare. She has her name and history behind that book, something you wouldn’t have. (Just sayin’.)

The reason I’m writing this blog post isn’t to tell you to write boring—write what you want to write. But I am saying that there may not be room for your book when you’re done with it depending on the climate of the industry.

#PitchWars just ended on Twitter. It’s a program (for lack of a better term) created by agent Brenda Drake. A writer submits their manuscript and hopes a “mentor” will take them on and help make their manuscript queryable.

The problem is, these mentors know what is selling and will choose manuscripts that have the best chance at being picked up. If that happens, everyone looks good; that’s the goal.

There have been a lot of hurt feelings because manuscripts haven’t been picked up by mentors, and I’m willing to bet it’s not the writing but the genre and plot that made a mentor decline a book. Vampires, out. A teen learning what her true gifts are just in time to save the world, out. Clumsy girls who fall in love with billionaires, out.

The stars have to align for a book to be published these days. Your book has to be on target with the plot, the characters, and the trends at the time. It has to resonate with an agent, who has to find the perfect editor who wants to take it on.

I would never feel bad if my book didn’t get picked up. There are so many things that have to go right for that to happen; I would never take it personally.

But lots of people do.

Let me know what you’re writing. Do you think your book would get picked up after seeing what’s being published right now?

Vania Blog Signature

 

(Book and Fairy taken from pixabay.com. Thanks to Amazon for the book cover pics.)

When Should You Redo a Book?

I was listening to a podcast today–I know, shocker. I listen to them all the time, and it sure makes scooping the kitty litter a little more tolerable.

Anyway, so the two hosts went through their usual, what are you working on, what are you working on?  And the male host (I won’t say who it was or what podcast this was) said, I’m going to redo my first book. New cover, new title, redo some of the plot, the whole thing. And the other host was like, oh, that’s great, blah blah blah.

I don’t know what I was doing then. Cleaning my bathroom? Sweeping the kitchen? But I was like, wait, what?

Rereleasing a book isn’t a new concept to anyone. Traditionally published authors (or their houses) do it all the time, especially for old books. You know it when you’re reading and someone lights up in a restaurant. You think, I just bought this book at Walmart yesterday. Smoking in a public place hasn’t been legal in years. How the *bleep* old really is this book? Oh, the first copyright was 1982. That explains some things, right? Maybe you keep reading it because the story is good, maybe you don’t because you like your characters to have cell phones and access to the internet, but if you keep going, maybe, just maybe, by the time you read to the end, you realize you already read it–30 years ago.

 

This is Linda Howard’s Almost Forever.  Kinda different huh? There are more covers between these two. The original was released in 1986.

 

Again, pretty different.  It doesn’t make the inside change–but would you feel cheated if you bought this book today then found it it was published in 1989? There are other covers between these, too.

 

Unfortunately, this is the same book. I never would have known had I not gone on Goodreads and looked for the old cover of Breathless Innocence and found He’s Just a Cowboy. The descriptions are slightly different as well.

 

I realize there’s a difference between submitting a new file to CreateSpace to fix typos or if you’ve redone the cover and completely redoing a whole book. We’ve all done it. I did it for 1700. I fixed typos, redid the cover, fixed some formatting issues. It was my first book. Mistakes were made.

But where do you draw the line? Where do you draw the line between fixing the mistakes that you should have caught the first time, but were too damn excited to see or care about, to revamping an entire book?

See, I think of it this way. Your readers bought your crap version. Let’s just call it the way it is, okay?  People shelled out their hard-earned money to buy your mistake-riddled book. Should you have released better, yes. But you didn’t. I didn’t. So people bought it and maybe they didn’t care about the mistakes, maybe you ended up on their author shit-list. That’s on you, and that’s on me.

But say you have some time on your hands and you decide, you know, this book was great, but it’s got a crap-rep now (and maybe the reviews to prove it). I don’t want it to go to waste so I’m going to fix it up. A new title, new ISBN number, let’s fix those plot holes, give the MC a few extra demons, maybe real ones! Yank the old one and let’s watch the sales come in.

Is that fair? Is that fair to the people who bought the first version of your book?

What if you have a decent fan base? Maybe you don’t write as fast as you’d like so when you release a book, people buy it. That’s great. And how are they going to feel when they read a quarter of the way through it and realize that they’ve read this story before?  Yes, it sounds better, no there’s no typos this time around. The cover looks amazing because you learned some things. But . . .

People will think it’s very unfair if they pay twice for the same book. Only authors who have written for longer than you’ve been alive are allowed to do this. You know, authors who have 50+ books in their backlist. Then, only then, are the chances of the same person reading the same book slim. And when publishing houses do this, they are releasing the same book. Authors are too busy writing new material to rework a plot. Their houses are re-releasing books with a new up-to-date cover, and while I may not be too big a fan of that either, it’s a lot better than what we’re talking about here.

I’m not suggesting you don’t fix mistakes. But what I am suggesting is maybe you *don’t* revamp the entire book. Maybe you fix the mistakes, redo the cover, but leave the story and title alone. Leave the ISBN alone. Write a better book next time.

To me, writing is continually moving forward, not back.

What do you think?

Vania Blog Signature

 

You can read another opinion about this here.

(Book pictures were taken from http://harlequinblog.com/2017/05/8-wonderful-contemporary-romance-re-releases-we-love/ and http://www.goodreads.com)