Posts Tagged ‘literary agent’

THE STORY OF MY QUEST FOR PUBLISHING SUCCESS

Where should I start?  The beginning, I guess.

My historical novel, Black Iron Mercy, began as a notebook filled with research more than four-and-a-half years ago.  The project started as a pledge to tell the story of the Iron Brigade from the viewpoint of a common soldier, inserting a fictional protagonist among the actual participants.  Nine months of research followed, utilizing 19 books, countless articles, and the help of many friends, colleagues, and experts, to produce a rich, historically accurate and entertaining epic about one Wisconsinite’s exploits before, during, and after the American Civil War.  The result was a poignant tale of love and faith, war and discord; a family shattered by loss and sorrow, and a man who struggles every day to hold onto hope.  Deeds Publishing, of Athens, Georgia, is the company that has changed my life forever.  The advance reading copies, for endorsements and reviews, will be out later this month.  The expected launch date for the general public is mid-June.

download

Success!  Oh, it feels so sweet.

How did I get here?  More research!  Even as the research stage of this project was ending, I began to research the publishing industry in earnest.  Over the last few years I spent nearly twice as much time researching the business as I did the novel, because failure was not an option.  For new authors, there is no advice I can give you that is more important than “Do the research.”  Learn the industry, including things like literary agents and agencies, query letters, synopses and synopsis writing, book marketing, book publicity, and formatting.  Nothing will lead to failure faster than showing the publishing world that you’ve spent zero time getting to know their business.  This blog was created strictly because I did my homework.  The publishing industry wants you to have a nest in order to promote and sell your work when the time comes to do so.

In June of 2015, I was ready for the querying process to begin.  I had a notebook filled with literary agents willing to take on historical novels.  I knew each of their expectations, their quirks, their requirements, and their attitudes toward eager, new authors.  You must remember that each literary agent has a very strict, detailed list of requirements.  If you stray from them even a little, you’ll be rejected before any of your material is even looked at.

Allowing myself one full year to find an agent, I sent out a total of 66 queries… usually in groups of five to eight.  Some contained only a query letter.  Some contained a synopsis and the first three chapters.  Some contained a synopsis, the first fifty pages, a photo of me, and a bio.  And although it felt like some contained the kitchen sink, not one of them contained the entire manuscript for Black Iron Mercy.

In time, I received 32 rejections.  Yes, the first couple were difficult.  Nobody likes to be rejected.  Not for a date, not on the dance floor, not in the publishing world.  But after a while, even I could appreciate being rejected, because receiving a rejection letter is better than being rejected without notice.  Many literary agents will warn you up front that they do not have the time to respond to all queries.  Because of this, I actually looked forward to receiving a rejection.  Quite frankly, I felt like I deserved a notice when rejected.  It’s not difficult to fire off an email that reads, “Not for us, thanks.”  (an actual rejection, my favorite… because it’s not a form letter.  It may be short, but it’s personal.)

12662447_1242448662438163_6244356231805164662_n

MY ORGANIZED BOARDS OF QUERY LETTER FAILURE

By November, I had grown weary of the whole query process.  Sure, I had received 32 rejections, but I had actually been rejected all 66 times, whether they had sent notice or not.  But here’s the kicker:  NOT ONE OF THE 66 REJECTIONS WAS BASED ON THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT!  No one had even seen the entire manuscript.  Few, if any, had more than fifty pages of the double-spaced document, which equated to one-sixth of the entire novel.

Now, wholly bitter about agents and the agent process, I decided to forgo the agent course, and began researching publishers in the same way I had researched agents six-months prior.  I needed a publisher who would not only publish a historical novel, but who would do so for a first-time, unagented author.  So, I took five weeks to explore this option, compiling a list of 86 possible publishers, and whittled it down to the top three.  These, I queried on December 29, 2015, sending each of them a query letter, a synopsis, and the entire manuscript.  To one of them, I attached a comprehensive, six-page marketing plan aimed specifically at their company.

The very next day, I received a warm, personal note from the CEO of Deeds Publishing, saying that he would try to read at least 10% of my manuscript over the next week.

Wow!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so emotional, I sat and read his message over and over and over.  Someone was actually gonna read my manuscript.  Life couldn’t have been any better than at this moment.  Or could it?

From an email dated January 2, 2016, just three days later:

“I am reporting that here at 8:00am on Saturday, January 2, I had read 10% of your book – and it grabbed me so completely that this morning I finished the last 10 pages. I have read your whole book – cover to cover.”

I wept.  I sobbed uncontrollably.  I’m not ashamed to admit this.  This book has been my life for the last five years.

After much discussion, Deeds Publishing, LLC offered me a contract.  I sat on it a while, an excruciatingly painful thing to do, while I obtained some legal advice.  Then, on the 15th day of January, another extraordinary event occurred:  I was offered a second contract by one of the other publishers I queried.

Are you effing kidding me?  A month ago I couldn’t get anyone in the world of publishing to look at my material.  Now?  I’ve got choices!  I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening!  I’m still in disbelief.

THE FIRST TWO PUBLISHERS TO SEE MY MANUSCRIPT OFFERED ME CONTRACTS!

I signed with Deeds on January 21st.  The book is in layout, and a front cover is being designed as I write this.

Authors:  Don’t give up.  If you’re being rejected, keep trying.  If you’re still being rejected, circumvent.  There’s always a way.  Don’t allow anyone else to be responsible for your failure.  Sooner or later, you’ll find the one that says, “Yes.”

 

Advertisements

rejected

I DESERVE TO BE REJECTED, DANG IT!

This will be a short post about the query process and the rejections that go with it.  Yes, I’ve covered this topic before, but that was long before my manuscript was complete and ready for agents to view.  Writing about it then was like a virgin writing about the experience of intercourse.  You think you know, but you don’t.

I’m 19 query letters into the publication industry and I’ve been rejected just five times.  I’ll be sending out more in the morning.  I am still an infant in this process, but I can say that being rejected is not the big bad wolf I had thought it would be.  In fact, all of the feedback I’ve received has been positive.  One agent’s rejection letter read, “Thank you for a wonderful note!”  Another’s said, “Your process is excellent and there’s a lot to like about your approach, but…”  My favorite so far, in response to a section of a query that praised the agent and the author for an important work:  “Your letter was a wonderful surprise!  It’s always nice to hear that someone’s work has inspired someone to do something good – I’ll be sure to share that info with Sarah. But I’m sorry to say that due to the huge stack of manuscripts awaiting my review, I must declare a moratorium on new submissions for the rest of the year.”

Of the five agents to reject me, only one had nothing personal to say to me.  That’s okay, too.  See, I’m just happy to receive NOTICE of a rejection.

So many literary agencies have a disclaimer such as this on their website:  “Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t reply to all, but we do review each one carefully and will be in touch if we’d like to see more material from you.”  Some will say, “If you haven’t heard from us in ___  weeks, you can assume we are not interested in your work.”

Now, I understand how busy literary agents are.  Some receive as many as 500 queries in one week, making personal contact with aspiring authors nearly impossible.  If they’re responding to all who query them, they have little time to act as agents for those they represent.  It must be hard for them to come back from vacation.

For writers, however, it is one thing to be rejected.  It is another thing altogether to be denied a rejection.  To me, having a rejection withheld is far, far worse.

I’ll take that rejection notice every time, thank you.

If you’re a literary agent who happens to read this post, please know how grateful I am to those who take a moment to write a note, personal or not, that says, “No.”

It’s the right thing to do.

agent

The first draft of my query for Black Iron Mercy, minus the personal touches tailored to individual agents

Opinions and critiques are desired from professionals and amateurs

It is okay to be harsh

Imagine your finest moment being ripped from history, rewritten by those who would use your remarkable instant for their own personal gain, forever omitting you and your brethren from the day that defined you as men, as soldiers, as victors.

Black Iron Mercy is a historical novel that follows the life of Arlis Jenkins from his days as a boy in the mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin through and beyond his exploits with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, a reputable regiment that served with distinction in the famed Iron Brigade during the American Civil War.  I am seeking representation for the manuscript, which is complete at 99,000 words.

Today, 18 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, Arlis doesn’t care about fame.  Wanting nothing more than to live in quiet solitude, he is content with putting the war and his troubled past behind him, living the life of a farrier on a livery in small Wisconsin town.  But now, a new kind of war arouses him… a war of words, written and spoken by glory seekers and those seeking to make a dollar from the experiences of others, and Arlis realizes that one fight remains:  The fight for truth and vindication, accuracy and exoneration.

Told in a series of flashbacks, Black Iron Mercy is a story of love, loss, courage, and the triumph of the human spirit, where every day our champion struggles to hold onto hope.

Black Iron Mercy was inspired by the post-war experiences of Mickey Sullivan, who spent much of his later life correcting false histories.  It is for him that I took up this crusade, and it is to him that I owe my gratitude for my enthusiasm.  Mickey is one of my principal characters.  And although Arlis is fictional, nearly all of the characters that wear the blue suit of the Union Army in my novel were real people. It is a heavy responsibility, using real people in fiction.  Because of this, I asked this generation’s foremost expert on the Iron Brigade, Mr. Lance J. Herdegen, author of five books on the subject and the former head of Civil War Studies at Carroll University, to read, edit, and endorse my manuscript.  He has done all three.

I write a popular blog with over 2,600 followers at Ericschlehlein.com.  Additionally, I wrote the script for “Align on the Colors, Close up on the Colors,” a nine-part documentary on the charge of the Sixth Wisconsin Regiment on the railroad cut at Gettysburg, filmed and narrated in 2013 by Gettysburg Battlefield expert, Frank Marrone Jr.  I also manage and edit a Facebook fan page, “The Iron Brigade in Media,” a site that is dedicated to all mediums preserving the memory of that brigade.  My second novel, “Working Title,” is in its infancy.

When I’m not writing on subject matter relevant to this project, I’m often copywriting for various websites or speechwriting for local political candidates, for whom I’ve been known to manage campaigns.  In my spare time, I provide for my family by working as a firefighter and EMT for the village in which I live.

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my query.  I’d love to send you a sample or the entire manuscript, should you be interested in reading further.

Image

Well looky here… I’m a blogging machine.

The publishing industry says I should put my name out there via websites and blogs, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ve written more over the last year and a half than I’d written in the previous twenty years.  Funny thing is:  Most of what I’m writing has nothing to do with my manuscript, my search for literary agents, or my quest to get myself and my work published.

Yeah, I know.  I KNOW.  It doesn’t matter what I’m writing.  The publishing industry says I need to put my name out there so as to have a following ahead of time.  I also need to build a nest so that I have a warm, dry place to nourish my work once I get it published.  I understand that most of my current work — this type of sidebar — is necessary to the end result.

I’d love to go back in time and read the blogs of Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman… you know, the ones they were writing to build their followings and to impress their literary agents when their real work was ready.

My second novel, “Working Title,” has just 1,452 words out of a probable 55,000.  I’m neglecting it at this very moment so that I can add this current blog to my body of work to impress those that will one day shatter my dreams.

Please note:  I haven’t been rejected.  My first novel isn’t quite ready for submission.  This blog is in response to all of those future rejection letters, as well as those that I’ve had the pleasure of reading through other bloggers here on WordPress.  Those are so very joyful.

I’ve said it before.  I’m really not into attention seeking behavior.  Part of this stems from a fear of failure.  Wait, that’s not exactly true. Yes, I fear failure, but it’s more accurate to say that I fear people noticing my failures.  I don’t like people to see me at my worst.  I don’t like it when I appear flawed.  I don’t like it when people criticize my work.

Oh God.  Why the hell did I write a book?

People love to tell me that J.K. Rowling was turned down __ times.  Stephen King was rejected __ times.  Hemingway had the door slammed on him __ times.

Is this really going to make me feel better when the rejection is pouring in?

I’m supposed to show the world that I can write.  I’ve done that.  I’m supposed to show the world an occasional excerpt from those things that I want published.  I’ve done that.

What if all I’m doing is leaving a trail, like a snail, of my failures.

My followers encourage me not to give up.  If I never give up and yet never get my work published, then the only thing published shall be rejection and failure.  I’ve done so many other good, positive things with my life.  Maybe I should stick to blogging about my successes, instead.

I’ve got a beautiful wife and three lovely children.

SELLING ME!

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

Image

I’ve never been a good salesman.  Long ago I made a few attempts at being a salesman and I failed every time.  If someone offered me a job today as a salesman, saying, “I’ll pay you $2,000 per week PLUS commission,” I’d turn it down.  Why?  Because I’m 43, I know myself, and I know better.  I would make $4,000 in two weeks and then they’d fire me for not selling a single unit.  Dang, though!  $4,000!  That was good while it lasted.

I’m a bad salesman.

This applies to selling “me” as well.  I’ve never been comfortable promoting myself — “Hey!  Hey!  You!  Look at me!  LOOK AT MEEEE!”

Now, I’m in my fourth year as a devoted Facebook user, and I’ll admit that I promote myself plenty in that forum…  pics of me and the kids;  I was EMT of the year; been a non-smoker for four years now; look at this casserole I made.

“14 friends like your tuna casserole.”

But as my blog here tells you, I’m an aspiring author.  That means I’ve written something and nobody knows it, except those people in my friends list on Facebook.

“33 friends like your manuscript.”  Hmm… that’s good.  My book is better than my casserole.

As an aspiring author, I know much about the outside circle of the publishing business.  I say “outside” because I haven’t been invited inside yet.  All of the material I’ve read about how to get your book published contains a section or two about preparing the world for your authorship.  Is that a word?  Authorship?  If not, spell-check missed it.

When the time comes for a query letter or 50 and a three page synopsis I’m supposed to tell the world, or at least the literary agents, about my writing history.  Well, I’ve written a lot.  A LOT!  But I really can’t show you any of it because it’s not the kind of stuff for which you gain credit.  My biggest current project involves re-writing the by-laws for The Hartland Firefighters Association, of which I am President.  Wanna read my synopsis?

You might already be on to me, but we’ve come to the reason for this blog.  I’ve created this site because the publishing world tells me that “selling myself” is necessary if I am to get my manuscript published.  So here I am.  Look at me!  Please, look at me.

My site has been functional for less than 48 hours, but already I am noticing that there are stark differences between the types of interactions on WordPress and those on Facebook and Twitter.  Earlier today, I received a message from a woman who was thrilled to have received a “like” from me on one of her posts, and as a result, she read one of my posts and therefore gave me a “like,” as well.

This made my day.  Don’t try to detect any sarcasm here, because it’s non-existent.  I am being 100% serious.  1 Like = 1 made day.

There’s a video on YouTube that’s been trending of a kid who calls himself “Sir Fedora” celebrating the fact that he received his first like on one of his videos.   He, too, is sincere about the importance of the “like.”  In his words, “It’s still awesome that I know that you guys are there.”  I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.  To see the video, copy and paste:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZcDjcaSHvc

I mean, I don’t mind being candid with all of you.  Bloggers blog because they want people to read their blog, right?  Writers write to be read.  We might be writing about a topic we love in a genre we love but in the end, we’re looking for attention, aren’t we?  It would be tragic if we wrote our hearts out and there was nobody there to see the end result.

Perhaps I’m showing too much vulnerability to the blogging world here.  That’s okay.  Certainly every serious writer deals with self-esteem and self-image issues.  Personally, I can’t think of too many things that can make a person feel more bi-polar than writing a book.  Besides, I don’t think I’ve crossed any lines or anything.  It’s not like I’ve begged anyone for a “like,” or worse yet, a “follow.”  Dang — one follow has got to be worth at least five likes, don’t ya think?  Maybe I’ll consider begging after all.  Okay… okay… I already DID consider it.  I won’t beg.

(LOOK AT ME!)

Anyway, send me a friend request on Facebook, would ya?  I’ll show you my tuna casserole.

THE WRITER’S STRUGGLE 

Image

In my head five minutes ago:  Someone is gonna publish my manuscript.  It’s well-written.  It’s got a fantastic plot-line based on real events and real people.  It’ll be interesting to men AND women because it’s about life, loss, love, hope, war, coping, redemption, and the triumph of the human spirit.

In my head this very minute:  There’s no way in Hell anyone’s gonna publish my book.  I can’t friggin’ write.  The plot’s flat and it’s based on people nobody will care about.  It’s too violent for women and too wishy-washy for men.  It’s got quite a bit about lead mining and agriculture in a western Wisconsin town during the 19th century, for God’s sake.

This is the opening struggle for a writer that’s never before sought help in publishing.  Okay… maybe not the opening struggle.  The opener was whether or not I’d quit researching and get busy writing.  For a long time, I kept researching just because I was too frightened to put the pen to paper, so to speak.

The manuscript’s first draft is complete.  It’s in the hands of two qualified friends who, if they’re doing their job (unpaid, except for an acknowledgement and a signed copy, once published,) they’re putting a red pen to it in such a manner that will make it look like a piece of forensic evidence when I get it back.  When I gave the manuscript to them we (all three of us) agreed that two months time, or 60 days, would be sufficient for them to finish editing it.

I am ashamed of my own ignorance.

134 days have gone by now and I’m not sure if the end is in sight.  I’ve left both of them alone (except for the one time last Thanksgiving when I asked them if they required more time) because I don’t want to rush them or burden them or make either of them think that I’m ungrateful in any way for this tremendous favor they’re doing for me.  I am SO very grateful to both of them for taking on this task — a task that I can now see as one requiring a pretty big sacrifice in their daily routines.

THANK YOU, DEB and SCOTT!

In the meantime, I feel I’ve used my time wisely.  I’ve spent a great deal of time reading books on publishing, such as “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published,” by Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry.  I’ve also researched literary agents, and researched literary agents, and researched more literary agents. I’ve filled up half a notebook with agents and agencies and addresses and submission guidelines and query letter formats in the hopes that I’ve found a good group of competent people who can someday shatter my dreams.

That’s right… I said “someday.”  See, I haven’t even sent out queries yet.

Well, it’s not like I should have sent queries.  My manuscript is in need of final polishing yet.  But in addition to worrying about the manuscript’s condition, I still need to construct my query letters.  Then, I’ll need a one-paragraph synopsis… and a three to five-paragraph synopsis… and a one-page synopsis… and a three to five-page synopsis… and a coroner.

Did I mention I haven’t yet had the pleasure of a rejection letter yet?