The (Writing) Craft Club

Hi all!

I’m Ximera Grey, and I’m traditionally published in nonfiction and currently querying agents with a novel. I’m happy to answer questions about the writing craft or traditional publishing in the US. (I don’t know a ton about indie publishing, but I can probably answer general questions.)

This isn’t a critique thread – I don’t have time to do full critiques – but I can answer questions about POV, description, plot and character arcs, structure, pacing, grammar, punctuation, and so on.

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How long can I make my urban fantasy book before it becomes unreasonable?

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Depends entirely on your goal!!

If you want to traditionally publish, you need to aim for the recommended range, which I think is 85K-100K.

If you want to indie publish, you have a LOT more flexibility. Readers don’t mind long novels if they’re tightly written. Just be aware that if you want to sell it in print, you could end up in a situation where you’re either priced out of the market or get no profit whatsoever because the book is so expensive to produce.

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Can you share a little bit about your querying journey (I guess I’m assuming you queried since you’re traditional pubbed), what roadblocks you overcame and how you moved past them, and what it was like when your novel got picked up?

(I know you mentioned story elements, but I think trad-pubbed experience information could be really helpful too).

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Sure. Two very different experiences.

My nonfiction book was in a subniche category – specialized, not likely to be picked up by the majors. So I wrote a formal book proposal and submitted it to a small traditional publisher that specialized on that subniche. I think the editor got it on a Friday, and she called me on Monday. I had both writing chops AND platform. The publication process took…about 18 months total? Very easy and straightforward, and the book is still in print almost 20 years later. (In fact, I think we are almost 20 years to the DAY that I submitted that proposal!!)

Novel is different. It is upmarket fiction, not genre fiction. It needs that push of traditional publishing, and it would benefit from a big player. So I’m querying agents.

I started querying last September. Had some quick requests, and based on those I queried way too fast! Blew through my list before I got feedback. Over the past year I have gotten feedback in a number of ways. Bottom line is “The book is well-written, but it’s not elevated enough to be book club fiction.” I finally got a good understanding of what needs to change, but… it’s too late. I could rewrite, but I’ve blown through my list.

So. My next book will benefit greatly from what I’ve learned. This novel – technically still out to a couple of people – will be put in my back pocket. Hopefully I’ll land an agent with the next one, and THEN I can pull this novel out, and we can rewrite. It’s a good, solid story.

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That is amazing!! Wow, what a cool milestone!

Did you get any review/revise requests? Like they’d be willing to look at it again if you re-submitted with their suggestions?

What would you recommend for querying authors to do in their cover letters/queries? What do you think were the driving success factors in your queries for getting manuscript requests?

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I did not get any formal R&Rs. I tell you, it’s frustrating now looking back and understanding the flaws and what could have been better. It’s so FIXABLE. Very, very frustrating.

I recommend workshopping the HELL out of the query and first few pages. There’s a guy on FB and Twitter who is really good at workshopping queries. (His Twitter is @AuthorHopkins and his FB group is called Queries, synopses, etc.)

Be aware that it takes LOTS of iterations and feedback to get a great query.

It’s also worth getting feedback from industry people if you can afford it. I FULLY recognize that I’m privileged to be able to afford it. The absolute BEST feedback I got was from agent Jeff Kleinman, and he basically tore the skin off my body. Not mean – just pointed and ACCURATE.

There’s a huge writers conference in Kauai each year. When Corona required them to cancel in 2020, they decided to create an “online book club.” Only it’s not just a book club. They have a book discussion monthly, but every other week they have craft discussions.

https://kauaiwritersconference.com/online/

It is $50 a month. WAIT – don’t panic. Join for ONE month, and you can get access to all of their previous recordings. Jeff Kleinman reviewed submissions for two weeks in July. That ALONE is worth $50. I also HIGHLY recommend the SIX week class by Joshua Mohr. He is the best teacher I’ve ever had.

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I can only imagine!

This is good information.

The publishing industry is tough: constructive–even if critical–feedback like this is almost crucial to success, I would think.

This is a great resource, thank you. I hope some of our other users get some useful information out of this, especially since you’re someone who has been there/is going through the process again now.

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*raises hand* ( ^◡^)っ

I haz a couple questions:

Author platforms

Is there a difference between author platforms and author brand, and do we actually need either one today if we’re fiction writers? I mean, I agree with Jane Friedman’s post on author platforms, especially where she says platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work since that seems to be the only platform my favorite authors seem to have—the platform of producing great work. How do you classify the work of someone like Donna Tartt? Wikipedia claims her genre is neo-romanticism. What does that even mean in this context? After reading the article on it, I still don’t see the romanticism in her work.

How does one categorize writers like Jennifer Egan, Ottessa Moshfegh or Emily St. John Mandel? They all seem to write books of a particular type, but the only thing those books have in common is they win major literary awards.

So if a writer wanted to brand herself as the same kind of writer, how would she go about it? Or does the branding come entirely from the awards? The publishers of those writers don’t seem to do much in the way of advertising them—Ottessa Moshfegh and Donna Tartt don’t even have websites. And Emily St. John Mandel has a book coming out in April, but apart from encouraging people to pre-order it on her website, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of publicity or pre-launch for it.

Which brings me to my second question…

Book launches

What exactly should a writer be doing when launching a book? I imagine updating your website to revolve around the new book is probably high on the list, but what else?

Oooh, great questions!

Author platform is, basically, a group of people who are guaranteed to buy your book. Nonfiction writers need platform before a trad publisher will pick them up. Fiction, not so much. Is it awesome to have engaged followers on social media. Absolutely!! And that sort of thing can be a nudge in the right direction if an agent or publisher is on the fence. But there are very few agents or publishers who will turn down a great book because an unknown writer doesn’t have an existing platform.

Author branding is something different. Branding is “this is the kind of books I write.” Maybe it’s sweet romances. Maybe it’s dark romances. Maybe it’s cozy mysteries with well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters. For me it’s dog-friendly fiction! It’s a label that helps potential fans find content they want to read. Yes, you need it, but not before you sell a book. Don’t worry about it at the querying stage.

“Award-winning fiction” can be a brand. “Character-driven novels with deep, damaged characters” can be a brand. Neither of those is genre-specific. It’s just finding a heart to what makes someone say “Oh, that is a quintessential Akje novel!”

Launching. Prior to launch, you want to begin building buzz – but how to do that creatively will vary from book to book, genre to genre. It involves identifying your target reader and making them anticipate the launch of your book. Start your mailing list. Yes, build the web site. Build up your social media presence. Hold contests. Send out ARCs. Build a street team.

The goal is to get as many pre-sales as possible. In traditional publishing, the pre-sales are THE most important sales, because they all get counted on launch day.

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Ah! Okay, thank you so much! That’s very helpful. ( ˆ◡ˆ)۶ ٩(˘◡˘ )

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I have a questions and I hope it isn’t too much of a bother.

What made you want to write nonfiction? Has it been your dream to write a nonfiction book as oppose to a fiction one?

I hope I didn’t come off as rude. If I did then I apologize.

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@NotARussianBot

To add to this, market audience is another HUGE factor. YA would be 20 to 30k shorter than adult

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This is very much a book for adults.

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It happened accidentally, LOL. This story is so boring.

Clicker training animals was barely known in the late 1990s – its popularity came from a grassroots internet effort. I was fortunate enough to be part of that. I owned a very large mailing list and website, had a great reputation in that community, AND I was a technical writer who was good at explaining science to non-scientists. (Yes, I also trained dogs, but that wasn’t really the platform here.)

I decided to pull together what I then called “Click and What? Clicker Solutions to Clicker Training Questions.” I did it because it was NEEDED. Grassroots, remember. Growing but definitely not well known.

Also, to be fair, it was easy to write. I had been answering those questions on my mailing list for ages. I knew the info inside and out. And I sold on proposal, so it wasn’t like I wrote the whole book without knowing if it would be published.

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Then 85-110 k should be a good range. More so in the 90-100k, but the previous one is with extremes.

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I’m procrastinating at work. Any questions?

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I can always come up with a question or ten! (>‿◠):v:

Like, just what exactly do publishers do to advertise your book? And if they don’t do anything at all, then why should I tradpub instead of self-pub? I don’t really see the advantage of professional validation these days when it was professional publishers who turned hack writers (imho) like Stephenie Meyer and Anna Todd into household names. ¯\_(ﭢ)_/¯

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I think the biggest hack writer I can name is Reki Kawahara, the writer of Sword Art Online.

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Publishers focus on LAUNCH – and pretty much everyone gets help with pre-launch/launch publicity. What they do exactly varies. ARCs, reviews, marketing – some of it indies can do, other stuff they can’t.

Publishers don’t care whether a writer is a hack. They care whether a writer will make a profit for them. You listed two writers who made a LOT of money for them. That money is what enables publishers to take a chance on unknown writers.

Whether you trad pub or not is a personal decision – and it depends on what you write and what your goals are. I write book club fiction; self pub would be the equivalent of burning my manuscript. My books need access to things (like book boxes, box stores, book clubs run by celebrities, etc.) that self pub doesn’t have access to. Trad pub can give me that, though.

On the other hand, if I wrote adult genre fiction, I can’t imagine I would try to trad pub it (unless it was standalone). Definitely not an adult genre series. Why? Because trad pub pays crap for that, and the audiences are RABID. I can make way more self pubbing.

Marketing isn’t the only benefit that trad pub has. Don’t discount their reach to places self pub still can’t access. Writing middle grade or YA? School libraries, public libraries, Scholastic, book fairs, book subscription boxes… THOSE are what you need, and you CAN’T get to them as a self pubbed author. Not en masse. You can hand sell to a book store here and there, a library here and there. But that’s NOT the same as what trad pub would get you. Plus speaking engagements with your target audience!!

Trad pub and self pub are both viable, but they’re not equally good for every book.

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