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.


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.


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)

Meeting That Deadline

For some reason, the last week of June is jam-packed with deadlines for me. Various indie publishers are hosting contests or extremely brief windows of submission opportunity and I’m preparing fancy cover letters for Rooted in the Sky like crazy; a few months ago I decided to submit something to a Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul anthology (of course, the one about writing advice) and I keep rewriting it, unhappy, as the June 30th deadline looms closer; also, I’ve been holding out on telling you all, but I was approached by Ploughshares several months ago to write a guest blog post for their Literary Boroughs series and after many visits to Philadelphia and several long hours of compiling all the information into lovely sentences, I finally turned it in yesterday (I’m really excited to share this post with you. It goes up July 4th!). On top of all that, I have a bundle of  self-imposed deadlines to finish other projects (namely the Byberry book).

In general, deadlines work for me. I’ve only missed a deadline once in my entire life, but I knew the deadline wasn’t practical, because the project had swelled in scope, nearly a month ahead of time and thus managed to garner a reluctant extension from my professor.

Deadlines help me gauge how much I need to get done each day or each week. I divide the project up into segments so that I’m constantly on schedule (or, at least, have time built in for an all-nighter so I can catch up and be on schedule eventually).

How about you? Do you work well with deadlines? Do they have to be “real” deadlines set by editors and publishers, or will you obey deadlines that you set for yourself?

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.

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.


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!