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Not a question, but just a general thank you, Kate, for doing what you do! I’ve been publishing for a decade now, but of course you never stop learning in a field like this. Appreciate all the insights and advice you share on your SS! 🖤

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Thank you for reading!

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echoing the thanks, absolutely

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I agree - love it here 🥰

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Hi all! I am loving this newsletter - not just great for info but its funny too! I'd love to learn more about ghostwriting or writing for IP :)

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I'll make a note to write more about that! I will admit I know less about ghostwriting and more about IP.

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Oh wait, I did! https://katemckean.substack.com/p/what-is-ip

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I learnt one more thing today , thanks Kate

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oh! Amazing! thank you :)

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Is IP independent publishing?

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Intellectual Property, ie Star Wars, Minions, Marvel etc etc

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Lost my dad in Feb. Have not done any writing. Any ideas on how to get back into it?

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Mar 24, 2023Liked by Kate McKean

Hey Christine, I am not Kate but have some relevant recent experience here: I lost my dad in Sept. 2021, just when I was planning to be finishing my book proposal. My advice is: DO NOT FORCE IT. If you’re in too much of a grief spiral to write right now, do not write! I was so frustrated with myself when I couldn’t just finish the damn thing with grief brain, but every time I tried the pages were hot garbage. Just give yourself a break to heal and come back to it when it feels good. And it WILL feel good again at some point — not because you’re over your dad’s death, because unfortunately that seems like one of those things we never truly get over, but because you miss writing. It took me a few months, and then one day it suddenly felt like I was craving writing instead of being allergic to it. This time off meant I sold my book later than I had hoped, but it also meant I was really, really proud of my proposal and got a great book deal out of it. So give yourself the time and compassion you deserve and it will work out! Sending love and strength.

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Listen to Megan! Be kind to yourself. Writing will still be there when you're ready for it.

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Hi Megan. How about free writing about your dad? It isn't furthering your book project, but it may help with your sadness.

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Last year, in January, I was involved in a horrific work accident when my best friend of 44 years slipped on a sheet of ice and went under the wheels of the machine I was driving. I was unable to write anything until I forced myself to write in the NaNoWriMo challenge in November. Until then, I hadn't written a thing. I'd joined substack, but I was putting up stories I'd written long before. You WILL get over your father's death. It will take time (that ol' cliché), but it will come. It takes a long time to grieve, and you'll always have triggers that will remind you of him, but in time those will fade and you'll be left with pleasant memories. As for myself, I'm still a little fucked up, and I still have moments when I'm triggered and find myself melting into sobbing tears, but that's just me, and my example is somewhat extreme. But having lost both parents, as well as a sister, two brothers-in-law, and both of my wife's parents, all I can say is that it does get better. It helps to talk about it, and when the tears stop, you'll discover that about 6 months have gone by and you'll start to feel like you can handle it again. Grief is a big part of life, and the longer you live, the more you have. Sad, but true.

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Mar 28, 2023·edited Mar 28, 2023

One of the most advantageous Mental Health Treatments in Crisis and Grief is writing 'Free Form'. It's a type of 'Brainstorming of Grief' using emotion words and feeling to relieve your soul and spirit of the endless emotional/intellectual/spiritual bleeding endlessly ebbing and flowing as a tide.

Once those feelings are placed outside of yourself; your psyche, and onto concrete paper...The ebb and flow of helpless grief can begin to relieve itself as it is no longer imprisoned within. There is NO WAY OUT OF GRIEF...Only THROUGH.

Not only has this been effective for patients and friends, I've been in situations of grief and found this to be key towards reaching resolution within the soul of loss towards peace and reconciliation of what it means to be human.

Don't expect to produce anything to publish...Or, perfection. This is therapy and at some point long into the future you may return to your meandering trough of sadness as a measure of how far you grew.

Oh...Almost forgot, whatever we produce in times of darkness can lead us to become better writers having true talent and skill to more succinctly reach-in to grab our readers and connect.

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I did all of that. You can find it here: "Sorry Steve, it was an accident." https://benwoestenburg.substack.com/about

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I read...It's a true heart-rendering catastrophe. Still crying and praying for you and there's no doubt your friend KNOWS it was an accident.

Besides writing, there's also exercise like walking and canoeing...Perhaps, if you have the resources; make plans to go west to 'Ride the Rapids' or some other challenge to yourself requiring a unified WHOLE Ben...A major physical endeavor bringing focus into the 'here and now' of the moment.

Know Ben...Many of us in this world have suffered events we will probably never fully overcome during our lifetime. In time, it's possible to feel joy again and to grow into wholeness though vestiges of the horror and pain remain.

When tragedy is attached to any kind of personal choice or behavior involving ourselves; I know you know this means they are based in INITIAL shame and guilt regardless events being accidental. You could be entering into PTSD which is really about 'Chemical/Hormonal Balance' and there has been tremendous ground-breaking research and treatment to disallow this to become manifest as part of your psychology. This new Therapy was just presenting when I retired to take-on other responsibilities and I'm keeping this Blog today to look-up the information since it's something you may need to help grow into joy and a full life of wholeness once again. 🙏🏻

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I'll start walking once the weather stabilizes. Canoeing, not so much. I live on the West Coast, worked on the river for too many years. All I can say about that is the water's too cold. I should know, I've fallen in it enough times--and always in winter. I don't have PTSD. I was tested. I'm one step below it. I've had ongoing therapy for the whole of last year, and even into this year. I'm in good hands. My head is in a good place. I have triggers once in a while, but manage to fight through it, for lack of a better way of explaining it. I write because this is the next phase of my life. I have goals as far as my writing in concerned. SUBSCRIBE to my page and follow along. You might like what I have to offer. Everything I've put up are basically old stories. The only exception is A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO TIME TRAVEL, and JACK OF DIAMONDS. It took me ten months before I was able to write anything new, and that was the Time Travel story. I'm in a good place.

Thank you.

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Mar 28, 2023·edited Mar 28, 2023

Your story is one of those that grabs in a visceral fashion and doesn't soon let go. I will look into your Substack...And, may subscribe. You sound creative with a gift for the clever turn of phrase resulting from a bit of depth on the inside. Will be both interesting and perhaps, enlightening.

By the way...WISH I COULD HAVE WORKED ON THE RIVER. The Bailiwick here in the Midwest is related to equine, moto-cross anything, and the land. But the Earth is rich, the trees are tall, lovely and thick. We've begun to grow Vineyards and such which are seasonal. This country provides so much diversity and has much to teach if only one adventures out with an open mind.

Hard to believe we have people wishing to destroy our Constitutional way of life in the U.S. Seems few realize exactly how tyrannical, horrible and cruel the world one was until the idea of 'Inalienable Human Rights' granted by God rose-up to place God in the right place ABOVE (Wow, can't believe this error by writing beneath) the Psycho-Predator Monarchs running everything throughout all time.

See you in the Blog...And, am excited to see exactly wacha got.

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Hi Christine. I'm so sorry about your loss. Gosh. It's still so fresh and raw. No wonder writing isn't happening. If it helps to normalize that feeling, I was writing a book when my sister died suddenly. I couldn't write either, even when I tried convincing myself that writing about these two dead congressmen was NOTHING like loosing a sister. I finally figured out that my job was to let grief wash over me, and it wasn't easy. AND, once I let that happen, the writing eventually came back. As proof, here's a piece I wrote that even includes commentary about my late sister: https://www.christinewolf.com/public-speaker/#birthdays. All to say: You have permission NOT to feel pressure or guilt about not writing. Bereavement is such a process, and though you'll never forget your dad, your heart WILL heal and you WILL write again. Wishing you peace.

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May the Lord Grant you Peace that Passes All Understanding, Recently, I wrote about my mother's death which was 4 years old March 20. Blessings to you.

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I lost my father in law in Dec. I’ve found writing about our relationship very healing realising that I’m actually healing from not having my birth father in my life. Grief isn’t linear is it - it’s hard. Go gently. Have you tried a voice transcription app like otter? That’s helped me in the past.

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Sorry for your loss. My dad has terminal cancer now and not much time. I find writing about it (and sometimes posting) difficult but therapeutic.

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Hi Kate! Apologies if you’ve answered this before: I have what I think is a decent request rate (around 20 percent) but none of my full rejections have come with feedback. Should I take that as a bad sign or do most agents just not have time for feedback on fulls? Thanks!

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20% request rate is amazing! Feedback is a bonus. I wouldn't read too much into this. Keep going!

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This answers my question too. Thanks.

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Thank you!

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Hey Tonya, Am an agent but in India and also offer manuscript assessment. I am Priya and run Editor's Atelier. Am very curious to learn what you offer. Cheers!

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023Liked by Kate McKean

Kate McKean, thank you so much for doing this open thread today. The comments and replies are quite helpful. I always am happy to find your newsletter in my email inbox (who says we're

tired of newsletters), but today has been a special treat. Thanks!

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Hi Kate, (or anyone who is savvy at kid lit)

Is there a "space" in between picture books and early reader? Something that is essentially a picture book, but with text between 1500-2500?

I recall seeing longer stories, with more advanced vocabulary, but illustrated. (An illustrated fable perhaps? For example, an adaptation of the Brementown Musicians comes to mind. )

If there is a place for such work, what's the proper way to frame this if one were to query it?

Or is it as Apollo Creed shouts when training Rocky in Rocky IV, "There is no in-between, Balboa, there is no IN-BETWEEN!*"

Thanks for being so awesome, Kate.

* I don't think that is really what Apollo Creed shouted, but that was the voice I heard in my head.

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023Author

(Waves!!!) I think these are just early readers and they most often are created in-house by the publisher and usually fit pretty specific standards according to curriculum/reading levels. They also often feature brands/characters/etc. There isn't a lot of original work in this space.

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I am in the Early Reader stage with my 6 & 7 yr old & we did just find a piece of original work (I think) Fly Guy. But it’s the first I’ve seen amongst hundreds of Peppa Pigs.

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Kate's the agent expert here, but as a homeschooling parent / heavy library user I would say there IS a book that fits what you're describing. I'd call it an "illustrated book" rather than a "picture book." One of my local libraries has a whole section devoted to books of this type. They fit the description of what you're talking about: richer vocabulary that suggests an adult is still reading the book aloud but with more text than a standard picture book. In my experience, it's an uncommon beast, but it does exist.

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Im mum to an 8 year old and we’re now into Roald Dahl and David Walliams and I’m desperate to be back in picture books or books that don’t make me so sleepy to read 😆 📚

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Good morning from Chicago! I'm Christine Wolf, a memoir coach from Chicago, and SO happy to be here :) I LOVE talking to writers about craft, and I'm grateful for this thread. I have a question for the group:

How many of you have heard of expressive writing as a therapeutic tool? I've been working with Dr. James Pennebaker (the pioneer of expressive writing), and will use his evidence-based expressive writing protocol (writing for 20 min/day for 3-4 days about a tough subject) during an upcoming Write to Heal retreat I'm hosting in May. As I craft my workshops for the week, I'm trying to gauge familiarity levels with the practice, and how many of you are open to "writing through" the hard stuff, rather than "writing around" it or avoiding it altogether.

Sincere thanks for your feedback!

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I, for one, 100% want to avoid it. I've done it-- https://benwoestenburg.substack.com/p/it-was-an-accident-steve --but it's not something I want to revisit.

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Gosh, thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry, Ben. At first, I was about to write, “I can’t begin to imagine your heartache,” but then I realized your raw and honest writing helps me understand and appreciate it, if only a little bit. Thank you. Wishing you peace. It was an accident.

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Thank you for your kind words. I don't make a habit of sharing it, but sometimes, I read something and feel that I have to tell that person it does get better.

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Thank you, Ben. My words were 100% sincere. And, my whole point of running a writing retreat based on expressive writing is to help others who hold painful memories (I know very few who don’t) and support them as they bring them to the page, helping them to put their often overwhelming emotions into language that offers additional perspective an/or opportunities to share. I agree with you that these writings don’t need to be shared, and, when they are, it can be some of the most powerful, impactful writing on earth. Yours is an example.

Thank you again.

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You're free to share it if you want to...

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You read my mind, Ben. Thank you for having such a generous spirit and for extending permission to let me share it. I will do so during my retreat, and I am certain it will help to encourage others who are holding onto their own painful memories.

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Hello, I just joined this week so I’m sorry if this sort of thing is covered a lot or if it’s outside the usual purview.

I am nearly done with the first draft of my manuscript and I am very excited to print out a bound copy and read through it like a real book before I dive into the hard work of editing.

With that being said...

As I get closer to that mile marker, I keep feeling worse and worse about what I have. I have always told myself that maybe this novel would never be published and that would be okay, I would simply take it as a learning experience and start the next one. But it’s starting to feel like trying to polish it and send it out would be a waste of time. Is this a normal thing to be feeling? Is this a situation where you are supposed to listen to your gut, or is it a situation where you are supposed to ignore your gut and press on?

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I have written about this! https://katemckean.substack.com/p/hating-what-you-write-is-totally

But don't worry. This is 100% normal. Everyone feels this way and you just have to push through. If DIDN'T ever feel this way, I'd be more worried.

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Thanks, I’ll check it out :)

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I have been there~~~having a supportive mate has helped in those moments of doubt...gaining momentum isn't easy once those feelings creep in.

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Thank you this column is so helpful!

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I would love anyone's tips for how to complete a manuscript while having a regular job. Weekends need to have some resting time and household chores too, so... how?!

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Give LH your tips! My tip is to write detailed outlines so that when I have the time/space to write, I'm not sitting around wondering WHAT to actually write. But everyone needs something different. Mostly it boils down to doing it even if you don't *want* to and every little bit adds up. I wrote 8000 words this week in the mornings before everyone in my house got up! (You don't always have to write in the mornings if it doesn't work for you.)

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Do you have a particular outline method you use? I'm starting a new project and desperately need an outline.

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Full-time day job here: I try to touch the MS a little bit every day, and that includes "oh wow just had a great idea let me jot that down over here so I remember." Even that's only 3 sentences or snippets, it will keep the project fresh in your mind. Some great suggestions here in this thread, too.

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Hi! I’m not Kate, but I cohost a podcast about this, and a common thread among our guests is figuring out if you’re a marathoner or a sprinter - that is, do you work best in little bits at a time, so you stay focused on your work, or do you do better with a few concentrated hours/days every few weeks/insert your own time here? I’m a little-at-a-time person, working for half an hour 2-3 mornings a week, and my writing partner prefers to use her generous vacation time and take a week off (or longer; she’s in Europe, lucky duck). We end up getting about the same amount done in a year.

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All good advice here! Mainly that every little bit adds up, and that there's no "right" or "wrong" between doing a small amount more regularly, or chunking it into larger sessions when you can. I drafted my whole first (unpublished) novel by writing for an hour a day, no less but also no more than that. So all I had to do was find that hour (doesn't have to be a whole hour, either!) -- setting those parameters for myself helped me commit to making that time, even amidst everything else I had going on, and stopped making me feel lousy about not committing *more* time. Also, at the end of every writing session, I try to end in the middle of something, and then I leave a note to myself for what to work on next -- this way I don't spend time trying to get back into the story. Like if I finish a chapter, I'll write the first sentence of the next chapter so I'm ready to hit the ground running when I sit down again.

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I write a lot at night after my kids are in bed. And on the weekends, I try to sneak away for a few hours. I'd like to write during lunch breaks, but I never seem to make that happen. One thing that helped me is using tools in the cloud (like Ulysses or Google Docs) so I can write anywhere with my phone, laptop, etc. I even have a small Bluetooth keyboard that I've used to write in the car. I try to take away all of the barriers that I can, so writing feels easy to do anywhere. I also don't have a complicated setup where I need my favorite blanket, candles, etc. I've trained myself to be able to pick up and write anywhere without a bunch of extras.

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I used to feel like the conditions needed to be EXACTLY RIGHT for me to think and write, and then I wrote half my dissertation on the subway commuting 90 minutes to teach and it was very sucky and also very, very helpful to break that "I can't write like this" habit!

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023

Full-time job and a house full of young kids here so I had to be really efficient. tl/dr: Plan the work, work the plan. Very, very detailed outline broken out by chapter and scene. I would tweak and peck at the outline all week. Weekends I would take a 2 hour block to write a 1800-2400 word chapter. Most weekends I did one chapter, some I'd get 2 done. Some days felt like riding a skateboard downhill. Some felt like dragging a sack of weights uphill. Keep pushing no matter what, even if you hate what you wrote. Did not do any rewriting until whole MS was complete. Took one year but that worked for me. 86k word MS, 42 chapters.

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I’m also struggling with this, so thank you for starting this advice thread! Also, one thing that has helped me is booking meetings with myself on my work calendar to work on my manuscript. Capitalism is a scam, better to get writing done on the clock 😈

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My friend who has just published got up early to write - is that an option??

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a long time ago, when my kids were little, I got up an hour earlier to write...and the little finks started waking up too! It was like they could smell me. So there it was 5AM and we were all awake. Now it's funny. Less so back then . . . :)

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Hello! I'm a newbie. Thanks for having me! I find the newsletter really fun and informative.

My situation: I’ve finished three full drafts of my first novel (about 52k words). I’m very lucky to have a very patient, helpful wife who has given me feedback along the way, as well as two old friends - one of whom is a writer, the other a voracious reader - and they are also giving me feedback as well… BUT I WANT MORE AND I WANT IT FASTER! 😅

Waiting for busy people with busy lives to be kind enough to read my manuscript is harder than writing IMO!

Does anyone have any experience with professional editing services that they would recommend? There are quite a few out there. They are all pretty expensive. It would be great to hear about any experiences people have had with these before considering using one.

Even better than paying someone would be an amateur group of like-minded souls convening for this specific purpose: swapping their manuscripts and giving each other feedback. I joined writing.com but it’s tumbleweeds so far! Again, anyone else have useful tips or experiences?

I know we can’t pitch our novels here, but can we pitch setting up feedback communities?

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023

I understand your desire for feedback. I think all writers crave it. Critique partners can be great. I formed a writers' critique group with a writer friend of mine. We found a place to meet then advertised in church bulletins (because it was free) and ended up with a small but dedicated group.

Professional critiques can be expensive but they're worth the money. Listen to Kate Broad. Do your homework before hiring an editor. One recommendation I have is Writers Digest 2nd Draft critique service. I just finished the fourth draft of a novel (the draft I'm submitting to agents). In no way could I afford to have the entire novel edited. However, I have had opening pages, my query letter, and the synopsis critiqued. In addition, I did a workshop with an agent on the opening pages (an invaluable experience). All of these have been through Writers Digest, and all have been tremendously helpful. The best part is they have been affordable.

But don't expect the feedback in days. With the exception of the agent workshop, I received the critique after 2 to 4 weeks, not in days. Best wishes!

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I'm an editor and while I don't have experience hiring editors, I did once discover a freelance editor claimed on her website to have edited MY NOVELS (she had not!!!!!!!) so now I tell people to do their homework! I think it's great to have a phone call/some kind of (free) consultation beforehand so you can talk to the editor first, make sure you connect, and get into what you're looking for from the experience. Big picture on story? Detailed line edits on the sentence level? The answer can be "I want it all!" -- it's just important that if you're expecting line edits you aren't disappointed to wind up with only a big-picture edit letter, or if you want a big picture edit letter you don't wind up with a bunch of red pen, etc. I know on the editor side, I want to make sure we're on the same page so that I'm adding the value the author is looking for. So for the writer side, I like to encourage people to do their research and feel like the person they're hiring is a good match *for their particular story and goals.* Not every editor has experience in every genre -- people can do a range of things but I'm always wary of anyone who claims they do literally everything. Waiting for feedback is SO HARD lol!

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Kate's advice here is good! Remember you only get two of fast, cheap, or easy. :) These things can be very expensive because they take a lot of work.

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Agreed- I spent $1500 for a line edit on my novel. The editor came highly recommended by friends and it was definitely worth while, but phew...expensive.

I'd try critic groups first.

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Hi Becky, do you mind if I ask who the editor was? I might need to use someone at some point...

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I’m a writer and an editor. Take a peek at www.Kristinespanier.com to learn more about the variety of services editors can offer.

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I've had wonderful experiences with a few different editors. A few rules of thumb: expect to pay at least $1000 for a 80-100k novel. Any less than that would be a red flag for me. The people I've known who went for cheaper editors didn't get what they paid for. Pay for a pitch package first—this will be your query, first 1-3 chapters and (maybe) synopsis. If you need to, negotiate having it count towards your full edit, but you need to know that the work you'll get suits your needs. You may learn things from that first edit that you want to apply to the whole book before you do a full edit. If you're doing something that works against your book consistently, identifying and fixing it after that initial edits will be also mean when you pay for the full book, the editor will be able to focus on other areas instead of getting bogged down on something you've already learned to do better.

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This is all great advice!

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I just wanted to drop a line and thank everyone who took the time to respond and share your thoughts and experiences! I've read them all and going to have a think about it before shelling out for professional services. It's not that it doesn't sound like a good investment - with due diligence - it's something to consider in the future. I think the main thing I'm taking away is I need to be more patient and try and cultivate more reciprocal feedback relationships with people in a similar situation. I need to put myself out there and try and meet more people, basically, which will take some time, but pay off better in the long run (I hope!). Thanks again to you all! 🙌

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So true!

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Hi Jim. I'm also a freelance editor. I work with mostly academic writing, but some suggestions in looking for an editor is being clear on what you want the editor to do -- line edits, manuscript feedback (more general, focused on plot/content), or a complete overhaul that focuses on both. It takes more time to do more intensive work, like line edits, than overall feedback. I think from what you are saying that you'd like feedback more than line edits. This also makes sense from the stage of writing that you are in.

When looking for editing services, I'd suggest asking editors about their backgrounds, if they have worked on similar projects, and what their approach to feedback is. Share your budget and discuss what you are hoping to get out of work at this stage in your writing process. Good luck!

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Agreed with the reminders here that you don't have to have the whole ms edited! Having someone look at your opening pages, or maybe first 50 + synopsis, can show some of the issues that you could then go on to address on your own in the rest of the book without paying for the full read (or if you do pay for the full read later, the editor can focus on new issues instead of the ones you've already solved). And starting with a smaller package can help confirm for you whether the editor is adding something that your other beta readers haven't been able to spot or help you with thus far.

Also, I've sometimes done an "impressions" read where I read the ms once and have a call or email to talk about it, vs a full edit where I'd read it multiple times (which is more work and therefore more $). I can't speak for all editors, but if you find someone you want to work with and they're out of budget, you could always (politely!) tell them your budget and ask what they might be able to do for you at that price.

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Hello Jim,

I can understand your concerns about the pricing, especially for assessments and developmental editing. They are the costliest in town. However, like many authors will agree, it is worth the time and resources. I am able to offer comprehensive and tailored assessments and love writing them. Please do visit my website, https://www.editorsatelier.com/ to know more. I am Priya, based in Delhi and am a former commissioning editor and agent. You are right on feedback communities as well. I ask every author I work with to find one and offer it, even if it costs me business. Cheers!

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Hi, Kate! Thanks for this open thread!

I’ve been querying a novel for a few months now, and I’ve gotten a few full requests. Every time they come back, though, the agent rejects based on the pacing (too slow). Do you have any advice for keeping up a good pace in a book? Or how to improve a slower paced read?

Thanks!

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Any useful advice would probably be very book-specific, but you might try a good line edit to sweep out extraneous words and details that the reader just doesn't know. Are you doing a lot of unnecessary backstory upfront? Do you have enough clocks? (https://katemckean.substack.com/p/how-many-clocks-are-in-your-manuscript) Are the stakes high enough?

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In addition to the spot-on notes here, I know in my own work when beta readers or my agent/editor tells me a section is slow, it means a) I don't need it at all, b) I need it but am spending too much time lingering over it, or c) I haven't done the necessary work yet to show why it's actually essential and central to the story. If you were hearing that the pacing is too fast, I'd say there's too much stuff happening that's jam packed together and the reader doesn't have time to breathe, absorb it, and be in the moment before moving on. So too slow can mean we're being given too much time in each moment and you could trim down your scenes, or cut some out, or see if there's more narrative oomph you need to add to get the story's internal engine up and running from the get go. In addition to trimming line by line, sometimes a scene/chapter can start later and end earlier... It's actually really great that you're getting consistent feedback from agents, because it shows you there's something concrete you can do. :)

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I am not Kate but I have seen some great advice on pacing (in addition to Kate's newsletter) from Allison K Williams (aka @guerillamemoir on social media): she suggests thinking about your book as if it were a promo for a movie: imagine some baritone voice saying "In a world X, protagonist must Y, in order to ABC, or else EFG." It's a way to check if, in fact, you have articulated the stakes clearly enough: and if those stakes are big enough to translate to readers. I think that "coming to inner peace" for example, can be a great goal (that I myself will probably never attain) but as a reader...that might not translate to a page-turning experience?

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Hi Kate (and others)! I'm curious if folks have thoughts about the authenticity of setting a novel in a real place--like, does it bother you if, say, 80% of the places are real and 20% are invented (or some other ratio), or no big deal? I don't think I notice this much when I'm reading, but in my own writing I often find myself going back and forth on this. And what about stretching the truth in terms of small things that readers who know the place might notice? Thanks! Love the newsletter!

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New Yorkers especially LOVE to be like THAT SUBWAY DOES NOT GO TO THAT STATION in books and movies, so lol beware. But it's fiction and if you need to make the fancy grocery store be on the other side of town no one can stop you.

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Thank you for asking this!! It’s a constant question in my mind so I’m going to watch the responses. Personally as a reader I don’t mind a mix of fact and fiction in the setting of fiction. And anecdotally, I’ve only had one book published, but I had a lot of feedback on this particular issue. I set my book in southern Maine (where I live) and I made up whole towns but based each one on towns I knew. Now, I get some readers saying they loved how the book felt “very Maine” to them. I get as many (if not more?) saying “but why did you make up towns?!” I have read books before where the authors note any liberties they took with setting in an author’s note, which I’m planning to do on book 2. I think that’s a fun fix--the setting experts and story nerds will enjoy the note and everyone else will skip it anyway!

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It sounds like just generating discussion about it was a really good thing for you, whether the readers agreed or not!

I think it would be lovely to insert maps and photographs of these places. Faux or real.

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Yes, I've definitely had fun conversations with people about it!

I would LOVE for maps and family trees to become commonplace in all novels, not just historical fiction and fantasy.

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I love this question. My current book is set in Vienna (where I used to live) and sometimes I so enjoy going back to maps and things to make sure it all works...and other times I want to tweak just a little to make it fit the story! It's tricky, right?

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Mar 24, 2023Liked by Kate McKean

LOL Kate I got a NY subway detail wrong in one of my previous novels and got a 1-star Goodreads review as a result from an annoyed reader (oops!). My current draft is set on Cape Cod--and I live on the Cape, so I know the area well, but yeah, there are little tweaks I want to make to fit the narrative and I know some locals will be irked by it.

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The author of the recent novel Babel has a wonderful preface to the text talking about how she has done tons of research and lived in Oxford and yet YES she knows not every detail of Oxford is accurate because THIS IS A WORK OF SPECULATIVE FICTION and she moved things around for the purpose of writing a book. I imagine Oxford details get people critical in the same way NYC details do! It made me laugh though that she felt the need to explain herself up front like that!

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Hi :) Been following this newsletter for a while and really enjoy it. I'm an indie author hoping to also break into trad publishing, and was curious how sensitivity reading happens on the trad side. Is the author still responsible for finding sensitivity readers, or does the agent or publisher do that? Who pays for it? At what point in the editing process does it happen? Thanks!

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Like most things, it varies. The ones I've been privy to happened after the book was sold and the publisher paid for it. But that's not the rule or the exception to it. If you personally want to do it before you query (to genuinely improve the manuscript, not to just check a box and say you did it, like some kind of seal of approval) I would do it after you've fully edited the book yourself. If you don't want to or can't pay for it, it's ok to send it out as is and see how it goes.

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Hi Kate, I’ve been loving your newsletter for a few years and wish I had your wisdom to guide and encourage me when I was writing my first book with great angst 30 years ago. Three books later, my agent and I have parted amicably, no drama—after three decades, we’ve both changed and it wasn’t working anymore. I have a some book ideas, including a fictional follow up to my last nonfiction book, which has been optioned for film, but none are near the query stage. My question is should I wait till I have a ready query (or fiction ms) to start looking for a new agent, or is that something a published author should get moving on any time? And thanks for all your great advice! ps, the angst never goes away…

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Wait. Write something you want to send out before you look for another agent. I know it feels like you can interest someone because you have had an agent in the past--and you probably could!--but then what is that agent going to do for you until you write something? And what if you're not a match on that actual book? I know it's hard to wait. But wait.

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What's some good advice / resources for writing a synopsis - struggling to get mine down to 1 page :(

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Is it okay for a different Kate to respond? I love your posts, Kate McKean, and don't want to step on anyone's toes! I've published 10 novels and run a Substack "Ask an Author" where I answer questions on craft and publishing, and I have one on synopses. Feel free to take a look and see if anything in here is helpful! https://katebroad.substack.com/p/the-secret-to-nailing-the-synopsis

Just this week I was editing someone's synopsis and got it from 1000 words to 600 by cutting out: small words and phrases, names and descriptions of secondary characters we don't need to know about (or at all), plot points that don't change the story if the reader doesn't know them, and anything like that, no matter how seemingly minor, that once it's gone you find you don't miss at all. Two pages is okay, though!

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The more Kates the better!

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Thank you for the link. I think writing the synopsis is the hardest part of novel writing.

By the way, I love this newsletter and appreciate today's open thread--thank you, Kate McKean!--but I'm also really thankful that you're here and commenting, Kate Broad. I have found your replies most helpful.

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Aw thank you, that makes my day! I didn't want to post to much but I love talking about this stuff, and it's nice to feel connected to so many other writers! Yay Kate McKean for creating such a welcoming community :)

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Do you HAVE to make it one page? Unless otherwise specified, it's ok for it to be over one page, IMHO.

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I am also not Kate, but my favorite method for a succinct but powerful synopsis is Susan Dennard’s method: https://susandennard.com/2010/11/24/how-to-write-a-1-page-synopsis/

I use it EVERY time I need to write a synopsis and it always helps me get the bones down without too much pain and cursing. 😂

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Yes, this one! It totally changed the way I look at synopses and made it so much easier. I’ve also found it as a great starting point for shaping a query letter too.

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It's so good!! And yes, it's a great starting point for queries/short pitches too! (I've been agented since 2011, but I still write mini-pitches for every project we hope to sell, and Susan's template truly saves me every time.)

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I love this method too! I always go back to it.

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This is a great link, I'm adding it to my list of resources! Thank you for sharing!

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Happy to do so! I'm always shoving Susan's resources at folks, so I'm glad it can be of help to your readers too!

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I’ve saved this thanks xx

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Some possible strategies:

1. Cut out all the stuff that's important to you. This can get in the way of what the agent editor needs to know to decide whether the book will sell and, thus, whether to take on the ms.

2. Write one 10-word sentence on what happens in each chapter. Then refashion this into a coherent narrative.

3. Write your jacket copy, which is roughly 300-400 words, especially if you want your synopsis to sell the story, not tell the whole story (some agents do want the latter, and weirdly most of them are in the UK).

4. When people ask, What's your book about? what do you say? You've probably already created that synopsis as a result. Two minutes of orating is roughly 250 words, so simply transcribe and clean up how you normally describe it.

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Hi Kate! Thank you so much for the newsletter! I love reading it and have learned so much about writing and publishing over the past few years from it and I love your book recommendations.

I have a question about querying. I’ve been querying for about a year and a half now and I’ve received 19 rejections so far (counting no response after 3 mos. as a rejection as well). I know that if you aren’t even getting requests for fulls, that usually means there’s something wrong with your query, but I’ve spent months poring over query examples from QueryShark and I’ve had multiple people look at it and give me feedback and I just don’t know if there’s something wrong with my query or if I just haven’t sent it to the right person yet. How can I tell if it’s my query that’s the issue?

Thank you again for everything you do and hope you have a gorgeous day!

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Sometimes you can't tell why you're getting rejections, and it's easy to look to the query because that's something you can more easily (ha) change! But how may queries have you sent out? 19 is not a whole lot of rejections! Keep going!

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I’ve sent 24 so maybe I’m just psyching myself out because it feels like a bad rate that I haven’t had one request for a full.

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Kyrie, thanks for sharing this. I thought 3/3 rejections was awful and was about to pause querying, but now I realize I should keep trying!

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Yay, I’m so glad this was encouraging! It’s tough getting rejections :)

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It could be the query... or the opening pages... but I agree with Kate that 19 isn't enough rejections to tell you very much yet! How many queries have you sent? I used to think 20 queries was a baseline for testing whether the pitch + opening pages are working, but I think the number is closer to 50. Keep going!! :)

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Thank you! I’ve sent 24, still waiting on 5, but I really appreciate that. So if I get to 50 and still haven’t had a single request for a full, that means it’s the query? Because what’s concerning to me is that people can request the full and still reject it but no one’s even requested the full yet.

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Keep going! And I'm sorry to say there's no way to know if it's the query or the pages or the book or the market or if Jupiter is in the wrong house. Sometimes it's two of those things for one agent and five for the next. Have faith in your work and keep going. And write your next book.

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Thank you! This has all been so encouraging, and I think I just need to put half my brain toward querying and half my brain toward my new project (which I’m also excited about hehe). And I mean, if it’s not my first book, maybe it’s my second (though I will keep querying). At the end of the day, we all do this because we love it, and I have to just keep reminding myself that.

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Ahhh, it's so hard to know! I feel your pain. I definitely think keep querying (and start your next book!!), but it also can't hurt to look over your materials again. You mentioned people have looked at your query -- have you had other writers give you feedback? Agented writers? (Not that agented writers necessarily know more, but if they've had to tackle this particular hurdle before, they sometimes have a better sense of what works.) Also it can be good to have a mix of people who've read your manuscript (so know the heart of it) and people who haven't (so can tell you what it's like to read it cold). And people you trust to be brutally honest! (Not that they should be brutal about it. But truly, deeply honest about how it reads.) Same thing for the opening pages -- how do you feel about those, and the feedback you've gotten on the ms itself? Also, have any of the rejections been personalized? Not that you have to answer all these questions haha, it's just some ways to think through all this. There's been talk elsewhere in this thread about hiring editors, and it's not something you have to do (especially with QueryShark and beta readers) but it could be an option if you send more queries and don't get any nibbles. I feel like this is a place for an infamous Kate McKean shrug!

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This is so helpful too! I’ve had other writers read my query, but not necessarily agented writers. I also sent it to QueryShark and mine hasn’t ended up on there yet. How would you go about finding agented people to read it? Beta reading sounds useful but I’m also not quite sure how to go about it. I finished my book and sent it to a few different friends who had offered to read it and then ended up with 3 people who read through the entire thing and gave me feedback (which is still very helpful). And then I let it sit for several months, edited some more, started a new job, let it keep incubating, edited out a few more drafts, and decided to start querying at the 2ish year mark after manuscript completion.

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I know there are some Facebook and Discord groups where people post query letters for critique, if you're on either of those platforms. Sometimes they aren't that useful, because people's opinions are just their opinions! But I was trying to think about if you could use some more feedback from other sources. My email is in my profile if you want to shoot me a note and I'll do some thinking about other resources!

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Hi everyone! Apologies if this has been covered before, but I'm thinking a lot about the differences between traditional memoirs written like fiction; memoirs told through essays, for instance Lauren Hough's essay collection, Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing; and lyric/experimental memoirs like Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts. I am of course asking about this selfishly... in that I'm trying to figure out which genre / structure / world of possibility I'd like to be working in. Curious if anyone has thoughts on discerning how to structure nonfiction and which genres you'd like to participate in. (I'm also sort of guessing that like short stories, memoirs told in essays are often less marketable? Though not always?)

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Community, please do comment here! This is interesting. I often let the content dictate the form. How does this story need/want to be told? Focus on that first, and see how it fits in the publishing landscape next. Try not to focus on idiosyncratic outliers in various genres (The Argonauts, etc) They work because of some kind of alchemy probably, not necessarily because of the structure alone. Write your book, not theirs.

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This is helpful! Thank you!

I will admit I'm slowly amassing a little essay collection and just keep toggling back and forth between keeping it as an essay collection vs. expanding and connecting all the essays into a memoir... for now I think I'll keep writing the essays :) Perhaps after I'll try and write the memoir and then I'll decide which form works best, ha (though that sounds like a lot of work!!)

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It's always a lot of work! :)

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True!!

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I started a yearlong twice-a-week Substack of essays that look back on a particular period of my life with a goal of using them to eventually write a memoir. Six months in, not sure how much will actually make that memoir; but it’s been the most unanticipated healing exercise of my life! Just in case you’re needing a little structure toward a memoir goal. Best of luck!

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Hi Kate.

I am starting my book proposal for a non fiction self-help/memoir. 2 questions.

1. Do my sample chapters have to be sequential?

2. I would love the structure of doing this in a course. Any proposal writing classes coming up?

Gratitude!

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1. 100000000000% they have to be sequential and please start with chapter 1 (or the intro or who ever you start your book.) We have NO idea what's going on when your drop us in the middle of your book!

2. Check out this for a proposal class! https://manuscriptworks.com/ It's geared toward academics but I'm sure it could help.

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1000000 thank yous!!! Guess Im done with my pages! 😉

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Being honest helps strangers but hurts those you love, how can you write and not lose your family?

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author

You can't control anyone else's reactions. You get to choose what you write about, and they get to choose how to feel about it.

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With respect, that’s the attitude I fear leads to a lot of either safe (and boring) writing or lonely drunk authors. Perhaps I am too old or sensitive for this game, but what I’ve found helpful is - just not letting my wife or kids read my stories! Ha! Good for wife, she’s supportive without being interested. Kids too young to care now, but perhaps they’ll quit talking to me when they grow up? Yikes!!!

Other good advice I’ve heard is to lie to your friends and family that, “it’s only because I feel so loved and fulfilled by you that I can explore such dark emotions. Thank you for being my safe space.”

Just curious if anyone else has struggled with this and how they’ve pushed through.

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Omg. I just read the rest of your (very helpful) comments in this thread and realized my question is a bit out of place for the theme! Please forgive and pay no mind as I look at the floor and shuffle slowly backwards toward the door!

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You're the best, Wil Dalton. 💛 Ideally, you'll live for another 40 years, so keep in mind that you can save some of your stuff for when you've outlived people. This is a morbid thought, obviously, but someone once gave me the advice to "write like my parents are dead". I'm not exactly there yet but trying to forget that they subscribe to my writing helps. And they're nice enough not to mention to me when they've read it. 😉 Keep going. And my inbox is always open if you need an objective person to act like a dead parent for you.

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Hi Kate! Thank you for this open thread. I have a querying question. Almost all of the agents on my list specify what they want, like first 12 pages, first chapter etc. But one of the agents just says “send queries and manuscript proposals for NF to (email address).” In this case, do they really just want a query with no pages from the manuscript? Would it be presumptuous to query them with the first chapter/12 pages? Should I do it anyway:)?

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Give them what they ask for and just that!

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Thank you so much for replying. Will do!

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I am new to this so please bear with me. I have submitted my nonfiction manuscript to several literary agents and book publishers but none have responded positively. I am thinking of self-publishing. There are so many self-publishing companies and I have heard horror stories about them. Can anyone suggest a reliable self-publishing company? Appreciate your help.

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Hi Mansoor. Are you on Facebook? There is a spectacular group there called "20BooksTo50k" that is 100% free and offers a WEALTH of info about indie publishing. You can ask any question you want and you'll get really great answers, and they can steer you away from scams. They also hold a great convention in Las Vegas every year devoted JUST to indie publishing. You should def. check them out!

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Thank you very much Hal. I'll check it out.

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Also curious—how do you manage working in publishing and also being a writer? I also work in publishing sometimes and at times find my "writer-identity" in conflict with my "work-identity," for instance sometimes wishing the business side didn't matter (though obviously it does matter! and in particular, it matters for me to continue having a job ha), or having been rejected from things that people I'm working with have been accepted into etc. Do you find yourself ever being challenged in juggling these roles and identities?

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I think if I had been trying to get a book published when I was younger I would have been much more bitter about all the editors who've rejected me, lol. But I've seen so many things that are just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ that I can more easily take that stance myself. It still stings! And I ABSOLUTELY pretend it never happened when I'm talking to editors who passed on my stuff about other things. But I just try to keep my writer hat on when I'm writing (and both when I'm agenting because I think it helps me relate to my clients more). :)

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Thank you for this! I agree that writer hat is very helpful at times—I'm really appreciative of having been edited because it helps me better respond to authors and so on, because I've been on their side! Thank you so much for this newsletter :)

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I am curious how you follow up with other agents if one is interested and the others haven’t responded. It’s hypothetical at this point but I’d like to do it correctly if it does happen! Thank you.

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Along with a number of great agents in the US, I've found some that seem like a great fit for my writing but they're located in Canada & England. Do agents based elsewhere consider US authors? If so, are there reasons why I should only query agents within my home country?

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They do! But UK and CAN agents often sell into their home territories first (though that varies in CAN) and may not always have inroads directly to the US. It probably depends on the book/market but if your primary market is the US then you probably want a US agent.

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Hi Kate! I've loved your newsletter for awhile, but especially NOW, since I'm headlong into the query process at long last. My question:

In your (very informed) opinion, is "grimdark"/gritty epic fantasy (think GRRM, Joe Abercrombie etc.) out of vogue right now with agents and traditional publishing in general? I ask because in my research, it feels like pretty much Zero agents are actively looking for stuff like that, if ManuscriptWishList is anything to go by. Of course, I like to think that my novel is more than just a sub-genre tag like "grimdark"...but at the same time, the shoe does indeed fit and there's no sense in me shying away from it.

But big picture, it feels like I've yet to find an agent in my research who i feel would actually be a good fit, given what I've written. Do you think I just need to query/research harder, or pursue an alternate publishing route? Or (ugh)...both?

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author

I haven't seen anything that suggests gritty epic fantasy is on the way out. You don't have to specifically pin point agents who say they specifically like this subset of fantasy. Cast your net a little wider and send to agents who at least say they like epic fantasy and/or have sold some of it. We don't mention every. single. permutation. of. every. genre. we like in our wish lists.

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Thank you! This was my hopeful hunch, but your response crystallized it nicely. Really appreciate you getting back to me!

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Mar 24, 2023·edited Mar 24, 2023

Hi Kate! Thank you for doing this and I love your newsletter. A common theme I see in your advice on querying is to articulate the stakes. Do you have any advice on how to communicate this for an essay collection where each story has slightly different stakes? Thanks in advance! :)

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author

Sooooooo, stakes usually applies to fiction. In a non-fiction essay collection, tell us why we're here. What are we examining? Why is it so interesting? What are we trying to figure out?

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Hi Kate!

This newsletter and the community is great. :) Nice idea today.

I'm working on a query letter and wondering how much to put in the bio. I mean, I've seen a bunch of examples and used my own version in the past, but if you are pitching a novel, does it matter that you have published nonfiction (with a 'big house')? Does it matter if you have self published a novel? The more we can squeeze in the better...or is it a turnoff and we should just highlight what we are doing now?

Thank you.

Kate

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Put in what you want! Mention your previous books and current stuff. It's only a couple of sentences so you should be fine. (And if it's not only a couple of sentences, trim it down.)

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When you read a pitch or manuscript, are you ever evaluating for potential adaptability to film/TV?

As a former filmmaker, it’s a dream of mine to be adapted. But curious if Publishing™️ cares about that at all at the outset.

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Not really. I think LOTS and LOTS of books would make great movies, but that is so so so so so so far off from the query stage that it's barely a blip on my radar. Publishing success (unfortunately) has more affect on things getting made into movies than the actual story/book itself. It sucks! But I don't think that much about movies until way later down the line.

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Something I've wondered for a while now, especially based on some of your recent 50 Queries Club posts... is it a bad idea to try to pitch a first novel with an unconventional pace or structure? If things aren't kicking off in the first 15 pages or the plot isn't shaped around a normal sense of urgency by design, are you better off saving that one until you actually have an agent who will just have to read the whole thing and see what you're going for?

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This is a good question. You're right it can be tough to pitch a book where the point is nothing much happens in the beginning. Other things can sell agents/editors/readers on your work--concept, writing, voice, etc. But it can be a tough pitch at first. That doesn't mean it's pointless, but it could mean it's harder. Try to evaluate your work AS A READER first (not a writer or agent) and think about how you would feel reading those first 15 pages. It's hard, but try.

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Not sure if it's too late for a question. I am working on a memoir and looking to read TONS of great ones. Any recommendations from the gallery and if you are recommending, can you share why you think it's great? Thank you!

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Twelve Moons because it’s honest, gripping and incredibly beautiful and if it’s moment!

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Hi Kate! Would love to hear your thoughts/suggestions on how authors should pitch their projects that aren't in vogue/on trend in the market. (Urban Fantasy for example, which I've heard agents say is dead/not selling and so they don't want to Urban Fantasy Projects).

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TBH I never want to be pitched anything that is ON trend, because if it's on trend now (i.e. in stores already) then we're two years behind the curve. Just pitch me your book the best way you know how and don't worry about trends. (If you are super worried about trends regardless you can also just call your Urban Fantasy and regular Fantasy and go forth unperturbed. :) )

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Thank you for doing this, Kate! I've wanted to write a personal essay collection/reflections about some key transitions in my life, and just started. I need help with (1) settling on the format other than I like to see things in print (inner voice says you should just do a blog. Why a book?) (2) pitching help because it's not fiction and I have zero connections to this field.

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Of course you've written about this..so much love for your effort and contributions. Thank you so very much.

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I was actually asking for a friend, but the way I'd do it is to add the m&p info to the bio paragraph. For example, to make something up:

"I'm a veteran journalist who worked at The LA Times and who's also written for Salon, Slate and New York Magazine, to name a few, which has earned me 96K followers on Twitter. I will leverage those followers and my many media contacts to support the book, including XX, YY and ZZ who've already offered to blurb it and tout it to their own, more substantial social media followings. In addition, AA will write a foreword."

To extend this example, if you have one big m&p element, I'd lead the query with it. So: "My 'Modern Love' piece for the NY Times was one of their most popular, getting [engagement stats], and the many questions people asked in the comments inspired me to turn the piece into a memoir. It will tell the full story of [experience] and appeal to readers off BB, CC, and DD."

If you want to be really tricky, make BB and DD recent popular titles for the same target reader and CC a book repd by the agent your querying.

Granted this example is a person will a lot of things going for them, but the template should get most people started.

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Any advice for if you're querying a nonfiction book proposal on a super-saturated/politically hot topic? I report on abortion policy and am sending out a book proposal on that subject, but it turns out so are 1 million other writers right now, and I've gotten positive feedback from agents who are responsive to my writing, but concerned they can't sell a book on this topic with so much competition. Should I keep querying? Wait until the deluge slows down? Scrap it and query a proposal on something else? I'm a beat reporter on this subject so it's not like I'm in a huge rush to secure a book deal—I have space for this work already—but I do want to write a book!

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Do you want to write A book or THIS book? I have been in the "I just want to write a book/get a book deal!!!!" camp a few times and it's very beguiling. You see something that's low hanging fruit, you do the work and then....... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. You absolutely can try to do this book. It might continue to be an uphill battle (it's always an uphill battle) if the field is crowded and you don't have something to set you apart: exclusive reporting, unique insight, personal connection, etc. Waiting will just mean the other books out there and in the pipeline will come out before yours and the market might get even more fatigued. Will you be heartbroken (and not just because you did work on this one already) if this specific book does not see the light of day? But instead maybe another idea you haven't had yet? If so, maybe give this one a pass. If not, keep going!

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Thank you! This is so helpful. This is actually the second book proposal I’ve done work on (I never queried the other one but it was about something totally different). “Heartbroken” is difficult to gage in advance but your advice gives me a lot to think about and more options than I expected!

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Hi Kate from Ho Chi Minh City! I'm a new subscriber and have a question that has stopped me working on my first book (a memoir) for way too long now.

I started writing last year with an approach I thought was good and finished two-thirds of the book. But then I read some advice books about writing memoirs which made me see the flaws in my approach, and now I want to try a new one.

Question: there are so many different approaches we can use to write a book (memoir in my case). How does one proceed when trying one approach over another involves starting over from scratch? Do we just keep starting new drafts until we're happy? Is there a way of landing on the right approach for the book without rewriting it several times over?

Thank you and looking forward to diving into the content in this newsletter!

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