Saturday, July 28, 2012

Are You a Carpet Bomber or a Single Shot?

Talking about submissions here, folks. You know, those nasty little packages you send off to agents and editors. Yep, those. Commonly called the query-go-round, query hell, or jumping on the sub train, we all go through it sooner or later and many of us are stuck on it for a time, or are permanently on it. The questions is, do you carpet bomb--sending off dozens of queries at a time or do you prefer the more conservative approach--picking your targets conservatively and sending out laser-guided missiles in ones and twosies? There's no right or wrong way, but there's a few things to consider before you start.

First establish your genre-genres and consult a good, up-to-date directory of publishers and agents. Query Tracker is a great source for agents, and Preditors and Editors works fine for publishers of books and magazines. Consider all of your sub-genre options. If you have a thriller-suspense novel, does it also qualify for military espionage, action-adventure, or maybe cross over into mystery? How about Romance? What's the sub-genre? Could it be fantasy or paranormal? Could it stand on its own in the fantasy or paranormal genre? Make a list of every genre you think your book or story qualifies for. Don't be stingy, just don't make any obvious attempts to cross over into every genre on the list. Limit it to about three or less. The reason I say this is because you've often heard that once you've suffered about 100 rejections, it's time to put that manuscript on the back burner. What's worse, is that I've heard writers complain that they've used up their submission possibilities with only 30 or 40 sources. Just to give you an example, I had one book that clearly fell into the genres pools of thriller, action-adventure and military espionage. I found no less than 450 agents that took those genres. Did I submit that many? Yes, I did, and it took me over four months to do so. But...big warning here: everyone of those queries and submission packages were personalized. Which brings me to...

You better know something about who you're soliciting. 

By that I mean you'd better address them with their correct proper last name. No first names until you're on a friendly basis. Then what? How do you lead off? Forget about introducing yourself out of the gate, that will be your next sentence or paragraph. You're going to capture your reader in a very personal sense. Read their Twitter or FaceBook profile, if they have one. Go to their website. Read their staff profile. Check the web for any articles or interviews they've participated in or written. Read any one of those little gems, and if something you like catches your eye, comment on it in a kind of "By the way, I was impressed by your mission statement concerning...I happened to read your blog and found your post on such-and-such revealing...I found it interesting that you worked with dogs as a side hobby; I also have a fondness for our canine friends...Hey, I graduated from the same university that you did...I'm glad that you have a priority for distopian tales because it just so happens that... You get the idea. You're setting a hook by showing that you've investigated your target agent or editor. 

You took time out to look them up and get a real feel for them--their likes, dislikes, quirks, talent, phobias, etc. Believe me, nothing can capture an agent's or editor's heart than showing that you labored to know exactly who you're dealing with. This type of opener cannot be cut and pasted. Obviously not. Sorry. You're going to have to work for it. You can paste the rest of your intro and query, if it's generic enough to pass for one and all. A sentence or two, or a small paragraph is all that's needed. Don't go overboard; it's only a tidbit of observation on your part. Avoid asking any personal questions about family, work or marital issues. Try and keep it academic. 

How many queries or packages? First run that query and your synopsis through critique hell. Over and over again until your betas approve with a big thumbs up. Highlight your main character, their goal-goals, the plot and your, let's hope, incredibly unique premise. 

What's a conservative number of submissions, if you're a bit of a chicken? Try six to eight subs. Then kick back and wait. Be prepared to wait from weeks to months. With so little out there, you might only get some of your responses back and that could take up to six months or more. A more firm number would be 12 to 14 or so, and this could be considered about average. If you're dead certain you have a expertly crafted, bullet-proof query or package, up the stakes to 20 or 25--this will show faster results more often. I call this carpet bombing, and it's my practice. Consider that a full 30 to 40 percent of your targets will not respond back, lose you in cyberspace, or spam-kick you out of the universe. Submitting five query-packages a day for five days will take care of your first round, for the 25. Prepare for a second, third or more rounds, depending upon your tally. For the smaller six to eight subs, send them all in one day, if it suites you. Take two to three days for the 12 to 14.

Expect to get form rejections, which are cut and paste rejection responses. These "form Rs" say very little in the way of why the material was rejected. Don't agonize or analyze. Get it behind you. Pay rapt attention to personal rejection responses that point out specific plot points, character issues, pace and style issues. If you have three responses that highlight the same problem, you have good reason to go ahead and revise your manuscript. In that case, stop or curtail your query round and revise as necessary.

If you receive a R & R, or a revise and resubmit request, then weigh the pros and cons for doing so. Always keep your original copy, and knock out the revisions as instructed if it really hits home and makes logical sense. Send it in and cross your fingers. R & Rs are very positive responses--they lean a bit more on the positive side of "maybe."

Good luck in query hell. Or heaven, if that's prerogative.