Thursday, December 27, 2007

Q&A: What to do after the book is written

Our next question came from Ron Simpson. He wants to know how in the world do you GET published after you've written a dang ole book. Now, this is a very common question that does not have an easy answer. I'll do my best.

The first thing you do is go buy the book Writer's Market. It's found in the "Reference" section of any bookstore, and they do a new edition every year. You can also find it at your library. This book lists every legit publisher, and many agents, and tells you everything you need to know on how to contact them, what to send them, whom to address, what etiquette to follow, etc. (Did I use "whom" correctly there? I hate that word, I really do.)

Now, the first thing you do before that other first thing you do is make sure your book is the best it can be. None of this "my mama liked the first draft" nonsense. Rewrite and revise until it's very good. Have lots of people read through it and give you honest feedback. Make it the best it can be. And don't have typos. Please, in the name of all that is good and green on this Earth, do not have typos. ESPECIALLY in your query letter!

Speaking of query letters, this is where it becomes difficult. I've been immersed in the writing world so long now, I forget what is common knowledge and what is not. Ron, don't take this wrong, but I'm going to assume you're the dumbest person on the planet and tell you all the basics. :-)

You do not print out your manuscript and start mailing it to people. You follow some very strict etiquette rules or you'll never be taken seriously. Be extremely professional. I can't stress that enough. Publishers don't really want glitter and red stationery.

Anyway, first thing, buy that book. Figure out 10-20 publishers and agents who match your profile. You do this by looking in the index at the genre categories and going down the list. For example, I write children's literature. I go to that section and pick 20 of the listed publishers or agents, then find their respective page numbers.

There, it will tell me the editor I should address, what they want (most want a query letter, some want 3 chapters and a synopsis, very few want the whole manuscript up front), the address to mail it to, etc. Each publisher/agent may vary.

Notice I keep saying publisher/agent. You can shoot for both. Submitting to both is almost the exact same process. Yeah, it's great to have an agent, but plenty of publishers accept submissions directly from the author. My advice is always to send your queries to both. If you do land one or the other, the path becomes much easier from there.

A query is a simple one page letter that basically does this: tells them briefly about your story, states any prior experience, and begs them to let you send a few chapters for them to read. At the risk of embarrassing myself greatly, I will post the very query letter I sent out that landed me an agent. Granted, it didn't hurt that I had some sales numbers in there already for my previously published books by the small publisher. (see my "How I got published" links on the right hand side of the blog.)

Here it is:

Jennie Dunham
Dunham Literacy, Inc.
156 Fifth Ave., Suite 625
New York, NY 10010-7002

RE: Query for review of manuscript; The Maze Runner; fiction; young adult

Dear Ms. Dunham,

I have completed a 70,000 word novel for young adults entitled The Maze Runner. It tells the story of a group of boys who have been ripped from their homes and families to live inside a massive stone maze where the walls move and hideous creatures lurk. The Maze has many secrets, and its creators did not expect the boys to ever figure them out—but one of the greatest and cruelest experiments in history is about to come to a most unexpected conclusion.

My novel should appeal to fans of such books as Holes by Louis Sachar and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It combines elements of suspense, fantasy, humor, and despair; in the end, it’s a story about the strengths and weaknesses of each character, and how they react to a problem that has no solution.

I’ve had four books published by Bonneville Books, a specialty press based in Utah. Despite the limited marketing and distribution power of my publisher, my books have sold 20,000 copies and continue to grow in popularity. I work hard to promote my work, having done many book-signings and speaking engagements at schools. For more information on my current books, which were recently re-released with new covers, please visit my website,

May I send you a copy of The Maze Runner for your review? I have included an SASE for your response.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

James Dashner

That's a real agent by the way. I think she rejected me. :-)

Notice the word SASE. That stands for Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. You must send that with your query letter or the agent/publisher may not respond. You can imagine if they had to fork out the dough for the thousands of stamps for their rejections.

From that point on, not a lot you can do. The agent/publisher will respond in a few weeks or months, either saying no thanks or asking you for a partial. I strongly recommend you track your queries and their responses, dates, follow ups, etc. If someone asks you for something, send it to them, maintaining your professionalism. And don't plan on sleeping at night until you hear back.

My last piece of big advice would be this: go to writer's conferences. Network. Make contacts. Many if not most authors got their break through some kind of connection, often one they created themselves.

If you get rejected, please don't despair. There are more billionaires in the state of North Dakota than there are successful authors who didn't get rejected initially. It's part of the game. It's just part of the game, and there are a million reasons why people turn things down. Granted, one of those might be that you suck, but I doubt it.

Someone said this: There's a word for a persistent author. Published.

Best of luck. I know I didn't cover everything, so if anyone has follow up questions, please post it in the comments.
Now go, write, and submit. You can do it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

ARCs, Website, Various

This will be a random post. I'll try really hard to say ten things that mean something.

First, did everyone who was supposed to get an ARC get one? If you don't have it by now, something must've gone wrong. Let me know.

Second, you'll want to check back right after Christmas. The official website for THE 13TH REALITY will be launching sometime next week. I'll let you know when it does.

Third, have you guys ever used Google Alert? It's pretty amazing. Basically it's like your own Internet personal secretary. If someone blogs about me or the new book, it sends me an email. Another great review popped up yesterday. Check it out: CLICK HERE

Fourth, have I ever told you guys how much I love cheese? I really, really like cheese.

Fifth, I will officially be the last person on the planet to get an iPod this Christmas. I'm getting the new 8 gig nano. Red. For the Georgia Bulldogs.

Sixth, traffic to this blog is really going to skyrocket when the book comes out. I'm trying to decide what the personality of this blog should be. I really want to help aspiring writers, but I also want to make it fun for my readers. Any suggestions?

Seventh, the college bowl season starts tonight. Plan accordingly.

Eighth, tomorrow my oldest child turns eight years old. I absolutely cannot believe that is possible. I have an eight-year-old. Wow.

Ninth, I'm a little sad that Peter Jackson isn't directing The Hobbit. He's the executive producer, but not the director. This makes me very sad, but I'm sure he won't let the yet-to-be-called director mess it up. PJ has prior committments to direct, and he doesn't want to make the fans wait any longer.

Tenth, and most importantly, I want to plug my sister's new website. She is an extremely gifted photographer, and her business is really starting to pick up in Atlanta. Please take a second and check it out: CLICK HERE

Well, until next time, then. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Nice review and Best News Ever

Two items today that my oldest son would definitely classify as "sweet biscuits!" worthy.

First off, a really nice review popped up on my upcoming book. I know there have been others on blogs, but let's face it - I think I've known everyone so far (and I'm very thankful). This is the first one by someone I have never met and who has no interest in the success of my book. Check it out: CLICK HERE. Stacy, if you read this, thank you very much.

Also, and I hope I didn't get my mom excited because this has nothing to do with me, PETER JACKSON IS MAKING THE HOBBIT!!!!!!!!!! Check it out: CLICK HERE.

In even better news, he's splitting it into TWO movies. I'd vote for 23, but I'll take what I can get. Now I just need to pray every night that he invites Howard Shore back to do the music again. I'm sure he will.

I know this finally and completely reveals me for what I am, but I can't help it. I was willing to give up one of my children for this to happen, so I'm sure my wife is relieved that won't be necessary. By the way, in my book that has already gone to press, Peter Jackson is mentioned in the acknowledgements. Yes, I am as nerdy as humanly possible.

Peter and Stacy, thanks for making today a wonderful day. Boo-yah!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hmm, what to talk about?

We're in kind of a lull right now with my book stuff. It's gone to press, they're mapping out my release tour, not a whole lot going on. There might be some cool news regarding Borders bookstores, but not yet.

Meanwhile, I'm still working hard on Book 2. Right now it stands at 41,163 words, and I'm truly loving every minute of writing it. It'll probably end up around 100,000 words, so I'm purtin near close to being halfway done with the first draft. And the second half of a book is even MORE fun to write than the first half. In my humble opinion.

This book is weird. Of course, all my books are weird, but this one is really weird. I like it because it's so different from Book 1, and yet it has some of the same elements. For example, there are riddles, but in a different context. All of the same characters return, but we learn a lot more about them, especially Sato. Most of you don't know who Sato is, duh. But I hope by the end of Book 1 you'll wonder what in the heck is up with that guy.

We also have new characters, of course. The dude named Sally is my favorite one.

Hmm, what else to talk about? Annie Baily asked in the comments on my "Q&A: Writing Process" post about my word counts and how much they change from draft to draft. Boy, every author is really different on this one. Our recently exalted friend, Brandon Sanderson, says he goes back and basically cuts out ten percent of the manuscript because he's too wordy.

Not me. I rush things when I write the first draft. I need to be more wordy. Alway, always, in every case, the word count of my second draft is more than the first. Always. For example, Book 1. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure the 1st draft was actually a little less than 90,000 words. I might have lied a little in my initial story on that one, without meaning to. The final draft was 95,000 words, not the first one. Anyway, there you have it.

Hmm, what else? Christmas is coming - did you hear about that? You're supposed to get presents and stuff. It's kinda cool.

Umm, oh, Authorpalooza! That went really great last week. I met some great people, saw old friends, had a blast. One kid came in, his name was Josh. This guy is a stud of studs. He said he was a fan way back during the ORIGINAL Jimmy Fincher cover days. This just about brought tears to my eyes.

His cool parents bought some books, and I just had to give Josh an ARC for the new one. Pretty sure I'll never forget the look on his face when I gave him that. What a great, great kid. I hope he reads this post.

Afterward, I had dinner with some awesome people: Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale, Jessica Day George, Rick Walton and his wife, Randall Wright, Kim Justesen, and the greatest person in the world - Angie Wager from Barnes and Noble. I love this woman. She is just as responsible for my career as any other person on the planet. Shannon had a friend there, and dang it all if I didn't forget her name. Sorry, if you're reading this, truly I am.

One last thing. I went and saw Brandon Mull do a school event yesterday to learn a thing or two. Now I know one reason why he is so successful. It was really good, and the kids loved him.

Well, that's about enough for one day. I hope all people of all faiths are enjoying this awesome time of year. Peace on Earth. good will to men.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Some of you may have already heard this, but Brandon Sanderson has been chosen to write the 12th and last book in the Wheel of Time Series. Robert Jordan (real name James Rigney) passed away this past September.

You don't need to hear this from me. Check it out on Brandon's website: CLICK HERE.

Do you have any idea what a big deal this is? Unbelievable. The series has sold millions of copies, so this will basically turn Brandon into a mega superstar. He was already well on his way, but this will make it official.

How cool is it that his name will be on my book in March as an endorsement? Here's my original post about him: CLICK HERE (from a few weeks ago).

Brandon, a hearty congratulations. Wow. I'm speechless.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Q&A: The Writing Process

The next question in the queue (could someone please explain to me why that word has the letters "ue" in it twice?) comes from Rachelle. She asked about the writing process, how much do I get absorbed into it, stuff like that. Well, sometimes it feels like this picture, but for the most part I absolutely love writing and I'm happy to talk about it.

It's a good time to answer this question because I am completely immersed in writing the sequel to my book that comes out in March. I should've been writing it since last spring, but I found it really hard to do that and work with my editor on Book 1 at the same time. Plus, I work much better under pressure. And I've been plotting it out for months and months.

Here's how I write a book:

I'm a very all-or-nothing kind of guy. For example, I like soda. Drinking water with meals is about as exciting as watching quilting shows with my wife. But soda is bad for you. So I've tried many times to quit drinking it, sometimes holding myself to one a week or some lame program like that. It never works. I either don't drink it at all or I drink it like a thirsty man in the desert. I've done pretty well recently.

Same with writing. When I'm into a story, I need to write, write, write. I'm very streaky. I'll go weeks doing very little writing, then write a whole bunch for 2 or 3 months. If you remember, I wrote the first draft of THE JOURNAL OF CURIOUS LETTERS in 7 weeks. That was partly because I had a sudden and unexpected deadline, but mainly because I got so absorbed into the story I spent every spare second writing.

Before I begin a book, I've thought about it for a very long time, jotting down notes when really cool things pop into my head. I also do a simple outline, 1 or 2 pages where I have a bullet point list of the main events. That's the extent of my prework.

One note here: it is VERY important to me to know how my book ends before I begin writing it. I know a lot of authors don't do this. They say the characters whisk them away and decide the ending for them. That's great. For them.

But not me. In my opinion, every word of the book is setting up the ending. How can you do this if you don't know how it ends? It's not like I have it exactly detailed, but I always know the general climax and all that, including what happens to each character. Some say this impedes your creativity because you can't change things.

Hogwash. I can change whatever I want, and do it all the time. Nothing is sacred. But at least I start with what I think will be the ending and go from there. To me, that's better than nothing.

Stephen King says he doesn't plot. And he's pretty much The Master, so I'm probably wrong. But, and I'm so scared to say this because I worry that I might spontaneously combust, if there is one teensy tiny thing I sometimes don't like about The Master, it's his endings. They are often anticlimactic. (please, dear Lord, do not let him read this, please do not let him read this) He is the most gifted author I know, but sometimes his endings leave me wanting. Okay, I'm just going to shut up about that.

Anyway, so I start writing the book. I don't know what to say about that part. It's an indescribable thing, and I know why so many people think authors are nut jobs. It's because we sometimes TRY to describe it and sound like psychos.

The story consumes me, the characters become real, it becomes my life. It's all I think about 99% of the time, no matter what I'm doing. Even when I put it aside to play with my kids, work, whatever, the book still hangs there in my brain, begging me to give it more thought. It becomes so real and takes over my life so much that maybe I am ready to admit I'm crazy.

Oh well. There you have it. I'm looney. But I have a hot wife, four awesome kids, and a lot of good friends and family. So I'm happily insane.

Just a couple more things. I do not edit as I go. Never, never, never. I write the whole thing in one long burst of creativity, not worrying about how good or how cruddy the writing may be. During the first draft, the STORY is the ONLY thing that matters. And the characters. When that first draft is done, then I go back and rework it, recraft it, rewrite it. But I rarely change anything major relating to the story itself after the first draft is complete.

Next, I go through the book from beginning to end, probably four or five times, cleaning as I go. Then I give it to my wife and sit on pins and needles hoping she likes it. She usually does and gives great feedback. Then I give it to my critique group and other close friends.

The part I hate is going through all of their stuff, deciding what to accept and what to reject. Mainly because by that point I am sick to death of the book. Imagine reading the same book nine or ten times within the span of a few weeks. Do ya think you'd get a little sick of it?

Finally, after all of that exhaustive work, I turn it in to my editor, dreading the prospect of getting HER suggested rewrites back. And that, my friends, is just about enough for today. For those keeping score, I'm at 32,262 words on Book 2 and still on track to be done by February.