Thursday, July 9, 2009

Success - What does it take?

Success – What does it take?
Michael Davis
Author of the Year, 2008

Several issues back, I posted three truths about writing. Today I’ll discuss the third, namely: Axiom 3: There’s a mega difference between being a good writer and getting someone to want to publish your work. This will lead us to the central intent of this post: What can we do to improve our changes of success?

Step 1 - First let’s deal with your manuscript. Is it good, I mean really good? Is the assessment based on just your view? If so, you’re making a big mistake. Before you fire off copies to agents/publishers, that story must really be the best that you’re capable of at this point in your writing career. I say that because you will improve with each story. But for your first one, it must be honed to crystal clarity and shine more then the other thousand scripts that will be stacked up on their email pile. Remember, you generally get one shot with a potentially interested party, so don’t blow it.

Step 2 - The query letter. How many sites have you visited where they talk about how good the query must be?. Why. Cause its true! The query letter is the face you present before they venture deeper. Before they get to your synopsis, and then the script, they have to be grabbed by the ______ (fill in a body part you’re comfortable with). This can’t be emphasized enough. I’ll give you an example. On the first book I wrote, I was receiving form letter rejection after rejection. It was frustrating as hell. Then an incident made me ask myself “Is it possible they’re not even getting to the script itself?” I conducted an experiment (remember, my core training is in the engineering/math field). I had my Sons help me redo the query letter (they write also). We spend two months tuning and honing that damn letter, till I have to admit it was GOOD, no it was great. I changed the name of the script and resubmitted to about a dozen agents/publishers that had rejected the first round. Except for two agents, the nature of the responses changed. Each rejection letter was now either a personalize letter or the same form letter but with a hand written note appended to the end. This time, from the comments I knew that they had read the script, and all were quite favorable, still it was rejected, but they were very positive. How can you be positive and not accept a script? Some stated it was not in the genre for which they had contacts. Others noted they were only currently publishing their in house authors, but would be opening up to new talent in about a year, and gave be a direct address circumventing the general submissions process. Point is, the whole nature of the responses changed, not because the script changed, but because I redid the pedicure on the foot I stuck in the door (e.g. the query letter).

Step 3 – the synopsis. You got passed their first filter, now what? Before they spend the time to read the core of your submission (the script), they need to assess if it is worth their effort. Some want a one pager, some two. I start with the two page, then cull back. You don’t want to copy sections from the story, or details about the characters. You want to summarize the plot, the conflicts, the internal struggle, the twists and turns, and the finally (the premise behind the whole story)

I will confess that for me personally, I find creating a great query and synopsis ten times more difficult than writing the script. Trying to condense 90000 words into a few paragraph, catch the essence and set the readers mind on fire with interest, man that’s hard, but it can be done, and it does make a difference.

1 comment:

  1. As always Mike, you write an interesting and thought stimulating post. You nailed the three most important elements to breeching the publishing barriers. This is a competitive industry that demands the best. You, pointed that out, and in doing so, named yourself as one of Champagne's best.