Literary agents and publishers have a tough job sorting through the piles of queries that come across their desks during any given month. Some rare gems are sent in by authors who are experienced in cleaning up their own work and educated in the query process. They understand what is expected of them and how to make a positive impression on potential investors in their work. These pro-tips will help authors have a better chance at passing the screening process and launching their new book.
Scouting the Field
Query Tracker Steven Salpeter of Curtis Brown, Ltd., states that before any manuscripts go out, “You should be making trips to book stores.” Simply browsing displays can teach authors a lot about proper genre labeling, cover layouts, even the types of books that are given priority in placement within the store. This will help the author have a better idea of precisely what they are selling and what to compare it to, and will therefore allow for a much clearer pitch.
Preparing the Ammunition
The next tip comes from Stacey Graham, Associate Literary Agent with Red Sofa Library. She recommends while the author is shopping their market to ask themselves a few key questions. What type of person is this book written for? If they were to recommend your book, who would they show it to? Rather than limiting your audience to one cast “type,” like history buffs or romance readers, think outside the lines. Readers always want new experiences, so think about ways to cross-promote.
Going In for the Kill
Also an agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd., Noah Ballard states if a query isn’t addressed to him specifically, he will not read it. By doing some research on who you are writing to and what in particular they are looking for, authors stand more of a chance at earning a request for a full manuscript. Likewise, Corvisiero Literary Agency’s Kaitlyn Johnson reminds authors that a query is the beginning of a working relationship. Following directions, showing respect, and giving one’s best pave the way to success.
Too often, queries come across that never should have left the author’s hands. Manuscripts that have not been edited for length and clarity, manuscripts that lack a clear genre or sub-genre, and those that arrive with a poor sales pitch are among the first to be rejected. Even if an author has been previously published, it is always a good idea to spend the extra time polishing both product and approach to make a positive impression on the agent or publisher.
Some writers bloom early and receive recognition early, while others receive recognition later (even if they start early), or become writers later in life. If you have the urge to write, take heart from those who came before you and didn’t give up, or became inspired late in life.
Sometimes Inspiration and Opportunity Are Delayed
Authors of all ages face challenges. Sometimes wanting to write and being able to write are two different things. Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing in her 40s as a columnist. When she was 64 years old her reputation-making book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” was published. Raymond Chandler began writing after he lost his job when he was 44 years old.
James Michener, Anthony Burgess, Frank McCourt, Harriet Doerr, Mary Wesley, Helen DeWitt, and Donald Ray Pollack were not ready to publish until many years after they began writing. They had more time to write than Anna Sewell and Millard Kaufman, who passed away not long after completing their works.
Harry Bernstein wrote “The Invisible Wall” in his 90s and 40 more unpublished works before that. Like Elizabeth Jolly and Helen DeWitt, he was unable to get published despite prior efforts at writing. Unlike Helen DeWitt, who had numerous fragments, but like Elizabeth Jolly, he had completed works that never got published. This is not an unlikely fate for many writers. However, he was successful at an age when fewer authors have found success. And, after his first published success, he wrote two more novels!
Perseverance Is Rewarded for Writers Who Improve Their Craft
For years, Kent Haruf toiled at improving his writing before becoming a published novelist. Philip Schultz, who started writing when he was 17, remains a rejected novelist; however, he is a successful poet. In “Poet vs. Novelist,” a New York Times article, he explained that he wrote poems to release his sorrow at not being an accepted novelist despite writing novels for more than 20 years.
His first poem was accepted when he was 28. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “The Wherewithal,” a long poem in which he used techniques he had learned while writing his rejected novels. In fact, this story in verse is also his first published novel.
Philip Schultz was rewarded as a poet, rather than a novelist. Succeeding as a poet is an accomplishment to be proud of. Literature comes in many forms, and as Rabindranath Tagore and Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prizes for Literature reveal, even the poetic verses in songs can be good literature.
Networks for writers of a mature age are rare, so joining a support group like The Prime Writers network would be helpful. It is never too late to become a writer. In fact, mature writers have a larger reservoir of life experiences to inform their writing.
The engaging words and images mix of graphic novels (long-form narratives in the style of comic books) has enabled creative storytellers to craft compelling stories. Academic and critical respect has followed for what was once identified as an inferior reading genre.
The internet age and the reduced free time people have today have boosted the popularity of this more visual and effective method of storytelling for young and adult readers alike.
Popularized in the ’70s, graphic novels have expanded the boundaries of comic book writing. The boldness that comes naturally to this more accessible medium has encouraged writers to be revolutionizers. Graphic novel series are highly conducive to the digital format that young and adult time-challenged readers prefer.
However, the process involved in creating the novel is harder and slower for authors. It’s also less immersive than prose because of the drawing and design work that’s required.
A Powerful Tool for Creative Minds
Graphic novel writers have accepted the advantages of using this medium to boldly engage readers. Writers have used its freedom and accessibility to address important themes, tell personal stories, and take on taboos.
The range of themes in this storytelling medium is no less restricted than traditional literature. The variety of themes is illustrated in the adolescent pains addressed in “Ghost World,” the politics of “V for Vendetta,” the personal stories of immigrants in “Persepolis” and “The Best We Could Do,” and Nazi occupation as told by “Maus.” Popular graphic novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, led to film, TV, and theater adaptations, and raised the graphic art of comic book storytelling.
These visual stories pack a punch that is powerful and effective in a way that word-centric texts cannot be. As a result, educators have used graphic novels as teaching materials. In fact, the Vietnamese author of “The Best We Could Do,” Thi Bui, was a teacher before she became a novelist. The format is also conducive to narration that alternates in time and space (the fourth dimension artfully utilized by Alan Moore) and the present and the past as reflected in Bui’s novel.
Energizing Literature with Originality
Chris Ware’s “Building Stories” is being compared to “Ulysses” by James Joyce. His earlier book, “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” won a literary award competing with traditional novels and was praised for its “originality and energy.” Claire Armitstead, chairperson of the judges who awarded the First Book Award to Ware’s book, described what the best graphic novels have accomplished. She said they challenge “us to think again about what literature is and where it is going at the start of the 21st century.”
Have you done something in your life that few others have, or perhaps something your friends and family only wish they had? Have you had a life experience that has fundamentally changed the way you look at things or the way you act or live? If so, you should consider putting your experiences in writing by way of a memoir. Even if you consider yourself a “nobody,” something about you may inspire others, and that is a message worth sharing.
The most important thing to remember is that although you may hear the terms “memoir” and “autobiography” used interchangeably, there is a marked difference between these two types of manuscripts. An autobiography is denoted by the time frame it covers, usually a chronological account of a life from birth to present day. A memoir, on the other hand, focuses on an event or series of events in a person’s life that stands out and warrants its own full-length explanation and exploration.
Be Ready to Commit to your Project
Once you decide to start writing your memoir, commit adequate time to completing it. No polished book happens overnight, so be prepared to devote serious time to your project. Scraping together a few minutes a day will not do. Ideally, look for a minimum of two to three hours per day you can block out on your calendar so you can write with a sense of purpose. Save extra time if possible for those related memories that crop up and demand to be a part of your story.
Along with committing time to your writing, consider the space in which you write. Some people may write better on a beach with a notebook and pen while others may prefer a quiet office setting. You are your own boss when writing your memoir, so seek out the environment where you are most productive. In the end, if your writing space is uncomfortable and full of distractions, your writing will be, too.
Stepping Stones to Keep You Going
Take a look online, at a book store, or in a library at the memoirs of others (they are usually found under the autobiography section). Thumbing through a few, do any characteristics stand out to you? Maybe they are written with a sense of humor or an adventurous voice. Some come across as unapologetic, while others are inspiring. Take those aspects that grip you, and incorporate them into your personal storytelling style.
Speak with others: friends, family, even perfect strangers, to see if they are interested in your story. If they are and would like to know more, chances are you have a memoir worth writing well. Whether you have done interesting volunteer work, spent a month in another country, or experienced a traumatic event, it will make fantastic writing material which you only have to pour out onto paper. Your story is your own but you can share it with the world.