3 Awesome Indie Publishers

The reworked query* for Rooted in the Sky is currently sitting in the inboxes of three more lovely small publishers: Red Hen Press, Dzanc Books, and Atticus Books.

All three promise to reply within six months.

so.much.waiting.

In all likelihood, Claire and I won’t know what these publishers think about her book until New Years’! That feels so incredibly far away. There is still a whole stretch of summer and beaches and apple festivals and haunted houses and turkey dinners between now and then. With this heat wave going on, I can’t even wrap my mind around the idea that there will be a time when snow blankets everything and I will be wearing boots but will still be miserably cold.

It’s a good thing we writers are patient and virtuous.

Not.

It will, I keep reminding myself, be well worth the wait should one of these publishers eventually indicate interest in Rooted in the Sky. Most broadly, I picked these three publishers because of their huge commitment to quality literary novels and their taste for unusual characters with unusual quests (definitely fits the bill, as you’ll see in the summary below).

Also, on a side note: In this process I totally judge publishers by their book covers–I believe it is reflective of their commitment to properly producing and promoting an author’s work (say that three times fast!)–and Atticus Books, in my opinion, has some of the best cover designs.

How beautiful are these?

*Seriously, who couldn’t find this improved summary–and the book it promises–tasty?

Having never wanted to become a mother, recently widowed Hannah gives birth to a daughter who, growing up, wants nothing more than her mother’s undivided affection. Committed to purifying herself and pursuing sainthood rather than motherhood, Hannah escapes on foot to the Utah desert and leaves her daughter, Frances, to be raised by a Mormon grandfather and a Catholic nun. Together, this eclectic family lives in a pod-like architectural masterpiece, a home which hangs from the side of a mountain. Each room is an ode to nature: a desert room made of sandstone, a jungle forest kitchen, and a living room with a crystal-clear ocean floor. No matter how far they physically or spiritually distance themselves, however, neither mother nor daughter can escape the voices of the inanimate world as animals, rocks, trees, and buried bones speak to them, whispering secrets about the end of days.

(Image #1, Image #2, #3, #4)

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Attending BEA 2012

I’m so excited to read all of these!

  1. How many books there would be. It was INSANE. I understood that I would acquire some free books and ARCs. But if I had understood the sheer number–books! Everywhere! Here, take five!–I would have brought a rolling suitcase, (though this was suggested to me ahead of time, I didn’t take it seriously) rather than the tote bags, weighing fifty pounds on each shoulder.
  2. A single water bottle will be $3.75 and there is not a single water fountain in sight to refill for free.
  3. Your ankles will hurt. A lot. Do not wear heels (I didn’t). Do not wear cute ballet flats (I did). Wear shoes with support!
  4. You need business cards. Even if you’re a newbie to the publishing world and don’t have an official business card for your company yet, you should have a personal business card mentioning that you’re a part-time blogger or wanna-be author or something. (I really need to go order some!)
  5. How non-participatory the big publishers would be. They did not give out any free books (you know, that’s fair, totally their right) but on top of that they were generally very unfriendly, avoiding eye contact and frowning at you if you walked through their booth, even if was just to get from Point A to Point B. But the smaller publishers, who want to garner some free publicity and word of mouth? They loved anyone who stopped in their booth and gave them love, personal attention, candy, and personal recommendations. The small independent publishers reminded me of the friendly book-swap atmosphere you can get in an indie bookstore. (Interesting fact: you know who the second most friendly booth was? Amazon. Free books and awesome conversations everywhere.)

Basically, BEA is a huge playground for bookworm adults.

I am so in love. Can’t wait/hope I can go back next year!

The Indie Path to Publishing

The last time I mentioned Rooted in the Sky and my efforts to get it independently published,* I had submitted it to Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and Ashland Creek Press. We’re still waiting to hear back from Ashland, but Claire recently opened  her mailbox to find a form rejection letter from Algonquin.

I’m not worried though. Rejection is inevitable. In the meantime, Rooted in the Sky has been submitted to:

Unbridled Books: estimated 10-week wait

Soft Skull Press: estimated 29-week wait

Graywolf Press: estimated 12 to 24-week wait

Elixir Press (2012 Fiction Award): Unknown wait time

Being a writer requires so.much.patience. The only thing to do is to keep busy by simultaneously submitting it to a slew of other publishers.

*Remember, when I say “independent publishing,” I’m not talking about self-publishing a book, but rather having a book published by an independent publisher. There’s a huge crowd of very respectable, smaller “independent” publishers who do all the publishing and distribution work, free of charge, and provide (small) advances and respectable royalties rates. It’s a mini version of getting published with one of the Big 6, without a literary agent acting as the go-between.

And the Countdown Begins

With a lovely, impressive, and revised query letter in hand, I officially submitted Rooted in the Sky to two indie publishers this week. Claire’s book is traveling through the US postal service as we speak to Algonquin Books–most famous for publishing Water for Elephants and Big Fish–and Ashland Creek Press, a small independent publisher that has some big love for literary fiction with environment, ecology, and wildlife themes (three themes which Claire’s book definitely contains).

Algonquin tells writers to expect a response within 8-10 weeks.

Ashland Creek Press promises to respond within 4-12 weeks.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep submitting the book to other indie publishers, but these were the two I was most excited about and needed to submit to ASAP. I think they’re the best fit for the book and, honestly, with Algonquin’s recent history of book-to-movie deals, what writer doesn’t occasionally dream of that kind of success?

Cross your fingers that we get an offer soon!

How to Write a Query Letter

So, the first order of business to get Claire Lawrence’s awesome book, Rooted in the Sky, published is the query letter. I struggled with this more than most writers do, I think, because I was ghostwriting it. Though I read Claire’s book, I didn’t know the plot and the characters inside out and backwards the way I would if I had written it myself. So after rereading the manuscript twice and taking extensive summary notes, I finally pared it down to what, as my boyfriend said, sounds like the blurb on the back of a published book (good foreshadowing sign, perhaps, yes?)

The basic rules for a query letter are this:

  1. It needs to fit on a single page;
  2. It should explain why your book belongs with them (whether an agent or a publisher) specifically;
  3. The BRIEF summary (no more than five sentences!) should provide the title, word count, genre, setting, main characters, and the central plot points; and
  4. Your bio should be short and to the point. No ramblings about your favorite color, or how your dearly beloved pet inspires you to write day after day. Even if you don’t have many (or any) writing credits, you can still write an impressive bio paragraph. If you’re interested, this is my own standard author bio.

A la Nathan Bransford’s guide on how to write a query letter, and his own Query Letter Mad Lib, I’m providing a Mad Lib of the form query letter for Rooted in the Sky. I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions! If you were a publisher, would this query letter make you want to request a partial manuscript read? Or, even better, would you want to publish it on the spot??

Dear [Name],

I discovered [Name of Publisher] through [website/book]. [Specific reason why this book could/should live happily ever after with this publisher]. Rooted in the Sky is a 70,000-word work of literary fiction that serves as an ode to humankind’s relationship with nature.

Hannah never wanted to be a mother, but in the middle of her husband’s funeral service she gives birth to a daughter who, growing up, wants nothing more than Hannah’s attention. Committed to purifying and detaching herself from all such earthly ties, including her own physical body, Hannah escapes to the Utah desert and leaves her daughter, Frances, to be raised by a Mormon grandfather and a Catholic nun. Neither mother nor daughter, though, can escape the voices of the inanimate world as animals, rocks, trees, and buried bones speak to them, whispering secrets about the end of days.

I am an Associate Professor of English/Creative Writing at Bloomsburg University and hold an MFA in creative writing from the University of Utah and a PhD in fiction from the University of Houston. My fiction, personal essays, poetry, and literary criticism has appeared in Tri-Quarterly, Terra Nova, Connecticut Review, Gulf Coast, The New England Writers Anthology, descant, Crab Orchard Review, Puerto del Sol, So to Speak, and The Best of Writers at Work, among others. My fiction has been anthologized in Terrain and The New Earth Reader. This is my first novel.

I’d be thrilled if you would consider Rooted in the Sky for publication. A few other publishers are considering simultaneously.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Claire T. Lawrence

Dear Indie Presses: Claire Lawrence’s Book Will Knock Your Socks Off!

Who, you may be asking, is Claire Lawrence? For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her or taking one of her (spoiler alert!) fabulously inspiring creative writing classes, Claire Lawrence is a Creative Writing professor at my alma mater, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (and, I should mention, one of my favorite people in the entire world). A Utah native who got her PhD in fiction from the University of Houston and has been published widely in journals such as Terra NovaGulf Coast, Puerto del SolTerrain, and The New Earth Reader, among others. Claire maintains a lovely blog, Wish You Were Here, all about writing, mothering, partnering, running, professing, and mindfulness. With all these activities and responsibilities–not to mention several bouts of flu that have been making their repetitive rounds at her home this winter–she obviously has a lot on her plate so even though she loves to write, she doesn’t have a huge amount of time to submit her work. Namely, this means that the novel she wrote over seven years ago–which was successfully picked up by an agent, but less successfully picked up by a major publisher–spends a lot of time on the To-Do list.

Enter me.

Acting as her Official Book Submitter, I am researching smaller publishers. These are perfectly respectable presses–ranging from university presses to independent presses–with awesome book lists who accept query letters from the authors themselves and don’t require literary agents as the go-between. My goal is to find her book, Rooted in the Sky, a happy published home.

With her permission already in hand, I will be blogging about independent presses, generally, and Claire Lawrence’s Grand Journey to Becoming a Published Book Author, specifically.

I’m super excited because, honestly, submitting writing is my favorite part of the process. I love researching potential publishers–looking at comparable titles, checking out their cover designs and general marketing strategies, writing and rewriting the query letter, sealing the envelopes with a lick, stamp, and prayer, waiting with bated breath and loads of hope–and this opportunity gives me the chance to do all that fun stuff without having to wait to have my own novel-in-progress polished and ready!

I hope you’re all as excited as I am!