Welcome!

Don’t you hate it when you first meet someone – or several someones – and neither of you really knows what to say, but you’ve pegged them as the only sane person at the party and you feel you need to desperately cling to conversation so you won’t look like that sad wallflower who sucks at social interaction?

Yeah, that’s always how I feel with first blog posts.

In any case, my name is Bryn. If you’ve found yourself on this blog, it probably means you are either a fan (or, hopefully, a soon-to-be-fan) of my writing. I’ve had accounts a million different places, and hopefully I’ve met you on deviantArt, or Tumblr, or Wattpad, or Twitter, or…

There’s not much on this page yet, but feel free to browse the slim pickings. Hopefully more will get posted here as I figure some stuff out.

 

Thank you for visiting this page, and I look forward to getting to know you.

-Bryn

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The Road to Publication: My First Query Letter (and the Response It Got)

(In the interest of both privacy and common decency, I’ve removed the name of the Agent and her contact info. I’ve also removed my contact info, for reasons I would think would be obvious. I also removed my novel synopsis and the pages that were included with the letter, since I’m still trying to sell the novel.) Thank you for your understanding).

So, on July 28th, 2015, I submitted my first query letter.

The Agent I queried was looking for YA: Science Fiction and Fantasy. I checked out her client list and knew that I probably wasn’t going to become one of them, but decided that I should take the plunge anyway. (She has some impressive names, and as I’m a first-timer, I’m sure I’ll be fighting an uphill battle). She was blunt with her wants: one query letter, a 1-2 page synopsis of my novel, and the first five pages of the work. She also stated that writers could expect a response in 2-3 weeks.

This seemed a good first start.

Dear AGENT,

I am currently seeking representation for Visioner, my complete 110,400 word young adult novel. I saw on your website that you have a love for science fiction and fantasy and are looking to expand your YA roster, and as Visioner makes its home in these categories, I hope you will be interested in adding me to your client list.

Mira Huntra is an angry fifteen-year-old with a missing mom, a workaholic dad, a concerned best friend, and literal visions of the future. While nursing a headache—the product of her fractured, prophetic dreams—Mira, along with her best friend Ry, is nearly run over by a speeding car. They escape danger thanks to the intervention of a strange old man named Syneth.

But Syneth is more than just an innocent bystander. His appearance triggers a series of events that forces Mira and Ry to abandon Earth and flee to Avrym, a magical world embroiled in a twenty-year war with the invading Draykure Empire. Lost in a world wholly unfamiliar to her, Mira must rely on the help of the Avrymite rebels both to locate the now-missing Ry and to keep her safe from the Draykure. In the course of her journey, Mira learns that her mother lies at the heart of the conflict in Avrym—and that Mira herself might have potential she never dreamed of.

My writing credits include both first place and third place in the short story category, second place in the personal narrative category, and second place in the poetry category for Victor Valley College’s annual writing contest (2009). I graduated from Sonoma State University with a B.A. in English: Creative Writing (2012) and continued my education at the same university to obtain an M.A. in English: Creative Writing (2015). Visioner served as my Master’s thesis and is intended as the first book in a series.

Thank you for your time and consideration. As per your submission requirements, included with this query is a short synopsis ofVisioner as a whole, as well as the first five pages of the novel. At your request, I would be happy to send the full manuscript. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

M. Bryn Schut

One week later, I received a response:

Dear M. Bryn Schut:

Thanks for your query.

As to your material I’m afraid I will be passing — I’m just not drawn
strongly enough to the concept of your story to feel that I’d be the
right agent for the project. I realize it is difficult to make an
assessment from a query; nevertheless please know that I give serious
attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I receive.

Sorry I couldn’t give you a more positive reply. Thanks for thinking
of me, though, and best of luck in your search for representation.

Sincerely,

AGENT

As far as rejections go, it’s very kind. It isn’t telling me that my writing is horrible, or that the story sucks, or that I should throw myself off a bridge. I trust the “sincerely” at the bottom and think she means it. It’s professional without being cold, which I appreciate.

That being said… I cried and wallowed in misery for two days.

And then came the self-doubt. Was I too professional in my query? Should I have put the hook first? Was my synopsis boring? Is my book boring?!? Should I have been more playful? Was this letter completely devoid of pizazz?

I have no answers for these questions. I will never have answers for these questions. Agents don’t give you feedback on your query letter, after all.

This first rejection has made me stumble a little, because it’s made me nervous about sending another. I have a list of Agents, but I have no idea what they look for in a query letter. And, as much as I hate to have to worry about it, I wonder about how I, as a female writer, will be perceived in my query. If I’m playful, does that mean I won’t be taken seriously? If I’m professional, does that mean I look like a humorless bitch? Will Agents of either gender have a bias against me? Or a bias that works in my favor? Is my word count off-putting? Should I explicitly state that it’s an adventure story aimed for girls and not a romance, or is that going to seem too needy?

How do I present this story, which test readers have loved and been invested in, to Agents in a way that allows it to be appreciated? Again, this doesn’t have an easy answer. The only thing that is going to work is trying until someone decides to say yes instead of no, and there’s no telling what would make someone do that. Agents are people, and as such they are individualized, and will respond to things differently; my success will be a combination of dumb luck and persistence.

The only thing to do now is try again. My goal for Monday is to send out another query letter. Maybe that one will be a little more playful, and I’ll put the hook before the book information. We’ll see what response that one gets.

-Bryn

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The Road to Publication: The Query Letter

“Finally,” you may as well be muttering. “She’s finally getting on with it.”

We’ve already talked a bit about the process of finding an Agent, and why it’s an important step in the Traditional Publishing Process (I feel like that should have all caps and a trademark icon…). Now we’ll talk about the actual act of contacting the Agent, which is the process that I’m currently working through.

Remembering that Agents are looking for marketable stories, they need something that allows them to have an at-a-glance sheet that tells them about your manuscript. Since their time is limited, this cheat sheet needs to be efficient, clear, interesting, and short. This cheat sheet is known as either the query letter or the pitch letter, and it’s the most important tool you have for telling Agents about your work.

Please note: My experience is with query letters for fiction, which have different letters than query letters for nonfiction. Fiction queries happen after the work is complete. Usually nonfiction queries are more along the lines of a book proposal, where the author wishes to write a book on a particular subject. If there is interest in a blog post about nonfiction queries, please let me know and I’ll do my best to compile something useful.

So, how do you write a query letter for fiction? Well, here’s the bad news: there doesn’t seem to be a solid consensus on it. Each Agent is different, and some are very explicit as to what they want in the letter. Others say simply, “send query letter” and leave the details vague. There’s no hard and fast rule for whether the letter should be professional, witty, funny, quirky, or some combination of them all.

It’s been a confusing and upsetting for me, who loves having a template to work from. Every website, every book, and every person I’ve talked to has used a different method, and everyone has had different results. For my first query, I decided to err on the side of caution and write a professional letter, which I’ll post later.

While the exact format varies, here’s some of the info that I’ve learned should be included:

  • The Agent’s name
  • The thing you’re pitching them
  • The “hook”
  • Your credentials

The first point is fairly simple: query a specific Agent. Don’t address it to “to whom it may concern” or “dear Agent.” Make sure their name is spelled right, too.

The second point speaks to the “what do you have for me?” part of the letter. Tell them you have a novel. Give a word count. Tell them the genre. Tell them the title. Where exactly this is placed in the letter is up for debate (some recommend putting it first, others recommend putting it after the hook), but it should be included. Otherwise it’s just like seeing a commercial that never names the product.

The hook is the equivalent of a movie trailer, or the back-of-the-book blurb that makes you interested in the story. You want this part to hook the Agent (duh) into wanting to know more about your project. Some hooks are questions (“What would you do if you discovered that your upstairs wardrobe held a portal to another world? This is the situation that Lucy Pevensie faces while playing hide ‘n seek with her siblings”), while others are statements (“Katniss Everdeen never wanted to be a hero”). I would imagine there are hundreds of ways to craft a fascinating hook, so I’ll leave off at these two examples for now. Then you describe the manuscript in a non-spoilery way in a couple of paragraphs.

And as far as credentials go, this is the place where you can briefly name off some writing accomplishments. Did you win a writing contest? Have you had anything published before? Is there a famous author you’ve worked with? You are as much a product as your book, after all, and Agents want to know a little about who they might be paired up with for the foreseeable future.

The kicker about all this? You have only a page to do it.

So, to recap, you have to present your manuscript in such a way that seems exciting without getting into spoilers, talk a little about yourself, and explain what it is you have to sell, all in a single page.

This is the stage of the process I am on, and it is insanely difficult for me.

In the next post, I’ll show you the letter I ended up writing to an Agent, and the response it received.

-Bryn

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The Road to Publication: The Literary Agent

So, The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published had informed me that I needed a Literary Agent. This Literary Agent would be the one contacting publishers and trying to get them to buy my book. As an introvert, I’ll confess that I find the idea of someone else selling my work incredibly comforting; I’m absolute crap at buying into my own hype.

At the time of my first explorations into the process, I was nowhere near ready to try to sell my novel. I was on the third of what ended up being eleven or twelve revisions, and still too thin-skinned and timid to consider showing my work to the world at large. Still, I did end up rereading the book several times, paying special attention to the section on query letters and manuscript shipping.

Every year, a book comes out, titled some variation of A Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers. I had one for the early 2000s. I’d dutifully gone through and highlighted the Literary Agents I wanted to contact, but never taken the step of actually doing so. Now, in 2015, when I’m ready to publish, my original book was out of date. A replacement was in order.

The book I got this time around was Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. The 2015 version, obviously. And just as before, I went through and highlighted Literary Agents I wanted to query.

“But,” I hear you say, “I have no idea what any of that means.”

Ah, right. Here’s me charging ahead and backtracking all at once. Remember in the last post I talked about the rules for traditional publishing? Well, finding a Literary Agent is sort of the first big step. But it’s not like adopting a kitten; you can’t just pick one and it’s yours now. It’s a lot more like creating a dating profile (disclaimer: I have never created a dating profile, so hopefully this is an accurate assessment of the dating process).

“Everyone who wants a traditional publishing deal (AKA, getting published by a publishing house, rather than publishing the books yourself) should have an agent” is the lesson I’ve taken away from all the “How To” books I’ve read. They’ll be the ones who work their asses off to get you a contract, taking a commission on the deal for their hard work. They only get paid after they sell your work, and will only take up to 15% for it (Jeff Herman says that anyone who asks for more or asks for money upfront is scamming you, and you should run away). Basically, the more successful the Agent is for you, the more successful they will be for themselves.

So the Agent only gets paid if they secure you a deal, which means they need to work hard to get you one that benefits them. The flipside of this, of course, is that Agents are looking for marketable writing. If they’re going to spend their time trying to get your book sold, they need to have a good idea that they can sell it. And since they don’t have time to read the work of the hundreds of authors that contact them every day, they have a process in place that allows them to be selective. Legitimate Literary Agents will list the following information on their websites:

  • They clearly state what kinds of work they represent
  • They state the best way to contact them (email versus snail mail)
  • They will be explicit with what they expect from writers attempting to query them

Now, my work is Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, so I need to find an Agent that specializes in these categories. Using Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, I read through the Agents section to find any who are looking for my categories. (Spoiler alert: it was a depressingly short list). Once I had a list, I went to their websites (handily provided with the rest of the Agents’ info) to make sure nothing had changed since the guidebook was published. Some Agents mentioned that they weren’t seeking new clients, so they were crossed off the list. Others were no longer interested in certain categories, or some only wanted submissions from people they’d already met. In every case, they were explicit about the things they wanted.

Let’s see an example:

Agent example(http://www.lperkinsagency.com/meet_the_agents)

(Before you ask, no, I didn’t query her. I happened to discover her info while I was looking at someone else at her agency, but she happens to have a really well-done example of what I’m talking about. Plus, since she’s the Agent for E.L. James, this post just got more topical).

Look at this Agent’s info. She tells you what she’s done before (namely, that she has at least one best-seller author as her client), what she’s looking for (“acquiring new clients in erotic romance, including paranormal, historical…”), and the sorts of stories that grab her (“sizzling manuscripts with sound character development and unique storylines”). She has also listed her email (so writers can send her queries) and her Twitter (which is a great way to find out how much marketing she does on that platform). Were I a Romance writer, I’d consider querying her.

Here I go with that “querying” talk again. What does that even mean?

Let’s pick that up on the next post.

-Bryn

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The Road to Publication: I Have a Book! (Now What?!?)

When I first started looking into getting published, back when I was around sixteen years old, I had absolutely no understanding of the process. I thought, as I’m sure many do, that once you finish a book you hand it off to a publisher and they turn it into a book. At the time, the Internet was still a fairly new amusement; not a lot of people had websites, Google wasn’t on my radar, and a lot of the information I was able to find came in the form of message boards. This was helpful up to a point, but there was only so much message board jargon I could wade through before I was lost.

As I tend to do in times of confusion, I started researching things. Barnes and Noble Booksellers (the only bookstore in town then, as it had driven away all the smaller ones in the mall) had a “How To” section. One of the books in said section was The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published. (There was also a Getting Published for Dummies book, but at the time it seemed much less friendly to my already overwhelmed self). Using a gift card leftover from my last birthday, I purchased Idiot’s Guide and started reading.

At this point, the book is outdated. It’s from the days before email and the internet and social media were integrated into our everyday lives, so much of what it says no longer applies to today’s market. There were, however, a few things that it taught me were important:

  • Traditional Publishing has rules
  • Make sure your query letter is strong
  • Literary Agents are useful as hell

Let’s address that first point. Like anything else, publishing has a set of rules, and ignoring those rules will either get you ignored or blacklisted. Just like you wouldn’t shove your way to the head of the Space Mountain line at Disneyland without having hundreds of angry parents beat the crap out of you, you can’t muscle your way to a publisher without having an “in” first. There is a process, and there are rules.

The first thing I learned was while I think my novel is a special snowflake worthy of love, attention, and time, so does every other writer who wants their novel published. Sending my manuscript to a publisher that isn’t expecting it is the equivalent of dropping a baby on a doorstep, and chances are you’re giving it to Mr. and Mrs. Dursley rather than Ma and Pa Kent, and the last thing you want to do is force your work on someone who isn’t looking for it.

That’s where the Literary Agent comes in.

I had absolutely no idea what a Literary Agent was. I’d never heard of the job, no author seemed to mention them, and I wasn’t sure what their function was. Idiot’s Guide, fortunately, walked me through it.

A Literary Agent is a person who will try to sell your novel. They are the ones with connections to the publishers who create the books. They are the ones who negotiate your contract with the publisher. They are, in the purest sense, your “man on the inside” who knows all the ins and outs of the business. These are the people you want on your side during this process.

“Great,” you might say. “Then this is the person I send my book to!”

*insert a BIG NO here*

This is where those rules come back into play. Think of your manuscript as that baby on the doorstep again. Now imagine that the person you want to care for your baby isn’t looking for any new babies, or is only looking for a certain type of baby, or only wants babies that they’ve already met, or would like to see pictures of your baby before they commit to the task of raising it. Leaving that baby on their doorstep unannounced is only going to make them angry that you’ve blatantly disregarded their wants and needs and have left them with a thing they haven’t asked for. This, like everything else, has a multi-step process attached to it.

And this process begins in the next blog post.

-Bryn

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The Road to Publication: The Beginning

When I was thirteen years old, I started my first novel. This year, fifteen years after the start, I’ve finished it.

Sounds pretty dramatic, doesn’t it? You can hear the chorus swell and see the lights come up on a triumphant figure, smiling and waving at crowds of adoring fans. Or, alternatively, you can see a lone, romantic figure sitting at a typewriter, softly weeping as the camera pans in on the words “THE END” at the bottom of the page.

Well, at least in my case, the moment wasn’t so picture-perfect. I use a laptop, not a typewriter, and I don’t have a huge library/office dedicated as my workspace. Instead, I was sitting in a cafe that I use as my office, frantically typing page after page because “oh my god I have a deadline and Sherril is going to kill me if I’m late and I’m never going to graduate and oh my god I’ll have wasted so much money on this goddamn degree if I fail right at the end.”

So, to clarify, my fifteen-year-old project (which I had been intermittently working on over that time period) was serving as my Master’s thesis, my advisor Sherril Jaffe was waiting on my chapters, and I was about three weeks away from the end of the semester. Those of you requiring external motivators will recognize the magic of deadlines as the driving force in my race to completion. Those of you that are internally-motivated are likely disgusted. Either way, this is the picture I can paint for you.

I could give you the long, winding tale of how I started this project, why I never gave up on it, and all the changes it’s gone through, but I think I’ll save it for a different post. For now, let’s just say that I’d been working on revisions for fifteen years, the writing and revisions were at last complete, and I turned in my thesis by the deadline. Hard part over, right?

To quote George R. R. Martin, “Oh, my sweet summer child…”

No, the work isn’t over at all. Because the goal wasn’t just to finish the novel, but to publish it. To have my book in print and on shelves and in people’s hands. To be the published author I’ve dreamed of being since I was thirteen years old and felt writing fill a void in me that I never even knew was there.

So, the next goal is publication. And that’s an incredibly roundabout way of telling you the purpose of this blog.

I’ve spent the last ten years or so seriously looking into publication. I’ve looked at the ins and outs of traditional publishing, took a class on self-publishing, and always held up the search for a literary agent as something to do when I was “finished” with the novel. The more I talk to other writers (specifically, those of us without publishing credits who are looking to break into the industry themselves), it’s clear that none of us know what the hell we’re doing. And the more I talk to people, the more the question became, “So, now you just give your book to the publishing house and it’s a book, right?” There are God knows how many of us trying to be writers, and we are woefully short on guidance from those around us.

We read all the time about how many times authors are rejected before they get their big break. What I don’t see so much of is writers taking us along on their journey, and that was the part I wanted to see.

Therefore, this blog is a recording of my journey to publication. It’ll house my triumphs and frustrations, and hopefully show the back-end of a process that most of us don’t get to see from our favorite authors. Plus, it’ll be good to keep this as evidence that I had to work my ass off, in case I am ever famous enough that I get a swelled head and think I was instantly loved by everyone who read my stories.

So, if you’re interested in seeing what this looks like, share the journey with me. Maybe we can demystify this process a little bit together.

-Bryn

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