Question: At what stage is it best to get sensitivity readers? or any time of fact checking expert readers (if you’re written a book about quantum mechanics, maybe ask someone?
I feel like at the querying stage it’s a waste, because you have no guarantee this novel will be any good, but I is there a stage where it’s too late?
There are two places in the writing process where, I think, a sensitivity reader/someone who lives the lives of your characters would be useful.
First is in the drafting/planning stage. This is a good place to find someone to tell the story to, and to get their opinion on what you plan to do with the plot and the character growth. There’s nothing worse than writing a whole novel only to have to gut it later and change things significantly. Telling your story, in detail, to someone else will help them catch redundant or harmful stereotypes, and help direct your characterization before you ever put pen to page.
The second place is after the first draft has been written, and re-read by you, and tidied up a little. Before you send the book to any of your other beta readers, or to any query situation, it should go back to your sensitivity reader to ensure that you interpreted their advice correctly. Again, small mistakes or misunderstandings could lead to massive rewrites or rearrangements of the manuscript, so before you put in a ton of work editing and polishing and tweaking, be sure that the bones of the project are sound and respectful.
If you want to consult your sensitivity reader one more time once you’ve finished the polishing process, that wouldn’t hurt either. Just to ensure nothing new slipped in or out. Also, make certain to thank them in your acknowledgements! They deserve it AND (to be self-serving) having their name there goes a long way to shutting up people who think you’re appropriating or being insensitive. It proves that you did do your best. Put them in your query letter too, to prove the same to any agent/publisher who might be afraid that you’re storming in where you could stomp things by mistake.
Question: If I do decide to go the agent route, at what point would it be recommended to start looking? Total manuscript completion?
Basically, yeah, wait until the book is written, polished, and has been through beta readers or critique groups. You only get one chance to impress an agent. Always, always, always ensure that what you’re sending them is the very best version of it. Also, waiting until the manuscript is totally complete also means that a) you’ve proven to yourself and to the agent that you can finish what you start and b) you won’t get caught with your pants down if they respond right away asking for the full, after you’ve sent a partial.
But more than just a totally spit-shined MS, also ensure you write a complete pitch package before you start to query. Why? Because agents invariably ask for come combination of these documents as well as the query letter and MS, and it makes sense to just sit down and do it all together once instead of scrambling to create new docs with each submission.
Elevator Pitch: One or two sentences to hook ’em. Imagine you have the length of one elevator ride to intrigue a publisher/agent/producer. What would you say? (Example: A girl vigilante and her mystical, semi-sentient rocketpack are shot down behind enemy lines, and now have to rely on the help of an underground rebellion to not only get home, but end a decades-long war. The only question is whether the rebellion can be trusted, or if they’re planning to turn her in for the bounty.) This is the only part of the pitch doc I recommend memorizing, because you may have the opportunity to pitch someone in person at an event, and you want to have a slick response to: “So what are you working on now?”
Back Cover Copy/One Paragraph Pitch: Basically, write the stuff that goes on the back of the book. Try to keep it to about 100-200 words. You will use this in your query letter, as well as turn it over to marketing when it’s time to design your cover.
5 Page Synopsis: Write out the entire plot of your novel, beat-by-beat, pointing out cause and effect and character growth, INCLUDING the ending (surprise your readers, not your agent.)
3 Page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 3 pager.
1 page Synopsis: Turn that same doc above into a 1 pager. (Why? Because these are the industry standards, and these get asked for a lot).
If the book is first of a series, DO NOT WRITE THE SERIES. Write the back cover copy/pitch paragraph & a 1 page synopsis, and included it in the package as well. (Why not write the whole series? What if the publisher only wants the first book? You’ve wasted your effort. Or what if your editor asks you what book #2 is about and the two of you come up with a MUCH BETTER idea? Wasted effort.)
Once you’ve done all that, then you can craft your Query Letter, and begin to submit to agents. (I made an Excel with each agent I wanted to submit to and their individual submission requirements.)
Question: Was just wondering, is it better to have an agent? Or would submitting directly to publisher’s on your own be better? I’m not yet at the submission stage but I started to wonder, would it be recommended to get an agent, or go it alone?
It really depends on what kind of career you’re looking to have. Some people are after the big J.K. Rowling kind of thing, and some people are looking for something small and local.
Agents are required for the first, and not so much for the second.
Having an agent means you have access to the Big 5 Publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillion, Random Penguin House, Simon & Schuster) through the best channels. You MAY be able to submit to those houses via the slush pile with no agent, but doing so through an agent is best. Agents know the editors, and talk to them frequently. The Big 5 are are big companies and things can get lost in the shuffle, so it’s always better to have an agent who will and CAN follow up for you.
But if you’re looking to submit to ChiZine, or REUTS Publications, or any of the good mid-list publishing houses, or any of the great quirky small presses, you don’t need an agent for that. I signed my first book to a small press without an agent. I signed my fantasy series to a mid-list publishing house with one. She’s working on getting my next book into the Big 5 now that I have a proven track record and an established readership.
Advantages to Having an Agent
Built-in beta reader
Access to the large publishing houses that you couldn’t otherwise submit to
It’s nice to have someone as excited about you finishing a manuscript as you are!
Advocates for you and is in your corner if there are contracting disputes, legal battles, or just plain issues like the publisher not delivering something on time
Already knows the industry and can guide you through the hurtles, roadbumps, or emotional breakdowns
Can help shape and craft your career, listen to your ideas and suggest which one to do next, etc.
Is there to help you navigate adaptation rights, such as audio books and TV
Probably has a big mailing list and social media following so there’s extra eyes on your work right away
Can handle any pitches or proposals that come your way and make sure that any partnerships are legal and protect you and your work
Marketing support – your agent/agency will have connections with review publications, bloggers, etc. and will know which avenues of promotion are worth pursuing before you spend the money on them. Sometimes, they know before you do which new website or app is going to be the next cool place.
Your publishing sibs (authors with the same agent/agency as you) are a supportive and connected network that are usually happy to push and blurb one another’s books, answer questions for each other, and generally celebrate when one of you finds success. (And their awards and bestseller hits reflect well on you because you share the same agent/agency)
Advantages to Going It Alone
Keep all your royalties for yourself
Can craft your career however you like, which means you don’t have to write something saleable if you just want to write something fun and nichey
Can do business directly with the publisher with no middle man (though I’ve found I still can contact the publisher/my editor/marketing team no probs with my agent; she’s happy to let me be as Type A as I need to be)
More control of your marketing, and your brand.
Less pressure for deadlines or to churn out the “next thing”
The publishing industry is a hot mess right now. Nobody is willing to take any risks at the top tier levels, the editors are looking for the Next Big Thing, but don’t trust what the readers are telling them they want, and basically most of New York is flooded with professional cowardice. They only want The Next Big Debut Author (aka Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give) or the next big hit from an author with a string of hits. Smaller presses have less pressure to sell hits, can take the weird, and the wonderful, and the small, and interesting. (That is not to say your small press book can’t hit big, it just will need a lot of flogging to review publications, award competitions, etc.)
It takes so much tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime to go the traditional route. Books may take yeeeeeeeeeears to get signed because everyone is waiting on the next person down the chain to read it, or pitch it, or put together the contracts. UHG. A book I wrote in 2012 is coming out September 2019. With no agent and a direct line to the publisher, you can speed the process.
You can be more creative with your marketing.
However, you do have to look at the disadvantages too. Going back to my example of signing my first book sans agent – I got screwed and didn’t know it. It was the first contract I’d ever signed. Eventually my agent got me out of that legal tangle (and the book is being republished with a new house and a new cover), but she wasn’t obliged to because she hadn’t brokered that deal.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had a best-selling author contact me for advice about how to deal with their agents because the agent has gotten lazy with her A-list clients, stopped advocating for them, stopped pushing, and generally relegated them to the back burner.
Again, it all depends on you, what you write, what kind of career you want, and how much work you want to do or how involved you want to be.
Remember, there’s also nothing saying you have to pick one or the other and that’s it. You can start with an agent and decide it’s not for you and let them go. (Remember, they work for you, not the other way around). You can publish small first, like I did, and then seek an agent for your second or third book.
I don’t know why, but there seems to be this media-wide conspiracy to ensure that every vampire story set in the 20th and 21st centuries has a mystery element to it. Some are police procedurals with fangs, some have the immortal undead seeking vengeance for the innocent and wronged as detectives and vigilantes, and some focus on supernatural conflicts and personal conundrums in the vampire’s life. But make no mistake – there are a ton of vampire detective stories out there.
Off the top of my head I can think of Dracula: the Series, Forever Knight, The Anita Blake books, The Vampire Files, Angel: The Series, Dark Shadows, Moonlight, Nightwalker, Master of Mosquiton, Michael Morbius, and Blood Ties (both television and books). And that’s without bringing up Wikipedia or Google.
So of course when I was writing my master’s thesis project on Mary Sues and self-representative characters in fanfiction, and I was asked to write a few fanfics of my own demonstrating the principal of the paper, my mind leapt back to my first fandom love – Nicholas de Brabant aka Detective Nick Knight of the Metro Toronto Police Department. I was young, impressionable, and hooked on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when one of my cousins introduced me to the Canadian television series Forever Knight.
I tracked down every episode, recorded them onto blank VHS tapes, and watched and rewatched, and rerewatched the weekly mysteries that Detective Knight solved – both legal and supernatural – in the quest to redeem his soul as penance for the lives he’d taken as a young vampire during the Crusades. (Those VHS tapes, by the way, have since been donated to the film department of my undergrad alma mater for research material. The commercials that aired around the show are what’s important to scholars now.) Watching the DVD box set of the episodes while doing my Master’s, I saw that the show didn’t hold up as well as my nostalgia wished. But Geriant Wyn Davies was still dreamy.
And I did notice something else –the pattern. The trope. The stereotype of the vampire who, for some reason or other, decides that it’s his duty to ‘repay society for his sins’, and chooses the path of protecting the innocent and avenging wrongs. To become the Thing That Goes Bump In The Night That Bumps Back. To be a bully bigger and badder than the regular bullies. To use their considerable powers, and memory, and experiences not to exploit, but to protect. And to brood artfully while doing so.
Why was that, I wondered.
Do we humans know that despite our bravado, we are all, in the end, still prey? Prey to one another, to random acts of god, to circumstance and terrorism, war and disease? And do we seek protection so badly that we’re willing to turn to –to have the gall to imagine – a predator willing to guard rather than eat us?
Or is there something titillating about walking that knife-edge of danger? Of knowing that at any moment, the protector could become the stalker, the murderer, the seducer?
The more I thought about it, the more I decided that this is what I had to write about for my thesis project. The trope of the wolf turned shepherd, the stereotype of the vampire detective, and the stock characters that routinely surround him. And as I was working as a production assistant on a made-for-TV film at the time, making my lead protagonist, my Mary Sue, a PA seemed like the most appropriate decision.
Thus “City By Night” was born. Originally meant to be a photo-graphic novel where I would pull the ultimate self-representative stunt and model for the Mary Sue character, the project fell through and I revamped (pun intended) the tale into a prose novella. This gave me a lot more opportunity to develop the backstories and characters, which I jumped into with glee.
Writing “City By Night” felt a lot like writing fanfic of my favourite media texts, but it also gave me one of my first opportunities to flex my own creative wings and start to find my own voice. This was the first instance of the meta-textual storytelling I love to employ, which you’ll find more polished in my The Accidental Turn fantasy series.
And of course, it gave me lots of excuses to reread and rewatch my favourite vampires and swoon, squee, and sigh.
Though I have my theories, I don’t actually know why we love vampire detectives so much. But I’m sure as heck not complaining. And I hope that adding Richmond and Mary to the pantheon makes you swoon, squee and sigh too.