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Monday, August 13, 2012

81

The Best Time I Published With Harlequin

My road to smut-selling began in a used bookstore in Sydney, Australia. I was Down Under (hold your horses, I haven’t got to the dirty bit yet) to backpack for six weeks before starting my Masters in English Lit. Being the freckly little keener that I was, I’d decided to get a jump on my fall semester reading list, so I sashayed into the store to buy The Sound and The Fury. Obviously nothing would suit the beach-side lolling and hangovery mornings I was anticipating like a breezy romp through Modernist stream-of-consciousness familial turmoil.

I’d grabbed the book when a giant bin of used Harlequin romances caught my eye. These were old-school romances from the '70s and '80s. Covers featured soft-focus drawings of pensive ladies in pastel with angry looking sheiks, or pipe-smoking doctors looming behind. These were the Harlequins I grew up on. Reading them as a kid I’d had no idea what a gold-digger was and never managed to successfully visualize a pantsuit, but I had sighed over all those jerky men being redeemed by a lady’s love.

Once I started rooting through the bin, I knew there was no going back. Because they were fifty cents apiece, I could buy 20 romances for the cost of my Faulkner. Benjy and Caddy were discarded in favour of The Taut Tycoon and Her Dark Desire. It was the best $10 I ever spent. My travelling buddy and I read Harlequins all the way up the east coast of Australia, making friends wherever we went by giving away books and then happily comparing incomprehensible outfits, sex scenes, and degrees of passive uselessness in the heroines.

By the time we’d reached Cairns, the farthest point of our journey, we were convinced we could write our own. We came up with the title (Love’s Bouquet) and plot on the back of a napkin — Wendy Blake, plucky florist, spends years delivering “Love ‘em and Leave ‘em bouquets” for entrepreneurial cad James Crofton. When a series of events force them to work together, Wendy finds herself wildly attracted to the autocratic industrialist, until, against her own instincts for self-preservation, she sleeps with him. A misunderstanding drives them apart, and only when James realises he can’t live without Wendy, and makes a determined effort to win her back, are they reunited.

I flew back home and set to work. I loved writing dialogue, hated descriptions, and glossed over the one sex scene as quickly as I could. I found writing about sex surprisingly difficult … how do you talk about all of the licking and thrusting and het-up-ness without sounding like a tool (tee hee)? Plus, I kept thinking how embarrassing it would be if my mother or brother ever read it. 

Over the next couple of years, between drinking too much, reading too much, kissing too much, causing an accident with a friend’s dad’s car, leaving the oven on for my entire week-long spring break, discovering Goldschlager, eating canned oysters, after drinking too much Goldschlager and failing to get “up” while waterskiing, I got my Master’s and finished my first novel.

I was cocky and obnoxious and figured that if I, a person who (eventually) studied Faulkner and had a GRADUATE degree in English Lit, wanted to get a Harlequin published, it would be a doddle. It wasn’t. My book was terrible, of course. Also, the romance field had changed since those 50-cent Harlequins had been published. Category romance was no longer the domain of drippy women and masterful men; rather, the stories were more complex, the characters more rounded, and while a happy outcome was guaranteed, the writing was much better. I soon learned it was a tough field to break into.

I took some writing courses, found an amazing group of critiquers and made the book better. I researched the romance market (one of the few consistently booming areas of the publishing field) and came to respect the professional (mostly women) authors who wrote and published romances. Eventually I submitted a much revised draft of Love's Bouquet to Harlequin and an editor liked it and requested a few tweaks. When I finally sent it back to her, the romance/humor line the novel was aimed at had been discontinued, and there was no place for it. (Harlequin has tons of different lines — everything from very chaste romances with Christian themes, to full on erotica where the romance takes a backseat to the bawdy.) After spending years revising god-damned Wendy Blake and her god-damned plucky personality, I gave up.

My failure to get published had been humbling, but all was not lost. In addition to getting my richly deserved comeuppance, I had begun to think of myself as a writer.

Cut to a couple of years ago. A new mother in the glorious Socialist regime of Canada, I was off on a year’s paid maternity leave. For the first three months, I was the stereotypical breast-milk leaking, hormonally crazed, sleep-deprived nightmare. I wore enormous underwear, timed the length of the baby’s naps, worried that I’d have hemorrhoids until the day I died, and was generally off my rocker.

After the craziness subsided, it turned out I had a really good kid, who was a champion napper. This meant that I had huge chunks of time to myself. In my newfound baby bliss I fantasized about the fabulous, latte-sipping, Lululemon-wearing freelance writing life I could have, where I would bake free-range organic hemp-carob cookies for the child while engaging in dynamic, fulfilling work.

The first step in this new life goal was to find a way to make writing pay, so I returned to Harlequin. From their website I learned they were actively seeking contributions to their “Spice Briefs” line. According to the style sheet, Spice Briefs were erotic novellas with the emphasis on sex over love. Swooning at the sight of his “pillar of manhood” was out and explicit raunch was in.

In the interest of research, I downloaded a bunch of Spice Briefs and confirmed what the style sheet said: these stories had nothing to do with fluttering hearts, or lip-biting heroines, and everything to do with horny people banging. They were full-blown (hee!) erotica, and I was game to give it a whirl.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a particularly sexual person. I mean, I certainly enjoy it when it’s going on; and if you give me two glasses of wine, I’ll definitely start getting frisky, but my need for sex has never defined me.  What I discovered is that writing about sex is actually, very, um, stimulating. Suddenly I had to think about what it meant to kiss and to lick and to bite and to grab. I had to analyze what those sensations felt, tasted, smelled, and sounded like in order to describe them in a realistic and compelling way. It turns out that thinking about sex for hours at a time is a sure-fire way to pique your libido. Fantastic bonus to the whole “pursuing my dream” angle.

While plot sometimes appeared secondary to the sex in the Spice Briefs I’d read, I was committed to coming up with decent characters and some kind of story. I don’t remember how I hit upon archaeology amongst Egyptian ruins — maybe I was looking for somewhere hot so I could work in a lot of sweat? At any event, after a week or two of writing, I had crafted a decent little novella ... The usual girl meets boy, really ... Young archaeology student falls into a hole while working on a dig, gets dominated and spanked a bit by some kind of fantastical ghost-Pharaoh-god, gains valuable sexual mojo from the whole experience, and goes on to bone her hot boss. Done and done.

My next step was to get a few other pairs of eyes on my novella, to make sure it was half decent. I couldn’t bring myself to ask my usual critiquing group. While they’d earnestly parsed my every sentence in the past, I wasn’t sure how they’d react to me deploying “erect nipples” and some harmless S&M into our next conversation. Luckily, I’m blessed with an overabundance of sisters, so I hit up two of them. The older one had some good insights, but I really scored with my little sister. Generally not the most communicative person, her critique was succinct and to the point: “rougher, more sweat, more cock” ... Alrighty then.

When I had made the alterations, I fired the novella off to Harlequin and then promptly forgot about it. Months later, when the baby was in daycare, delightedly eating Oreos rather than Hemp-E-os, and I had returned to my office job, my dream of living a fabulous, champagne and feather boa freelance existence a mere memory, I got the call (email). Harlequin wanted my book!

From that moment everything was very straightforward. My editor didn’t ask for a single editorial change to the manuscript, so obviously my research into Egyptology and archaeology (not to mention the finer points of ear-licking) had paid off. She didn’t like my title, though, and suggested one that I thought was much better, anyway. Thus, Carnal Punishment (hot, right?) was born. I signed a lot of papers, had zero input into the cover (but I like it) and used the pseudonym I had picked out back when I thought Love’s Bouquet was going to make my fortune.

The pseudonym raises a tricky point, because it turns out I’m not the liberated lady I thought I was. While I could deal with the thought of my mother and my brother reading it (sort of), the idea of colleagues seeing what I’d written was terrifying. In the end, I didn’t tell many people about finally getting published. I’m not ashamed, far from it; I’m proud of what I wrote. I think my novella is funny and sexy, and it’s been legitimized by the biggest publisher in the world. On the other hand, my book is called Carnal Punishment, and I’m not sure how having it on my resumé would go over in my next salary review.

In the end, I’m hiding under a thin veil of anonymity, pondering my next foray into smut … Watch this space, ‘Pinners … maybe the steamy story of a randy astronaut who discovers galactic orgasms in zero gravity …

 

Mia Crawford is not this author’s real name. Check out her blog at miacrawford80.blogspot.ca/.



81 Comments / Post A Comment

feartie

I love this. One of my students was trying to get me to write a romance to 'make my fortune' - and I just said outright, I didn't have the skills to do it. I have a PhD in creative writing but could never do it. It's tougher than anyone thinks. Congratulations on your success!

feartie

@feartie How did I miss 'rooting' in the bargain bin. In Australia rooting is...well, you can guess if you don't know.

TARDIStime

@feartie
haha, I actually had to stop and think - 2 seconds later I was there with you!

Mia Mia

@feartie Ah thanks!

Mia Mia

@TARDIStime Sheesh -- I missed that one too! I guess it was on my brain!

Ophelia

This is very cool! And, Mia, I like your pseudonym.

Cat named Virtute

This was delightful.

melis

Please, please write about this every day.

Ophelia

@melis And post excerpts.

TARDIStime

@Ophelia
But do NOT mark them as sexy in any way or my work will block that due to the almost certainly explicit content (work blocks all Bloggess's Satirical Sex Column posts). #sadface

kickupdust

alright... how many pinners have actually thought about doing this? raise your hands, everyone! (I have actually looked through their writing guidelines, having never written a fictional thing in my life.)

miss buenos aires

@kickupdust Me! I saved the New Yorker profile of Nora Roberts to remind myself that one day I will have to take a shot at this.

Gilgongo

@kickupdust Me too! I have an outline but haven't started writing it yet. I even have a friend who's going to get it to their publisher friend. I like the idea of joining a writer's group to get feedback, though. Once I actually friggin' write the thing, I think I'll do that since I have no idea of what I'm doing!

sophia_h

@kickupdust After years of a pretty successful erotica-writing "career" in fanfic, I have absolutely thought about doing this many times, just never gotten it together, plus I always thought they were still looking for romance when I am more about the porn. Mia, are they still seeking Spice Briefs? That sounds way more up my alley, so to speak.

anitabath

@kickupdust This is my favourite activity! I have one plot pretty well worked out, and a title and a whole slew of hilarious euphemisms ready for my second story, have read through many of the guidelines and have even written academic papers about romance novels, but have yet to put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard) for the stories.

Porn Peddler

@kickupdust Hi, in the process.

BadWolf

@kickupdust And me! I have some overly-researched historical romance plots floating about---corsets and breeches and euphemisms everywhere! One of these days, it is going to happen.

The first time I tried to write a romance novel, I was a 17-year-old virgin, so every time I try to start again, and get distracted with mortification/laughter at things like "throbbing manhood," I take comfort in the idea that at least I have seen one?

KillaWafers

@kickupdust I totally had 10,000 words of one during my last (fifth) leisurely year of university. I then realised that you have to send in an outline before they'll look at your manuscript, sent in the outline, and then... moved to another country, so now I'll never know if they liked it or not. Shame, because deadlines and pressure are the only things that motivate me.

I still remember the plot in detail.

camanda

Awesome! For the record, I don't think it reflects poorly on you or makes you less "liberated" to use a pseudonym -- you have to live in the world, after all, and not everyone is cool with it. That's their problem, of course, but it eventually becomes your problem, too.

Also: Benjy and CADDY. Sorry, it's making me twitch.

MollyculeTheory

@camanda CADY SMELLED LIKE TRES.

camanda

@MollyculeTheory I think you meant "smeled."

Mia Mia

@camanda aiee! So embarrassing! Thanks for pointing it out. I emergency emailed Edith last night!

hotdog

Yeah, but like...how much do they pay? I can't be the only one waiting for the resolution of this story.

meatcute

@hotdog Yes, dish! I'm dreadfully curious.

miss buenos aires

@hotdog Maybe there will be a sequel on The Billfold...

Mia Mia

@miss buenos aires It's hard to say, because I haven't received any royalties yet. I could buy a fancy-ish Ipad with the advance, but I have no clue what the royalties will be... Whether I should expect a check for $50, $500 or $5,000 (please please please let it be 5K)

Lucienne

Love's Bouquet actually sounds kind of adorable.

wee_ramekin

@Lucienne Yeah, I would buy and read that. Not even joking. I've got A Match Made by Cupid and The Way to the Doctor's Heart on my bedside table right now. I prefer the romance novels with less smut and more story (though not the novels that gloss over the sex with a "They kissed, and it was everything she'd ever imagined. The next morning...").

wee_ramekin

I haven't even read the article yet, but I had to run down here to say (nay, scream/shout/caterwaul):

THIS IS RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS!

martinipie

@wee_ramekin ME TOOOOOOOOOOO (i don't know how to make letters big)

Yahtzii

@wee_ramekin "Young archaeology student falls into a hole while working on a dig, gets dominated and spanked a bit by some kind of fantastical ghost-Pharaoh-god, gains valuable sexual mojo from the whole experience, and goes on to bone her hot boss."

I cannot emphasize enough how relevant that is to my interests.

Porn Peddler

@wee_ramekin THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT CAME TO MIND WHEN I SAW THIS.

martinipie

I love everything about this and have definitely thought about it. This makes me want to give it a go...metaphorically speaking of course.

theotherginger

in a somewhat relevant tangent: we are having a Harlequin themed Pinup in Toronto next wednesday. Check out our facebook group (Hairpin Toronto)

meatcute

Oh, 'pinners, I have to admit: I've never read a romance novel in my life. But this piqued my interest! Where do I start? Recommendations, anyone?

stonefruit

@meatcute clearly you start with CARNAL PUNISHMENT, no?

Lucienne

@meatcute I've liked the Laura Kinsale books I've read.

cuminafterall

@meatcute You could do worse than Jennifer Crusie's novels... she started writing romances after reading over 100 of them for her Ph.D. dissertation on feminist criticism. Also, sometimes I snort out loud when I read them.

MilesofMountains

@meatcute I mostly read historical ones, but Eloisa James, Loretta Chase, and Joanna Bourne are pretty solid authors with entertaining, non-doormat female leads and mostly non-douchey male leads

bluewindgirl

@meatcute Depends on what you like (I, for instance, apparently find present-day people's love lives far less interesting than old-timey ones) but I've been really liking Courtney Milan lately. If you read fantasy and aren't sure about straight up bodice rippers, Lois McMaster Bujold's most recent quartet (The Sharing Knife etc) is great. There's a bunch of reviews and the like at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.

salty

@cuminafterall Jennifer Crusie is probably the greatest gift to romance. I have read Bet Me 100 times, it's my go-to sad day book. She's so funny! Although her recent stuff is ugh, whhhhy did she have to jump on the paranormal bandwagon? A haunted theme park? A ghost that possesses children? NOOOOOO. I want more quirky witty heroines who aren't pretty or thin but make me happy to read about. NOW. Stick with Bet Me, Faking It, and Welcome to Temptation. Those are my favourites.

@meatcute: I used to work in an old folk's home where Harlequin/Mills and Boons abound, and I love Kim Lawrence. Her heroines aren't usually wilting, they're feisty, and the heroes don't do anything unforgivable and then smoulder their way into forgiveness, they're slightly more complex. I read The Carides Pregnancy and A Convenient Husband to this awesome 85 year old lady and we both were obsessed. I may or may not have read the latter in one sitting. Also she writes super well. Um, I sound like a crazy spinster. I've read Faulkner, I swear! He just doesn't give me the warm fuzzies on rainy days when my boss is being an arsehole and I feel small and ugly and unloveable.

meatcute

@salty You all are dears. I'll be returning my long-overdue library books this week and stocking up!

tessamae

@meatcute Go to HERE!

Lisa Kleypas is my all-time fave. And she was a beauty queen. Not sure how that's relevant to this discussion, other than I want her life.

KatieBarTheDoor

@meatcute OK, keep in mind that I've read about three romance novels and it was about 10 years ago, but I did enjoy them, so I'll go ahead and give a recommendation. They were by Lynn Kurland and involve European castles, time travel, and hottie Medieval guys and ladies. I thought they'd be cheesy (and I guess they kind of are?) but was surprised at how much I liked them (they're more story than sex, btw). The two that I remember specifically: Dreams of Stardust and This is All I Ask.

So there's a slightly cheesy, slightly outdated suggestion for you. It's all I've got!

Megasus

I did not get a chance to read this yet, but I just have to do say it is super appropriate because Toronto is having their first HAIRLEQUIN book club thingie next week.

redheaded&crazy

@Megano! HAIRLEQUIINNNN

i am missing it :'( but it will happen MANY TIMES RIGHT PEOPLE RIGHT

Megasus

@redheaded&crazie NOOOO!

theotherginger

@Megano! agree. but, this is going to be a repeating event. amirite?

redheaded&crazy

@robyn.andrews ursorite

no it's gonna be repeating though. for realsies. either that or i'm going to sit in a coffee shop by myself loudly reading the dirtiest passages i can find

Megasus

@robyn.andrews I hope so!

TARDIStime

@Megano!
Harlequin + thingie in the same sentence = teehee!
Don't judge me. I'm perpetually childish.

loose lipped controller

You hooked me in by talking about my hometown of Sydney - but the paragraph describing the draft plot on a paper napkin had me saying "I WOULD READ THAT" with a level of enthusiasm best equated with Liz Lemon's feelings about the pitch for Queen of Jordan

TARDIStime

@loose lipped controller
I am also a Sydney person!
I started a Sydney 'pinup thread (click on the Hairpin Meetups tab up the top) and it's looking awfully empty - I'm wondering if anyone's noticed it's there?

TokyoPlum

Carnal Punishment sounds awesome.

After falling in love with the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, I decided to give romance novels a go. I read two--one was dull, but the other one, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels, was really entertaining. And the sex was hot!

I've written a couple of sexy scenes over the years--like Mia, I found that writing about sex could be pretty stimulating. But writing a scene or two and writing a whole novel are worlds apart--I have those moments of "Hey, I could write one of these!", but in the back of my mind I know that it's not easy at all.

j-furr

I have a weakness for Diana Gabledon's novels are my guilty pleasure - but thats mostly becuase I am Scottish

redheaded&crazy

@j-furr do diana gabaldon novels really count as guilty pleasures? they're ... they're HISTORICAL FICTION OKAY!!!

zamboni

@j-furr My mom is also Scottish, and left her copy of Outlander in the bathroom (we are a classy family of bathroom readers) when I was like 11. I opened it at random and the first phrase I read was "the instrument of his manhood." Of course I read the entire sex scene and then went and told my mom the book she was reading was "hilarious!" (I read the first three Outlander books like two years later.)

paperbuttons

Oh I love this!
When we were all getting our MFAs five of us got together to write a smutty pirate story. We were cocky of course, but ended up having the same revelations you mention: it's actually serious work that you have to care about to do well. (Plus five people trying to write one coherent thing is a pretty stupid idea in general.)
We never got our smut published, but I really do want to try again on my own someday, and this has inspired me! Thanks!

faience

@paperbuttons My father last week suggested that he and I use his experience as a creative writer and my near-complete PhD in archaeology to write the next "Fifty Shades of Archaeology". Cue me being totally weirded out by this notion as he clearly had no idea what Fifty Shades was besides that it was selling millions.

Blackwatch Plaid

And here I've been writing porn for free on the internet. Then again, I have little interest in straight romance or traditional gender anything, so Harlequin wouldn't have me anyway.

sophi

@glittercock A friend of mine has gotten published writing m/m romance! Not Harlequin, but there's still a pretty good market for it.

redheaded&crazy

1st thought: you left your oven on for a WEEK?! holy christ this is one of my biggest paranoias. what happened???

2nd thought: I would so do that fantastical-Pharaoh-god

Mia Mia

@redheaded&crazie My apartment was really, really hot when I got home and my hydro bill was higher than usual for that month.

Porn Peddler

@redheaded&crazie Mister leaves burners on all fucking day. Stupid electric stove. I freak the fuck out every time it happens.

Pela

OMG swoon! I love all the dirty parts. I have about half a book written... I should get back on it.

Pseudo Pseudonym

A Dr. Jackson doing excavations in Egypt like in Stargate? Not accusing you of anything, in fact, your book might be of interest to past Stargate fans. Congrats on getting published!

book_girl

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but whenever I'm in the library or the bookshop (retail, not used, so this is presumably the latest stuff) reading the blurbs for Mills and Boon novels, I just see the same elements over and over and over again:
a) MAN - rich, arrogant, emotionally dysfunctional, exotic (mediterannean, arabian or south american are the favourites) +/- royalty
b) WOMAN - pretty (ranges from 'when she takes her glasses off' to model), struggling financially, naive/unworldly, +/- 'rebellious' attitude, +/- mother of MAN's child
c) MAN and WOMAN fall instantly in lust
d) MAN emotionally or financially blackmails WOMAN into either working with him or 'pretending' to be his mistress/wife

I won't even go into the possessive, man=aggressor,woman=object -language used. Tell me I'm wrong?!

Cassie Alexander@twitter

(ask me about my nine books no one wanted, 56 agents queried, fifteen years of my life writing with no love road to finally getting an urban fantasy book out with St. Martin's Press this past summer, says someone who lurks here a lot. A lot a lot.)

Seriously, I am available to talk about How To Get Traditionally Published factoids if anyone's interested in them. Not that there's not tons of other people here with the same infos/plight/self-destructive hobbies here as well.

cecil hungry

@Cassie Alexander@twitter UM, I am all about publishing-world factoids. Like everyone else, ever, I am trying to write a novel. Of course, I'm only about 1,000 words in and doubt it'll ever get done. BUT if I ever do finish, I have zero idea where to go from there. My book will be pure chick lit (part of the reason I'm embarrassed to tell people what I'm working on), although hopefully more along the Sophie Kinsella/Meg Cabot lines than some of the goopier stuff.

Cassie Alexander@twitter

@Cassie Alexander@twitter awesomesauce! I just got home and took an ambien (I work nights) -- but when I get up i will provide cogent info :D. Gimme till midnight tonight ;).

Porn Peddler

@Cassie Alexander@twitter Please write an entire post about this!

damselfish

@Cassie Alexander@twitter Haha, fancy seeing you here! (We met at Wiscon, I was Alyc's roommate). Hairpin is where all the awesome people gather.

Also you should write a post!

Cassie Alexander@twitter

@damselfish ha! Yay! And I would love to write a post. Lemme give it a whirl up above and who knows, maybe the powers that be will enjoy it.

Cassie Alexander@twitter

@cecil hungry hey!

Okay, up earlier than planned. My housemate's son started playing techno outside my window because he hates freedom or something.

This isn't a post about how to write, or what to write, or why to write, those would be vastly different (and probably much longer) topics. But here's an overview of what to do once you have written. (I also, possibly like you, take comfort in the fact that I know what I'm going to do next, so I can totally see wanting to suss all this out before moving on.)

I'm going to assume you know the mechanics of writing and at the end of your book you have written a book-length product to sell. Your typical adult paperback is somewhere between 80,000-100,000, with epic fantasies pushing the boundaries at 100-120k. Young adult books are less long -- 60-80k, and middle grade books are 40-60ish.

You can break out of these barriers -- you could write a middle grade epic doorstopper -- but the more of an outlier you are, the harder it will be for your book to sell. The more you deviate from expected norms, the more magnificent a book it will have to be (or you, irrationally famous, ala Snooki) to not just get dismissed out of hand.

I mention wordcount lengths because you'll use them when you write a query letter. A query letter is a short introduction to your work that you will send to agents and editors in which you largely try to sound like a) you know how the game is played, and b) sane.

How the game is played:

"Dear So-and-so," (where their name is spelled correctly)

Interesting opening hooky thought about the book. (Note = not a rhetorical question.)

Interesting paragraph about the book. (Keep it short -- less words = less trouble you can get into.)

Information about you and the book: Book So Amazing is a complete* genre-goes-here-**book at 80,000 words***. It is a standalone book with series potential (depending on the genre). My publication credits **** include......

The material that you have requested ***** follows/is attached.

Best Regards,
Super Author

* = you mention completeness, because you'd be amazed how many people try to sell their first books as partials. Again, this might work if you're Snooki, but a lot of agents have been burned by partials in the past -- in many ways, ending a book is a jillion times harder than starting one. So by putting this in you show that you have a clue, and that you've honest-to-god got a book finished.

** = I like to include a genre just in case. Hopefully you're only querying agents that represent other work like your own (how do you know? back track famous authors who are writing what you want to write right now, and query their agents. Or pay 20$ to get a month long subscription and look them up on publisher's marketplace) but that helps to clear the air. If they've recently decided they're not going to take on any more space opera, you've given them an out, and they won't be disappointed when your book takes on the Blorgons on page 20.

*** = are you in the right ballpark, word count wise? If you're not, an easy out for them. If you are, much easier in for you.

**** = don't worry so much about publication credits. I came from a science fiction and fantasy background, so I had some short stories out their prior, but really, agents will look at anything that seems interesting. If you came from a respected MFA program, or your real life somehow intersects with your writing topic, or it's a non-fic book and you have a "platform" (I'm the only one in the US raising Nordic Bees right now!, etc) you can mention it, but otherwise, less is more. I've seen tons of queries from friends that mention, "Oh, I went to college here, and I've got three kids, and I raise Nordic Bees." But unless your book is actually about those things, "A memoir of a Calstate mom, who learned a lot about raising kids from her Nordic bees" agents don't care. All that matters is the book.

***** = almost all agents want a different set of materials and in different ways, unfortunately. This part of the process will make you want to die. It is completely unfair that some will want you to paste the first five pages of your book into the email, some will want you to format the first 40 pages (but not one page more!) into some obscure format that they can read on their 1980's cell phone, others will want you to use comic sans...or...papyrus! (I kid. Mostly.) I include that sentence to show them that I'm willing to jump through the hoops they request, that I did my due diligence research-wise, and also so that if my attachment doesn't show up, they know that I actually did try to send one (if requested, obvs.)

It's all about professionalism and faking it until you make it.

As for making the Interesting parts of your query Interesting, I'd recommend reading http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ -- she's an agent who shreds and then reconstructs query letters that she receives. This could also be a much much much longer topic, heh.

Note you can also use your query letter to send to publishers themselves. They may also want a synopsis of the entire book, which is a separate beast best tackled when your book is actually done. The best way to tell what people (agents/editors) want is to look up guidelines on their websites.

I haven't even touched how to avoid scam agents/presses, what the deal is with self publishing, is Amazon the devil or not, writing a synopsis (which would be another long post) and everything else.

Writing all of this here now makes me realize that when you're just starting out it seems like there's a long uphill battle ahead. Which...there is ;). But agents and editors are actually looking for good material. My book got pulled out of my agent's slush pile -- after 56 other agents said, "Not for us, thanks," -- and sold at auction in a week after we put it on submission.

(Miracles can happen, can happen to yooooooouuu... o/~ Not so miraculous that I don't still live in a house with five other people and a teenager who plays techno though. I'm still working on that level of miracle ;))

Cassie Alexander@twitter

@Porn Peddler see below! I hope it helps :D

cecil hungry

@Cassie Alexander@twitter Um, OMG, you are pretty much the best ever. Obviously the first, huge, possibly insurmountable issue for me will be WRITING THE DAMN THING (ugh, why can't it spring out of my head fully formed like a witty, chick-lit Athena???????), but this is SO HELPFUL. I know SOME of this through osmosis, and reading blogs like The Gatekeeper (who is excellent, although I am too lazy/beery to look up her exact blog right now), but getting an exact layout/breakdown is super helpful. There should totally be an "Ask a Publisher/Agent/Author/Something" column on here, as I imagine most literate/literary readers are at least somewhat interested in the process, even if they're not planning to write anything. And I mean, up until like a month ago, I was always like "Yeah, I was an English major and work in publishing [not the kind that will be any help with getting my book published, worse luck] but I AM NOT A WRITER." Sigh... Anyway, long story short, THANKS, this was awesome.

Biblio Ninja@twitter

Excellent LOL Article. Mia having a pseudonym is SEXY! Your story into the world of romance writing was delightful - thank you for sharing. The cover and title of your new book are HOT and I am going to buy it right now! Keep writing - your wit and explorations down under will keep us all reading, hot and laughing out loud.

BadWolf

This is awesome. Please write about this ALL the time.

Porn Peddler

As I think a bunch of you know, I am currently writing a terribly pornographic book (and since it is mine I'm going to say this shit is not romance or erotica, it's porn. Hopefully smart, illuminating porn featuring flawed, charming characters but porn.) and as our resident ramekin has expressed, this post is RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS. More please. More about publishing and the editing process and all of that.

And Mia, I kind of really want this book on my kindle for my upcoming night shifts, but is that an option with this publishing format?

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