Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Submitting Your Manuscript

The writer’s version of a job interview.
Renee Frey, COO, and Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
You wrote a great book, and now you’re ready to publish it. Congratulations!
Before you start querying that manuscript, let’s have a discussion: What does submitting a manuscript entail? What should you have ready? How many submissions should you send?

Pride and Prejudice: First Impressions Matter

If you’ve ever read Jane Austen’s classic, you’re well aware of just how much damage a bad first impression can do. Unlike other jobs, there aren’t automatic filters that kick out queries or books, so publishers still have to look over every submission with human eyes. While that might seem like a relief, the opposite is true.
If a publisher or agent has a stack of 100 submissions, they’re going to make some pretty drastic cuts to make that pile manageable.
But I worked so hard, and query letters are just...impossible! And you can’t really ‘get’ my book until halfway through!
Sorry. I really am. But agents and publishers flat out don’t have the time to read an entire manuscript and hope to find brilliance somewhere along the way. Your manuscript and query letter are NOT a resume and cover letter: they are your job interview and 90-day trial all rolled into one. Just as (I hope) you would not attend a job interview in jeans and a t-shirt, or mail your resume in on a napkin, please don’t interview with a potential publisher with an unpolished manuscript.

Preparing Your Manuscript

Going with our job analogy, part of the interview is the preparation. Let’s look at the areas you should concentrate on in order to get your manuscript and query letter ready for their “big day.”
Read the Formatting Guidelines
The first step of a job interview is researching the company, learning about them, their culture, their expectations. Similarly, just about every agent or publisher has a format or other expectations for their submissions. Take formatting, for example. A lot of publishing companies have formatting guidelines, so we aren’t the only ones, and we didn’t put it on the website because we like to hear ourselves talk. Part of the reason that publishing companies put up guidelines is:
  1. To see if the author can follow directions.
  2. Make it easier to read the manuscript.
If you can’t follow directions for something as simple as formatting, how can a publisher trust you to make requested edits, adhere to a deadline, and perform other promotional tasks? We would rather have an author whose manuscript needs a little more TLC but is great to work with than the best manuscript in the world written by an author who can’t do something they are asked to do.
Also, given the sheer volume of slush piles, do you want your manuscript to be the one that makes our eyes hurt? We’ll probably put it down, and save our eyesight for something formatted the way we asked.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
It’s the day of your big interview—so you plan the perfect outfit, groom yourself well, and bring a pen and notepad for notes. You print out and load the directions on your phone and practice driving to the interview or leave extra early so you aren’t late. You should do the same for your manuscript.
We get that things slip through the cracks, especially when you’ve been staring at the same story for days, weeks, and even months at time editing it. As authors, we need to use every tool in our toolbox to make our work the best it can be. Spellcheck is one of those tools. You can even use the free version of Grammarly to find some of the mistakes you might miss after the twenty-seventh time you’ve read your manuscript.
A few spelling errors here and there are fine; it’s not going to turn us away from your manuscript. But when the work is riddled with spelling errors that could have been easily picked up by using spellcheck or Grammarly, then it becomes a problem. We don’t have to have utlra-polished, but we do have to have effort.

The Bourne Identity: Communication is everything!

Okay, you’ve done your homework: you’ve formatted your manuscript, double and triple-checked it for errors, and written a killer query letter! Now send it in!
But when you do, please avoid these mistakes.
I’m ready to query my manuscript...kind of.
Congratulations! We’ve liked your work enough to ask to see more of it. You should be really excited because we certainly are. If you can’t get it to us right away, that’s fine, but you need to let us know it’s going to be more than a few days. Don’t send us your work a month later with no explanation and expect us to read it in a timely manner.
Why should I tell the publisher it isn’t ready?
Common courtesy, for one.
When you query your work, it should be finished to the best it can be. Sometimes you want to do another check through just to make sure there isn’t anything you’ve missed. That’s fine, but tell the people asking for your full manuscript that that’s what they’re doing. You’re wasting their time wondering if you’ve received their request, having to check in, etc.
We’ve seen plenty of people ask, “Should I tell the publisher/agent I need to get it ready?” and get the response of, “Nah, they’ll take it when they get it, and they’ll like it. They need authors to function.”
No. No, we won’t. We won’t like it, and if it isn’t you, another author will submit their work and get it in timely, and you’ll have lost your chance to get published sooner.

Razzle Dazzle Us!

Or the agent you’re targeting. Or whatever lucky reader receives your manuscript. Treat it like a professional job interview, because it is. Even if you don’t get a request for pages, your reader will appreciate (and remember) your care and consideration.

Next week, we’ll start our in-depth look at publishing options, beginning with Traditional Publishing.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Interview with Eva Seyler

Find out what inspired The War in Our Hearts.

Eva, thanks for talking with me today! First thing’s first: What inspired you to write The War in Our Hearts?
Initially, I just wanted to fill in what I perceived to be a gap in historical fiction—a distinct lack of good novels set during WWI. There are some out there, but there are probably a dozen great WWII novels for every great novel set during WWI. The desire to write a book set in this period—I can’t lay a finger on when exactly it happened, but I do know that at the beginning of 2016, I read The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara W Tuchman and realized I hadn’t had a clue what the Zimmermann Telegram even was. Later in 2016, I watched the French film Joyeux Noel, about the 1914 Christmas Truce, and that also was a great visual inspiration. I’m very visual. I have Estelle Graham wearing a peacock blue dress in the opening scenes of TWIOH in homage to Diane Kruger’s peacock blue dress in the film. (You can see the dress here.) Anyway, it all snowballed after that—I kept reading all I could get my hands on until I actually started writing the book in late 2017!
That’s quite the turnaround since you’re now being publishing in 2019! Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story?
Music has always been a huge influence in my life; the first novel I ever completed at the ripe old age of 16 was a Super Melodramatic Epic(™) where everybody in this rural Canadian town (why a rural Canadian town? Your guess is as good as mine) somehow happened to be a world-class musician. In some ways, The War in Our Hearts returned to that musical theme—without, I hope, resorting to the same ridiculous level of melodrama!

I’ve loved Nelson Eddy since I discovered him in the early 2000s, and Eddy is probably the main reason I made Jamie Graham a baritone instead of a tenor. The other reason is that life dealt Graham rather a rough deck of cards, and he simply doesn’t get the glamour of being a tenor! Music as the avenue through which Graham handles his life—be it facing personal hardship, courting/flirting with Estelle, or cheering those around him—is definitely a thread throughout.
Music has always been helpful for me as well so it was nice to see a book that had that relatable element to it. Who is your favorite character?
Automatically, I start to say Graham because he’s my precious cinnamon roll, but I freaking love Estelle. I want to be her when I grow up. I’m also rather fond of MacFie. My own Scottish ancestors were MacFies; I rather doubt that my MacFies were Scottish Travellers, but the name is a stereotypical Traveller name, and it just seemed to work for Oliver MacFie to be one. And my love for Aveline goes without saying, and I adore Willie Duncan. This is a terrible answer to a cruel question.
Estelle is definitely my favorite character, as well. She’s so fierce! So, how hard was it to research for your historical fiction?
Fortunately, despite the lack of great WWI-era novels, there is a lot of superb non-fiction out there! Directly relevant to TWIOH: Eye-Deep in Hell by John Ellis; Hot Blood and Cold Steel by Andy Simpson; The Somme: The Day-by-Day Account by Chris McCarthy; and The Fifteenth (Scottish) Division by J Stewart. I was also hugely inspired by Christian Miller’s A Childhood in Scotland.
That’s interesting—I’ll have to check out some of those books. What about this time period drew you in?
It’s underappreciated in fiction, as I mentioned above, but also it’s just a really interesting time of fluctuation in society—women’s suffrage beginning to be reality, to name just one. It’s definitely implied in TWIOH that Estelle is a forward-thinking, progressive woman, to reflect that. It’s also (for Britain) the beginning of the end of the “golden age” of empire. I put the quotes there deliberately because it wasn’t much of a golden age for the colonized countries! On the eastern front, you have imperial Russian falling to pieces and major societal shifts happening there. There’s the Middle East, too, which is not an area I even pretend to be expert in at this point, but Chris Bohjalian addresses it ably in his book The Sandcastle Girls. And America was really coming in as a world power. So all around, there’s no end of fodder for stories waiting to be told!
It really is a wonder that there aren’t more books set in that time period, then! I’d read up on just about any of those subjects. What is your favorite time period to read or write in?
I read pretty much all the WWI novels I can get my hands on, even the terrible ones. I have at least two WWI novels I definitely want to write in the future—one is partially written, one is just in my head—and there are several other embryonic ideas tucked in a back corner of my brain. There are a lot of great WWII stories that I love as well, but I don’t see myself ever writing WWII outside of, say, flashbacks, simply because so many other people have and still are doing a great job with the era. I like to look for untold stories or underappreciated eras as much as possible.
Speaking of reading, who are your favorite authors?
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Bill Bryson, Jon Krakauer, Erik Larson, Harper Lee, Richard Llewellyn, Hilary McKay, Christian Miller, A A Milne, Ruta Sepetys, Elizabeth Wein, Ellen White, and Opal Whiteley are all authors who have inspired me!

Hopefully, some of our readers will check out those authors unfamiliar to them—I know I will. I’ve got one last question for you: What can readers expect next from you?
I’m about halfway done writing a middle grade historical novel set in Turner, Oregon in 1925—about an hour away from where I live. Researching it has been such a breeze and very hands-on. I’ve never written for children before, and it’s proving to be quite a lot of fun. My kids are pretty stoked that I’m writing a book for them!

It will not be a sequel to The War in Our Hearts, but it could be considered a companion novel, as some of the same characters will be involved. How that will work when all the characters of TWIOH live in France or Britain, you’ll just have to wait and see! But there are a couple of hints in TWIOH, if you are like me and have an overactive imagination. I also have another post-WWII adult novel that I’ll be finishing up once I’ve turned in my manuscript for the 1925 novel.

The War in Our Hearts
By Eva Seyler

France, 1916: Estelle Graham faces a nightmare. Expecting to meet her beloved husband and bring their newly adopted daughter home to Scotland, she instead finds him gravely injured and unconscious in a casualty station. As she fights for his care, she takes solace in his journals and letters.

In a farmhouse in Somme, Captain Jamie Graham is forever changed when he meets young Aveline Perrault. Both of them broken and walled off from the cruel and cold world around them—made even crueler and colder by the Great War—the pair form an unlikely bond. She finds in him the father she never had, and with her love, he faces the pain from his own childhood.

Discover the depth of love and faith in the face of brutality and neglect as they learn to live while surviving World War I.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Choosing Your Publishing Path

What to do when all the publishing suggestions contradict themselves
Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Confession time: I’m a Scribomaster (yes, that’s a thing) on Scribophile, which is a fantastic site where you can workshop your writing (and help other people too!). There are discussion forums, which are a great distraction from writing and editing (I promise, I don’t have firsthand experience with quiet Rebecca and B. C.!). One of the FASTEST ways to start a flame war? Ask what is the best way to publish your book.
I hope you brought a fire extinguisher.
In defense of my colleagues on Scrib, as we call it, this is a really difficult question to ask...and even harder to answer!
Because publishing your work is one of the most personal decisions you can make (despite what the bra advertisements on Pinterest imply). Think about it: for most authors, we’ve poured hours of inspiration, work, and mental effort into a manuscript. It’s not just a text document; it’s a part of your life!

So what should I do?

To start off, do research. Lots and lots of research. Verify, check reputation and sources, and (#shamelessselfpromotion) read this blog series about publishing. Start getting a feel for what feels “right” for you. And remember, it may seem the best option for you, but not for your best friend—and that’s okay.
To get you started, lets go over the basic options you’ll see for publication. Over the next several weeks, we’ll go over these options in-depth. We’ll also go over what to avoid and, hopefully, get you started down your publishing path.
Traditional Publishing
This is what most people think of when you bring up publishing a book. In a nutshell, you submit your manuscript to an agent, that agent (hopefully) sells your book, a publisher sends you an advance, and then the publisher prepares and publishes your book.
This is a (relatively) new form of publishing. With print-on-demand and e-books, it’s become very easy to format, cover, and publish your manuscript on your own. Amazon’s KDP, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords are popular venues for self-publishing. There are also lots of vendors, including editors, proofreaders, and cover artists you can pay to help you prepare and publish your book.
Small Press/Indie Publishing
Although self-publishing is sometimes called indie publishing, indie in this case means “independent”—and applies to small presses or companies that exist outside of the “Big 5” traditional publishing companies. These presses often are more flexible than the larger publishing but don’t always have as much reach as the larger publishers.

I can’t wait to learn more! But, what should I avoid?

I’m glad you asked!
Avoid “vanity presses”—or any company calling themselves a publisher who asks for YOU to pay money. It’s one thing to hire a cover artist or editor, or even a formatter. It’s another to sign a contract where you get only a portion of the royalty fees, but still front the publishing costs.
Always check any agents, and make sure they’re in good standing.
We’ll go over this in more detail soon (with some great resources!).

Next: Submitting Your Manuscript

Before we go into these different publishers, we’ll talk about how to get your manuscript ready for publishing!

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Can't wait? Check out our website for available books!