Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don't Sub Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes

The topic of perseverance came up in my writing group today. And here is my comment/answer to a friend who has been there and back again with me through some hectic and lengthy submission trials.I received some reps for it and was told that I should post it on my blog, just as a record of note. I think this applies whether you have an agent or not, but especially if you are without representation. I have an agent, but I go into full gear if we don't make that all important sale. I'm backup, or what you might call fail-safe mode, just in case everything doesn't go the way we planned. 

Lisa, you and I have shared a gazillion emails and PMs about the most pertinent information on the small and pro indie publishing business extent. I admire your drive in facing that gawd-awful fire when you thought the chips were down and the world was against you. We've spent hours swapping information, deciphering rejections, analyzing markets, negotiating/contemplating R & Rs, comparing advances, talking cover art, trading publisher information, going toe to toe with editors and, yes, ranting and bitching a lot too.

Without an agent, or with an agent that has exhausted all leads, it's possible, even probable that a writer can take the bull by the horns and come out a winner. And girl, I know you searched high and low and in between the cracks until you scored big time with PP. I admire the frickin' hell out of you, and you did it solo. That was about the time I was launching my sub list and we were both fighting tooth and nail for every lead, referral, partial and full request.

When my agent hammered on NYC doors (for months and months) trying to raise the eyebrows of agents and came away bloody, I told her that my submission list was fresh and ready to go. "Take a well-deserved breather," I remember saying. After all, by prearrangement, she agreed that I could come in at the end and serve as backup. Well, that was like Humungus clipping the chain on Mohawk dude in the Road Warrior. There wasn't anything conservative in my submission process. I bull-rushed the markets, but I wasn't unprepared--I had the plan, the list and strategy already in place.

I knew who offered advances and carried full distribution, memorized the mission statements, styles, genre preferences, tone and info on just about every small and indie press out there. I knew many editors and CEOs by their first name, because from almost a decade back, I was their bad penny that kept showing up and getting under foot. I had my submission process down like a science, and with the help of Lisa, my targeting computer was dead on and I knew who to hit and why.

After a little over three months, the dust settled. I ended up with a grand prize contest win, six contract offers and a film option request. I didn't hesitate to bring agent back into the negotiations, where I think we staged the first ever bidding war in small press history. Those editors, I remember, at first sure didn't know what the hell hit them or what was actually happening. In end, the one that gave me the most got the book and me. My agent was instrumental in refining an already favorable contract, but she didn't miss a beat and rewrote half the clauses, upgrading every aspect that she could think of. A big thanks to Sara Camilli!

If any anything Yog has said that can be taken to the bank, rest assured it is "Submit until hell won't have it", a phrase that has stayed with me from the very beginning of my term at AbsoluteWrite. I don't and wont' take no for an answer.

You absolutely must make editors salute your book, stand up and cheer for your masterpiece. You can't melt and fall into a crack because you think your query stinks--you fix it. Same with the synopsis--you have to enter the gates of query hell before you dive into the depths of real submission hell. You must realize that rejections are jewels that can be used to tweak your story when you have a consistent problem that's been flagged. I rewrote my book four times during the submission process, throwing a new, revised edition of my baby out there every time multiple editors clobbered me with the same point.

If you fail and all of your options have been exhausted, pack that book away and revisit it down the road. Give it a new title and rewrite it if it suits you. Strengthen the plot, characters, accelerate the first pages--whatever it takes to breathe new life into it. Then go at it again. Expand your submission list--research the books that are sitting on the shelves of your favorite book store. Remember the "4-6" method--nudge for queries/synopsis/pages and partials at the 4-month mark and 6 months for a full. Unless you have an exclusive. There's always self-publishing if you feel that you've gone through enough bloodletting, ha!

There is an editor out there right now looking for your book. It's your job to find them and make your presentation if you are without representation. If you don't have an agent, then you're going to have to act like one and negotiate the contract. And there won't be any time for blushing and gushing and hurrying up to sign because you think they'll drop you--you'll be business-like and savvy enough to get what you think you really deserve--take Pawn Stars as an example on how to deal with an editor who is a stranger--a tit for tat back and forth. Believe me, you won't scare them off and they'll respect your stance. Negotiate--barter. Tell them why your book is special and what you intend to do about promotion.

But Chris, didn't you trample on five publishers, waste their time and make unreasonable, outrageous requests? No. Those publishers asked that they remain in my consideration loop for future books. One of them did run for the hills when they saw my agent's shadow, but I wouldn't have wanted a deal with that type of house anyway. One of the most unusual perks I came away with was a publisher's promise that they would offer me a contract with an advance for just an idea on my next book. One single-spaced page. Not that I would take them up on such a thing. I'm just impressed with the sincerity and their impression of my work.

Peace out and give 'em hell.