As a writer, one of the most important things you need to understand--especially when pitching your book--is which genre it falls into.
Why? I won't get into the nitty gritty details here, so here's the simple version: the genre determines just about everything about your book and how it will be marketed and sold, from how it's programmed into databases, to its cover design, to where it's sent for reviews and where and how its promoted for sale. Really: everything.
Write in whatever genre you like--just know exactly what it is when you're selling it.
Black Spot Books specializes in titles of speculative fiction. This literary genre is a broad umbrella term that touches upon most genres, so we try to break it down clearly in our submission guidelines and materials for aspiring authors. Still, for many the term "speculative fiction" can be a little murky, so this blog is an attempt at a crystallization process to make the term as clear and approachable as possible.
Let's start with a basic, simple definition:
Speculative Fiction encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supranational, futuristic, or other imagined elements. This includes science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror and supernatural (or paranormal) fiction.
Still with me? Good.
Basically, if the novel is one that's outside of the grounded-in-realtity everyday world and explores something "unusual," it's quite possibly a work of speculative fiction.
Here's a few of my favorite works of speculative fiction, broken down by genre with familiar titles as examples:
Fantasy | Includes elements and beings divined from imagination, like mythical creatures (dragons and fairies), magic and magical elements (sorcery, witchcraft, etc.)
Example: The Hobbit, Harry Potter
Science Fiction | Features natural sciences and technologies that do not exist in real life (but may in the future), including robots, interstellar travel, flying cars and beings and societies (aka aliens) from other planets.
Example: The Martian, The Windup Girl
Horror | Similar to fantasy, but focusing on terrifying, evil and often powerful beings, such as monsters and ghosts. Aims to transmit fear and, basically, scare the hell out of you.
Example: The Shining, Interview with the Vampire
Utopia | Takes place in a highly desirable society, often presented as advanced, happy, intelligent or even perfect or problem-free.
Example: Ecotopia, 17776
Dystopia | The anti to Utopia, these take place in a highly undesirable society, often plagued with strict control, violence, chaos, brainwashing and other negative elements.
Examples: 1984, Brave New World
Apocalyptic | Takes place before and during a massive, worldwide disaster.
Examples: Heart of Darkness, The Map of Time
Post-apocalyptic | Focuses on groups of survivors after a massive, worldwide disaster.
Example: World War Z
There are, of course, other genres that fall into this list--like superheroes and alternate history--but I've focused on those represented by Black Spot Books.
I hope this helps the murky waters of speculative fiction become just a little bit more clear--now, don't be afraid to dip your toes in these waters and get to writing!
Fair winds and following seas,
It's November, which for many in the writing world--especially aspiring authors--that means one thing: NaNoWriMo.
November, in addition to be the time of year when men decide to stop shaving and start growing delicious facial hair, is National Novel Writing Month (hence, NaNoWriMo). It's a time that storytellers everywhere commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. What makes NaNoWriMo so interesting is that it's not just a goal, but a community, with a website, a large social media following, community forum, daily sprints, coaches, and a huge network of writers everywhere engaging and supporting each other.
I participate every year in NaNoWriMo, whether it's a story that ends up published or not. Usually, if I'm being honest, I never quite make the deadline, and you can just forget about me actually remembering to update my daily word count--which sucks for my participation badges. For me, it's all about the experience and the encouragement. It's freaking fun. This year I'm working on a paranormal thriller. I can't stop writing.
As a publisher, NaNoWriMo presents another really fun thing: a ton of new submissions. As writers finish up their manuscripts and revise/edit over the holiday break, come January I get a treasure trove of new projects, new writers, and new stuff to read!
This year Black Spot Books has set up a special waiting list for NaNoWriMo authors eager to get a jump on the submission process.
You can add your title here.
Fair winds and following seas,
Look, I get it. You've spent weeks, months, years--YEARS--crafting the perfect story. It's been edited, then edited some more, then edited again. You added scenes and deleted them. You changed a main characters name. You've started to forget this is just a work of fiction and instead feel like the whole damn thing has come out of your memory rather than your imagination. You've stayed up countless nights writing. You've told everyone about your project. You've probably swilled a lot of rum, especially somewhere around word 67, 831 (or maybe that's just me). You've decided to name your next pet after your protagonist. Visions of cover art are dancing in your head.
You are ready to see this baby on the shelf.
But first, you have to convince someone who reads a lot of manuscripts that yours is something special, something unique, and something worth investing in. That's not nearly as easy as it may sound.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Writing queries and putting submission packages together sucks. I've written three novels and two textbooks, so I know firsthand just how tedious this process can be. In fact, I think it was querying my third book, more than any other thing in my life, where I earned my first gray hair. There are so many questions: How do you find the right agent/publisher? How do you boil down this beautiful saga into a three-sentence query blurb and a two page synopsis? How do you wait out the painful two weeks to three month timeframe for someone to read and--worse--judge your work? And how in the hell do you handle the inevitable rejection notice when it comes?
I'm on your side -- trust me. There's not much I hate more than sending out rejection letters.
Every agent is different. Every publisher is different. Trying to give boiler-plate advice on how to write the Most Amazing Query Ever is useless, wasteful, and--frankly--kinda stupid. But, there are a few best-practices that you should know before you query to help you make sure your submission is read and doesn't get quick click into some agent's Trash box.
I can't speak for every publisher, but here's some tips to help you write a successful query letter for Black Spot Books:
1. Know what we publish, and what we don't publish.
Do your research, and make sure you know what the agent/publisher you're submitting to actually reads and represents. Why would you want to submit your work and (im)patiently wait 8 weeks only to get a rejection because the agent doesn't accept poetry or religious fiction, or whatever genre you're writing in that isn't on their list? Knowing that you're submitting your project to an agent interested in your genre saves both you and the agent time and frustration.
For more on what we are and are not looking for, read here.
2. Follow submission directions.
Submission directions are specific. They ask for certain details for a reason. Don't skimp on providing these--it tells your possible agent/publisher that 1) You didn't bother to read the submission instructions, and 2) You aren't worried about the details--both of which are incredibly important to your agent. Be clear and explicit when providing these details in your query.
For more on what we ask for in a submission, read here.
3. Proofread your query.
Alright, there's an art to writing a query letter, and this isn't the place to discuss it (we will in a future blog, so don't forget to subscribe!). That said, writing a query is as much art as it is science, and there are a few mechanics you should master.
4. Get to know us.
The publishing market is one that is constantly in flux. While most publishing houses specialize in certain genres, that doesn't mean that they don't change, too--new agents, new editors, new titles, new pathways in the book-buying market, new audiences.... All of these have an impact on how publishers grow and evolve over time.
Reach out on social media and connect with a publishing house. Many small presses, like Black Spot Books, put an emphasis on building meaningful relationships with authors, and also want to see that authors can build networks--this is an important aspect in selling your books over time.
Take some time, also, to research the agent/publisher you're submitting to. Check our their blogs and see what they're reading. Follow them on Twitter and see what they're tweeting about, and who they're following. Building a relationship with an agent is just that--a relationship. Agents love when you query them individually and provide a reason, such as, “Because you represented such-and-such book, I think you’d be a great agent for my work" or "Because I know you enjoy the works of Author X, I think you'll also love mine because..."
5. Have your manuscript in its best shape possible.
Before you submit, make sure your work is edited, revised, and polished. Peer review is a crucial step, so be sure to have trusted peers give you an honest critique or "beta read" and incorporate their feedback as necessary. Consider seeking a professional freelance editor to evaluate it. And never query an agent for a novel until the work is complete--trust me, I know the thrill of sending out a query, but you can wait the few extra weeks to finish a novel before you start trying to sell it. If and when an agent asks for a partial or full manuscript, they expect to have it immediately. Again, trust building.
Ultimately, be persistent. Every famous author has a story about how many agents rejected their work before they made a connection--Stephen King, Anne Rice, even JK Rowling.
Remember, too, that publishing is a business. Agents/publishers simply can't accept everything, so make sure your work is in tip-top shape to give it the best chance of success.
Fair winds and following seas,
Reading manuscripts is seriously one of my all-time favorite things to do.
There is something so delicious about getting to be one of the first people to read a new story, especially one from a fresh new voice or a manuscript that weaves a new, novel concept! Delightful crisp pages, freshly printed from our submissions manager, clipped together and warm on my lap in front of a blazing fire on colder-than-usual November rights in the Northeast---there's nothing better!
I could--and literally do--read these for days!
Right now, I'm busy working my way through our inaugural submissions queue at Black Spot Books, and eagerly discovering the first gems that will fill our 2018 production schedule. We are anticipating being able to release between 12 and 24 new single titles in 2018! There are so many amazing new projects in our pipeline, it's going to be so hard to choose (or we'll just up the release count!).
If you haven't submitted your manuscript yet, you should here.
As of now, I anticipate being able to send our acceptances beginning in late-November. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to stay updated.. I'll also be posting some tips and tricks for getting your query read and accepted, as well as some tips on how to build and promote your brand and your books. Stay tuned!
Fair winds and following seas,
We are thrilled to announce that we are officially open for submissions! We have been anticipating this day for so long that it almost seems surreal that it's actually here. And, our submission queue is already filling up. The new year promises to be a grand one and I can't tell you how eager we are to get started.
Of course, you can peruse our website to learn all about us, our crew, and our books. But here's a little bit more, straight from the bridge!
We publish primarily works of what we consider "dark lit"--titles that toe the edge between fiction, fantasy, and horror. We want manuscripts that can stir emotions and make the little hairs on the back of our necks stand up--whether they're works of suspense, spook, or speculation, and whether they're written in as novels, novellas, or even poetry. Of course, being the bunch of pirates that we are, we have a special place in our hearts for project that involve elements of water--pirates, shipwrecks, ghost ships, sirens, mermaids, buried treasure, floods, drowning....if it lurks beneath the deep, then we want to read it. (Nearly all of my personal favorite books--from Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone or We Were Water, to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Erika Swyler's Book of Speculation and James L. Nelson's Brethren of the Coast series--involve water.)
We do our best to treat our books and our authors well, from competitive royalty programs to innovative promotional services (both in house and through our partner, Deep Water Media) and traveling bookstores and event appearances. Coming from the data industry, I not only hand select all of our published projects, but also pay careful attention to all our analytics from sales to social media to make the most of our efforts for our authors and our audiences. Kyle, being the branding genius that he is, creates beautiful digital content to get stories to readers. Our designers and editors, Najila and Melissa, are brilliant women and the best at their craft. Seriously, it's a dream team.
Beyond publishing and touring, we also work with authors--even authors that aren't published under our label--to get their stories out to sea. In our upcoming bookstore, we are all-indie, all-genre. We also have a host of digital content services, including videos, brand development, and more, designed to fit the needs and budget of up-and-coming and other sea-worthy storytellers!
We do our best to stay engaged with you, and we hope that you'll do the same with us. Please connect with us through any of our social channels, and be sure to subscribe to the newsletter, too!
Fair winds and following seas,