#writemotivation month check in…and Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

Hooray! I’m so excited it’s another #writemotivation month! Not just because I’ve got some serious goals to get through and I’m going to need a LOT of cheering and cookies to get through them, but because last month was wrought with pitfalls and illnesses and too much time away from these wonderful people who help me stay focused and laugh while keeping my outlook positive.

On to the goals!

1. Finish revision suggestions for interested agent and send off my FULL manuscript as soon as humanly possible. This is for my YA manuscript that I’ve been working on and submitting for the past few months. I had an amazing face to face critique in LA – just such a wonderful conversation with this agent –  I want to get it right and send her my absolute best.
2 .Finish up novel revisions on my Middle Grade manuscript for November workshop and mail off copies to my group. DONE.
3. Read through manuscripts received from my group for the novel revision workshop. Received the last one this week. Will take my time with these.
4. Continue first draft of new YA WIP. I want to keep working on something else once I’ve sent off my full manuscript so this will most likely be a goal I start near the end of the month.
5. Exercise at least four times a week – yeah, it’s time to step it up another day.

How are you all doing with your goals?

I’m also supposed to work on marketing ideas for my YA novel. The agent gave me some pitch idea homework I need to figure out. I’m constantly thinking about that, mulling ideas over in my head.  And a new title for my book. Apparently Institutionalized may not grab the attention of the average teen browsing the shelves. One should never get too attached to one’s working title. I’ve got some ideas I’m kicking around, but none that really wow me, yet.

This reminds me of some other things that I learned at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference that I wanted to share. A little segment I want to call…

Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know:

The first thing that beginning writers don’t know about how the acquisitions process works.

We all may know that it is hard to get published, but what beginning writers may not know is that even when an editor loves a manuscript and wants to buy it, they don’t always get to say “yes” right away. There’s this process called acquisitions that most manuscripts have to go through. Although each house is different, most publishing houses hold acquisitions meetings about twice a month. The editor must send out a proposal for the manuscript they want to buy, along with the manuscript, in advance of the meeting, as well as something called a profit and loss statement. This is “advanced algebra in a horrible excel spreadsheet” as Ari Lewin, editor at GP Putnam, described it and it spits a figure, projecting how much the house can expect to make on the book.

At the acquisitions meeting, everyone involved in saying “yes” gathers to review all the potential manuscripts. At some houses, this could be as many as twenty people including heads of imprints, editors, associate editors, the art director, the publisher, someone from marketing, sales, and publicity, etc. It takes a short time to say “no”. The books right on the edge are the hardest to decide on and may require more discussion and more meetings.

To learn more about acquisitions, I’d suggest reading Harold Underdown’s excellent article entitled “The Acquisitions Process” originally published in The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market back in 2010. He even shows what a sample acquisitions proposal looks like.

The second thing beginning writers don’t know is that they should be prepared to deliver EVERY YEAR after their first book is published.

Josh Adams, agent at Adams Literary, said this in the Agent Panel and went on to explain that there is a higher demand on writers; an increase on demand in social media, with school visits. You will also be expected to be active in marketing.

Jill Corcoran, agent at the Herman Agency, echoed this sentiment and added, “Books are coming out faster.”

Linda Pratt, agent with Wernick & Pratt Agency, expanded the discussion to talk about how second book choices for new writers are even more important than their first. Second book choices need to be weighed carefully. “You can’t always write the more obscure book or whatever you want – what you’re passionate about. You have to be a little more pragmatic. You have to consider your sales track.” Publishing houses are less likely to take a risk on an author whose first book sold poorly unless their second book shows more sales potential.

So think about how long it has taken you to perfect this current work that you are submitting to agents. Two years? Five? Do you have other projects you are working on while you are submitting? Are you thinking ahead about your next writing project? You should be.

The third thing beginning writers don’t know is how small the publishing world is, and that being unprofessional can close doors.

Josh Adams said during the Agent Panel that, “We see a lot of unprofessionalism out there and people burn bridges. The worst thing a client can do is close doors.”

Jill Corcoran seconded this: “You cannot bad mouth editors (or others in the industry) online. Be careful.” She suggested that you untag yourself from unprofessional pictures on Facebook or other social media and delete any negative content.

It DOES hurt to be rejected, but it happens to all of us. Remember that this is a business and conduct yourself accordingly. The publishing world IS very small; negative and unprofessional behavior does get noticed and word is easily spread.

The fourth and final tidbit of wisdom I am imparting to new writers is…you won’t earn a lot of money.

Shocker. But you’re not in this for the money, right? You write because you have to, because it’s your passion. If not…there’s your cue to exit.

As Josh Adams said, “You shouldn’t expect that you can quit your day job.” He also said that you should look at your career long term. School visits and multiple rights that a good agent should help you maximize can add to your income.

Jill Corcoran also said something really important: “The advance is not the end-all. You want to get to the royalties.”

So what does she mean? Don’t we all dream of that big, fat advance?

The advance is just a promise.

A bet.

A bet against how many copies you will sell.

You don’t start really making money until you sell more than that original promise. And what about your next book? You have to think about your career long-term, remember? If you DON’T sell enough copies of your first book to meet that promise, that advance, you’re going to have a much harder time getting the second book sold. The goal is to sell enough copies to get to the royalties. That’s where things really start to pay off. That shows the publishing world that you are worth betting on; you are worth the risk.

To recap; publishing is slow, painful, it asks you to work your ass off without always loving you back, (It really IS like raising a child) and it doesn’t always bring you riches. You have to do it because you love it, because you’re passionate about it, and because you’re in it for the long haul.

23 thoughts on “#writemotivation month check in…and Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know

  1. This was such a good post for me to read right now. A great reminder of why I’m in the business in the first place, and that’s the passion. Of course none of us would say no to oodles of money, but you’re 100% right in saying if that’s all you’re in it for, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed (and your story probably won’t be very good either).

    It’s a rough road choosing to be a writer. Even if you can find an agent or editor who likes your work, like you stated, you still have a bunch more hurdles to jump before really “making it.” That’s why I’m trying to learn all about social media now.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post! And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you on your manuscript. It sounds like good news is likely on its way. 😀

    1. Amen to that. Thanks so much for your heartfelt comments. If this road were easy anyone would take it. I like my roads less traveled thank you. So so glad these words were helpful to you!

  2. YES! YES! YES! and YES! on all those points.

    Also, it is hawesome (I made that word up yesterday!) to see you back with us.

    #writemotivation has been such a positive experience for me and I know for others. 😀

    Also, good luck on your MS! That is so awesome!

  3. Hey Valerie! I’m a brand new #writemotivation participant – thanks for visiting my blog and following 🙂 It sounds like you have a lot on your plate this month, but you’ve already checked one off! That’s pretty darn good.

    Good luck on your goals, and I’ll see you for cookies on Twitter 🙂

    1. oh, you’re welcome. and yes, it was nice to start off with one goal accomplished early. i had a deadline, which helped. (if i didn’t have deadlines or these goal checks, i don’t think i’d work as hard!)

  4. All the best that your first goal pans out and the agent loves it.
    Tidbits are great, and glad you shared. I think all of us know we won’t be quitting our day jobs, we’re not that much of a deluded community, are we? =P
    Good luck this month!

    1. ha! i am that deluded. i WANT to quit my day job, i just know it’s going to take a long, long time before i can do that…and survive on any income i make from writing.

  5. Great post. I’m encouraged and discouraged all at the time, though. Encouraged because your goals remind me to keep chipping away at my own list, discouraged because as much as I love my day job (teaching) it does take up a lot of energy I would like to put towards my writing projects. I also reflect on should that first book get out there, would I be able to devote the needed time and energy to promoting it while I polish the second one?

    1. it does give one pause, doesn’t it? the nice thing about being a modern writer is there is so much you can do online to promote your books. Dan Gutman said he spent over 50% of his time on marketing. Now he’s sold over 100 books so he needs to put in that much time. i think it’s all a matter of balance.we’ll figure it out as we go…i hope.

  6. Wow, great post, Valerie!

    You know, I have this image of the starving artist in my head. I want to quit my job and write, struggling to make ends meet until I get my big break.

    But that’s just not possible, and struggling doesn’t always produce outstanding work.

    Thanks for sharing the glimpse into the publishing process. Bookmarked for future reference. 🙂

  7. I agree with what everyone’s said – thanks for such an insightful post! It’s reassuring to know that regardless of all the truths that might sometimes be hard to face about this industry, my dedication isn’t wavering 😉 Also wanted to say best of luck with your revisions and submitting to the agent you spoke with in person. How fantastic to get those suggestions. Exciting news!!

  8. Thanks again! I work with several kids at my school desiring to be writers, and I’m going to share this info with them! Never too early to start setting reasonable expectations…

    1. great! it’s good to show them we’re not all making jk rowling’s salary with million dollar book deals being thrown at us – SHOCKER. that way only the truly committed – or those that should BE committed – will stay with it.

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