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)

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!

Cover Letter Mad Lib

When you’re submitting a short story to a literary journal, you send along a cover letter. It’s a little like a query letter, only briefer.

This is the Mad Lib of my usual cover letter format:

Dear [NAME],

[1-2 sentences demonstrating that you’ve read their publication; mention how you came across their publication–are you a regular reader?–a story you enjoyed, or a story they published which you believe is similar to your own submission]

Attached, please find my [WORD COUNT] submission, [TITLE]. [One sentence summary of the story]

[Bio paragraph]

Thanks for your time and consideration,

[me]

This is an actual fleshed-out cover letter I’ve been sending around recently. I’ve gotten quite a few bites and positive feedback for this particular story, a lot of “almost” and “dear story, let’s just be literary friends,” talks from several kind and lovely editors. If I just sending it out, hopefully it’ll find a home!

Dear Mr. Towers,

I recently discovered your journal and am in love with the content. I was particularly fond of “The Bank Robbers” in the March issue.

Attached, please find my 1,700-word submission, “Nine Lives.” Fed up with a horde of feral cats terrorizing his family, George undertakes an unorthodox problem-solving approach.

I am an Assistant Editor at Transaction Publishers and have had work appear or forthcoming in Inside Pennsylvania, The Stillwater Review, The Honors Review, The Susquehanna Review, and Weave magazine. My writing has also been awarded 2nd place in The Baltimore Review’s 2011 Creative Non-Fiction Contest and Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Competition. I maintain a writing blog at https://thewwaitingroom.wordpress.com/. Despite what you may think, I am extremely fond of my little black cat, Gizmo.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Hannah Karena Jones

(Image, No Copyright)

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