Sunday, February 26, 2012

Write hard. Write true. And write on.

Status: No longer on a break. I've been sending out some queries, and working on my one line pitch. I'm going to try to enter a contest! I say try because I believe that I have to be one of the first 50 people to enter to be considered.

Number of queries sent: 16
Number of form rejections: 4 (it's been a week since my last response)
Number of requests for additional materials: 0

Waiting is definitely still the hardest thing ever. But at least I've found a good distraction: Absolute Write. (I borrowed their tagline for the title of this post.) This is such an incredible resource for aspiring writers. There are all sorts of forums where people can ask questions and have other writers help them get the answers. Plus there's a whole section of forums, separated by genre and/or category, called Share Your Work. This is where people can post things like the opening paragraphs, pivotal scenes, queries, synopses, or whatever else of their novels (or, in some cases, whole short stories) for other people to critique.

And then Absolute Write is also just a place to connect to other writers. To rant and rave about how the process of writing a novel and/or trying to get published is slowly killing you. But you just can't seem to stop. One thing I think is hilarious is that the Share Your Work section for query letters is called "Query Letter Hell." Very much mirrors my own sentiments, as seen by the titles of two earlier blog posts (found here and here).

I haven't posted anything of mine yet (even if I wanted to, I can't until I've reached 50 posts, which I think is more than fair). But I have been racking up my post count by critiquing other people's work. And it's been awesome fun. I've been doing the simple, mechanical things like saying there should be a comma here or you spelled this wrong. And then I've also been letting them know when something just doesn't make sense to me, or there's not enough description for me to understand what they're trying to convey. When the choice of word(s) just doesn't seem to fit. Or when they're going on about something needlessly (being redundant), and they could tighten the writing by taking something out. Anything and everything that comes to mind as I'm going through their work, including when something does work really well for me, or when I think something is written beautifully, brilliantly, or otherwise particularly well. It's been a great experience.

In fact, I received a wonderful response to one of my critiques this morning: "This was, imo, exactly what a crit should be. You're very concise pointing out what doesn't work, and you're clear as to why. You, ma'am, are on the road to making an iron-clad, respected name around here. I can't thank you enough. Overall, you've helped improve this opening immensely. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So much." Absolutely made my day! :D

Friday, February 24, 2012

My First Reviews

Status: It's chick flick month at my favorite movie theater/pub,
Chunky's. And though I was unable to get my husband to go to any of the other movies they were showing, he was willing to go to Pretty Woman. Which is pretty much my favorite chick flick ever. It was awesome to see it on the big screen for the first time. My nachos were pretty awesome, too.

Number of agents queried: still 13
Number of form rejections: still 4
Number of requests for additional materials: alas, still 0

So remember that beta reader who loved version 18 of my query enough to demand I send her the book? Well, I did send it to her once it was finished/edited to what I believe to be perfection. And while I guess text messages aren't really reviews, I did get some of the most fantabulous texts I've ever gotten.

The first was received on a Saturday at 1:10 am: "Ur book kept me up wayyyyyyyyyy too long." Seems she had to get up early the next morning. I'm not going to pretend I feel bad, though, since that's kind of what I was going for. My favorite books are the ones that are so wonderful that I can't stop reading, so I love that I was able to have that effect on someone else.

The second text was received a few days later at 1:18 am: "Just finished the book and all I can say is I NEED more!!!!!!!!!!" Now that's what I'm talkin' about! That's exactly the reaction I want out of readers when they finish!

But, unfortunately for her, I don't write sequels anymore. Not until I have a book deal and am being paid to do so. I talked about lessons learned from book #3
here, so now I'll talk about lessons learned from books #1 and #2. They were the first two parts of a trilogy. I spent seven years (yes, that was years) of my life working on them. And as I mentioned in my very first blog post, I'll have to completely rewrite the books to make them any good. Especially the first book. I've already rewritten it once, and it's still a mess. So the two and a half years I spent on the second book in that trilogy? Kind of useless.

I mean, if you really think about it, no writing is really useless. If nothing else, the whole process gave me a good idea of how not to write novels. Because I barely planned anything out ahead of time, and basically just wrote whatever came into my head when I sat down at the keyboard. Which, as I'm sure you can imagine, made for a rambling jumble of crazy. So for books #3 and #4, I learned from my mistake, and plotted out the whole thing ahead of time. I don't mean to say that I make a strict chapter outline or anything. I want to leave room to be able to change my mind if I think of something better along the way. But I spend hours upon hours upon hours plotting out my book, developing my characters, and really immersing myself in whatever story I'm creating before I ever start writing chapters. And my books are so much better for it.

So yay for my first (sort of) reviews! It's nice to have a fan. ;)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I Hate (But Completely Understand) Form Rejections

Status: At my husband's request, I've decided to take a few days off. Seems I've been so busy lately that he misses me. I really hope I can be a full-time writer one day. By the time I get home from work, I only have a few hours before bed time. Which means I never have as much time as I want to do all the things I want to do.

Number of agents queried: 13
Number of form rejections: 4
Number of requests for additional materials: 0

To put it as simply as possible, getting a form rejection hurts. To me, it means that my work is worth only about 5 seconds of their time. I especially hate the ones that start with "Dear Author." Honestly, I'd almost rather they forgo the salutation altogether.

BUT (and this is a big but, which is why I put it all in caps) I completely understand where they're coming from. From what I read online, these people are getting 100+ email queries a day. A day. That's absolutely crazy. If I get to work in the morning and I have more than 5 or 10 emails, I know I'm going to be very busy. So more than a hundred times a day, people are emailing these agents asking them to review their work. Plus they get emails and phone calls from their existing clients. They have to review the partials and fulls they've requested from potential new clients. They have to meet with editors (phone, in person, or what have you) because they have to actually sell the books they agree to represent. They have to go to conferences. And they have to do whatever other insane amount of things it is that they do in order to be good agents.

So I guess, when it comes down to it, I'm actually grateful that I'm worth those 5 seconds to them. Because frankly, if my only choices are get a form rejection or never hear back at all, I'll take the form rejection any day of the week and twice on Sunday. At least then I'll stop wondering and waiting. And maybe sleep normally again. That would be nice.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Something New

Status: I've started my planning, plotting, and scheming for my next book, and I'm crazy excited about it. Could be a while before I get to the point where I'm actually ready to start writing, though. I like to really get a firm grasp on the world, characters, plot, etc. before I take a stab at chapters. Otherwise my book will end up being a long, rambling, disconnected mess. And trust me when I say I know what I'm talking about.

Number of agents queried: 12
Number of form rejections: 4
Number of requests for additional materials: 0

The good news is I've started sleeping again. Not necessarily well, but well enough to stop looking like a zombie when I get to work in the morning. Okay, maybe I didn't really look like a zombie. If for no other reason than that I wasn't all gross from eating people. But still.

The reason for this improvement? It might be that the novelty of the whole thing has worn off. I have a bunch of queries in the field now. I've already gotten some rejections under my belt. And, as I mentioned above, I started working on my newest project. All those things sort of work together to take the pressure off.

All that said, I haven't really been on a normal sleeping schedule. I took a break from reading for nearly a month so that I wouldn't be distracted from finishing my book and getting it ready to submit. But this weekend, I decided it was time to get back in the swing of things. First, I read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. For anyone not familiar with the series, this is the third in the Hunger Games trilogy. I hadn't let myself start reading it until my book was finished, because I knew, from the way the first two books absolutely consumed my life until I finished them, that it would be far too much of a distraction. It was definitely my least favorite of all the books. There was one part that actually made me incredibly angry. I still can't believe the author decided to do that. Not a choice I would've made in a million years. But maybe that's what she was going for. Glad that I finished reading it, though, even if it was my least favorite of the three. Still a good book, and now I don't have to wonder what happens.

Then I read a book called Firelight by Kristen Callihan (only $5.99 on my Nook!). This book is basically a Victorian Gothic paranormal romance retelling of Beauty and the Beast (quite a mouthful, huh?). With the exception of the last part (I have a great love for fairy tale retellings, and especially ones based on Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella), this isn't something I'd normally read. But there was a wonderful
blog post by Kristen Callihan's agent, Kristin Nelson, that convinced me to give it a shot. And I can say unequivocally that I'm glad I did.

But with all these good books to read, I've been staying up way past my bedtime. I need to get back on a regular schedule so I can stop being so groggy. I've been in something of a fog all morning. I finally gave in and got some caffeine into my system. Which is something my doctor has told me time and again I should not do, because too much caffeine gives me headaches, and I used to drink something like 15 Diet Cokes a day. Relying on caffeine to wake myself up is a slippery slope I shouldn't go anywhere near again. But what can you do? I've got stuff to do today, and I won't get any of it done if I'm just lazing about, my thoughts muddled and my body unwilling to move.

So after this blog post, I want to work more on my new book. I'm returning to traditional fantasy, which is something I haven't done for a number of years. Although my last book involved plenty of traditional fantasy elements, the MC was a girl from Connecticut, so it certainly can't be classified as just a traditional fantasy. But for my new book, I'm creating a whole new world, a whole new culture, a whole new magical lore. So much fun. And when I need a break, maybe I'll query a few more agents. I had to remove one from my list because I found out she's not accepting queries right now, but that still leaves 21.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Query Hell, Part Dos

Status: I've decided to roll out my queries instead of sending them all at once. Primarily, this is so that I don't make mistakes. I don't want to get into a mindset of, "I've just done this 14 times in a row. I'm sure it's perfect. Let's just send it and get on to the next one." That's how to end up with a subject line like "Qurey: Diamond Tears." And if I have query spelled wrong in the subject line, I doubt the agent would even bother opening it to send me a form rejection. (For the record, the closest this has ever come to happening was when I submitted a college application to NYU, but forgot to take out the reference to Trinity College in one of my essays.)

Number of agents queried:9
Number of form rejections: 3
Number of requests for additional materials: 0

Since I'm on the subject of queries, I figured I might as well talk about how horrifying it is to have to write one. I honestly don't think I would have survived the experience if it wasn't for Query Shark. I cannot recommend her blog enough. Even though I've never had one of my queries posted to her blog, just going through her archives, seeing what others did wrong, and reading her explanation of why it was wrong and how to fix it was absolutely invaluable.

So around six months before I finished my book, I started writing a query letter. Because I remembered how much trouble I had with it the last time around. It literally took me over a year to get a query letter that I thought was ready to send out. And you know what? That letter absolutely sucked. I rewrote it after my first ten or so form rejections. Then I got seven more form rejections after that. Though I'm well aware at this point that there were some pretty serious flaws with my book (more on this later), I'm also aware now that my second query letter sucked, too. Not as much as the first. But it still sucked.

The reason is that I was trying to get too much information into my query. I read something interesting the other day, though I honestly can't remember where. Probably on an agent's website. But it said that the query is not like a synopsis. It's not supposed to sum up your book in any way. Instead, it's supposed to basically sum up your first 30 pages. What happens in the beginning of your book that causes the rest of the book's events to happen? What's your hook? That's what you're supposed to put in your query. If I'd known that, my query for book #3 would've been about half as long and about fifty times more exciting. Because it's hard to make something sound exciting when you're basically just listing events. First she moved here. Then she met him. Then she discovered this. Then such and such a horrible thing happened. Etc, etc, etc. Insert the most interesting characters and events you can possibly come up with, and it still doesn't sound interesting, does it?

So don't give back story. There's plenty of room for that in the synopsis, or in the sample pages themselves. And back story just isn't interesting enough. You need to start where your book really starts, where things really start happening. You need to keep it brief. You need to keep it simple. You need to leave them wanting more.

And for the love of god, even with all that help from Query Shark, make sure you have beta readers. As many of them as you can get. I went through something like fourteen drafts of my query letter, implementing as much of the knowledge gleaned from the Shark as possible. Then I sent my letter around to several people who hadn't read my book. Half of them were confused. I made some leaps of logic that they just weren't following. And the half that got it thought that 2/3 of my letter was boring. And you sure as hell don't want to be boring. This is an actual conversation I had:

Beta Reader: "Your third paragraph kicks ass. That makes me want to read the book."

Me: "But not my first two paragraphs?"

Beta Reader: "No, not really. I mean, I guess the idea is interesting. But the way you wrote it is just...blah."

Me: "So if you read the whole letter, after my third paragraph, you'd read sample pages?"

Beta Reader: "Absolutely."

Me: "But would you keep reading through the first two paragraphs?"

Beta Reader: "Honestly? No. I'm not even sure I'd make it past the first."

So back to the drawing board. And you know what? That was absolutely priceless information. I was happy with that version. I would've sent it out into the world. And I have absolutely no doubt that it wouldn't have gotten me anywhere.

But by the time I got to version 18, I was kicking some serious ass from start to finish. That very same beta reader, who hadn't read a single word of my book and had basically been blowing me off for over a year called me the second she finished reading and told me to send her the entire novel as soon as possible. That is the reaction you want. You want the agent to want to read sample pages the second he or she finishes reading.

So far, I'm still at 3 rejection letters and no requests for partials or fulls. But with a query letter like mine (I got that reaction I just talked about from multiple people), it might not stay that way for long. I just hope I'm not deluding myself! :P

Query Hell

Status: I spent two days updating my ever so official Agent Spreadsheet. It now holds 34 agents from 34 different literary agencies.

Number of agents queried: 9
Number of form rejections: 3
Number of requests for additional materials: 0

There is nothing in this world more stressful to me than sending my query letter to agents. Nothing. Every time I get a new email, my heart stops and I feel like I'm about to have a panic attack. Then I look at what it is, and frequently end up cursing Groupon to the fiery pits of hell.

And I haven't slept in days. I actually had three different people ask me yesterday what was wrong with my eyes, because they were scary bloodshot. Then I had to explain that I wake up about 20 times a night with the overwhelming need to check my email. Why, you ask, do I think it's plausible that I'll receive a reply from an agent at 3 o'clock in the morning? Well, the very first form rejection I ever got, back with the previously mentioned beloved book #3, came at something like 1 AM. I realized then that these publishing people keep crazy hours.

At least I have an iPhone, so I don't have to get out of bed.

The Beginning

And so I begin my blog. At the moment, I'm pretty sure the only people I'll get to read this are my husband and my dogs (okay, the dogs aren't exactly people, and they can't exactly read, but go with me on this one). But I'm hoping that, after a while, some people might have some interest in what I have to say.

So that begs the question: what exactly is it that I have to say? Or, perhaps, why should anyone other than my husband care?

The simple answer is that I'm trying to get published (not for the first time). And for other aspiring authors out there, the information I get along the way might be of use. Especially if I manage to succeed this time.

To tell you a little about me, I pretty much exclusively write YA at this point. When I was younger, I always saw myself as writing for an adult audience. But then when I actually got to be an adult, I realized I'd actually been writing something closer to YA anyway, and just didn't know it. Which, I guess, makes sense, since I was a young adult when I wrote my first novel. I've written three more since, all of them fantasy.

I found A Wrinkle in Time in a closet at my grandparents' house in second grade, and ever since then, it's been all about fantasy for me. People kept telling me that only kids like fantasy, and eventually I'd grow out of it. Well, since I know plenty of adults that will love fantasy until their respective dying days, I'm pretty sure my naysayers are just whacked. Oh, and then there's this one: "Why don't you try to write a real book?" Yes, someone actually said that to me. More than once, actually. And was beside herself when I got upset. As if it's a-okay to tell me one of my greatest passions, the thing to which I've decided to devote my professional life, isn't even real.

But I'm one of those people who has wanted to be a published author since I was about six years old. My first two books were, admittedly, not very good. If I ever have the patience to completely rewrite them, there's potential for awesomeness (in my ever so humble opinion). But as they currently are, I actually think they kind of suck. I absolutely love my third book, and I'm sure there will be more about that later.

Then there's my fourth book. The best thing I've ever written. My pride and joy. What I'm hoping will finally be the one to land me things like an agent and a publisher. I'll chronicle the ups and downs of my journey in this blog.

Wish me luck!