Not For Us!

By Joe Moore

We’ve all gotten them. Some are personalized and contain constructive criticism. Others are form letters addressed to “author”. Some have been photocopied so many times that the cryptologists at the NSA couldn’t even decipher rejecttheir original message. Or they might arrive as a brief thanks-but-no-thanks email. They all say the same thing: your manuscript is not for us.

Rejected.

There are numerous ways to deal with literary rejection. We can all imagine the negative methods. But today, I want to discuss the positive ways to deal with the not-for-us letter.

After you’ve amassed an impressive stack of rejection letters, start by asking yourself if your query letter or synopsis might be the issue. You might have written the next Great American Novel, but if your sales pitch—your query letter—doesn’t do the job, the editor won’t want to move to the next step of requesting a sample. One method of improving your query and synopsis is to get help from an impartial third party such as a published author, writer’s forum or critique group. If you know someone who’s already published, ask if they can read your letter and give you advice on where you might be going wrong. Many online forums such as AbsoluteWrite, Writing Forums, and others have specific sections on query evaluation and feedback. Use them.

Next, you want to determine if you’re really targeting the appropriate publishers or agents. This is where you need to study the market. Go to the local bookstore and find novels that are similar to your manuscript. Make a note of the publishers. Many novelists include the name of their editor or agent on the acknowledgements page. Note those names. Then go online and visit the publisher’s websites. Read the descriptions of the plot on Amazon and B&N, and compare to yours. Google the agents names. Look at their list of clients. Are those writers some of your favorites? Do they write books similar to yours? Do your homework and focus on specific publishers and agents that deal with your kind of book.

Another question you need to ask yourself is if your book is as good as it can be. Of course, you’ll probably answer yes. Then take a moment to really consider the question. Are you being rejected repeatedly because the manuscript is just not ready for publication? Chances are, it probably isn’t.

So what should you do? Again, get outside help. One of the best ways to improve a manuscript is to join a local critique group. Most towns and communities have a library. Ask the local librarian if there are any groups that meet in the area. Check with the local bookstore. They usually know of critique groups or have bulletin boards that might list them. Critique groups that are made up of serious writers can be a huge benefit to helping you improve your work. Just remember that critiquing is a two-ways street. You want honest and sincere feedback, and you need to be prepared to give it back to your fellow members. There’s a very good chance that a group of fellow writers can help you get your story in shape so you can start submitting again.

Finally, don’t shoot the messenger. Agents and editors are in business to make money. If they don’t sell books, they go broke. If they don’t discover new books from new authors, they eventually go out of business. Their rejection of your work is nothing personal. Chances are, they don’t even know you. All they know is what they read in your query or sample. And the reasons for rejecting a manuscript can be as numerous as the number of submissions they received that day. Don’t blame them.

Forget about the lame excuses like: publishers only publish big established names and famous people. Or your book was rejected because it’s “different”, experimental, too unique for mainstream. Or you can’t believe they rejected your book when there’s so many bad books published. Go to The New York Times bestseller list. Look at all the writer’s names. Each and every author on that list was once an amateur struggling to get someone to read their manuscript and dreaming of making money as a published author. Every one of them fantasized about seeing their name on that list. What did they do? They realized that rejection really doesn’t mean “not for us”. It means “not ready for us yet”. Now go fix your book.

Any rejection stories to share? How many rejection letters did you get before that first book was published? If you’re published, do you still use a critique group or beta readers?

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Not For Us!

By Joe Moore

We’ve all gotten them. Some are personalized and contain constructive criticism. Others are form letters addressed to “author”. Some have been photocopied so many times that the cryptologists at the NSA couldn’t even decipher rejecttheir original message. Or they might arrive as a brief thanks-but-no-thanks email. They all say the same thing: your manuscript is not for us.

Rejected.

There are numerous ways to deal with literary rejection. We can all imagine the negative methods. But today, I want to discuss the positive ways to deal with the not-for-us letter.

After you’ve amassed an impressive stack of rejection letters, start by asking yourself if your query letter or synopsis might be the issue. You might have written the next Great American Novel, but if your sales pitch—your query letter—doesn’t do the job, the editor won’t want to move to the next step of requesting a sample. One method of improving your query and synopsis is to get help from an impartial third party such as a published author, writer’s forum or critique group. If you know someone who’s already published, ask if they can read your letter and give you advice on where you might be going wrong. Many online forums such as AbsoluteWrite, Writing Forums, and others have specific sections on query evaluation and feedback. Use them.

Next, you want to determine if you’re really targeting the appropriate publishers or agents. This is where you need to study the market. Go to the local bookstore and find novels that are similar to your manuscript. Make a note of the publishers. Many novelists include the name of their editor or agent on the acknowledgements page. Note those names. Then go online and visit the publisher’s websites. Read the descriptions of the plot on Amazon and B&N, and compare to yours. Google the agents names. Look at their list of clients. Are those writers some of your favorites? Do they write books similar to yours? Do your homework and focus on specific publishers and agents that deal with your kind of book.

Another question you need to ask yourself is if your book is as good as it can be. Of course, you’ll probably answer yes. Then take a moment to really consider the question. Are you being rejected repeatedly because the manuscript is just not ready for publication? Chances are, it probably isn’t.

So what should you do? Again, get outside help. One of the best ways to improve a manuscript is to join a local critique group. Most towns and communities have a library. Ask the local librarian if there are any groups that meet in the area. Check with the local bookstore. They usually know of critique groups or have bulletin boards that might list them. Critique groups that are made up of serious writers can be a huge benefit to helping you improve your work. Just remember that critiquing is a two-ways street. You want honest and sincere feedback, and you need to be prepared to give it back to your fellow members. There’s a very good chance that a group of fellow writers can help you get your story in shape so you can start submitting again.

Finally, don’t shoot the messenger. Agents and editors are in business to make money. If they don’t sell books, they go broke. If they don’t discover new books from new authors, they eventually go out of business. Their rejection of your work is nothing personal. Chances are, they don’t even know you. All they know is what they read in your query or sample. And the reasons for rejecting a manuscript can be as numerous as the number of submissions they received that day. Don’t blame them.

Forget about the lame excuses like: publishers only publish big established names and famous people. Or your book was rejected because it’s “different”, experimental, too unique for mainstream. Or you can’t believe they rejected your book when there’s so many bad books published. Go to The New York Times bestseller list. Look at all the writer’s names. Each and every author on that list was once an amateur struggling to get someone to read their manuscript and dreaming of making money as a published author. Every one of them fantasized about seeing their name on that list. What did they do? They realized that rejection really doesn’t mean “not for us”. It means “not ready for us yet”. Now go fix your book.

Any rejection stories to share? How many rejection letters did you get before that first book was published? If you’re published, do you still use a critique group or beta readers?

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Networking for Writers

It’s always great to gather with other writers and talk about the craft you love. Recently, I had the privilege of presenting a Fiction Writing Workshop to Florida Sisters in Crime. If you live in Northern Florida, consider joining this dynamic group. We met at a library and their community room was filled with over 50 attendees, all eager to take notes.

We covered fiction writing essentials in the morning and business aspects in the afternoon. In between, people met each other and mingled. That’s the best part of conferences, too. You never know who you’ll discover sitting next to you in a seminar or at the bar. You’ll make new writer friends, greet old acquaintances, and learn the industry buzz. Everything I’ve learned about the business of being a professional writer, I have gained from other authors.
This past weekend, I attended a meeting over on Florida’s west coast. The Southwest Florida Romance Writers meets regularly in Estero, located between Naples and Fort Myers. Whoever wants to meet for lunch first gathers in the Bistro downstairs at the Miromar Design Center. The meeting with a speaker begins at 1:00 on the third floor. Member Michael Joy shared some tips he’d learned during a residency in a Master of Fine Arts program. I enjoyed his teaching technique as much as the tools he mentioned on creating realistic dialogue.
Writers are very generous in sharing what we know. Attending local meetings, reading online blogs, going to conferences, and entering writing contests offer a tremendous amount of valuable information and feedback. In Florida, we have branch chapters of RWA, MWA, and Sisters in Crime. This year the Ninc national conference in October will be held here, too. It’s New Rules, New Tools: Writers in Charge, an essential and dynamic topic. And in case you didn’t already know, Sleuthfest will be moving to Orlando next March so you can bring your families along.
Don’t know what all these abbreviations mean? Then jump on the bandwagon and find out. There’s nothing more gratifying than schmoozing with fellow authors and sharing industry news. Join as many different writers organizations as you can afford and attend meetings. Get to know authors in other genres and exchange ideas. Let’s mingle!
*****
If you live in SE Florida, there’s still time to sign up for the remaining classes at the Author’s Academy. All workshops are held at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, 273 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach, FL. Instructors are multi-published authors. Call 561-279-7790 or email murdermb@gate.net for reservations. $25 per person per class.
Saturday, September 10, 10am – Noon
How To Get Published. Learn what it takes to get your work published.
Instructor: Joanna Campbell Slan, author of Photo Snap Shot.

Saturday, September 24, 10am – Noon

Finding an Agent. Query Letters, Synopses, and the Pitch!
Instructor: Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Bad Hair Day mysteries.

And More Local Author Events:

Tuesday, October 11, 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
, Sun, Sand & Suspense Panel, “Three Dangerous Dames,” Nancy Cohen, Elaine Viets, and Deborah Sharp; Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301, 954-357-7444

Saturday, October 29, 2:00 – 3:30pm,
Florida Romance Writers Panel Discussion and Signing, Delray Beach Public Library, 100 West Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444

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Finding (and keeping) a writing group

For the past decade or so, I’ve been on a constant hunt for the perfect writing group. For those of you who haven’t tried a writing group (aka critique group), it’s a group of writers who get together regularly to submit pages and give feedback. 

My first group was a spin-off from a fiction-writing class at UCLA Extension. When that group fell apart, I started looking for another one. My search eventually became a sort of Holy Grail.

Sometimes I attended more than one writing group at a time. Each one had its strengths and weaknesses: One group gave better feedback, while the other seemed more stable. At one point I blended the two groups into one; like a merger acquisition specialist, I was hoping that the combined enterprise would become the Perfect Writing Group.

And for the most part, it has. We’ve watched each other grow as writers, sharing triumphs and rejections. Along the way we’ve shared personal highs and lows, as well. There have been illnesses and work crises. One of our members, a lovely older man who was writing a Civil War yarn, recently passed away. (Rest in peace, Harvey.)

When it comes to keeping a good writing group, structure counts. In most of the groups that have lasted for me, the writers read their work out loud. The group then goes around the table, providing feedback and making notes on copies. Writers are not allowed to “talk back” or defend their work. We have to sit silently and take it.

Personalities count when it comes to keeping a group together. I’ve seen good groups fall apart when a spoiler comes in–these are usually people who can’t tolerate constructive criticism, or who clash with other members.

I couldn’t live without my current writing group. We meet every other week, and the group has been meeting now for 15 years, long before I joined it.

How about you? Do you attend a writing group, and has it helped your writing? What format do you use?

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Doom! Gloom! and Critique Groups

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’ve been in the same critique group for over five years now and although it’s been reconstituted in various forms there has been a constant core group of people who have provided me with considerable and (often) much needed support…But as 2008 draws to a close my writing group has started to feel decidedly disenchanted, jaded and (dare I say it) depressed…and I’m starting to fear it’s partly due to me.


As the only published writer in the group I used to at least provide a bit of hope and some inspiration but now, given all the doom and gloom in the publishing industry, the group is starting to view the road to becoming and staying a published author as an insurmountable obstacle course. Sure I may have cleared the first few hurdles but now, as they watch me continue to traverse the mine field they are starting to ask – when does it ever get to be easy? I confess that I suspect it never does…that the obstacle race is never over, the hurdles just change…and then the group sinks back into despair once more.

Some members have said jokingly it’s time we started writing erotica (okay, I confess I was one of them!) because hey, maybe we’d actually make money if we did…but then we all give ourselves a reality check and realize we cannot change what we write. As for most writers we tell the stories that need to be told – that well up from within and pour on to the page. We can’t write to the market or try and pretend to be a different kind of writer (damn, damn, damn!).

My writing group meets every second Friday and, up until June this year, people were battling on but upbeat and determined. Now the group is teetering on the edge of despondency. While ruminating on this week’s blog I visited despair.com, thinking there might be some funny one-liners from their spoof on the inspirational posters we’ve all seen gracing corporate America’s walls. But while lines such as “Limitations – until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can walk“, raised a smile I realized that the LAST thing we needed was more ‘demotivation’ for our work!

I keep thinking of that hilarious sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest and I feel like I’ve turned into the Tim Allen character who cries “Never Give Up; Never Surrender!” from the bridge of his ridiculous spacecraft just as he faces probable annihilation…
So I’m turning to you all for advice. How can a writing and critique group support one another in these challenging times? What is the single best thing you have come away from this year, in terms of your writing, that might buoy the hopes of both the published and the unpublished writer?
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