Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Query by Snail Mail: The 42 cent SASE Nightmare

I was reading a literary agent’s blog the other day, and he was going on and on about how agents get thousands of queries and didn’t have time or the money to put an additional 2 cents on the SASE you mailed with your query. And I scoffed, Ha! poor suckers…until I realized that I had five queries out with SASE containing 42 cent stamps.

I went into a severe panic when I got to thinking about how many “Send us your full manuscript YESTERDAY. We gotta have it!” responses I probably received that might never reach the mailbox that I’m running out to 20,000 times a day due to insufficient postage. So, I promptly emailed everyone and let them know that I could resubmit via email or send them an SASE with the appropriate postage.

Of course, my panic was for nothing. After two weeks of biting my nails and doing my query-robics to the mailbox, NOBODY’s even read it yet.

So, for all you querying authors sweating the 42 cent stamp SASE that accompanied the query that you sent out back when Jesus was a carpenter, rest assured that you’re query is resting snuggly at the bottom of someone’s slush pile and they’ve probably not even gotten around to reading it yet. So you still have time to let them know about your faux pas and give them an alternate means to send your rejection letter.

Note to self--Use Forever Stamps on SASEs!

Friday, June 19, 2009

To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish?

I’ve just learned a valuable lesson…save your draft before attempting to move to a different page.

Self-publishing is a hot topic these days, particularly as the publishing industry tightens its belt and makes it increasingly difficult for new authors to get a foot in the door. As for me? I certainly plan to self-publish if my book doesn’t get picked up by an agent or editor sooner than later.
So, while I’m stuck in Query Pergatory, I thought I’d share the lessons I’ve learned and my research on the self-publishing industry and how people say you need to go about it to do it successfully.


Well, among the key issues self-publishers have is how to get your books on bookstore shelves. Unfornately, I’ve learned that going through some POD services that will put your book on or Barnes and will not necessarily mean your book will be available to book stores. And even if it is, you have to offer a significant wholesale discount (55% to be exact) and offer them the ability to return unsold books for them to even consider shelving your book.
So, who have I selected? Lightning Source and Createspace. There is a method to my madness. Lightning source will allow you to make your book available to brick and mortar stores like BN and Borders…and others. You can set your own discount (factoring your royalty into the price) and you can also offer returns (although at a price). Although LS will also make your book available at, Amazon will take the 55% wholessale discount through LS. If you go through CS, they only take 40% which allows you to keep a higher royaltity on your Amazon sales. I could do a whole blog alone on the book pricing and wholesale discount issue along with the math. If anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll be happy to post my research.
So, anyway, with that I’ve selected my distribution.


I’ve decided to keep the marketing cheap because I’m broke. I’m going with the standard postcards, bookmarks, and cheap bookbag giveaways. I have also designed my own press kit using professional template designs so they don’t look amateurish. Of course I set up a website as well. And I’ve started the whole social network thing.

For cheap marketing materials, I recommend (5000 postcards or bookmarks for around $150) and for other promo items. I’m a real estate agent so I’ve used them for other things as well.

As an unknown author who is self-publishing, I personally believe my most important marketing is my cover. That’s why I paid good money to have an illustrator create my design. I came up with the concept and she made miracles happen. So many self-published books have awful covers, but my advice is that if you’re going to spend a chunk of money anywhere, it should be to have a professional do your cover. Those DIY things on the publishing sites don’t really cut it for my tastes.


Along those same lines, I’m hiring and editor to do a manuscript review and line edit. I don’t want my work being held up as the example as “what not to do.” If someone kicks out $13.95 for my book, I don’t want them to regret it.
For those of you seeking an editor, the Freelance Editor Association web site has a feature that will allow you to bid your job out based on what you can afford. I’ll add the link to the site as well but it is

I guess that’s it for starters. I don’t have any dreams of grandeur or getting picked up by a major publisher (although that would be nice). What I do hope is to get an email or comment on my blog from someone who says, “I loved your book!” That would be my biggest thrill.
I’ve posted an excerpt of The Bum Magnet on my site. Just click on the book cover and that’ll take you to my homepage.

Any other ideas on self-publishing? I’m no expert but I’m willing to share my research.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Write a Sequel to an Unsold Book...Or Not?

Well, I finally think I have the scheduling for my first novel nailed down. I’ve written the book and back cover copy. The cover is designed. Just in case I self-publish, I’ve researched my distribution channels so I can get my book into the stores, I know which companies I’ll use for printing. I’ve got a proofreader looking at it now, then afterward I’ll send it out for some free reviews. Of course, all this will be moot if I get signed. But, best not to put all my eggs in THAT basket. So, anyway, I finally feel settled enough to move forward with my next project.

I have three ideas. One is a sequel to the first novel, the second is a romantic comedy, and the third is a spy novel of some sort (haven’t figured out if there is comedy angle but there’s definitely a romantic angle). So, which do I focus on first? All of them are stories that I want to share with as many people that would like to read them, so I’m moving on to the next level of logic–sales and my audience.

Conventional wisdom says write the sequel, but I haven’t sold the first one, don’t know how it’s going to sell, if it sells, yadda yadda yadda.

If it does sell and I start something completely different, then I may lose my audience.

If it doesn’t sell and I write a sequel, that will be TWO books that don’t sell.

All the voices in my head are pretty strong right now, so I could start any one of them and have enough to complete them. What’s a girl to do?

Any suggestions?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Things to do While Waiting on Query Responses...

I feel like I’m in a major holding pattern. If I don’t find representation in this next set of queries (about 15 in all), then I am absolutely going to go ahead and self-publish. Until I get responses, I don’t want to twiddle my thumbs, so here’s what I’m doing to pass the time…

  • Checking my email 20,000 times a day
  • Double checking my email just in case I missed something (so that’s really 40,000 times a day)
  • Doing a 100-yard dash to the mailbox when I get home from work (very invigorating)
  • Trying to think of new ideas for books (so far, the only thing I could come up with involves a spy and a green onion…yeah, I know, back to the drawing board)
  • Reading — I’m trying to get through Emily Giffin’s new book “Love the One You’re With” –I’ve read page one 37 times. I’ve also got “Confessions of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella. I’m about a fourth of the way through and there’s no guy…just lots and lots of shopping.
  • I’ve gotten socially-networked. I’ve joined Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, etc. etc. etc. after fighting it for so long. Now, I feel like I’m late to the party and can’t figure out how anything works. I’m in cyber hell without an instruction manual. Got to keep my eye on the prize, right? When my book is published, I’ll have 12 people to market to because I can’t find any freakin’ body… anywhere!!!
  • I drink…heavily. Ahhhh, there’s lots of joy in a Mojito…and endless joy in a pitcher of Mojitos.

What are you doing while you wait?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rejections R US

While I'm waiting for new rejection letters to add to my pile, I thought it might be fun to share some of my past rejections and my own personal translations, to help you understand the true meaning behind the words.

My translations are works of fiction. All characterizations, organizations, and events portrayed in this blog post are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

I'll start with my personal favorite. I like this one because it was particularly impersonal. The ink was faded nearly beyond recognition, so I have no doubt I recieved a copy of a copy of a copied copy.

Dear Author (the alternate spelling for Karla),

We have received your query/proposal/manuscript. After careful evaluation, we have decided that we are not the right agents to represent your work. We're sure another agent will feel quite differently about your material though.

Thank you for considering our agency. We wish you the best of luck finding represenetation.


Literary Agency

Now I'd like to offer my translation:

Dear Waster of My Time,

We received your query/proposal/manuscript. After careful evaluation, we have decided that it isn't interesting/literate/comprehendable, thus we are not the right agents to represent your trash/scourge/bane of my literary existence. We're sure another agent will feel exactly the same way about your work that we did, but go ahead and waste your postage, anyway.

Do not send your crap to our agency again. Good luck with that, you'll need it.

Dear Ms. Brady

Thank you for your submission to Literary Heaven. We apprciate you giving us the opportunity to review your project.

Unfortunately, we have to be extremely selective when it comes to taking on new clients and we don't think your manuscript is right for our list at this time. We want to wish you the best of luck in your writing.


Ann Agent


Dear Ms. Bullock,



Ann Agent

More letters to come...

Monday, June 8, 2009

What's in a Query?

Well, I sent off my queries this afternoon, now my clock starts ‘a ticking.

I sent one package to an editor at a major press. I won an expedited review in the Brenda Novak Diabetes auction. Apparently, she only holds this auction annually, but she auctions manuscript, non-fiction proposal, and query reviews for literary agents and editors throughout the industry and in all genres. So, I would suggest book marking and keeping an eye out for next year’s auction.

I sent three queries to literary agents whom I’d met during a writer’s conference. And the remaining query to a literary agent I’d researched on Google and who sold a book to Kensington recently in my genre. Given my interaction with the agents, I’m expecting more than a “no thanks” response. I’m sure (really really hope) they will give me some decent feedback. The editor will provide some as well (because I’m paying for it). So, if you hang in there, the responses may give you some insights into the industry, what’s working, what’s not, and why.

So anyway, not the ten I had initially planned. It took me several hours to put those packages together and customize each letter so it didn’t look like I rubber-stamped each one. We’ll see how it goes.

I thought it was only fair that I show you what I’m working with as well. So below, I’ve posted two versions of my query, I’ll call them query one and query two. Why do I have two you ask? I read QueryShark and other blogs that try to help you improve your query and I try to incorporate suggestions. Query 1 represents my initial query in which I got 2 requests for fulls and 1 partial (1 full is with an agent as we speak). I’ve not had any response on Query 2, the most recent, but I’ve only sent it out to two agents and only about a week ago. I’ll give it time. Any input you may have on which one you like best will be appreciated. Until the next time.

Query 1:

Quick-witted real estate agent Charisse Tyson has it all: the stately, three-story colonial, the 7-Series BMW, and her dream job. But the hopeless trail of romantic road kill obstructing her expressway to love is her lingering unsolved mystery. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and down-to-earth but attracts more devious, philandering men than Capitol Hill. A timely article she reads during a New Year’s meltdown (as her 40th birthday looms) motivates her to swear off men and unearth the comical—and often complex—roots of her romantic fiascos.
Just five simple steps to transform her love life to the stuff of legends, right? Life is never that easy.
Charisse embarks on her do-it-yourself therapy mission and barely cracks open the lid on her emotional toolbox when she encounters the monkey wrenches: an inconveniently irresistible new beau, two persistent ex-flames, and an FBI agent with life-altering secrets that threaten to turn her world topsy-turvy. A family crisis and long-avoided journey home lead her to confront a painful family secret she’s been concealing for twenty-seven years. But will she ever meet Mr. Right?

Although filled with humorous observations about men and relationships, The Bum Magnet really speaks to untended scars from childhood traumas and how they repeatedly manifest themselves in the partners we choose as adults, as well as how revealing dark secrets can light our paths to healing and happiness. This work of contemporary African-American women's fiction would appeal to any woman who ignores that little voice screaming “Don’t date him, stupid!” and desires to understand why.

I’m a first-time novelist and an avid, lifelong fan of women’s fiction, particularly romantic comedies. I have an MBA and am a member of the Maryland Writer's Association. I’m working toward a full-time career in writing, and I’m eager to continually improve my craft and learn the ins-and-outs of this complex business. The novel is 79,000 words and fully complete.

Query 2

Quick-witted real estate agent Charisse Tyson has everything right…except the Mister. She’s got the McMansion, a Beemer, and her dream job, but she’s also got a hopeless trail of romantic road kill blocking the driveway to her House of Love—all “playas.” After catching her most recent “the one” with another woman, Charisse reads a self-help article that motivates her to give up men and explore the complex roots of her past romantic fiascos.

Just five simple steps to transform her love life to the stuff of legends, right? Life is never that easy.

Charisse commences her do-it-yourself therapy project and barely cracks open her emotional toolbox when she encounters the monkey wrenches: an irresistible new beau, two persistent ex-flames, and an FBI agent with life-altering secrets threatening to turn her world topsy-turvy. A tug of war ensues with Charisse dead center, creating chaos as she attempts to distinguish the Don Juans from the Romeos and propelling her love life into unpredictable twists not even she could imagine. But will a twenty-seven-year-old secret keep Charisse from finding the right “one”?

The Bum Magnet fires direct shots on women’s blundered choices as much as men’s “playa” ways. The African-American characters are flawed but funny and mainstream, thus appealing to a broad spectrum. Moreover, any woman who time and again ignores the inner voice screaming, “Don’t date him, stupid!” or “Leave him, fool!” and asks herself “Why?” will relate to Charisse’s dilemma.

I’m a first-time novelist and a lifelong fan of women’s fiction. I have an MBA, am a member of the Maryland Writer's Association, and have workshopped the novel through online critique groups.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How I Became a Query Ho...

I'm Karla and this is my first blog ever. Very exciting moment this is.

What can I say? I'm late to the party as is typical for my life. My bad timing is what has turned me into the Query Ho, and I'll tell you why.

In 2006, I decided to get my real estate license (I'm still licensed if you live in the MD, DC, or VA areas). Anyway, I got my license right as the housing market took a nose dive. People were making money hand-over-fist, houses stayed on the minutes for about five minutes, people were clamoring to buy. It was a beautiful thing. I jumped into the market and, like the walls of Jericho, the market came a'tumbling down.

So, I took that as a sign that I was supposed to be doing something else. Still did real estate part time, but it wasn't my "thing."

I'd always had a love for writing, so in my insane brilliance, I decided that I would start a publishing company and I'd publish my own newspaper for new homeowners. I was a real estate agent after all. It would be a great mix. And I did pay a hefty sum for that silly little MBA that collects dust on my bookshelf. I had a company that sent me the articles (which defeated the whole purpose of writing) and all I had to do was sell a few ads. Of course, I started the company right when the economy tanked, and business owners clinched onto the advertising dollars with a Kung Fu death grip unseen in the human realm.

So after three months, three issues, and thousands of dollars in start-up costs, I took that as a sign that God had another purpose for my life and the newpaper went kaput.

So, what was next for me?

In 2008, the year before my 40th birthday and the time when most women do major life reassessments, I did some soul-searching. What do I wanna be when I grow up? I got my Aha moment during one of Oprah's Live Your Best Life shows. I don't even remember what I heard that triggered the moment, I just remember feeling that I'd spent a lifetime looking for something inside that I had yet to find. Then I realized that through my challenges, heartaches, and failures, I had my journals. Writing in them made me happy, made me feel free. Writing lifted my spirits and my soul. And in that Aha moment I realized I'd spent my whole life fighting the urge to do the one thing that made me truly happy - writing.

So, I decided to write a novel, not just any novel, mind you - the next great American novel. My motivation was the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I started my novel in September 2008 and finished it at the end of December, early January. Spent two or three weeks editing and entered it.

This is it! I just know it, I'd said to myself a gazillion times. God had given me my Aha moment just in time for me to win the big contest, get a publishing contract, and live the rest of my life in literary bliss.

Didn't take long to figure out that wasn't an Aha moment...that was more like a "HA! Don't make me laugh" moment.

I made it to the top 2000 based on my query but my novel sucked. Oh friends and family loved it, thought it was hysterical. But my two Amazon Vine Voice reviewers essentially said, "Give up, you suck, don't ever write again." But they were a little nastier about it. On top of that, I sent out my raw literary sewage to agents who rejected it by the dozens. Many told me, "This has promise." Most said, "Promise not to ever send this to me again... or anything...ever!" On top of that, the publishing market tanked. I'd begun to think my life decisions caused shifts in the economy.

So, did I take that as a sign that I needed to keep searching for my calling?

Nope... I took it as a sign that I needed to work harder, that my reviewers were correct and my writing did suck.

So, I worked harder. I read every book about writing I could get my little mits on, the most inspiring of which was Stephen King On Writing. I worked and revised until it hurt. I spent Saturdays at home during 70 degree weather editing in such a way that every single change I made felt like a root canal. But I was happy doing it, I couldn't pull myself away. I couldn't stop until I was done. And when I finished, I had never felt such a sense of accomplishment in my life.
Nearly eight months and 80,000 words later, I gave birth to the The Bum Magnet.

So, I'm back to querying again. Going from agent to agent trying to find a pimp for my novel. I've decided to make my journey public for the world to see. Maybe someone will be inspired by it. Maybe it will just make you laugh like hell. Maybe you'll cry in sympathy. Whatever happens, I hope you enjoy the journey.

Tomorrow, ten queries go in the mail. We'll see what happens next...