Once More Unto the Breach

Four years ago today I arrived in Springfield, MO – my spirit nearly broken, exhausted, and clinging to a small bit of hope that my life wasn’t irreparable. It wasn’t, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the leap I took.

Looking back, I have to laugh at my naivety. I had done the math, knew the cost of living in Springfield, knew the profit I made from the sale of my house, and figured I had 3-4 years to get a book published before it all fell apart.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that the journey to publication can be a very, very long one. Many authors don’t get published until they’ve written 9-10-20 books. Each of those books might go through 6-16 rewrites. 3-4 years! HA!

Of course there are always the wunderkinds – the ones who get published right out of the gate. There are the self-published who can claim the title of published author, but can’t claim to have many readers or earn a living. But the vast majority of authors who want to publish traditionally, toil away in the trenches for years, learning to write, learning to tell stories, and learning to deal with rejection.

This is what I’ve gathered the path to publication is: write – celebrate – edit and polish – celebrate again, imagining agents thronging to your brilliant book – rejection – rewrite – test the waters – rejection – rewrite – rewrite – rejection – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite – agent – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite – publisher – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite. Publication!

I’ve been stuck in the rewrite process, floundering. Not sure what direction to go. Since form letter rejections leave the author blind, and my writer’s group has disbanded for the time being, I needed to get some pertinent critiques from authors who write and read similar books to what I’m writing. I got a couple of critique partners online and we are in the process of reading each other’s manuscripts and giving feedback. I’ve gotten one back already and it has given me so much to think about. Many areas that I had problems with, but my early readers assured me were fine, gave them problems too. I wish I could learn to listen to my own instincts more.

I am heading back into the rewrite breach. What will follow is analyzing the already written story for structure. Breaking each chapter down. Examining plot. And most daunting… possibly rewriting the entire novel from a different POV. Right now each chapter is told from each of the main characters point of view – rotating through to tell the story. I am considering switching to third person omniscient. It seems overwhelming to even attempt it, but I may give it a shot. If it doesn’t work, I still have my original.

So for those who ask where I am with my writing… that is where I am. Once more unto the breach.

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#authorstats

If your’e an aspiring author, search Twitter for #authorstats. This hashtag was started to give us encouragement. They asked published authors to list their stats… how long to get an agent. How long to sell their first book. How many revisions.

This is the first one I saw:

Author after author had a similar story. It took years to get an agent, and it took revision after revision after revision.

The hashtag succeeded. I feel encouraged. I’ve only been trying to get an agent for a little over a year. I haven’t even completed ten revisions. My lack of success at this early stage is entirely normal.

Whew!

My only concern now is managing to pay the bills until I land an agent, sell the book, and earn a little income from my hours and hours and hours of up-to-this-point free labor. Because I now have a firm belief that it is not if I sell, but when.

The latest round of major revisions is complete. My next task is to sit down and read it from cover to cover to make sure the new additions flow. Then it will be off to the editor for another quick go-over, and then it’s back to querying.

I’m excited for the next rejection that might give some feedback and lead me to another revision. Of course I’m even more excited for the possibility that they might request my manuscript. Or beyond that, that they might request their own set of revisions (meaning they’re interested enough to see if you can do the work.)

Of course, in quiet moments I doubt myself. I’m sure I’m a talentless hack who has deluded herself into thinking she has something to say. Criticisms and slights ping pong around my head. However, now there’s one thing I can counter with. I’m not an idiot. And even if the doubters are right, right now – I can learn. I can improve. I can revise. I can do this, just like those other authors did.

What goal are you trying to achieve that seems out of reach? Are you frustrated that others make it look so easy? Does that make you doubt yourself more? Rather than stewing about it, try asking them about their journey. Find out their stats. You may just find your doubts are unfounded, and you’re right on track for success.

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Yippee! Another rejection!

After my recent rewrite, and having found Diana Urban’s blog post about querying, this time around things are going much better. If you are querying, check out the blog post for some great information. I won’t write about all her suggestions, but I’m going to share the two I wasn’t doing that are really making a difference for me.

From day one, the entire querying process has been daunting. You only have a few paragraphs in the query letter to get them to read a sample, which is what will hopefully lead them to ask for the manuscript. I’d done some reading online and gotten some advice from an editor, but each time I sent a letter out, it felt like an experiment. The problem was, if the experiment didn’t work, you couldn’t just try again with the same agent. Most were then off limits unless you did a major rewrite.

To solve this problem, new author Diana Urban urges querying authors to hire a professional, such as an editor or junior agent. From my understanding, junior agents assist agents. One way they assist is by screening queries. If you want your manuscript to make it to an agent, you first have to get past the junior agent. (And if I’m wrong about that, they at least likely know what agents want.) By hiring a Jr. agent to edit your query package, you can be sure it includes all the elements an agent would want to see. Ms. Urban recommended two people, and I chose K. Johnson Editorial. She provided great feedback that allowed me to improve my query letter, synopsis, and submission pages. It seems I’m already seeing results and will hire her again for my other synopses.

The other suggestion that has been so helpful is to use QueryTracker. Part of the pain of my previous querying attempt was the silence, and slow, erratic drip of rejections. Now I can see what other QueryTracker users have submitted to the agents. I can see which of those submissions has been rejected or had a full manuscript request. Because of that, I can see where my query is in the process and the rejections don’t come completely out of the blue. Are there still 10 manuscripts between mine and the ones rejected? I know I have a while to wait. Or, like recently, I could see that manuscripts before mine, and after mine had been rejected, leading me to believe it had made it past the junior agent, and was waiting to be reviewed by the agent. While it was still eventually rejected, that information from QueryTracker gave me so much hope.

And my most recent rejection gave me my best hope yet. Literary agencies receive hundreds of queries each week. We authors are dying to know why we were rejected, but they don’t have time to tell us. It’s frustrating, but totally understandable. This week’s rejection came with really useful feedback. If they didn’t see potential, they wouldn’t have bothered with feedback, and I now know if I can introduce my character in the way they’re looking for, I can sell this book. The story, query, and synopsis are where they should be. The first chapter is not.

I have a long weekend of work ahead of me, but I’m very excited to get to it. I believe the first full manuscript request is just around the corner. That doesn’t mean an agent, but it means another step forward, and right now, that’s all I need.

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The Grind

Right now it feels as if I’m just grinding along. In an attempt to prolong what’s left of my savings, thus giving me time to sell my book, I am working more hours. I’m getting up to an alarm 5 days of the week now. Gone is the midweek “weekend.” No more time for daydreaming on the sun porch while ideas float about my brain. There is little time left for my other job – writing. Survival is pretty much the focus now.

For the first few years, when I could balance work, writing, and social time, I didn’t feel the need to take time off and go on a vacation. Now that the work leg of my stool is getting longer and longer, I feel the need to balance things out, except I can’t really afford a vacation. I was very generously given a raise after almost 3 years on the job, but immediately watched my rent go up significantly, and thanks to ACA sabotage, my health insurance quadrupled. I have a dental appointment this week and probably need a crown. I owe what feels like a hefty amount in taxes. One step forward, five steps back. I’ll just have to tighten things up even more, and keep dreaming of a week of relaxation with sand between my toes and bathtub warm water so clear I can see those grains of sand. Hopefully someday before I die.

More work, more stress, less fun, less daydreaming… none of it makes for productive writing time. I was told I needed to focus on two things this year: patience and discipline. So far that is proving true. I need the patience to see the agent/publisher search to its conclusion. I need discipline to keep writing… to grind it out. Not how I work best, but what else can I do? The safety net is being dismantled, leaving me with few options if this all blows up in my face. I must grind.

The grind of querying is also back on. I had one rejection within 24 hours. However, I’ve received none since, and while I may be grasping at straws, I actually see a glimmer of hope with one. I’m using a website called querytracker.net. I originally thought a spreadsheet would work just fine for tracking my queries and didn’t see the benefit of online tracking. I was wrong. My spreadsheet only contained my query information. Query Tracker contains the query information of every author who uses the site, which seems to be a whole lot of them. I can see the queries an agent has received — genre, word count, and date submitted. When the author receives a response, that is also displayed. One particular agent I queried, who seems ideally suited for my story, has rejected submissions made before I submitted, as well as some after I submitted. Mine and a couple of others have not received a response. While this could mean any number of things, such as: my manuscript is making the rounds of the agency so they can make fun of how bad it is; or like my original birth certificate, my submission fell behind a filing cabinet never to be found again; or the rejection got lost in cyberspace. It could mean any one of those things, but I’m choosing to believe that it means I made it past the junior agent and my submission is now sitting in a pile, waiting to be read. Even a nibble fills me with hope.

Now limited to a 2-day weekend, I spent one precious day yesterday cleaning, catching up on my finances, and doing my taxes. That leaves today for really focusing on writing. I finally found the scene/direction I’ve been missing in order to move forward with book two, and despite feeling the grind, I’m looking forward to spending a day lost in adventure. And in the breaks, I’ll daydream about having more days like today during the week, and warm, sandy beaches, and hopefully that will get me through the grind. Hopefully someday it will all be worth it.

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Keeping the Faith

Prepare for a somewhat rambling, stream-of-consciousness blog.

I’m sitting on my sun porch listening to the sounds of the night. Perfectly synchronized tree frogs, crickets, and other unknown insects are creating a symphony. They are accompanied by the urgency of sirens, and the groan of traffic.

The blue fairy lights wrapped around the old growth trees in my yard are all pulsing, completely out of sync. I spent the afternoon repairing one strand that a squirrel had decided was a chew toy. I’m taking great pride in seeing it twinkle, though I miss the fireflies that added white lights to the dance.

The writing has been coming at a slower pace, partly because I’ve been busier socially. It’s so hard to find that balance. I’m either holed up, or never home.

Another query needs to go out, and yet I find myself hesitant. Once again I feel like the outsider in the agent world.

Perhaps it is who I’m querying. They all seem to be about 22, bouncy, and adorable. They post about all the books they represent that are coming out and many seem instantly forgettable. They tweet all the story ideas they’re looking for, which sound an awful lot like mine, yet the rejections keep dripping in. And then they tweet about all the mistakes querying authors make, and this process begins to take on a familiar feel.

It reminds me of Hollywood, where I was never quite good enough. I was expected to play by rules I had nothing to do with setting up. It didn’t matter how much talent I had, or how many original ideas I had, if I didn’t meet certain expectations and play the games of the men in power.

Now, instead of sexism, I feel the weight of ageism. I feel the need to be hip and current. I’m expected to condense my book into 140 characters in a twitter pitch fest, or find just the right combination of words to win over an agent in a few paragraphs. And then there’s the whopping 5 pages of my manuscript I’m allowed to submit. I think about Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and wonder how it ever got published. The first 100 pages were excruciating, yet if I don’t wow them in 5 pages, I have no chance. Once again, I’m just not hip enough. Not cool enough.

Then there was the depressing moment recently when an agent I was really interested in, revealed her love of Twilight.

She is clearly not my agent.

I have a good story. In fact, I have a really good story. I’ll admit, there may be times I don’t tell it as well as I would like, but it’s as good, if not better than many of the books lining the shelves of bookstores. It will take three books to tell that story, and somehow I have to get an agent who has the patience to see where this is going. Either that, or I have to find a way to support myself while I write all three books. 45’s recent attacks on healthcare make that more and more unlikely.

But I don’t have just three books. One agent I follow recently tweeted that too many authors focus on breaking in with their first book and not on building a career. Frustrating! After this trilogy, I have an entire middle grade series in my head. I also have an adult dystopian book with a killer title, Dwellers of the Eye. I would love to build a career, but I need the income of breaking in with my first book to do it. Why is it so hard for those who have broken in to remember the frustrations and struggles of those still trying?

When I send a query off, I am filled with confidence. I’m certain this will finally be the agent to request my manuscript. When I receive a rejection, I am filled with fear and doubt that I have just wasted my entire life savings, and I am going to spend the rest of my life struggling to keep a roof over my head.

I had the silly idea that as this went along, the rejections would get easier. They do not. They get far harder, and with each one it also gets harder to keep the faith that I’m not on a fool’s errand.

Still, what else is there to do but to forge ahead. I’ve chosen my path and I have to see it through. Peak after valley, after peak, after valley, I will keep riding this publishing roller coaster and do my best to keep on keeping the faith so I can keep on sitting on my sun porch, listening to the music of the night, and living a life that feels filled with purpose.

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Rejection

It’s official. I’m a writer. I’ve been rejected. It’s actually not the first time, just the first time for a novel. Despite being told I would probably not hear back before September, it o only took a couple of weeks to be rejected.

I had told myself to expect it. Afterall, nobody gets in on their first try. Still, it hurt. Reading the reasons hurt more.

I gave myself last night to feel lousy about it, then today I would get off the pity pot and climb onto the perseverance pot. Even in my angst, I reminded myself of some things – like the comments I’ve gotten from people who’ve read it. And the fact that neither agent actually read my book. They sampled it. If I can get someone to actually read it, perhaps I’d have a better outcome.

This morning some other facts dawned on me. I know that most writers get rejected many times before someone takes them on. Each person who rejected them had a compelling reason for the rejection… but that didn’t make them right. J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times, and obviously those agents reasons were idiotic.

One agent that rejected my novel said its was good writing, good pacing, but too familiar and wouldn’t stand out. Another one said he didn’t care for it and couldn’t follow it. Two agents. Same agency. Two completely different reasons for rejection, and frankly two that don’t even work together. If it’s good writing and too familiar, how could it be difficult to follow? It occurs to me that I can’t take any of their opinions to heart. If down the road, every agent is saying the same thing, then perhaps I should take them more seriously, but for now, I simply have to find an agent whose personal opinion is more closely aligned with my readers.

Other reasons cited for rejection were a weak market linked, in part, to the chaos in Washington. Lucky me. i decide to make my leap of faith at the same time a quarter of my fellow citizens go nuts and decide to destroy the country. Hopefully they don’t take my dreams down too.

This afternoon I did some research on how to properly construct a query letter. I already have several agents in mind that I’d like to query. One in particular interests me greatly, but only allows for 10 pages of the book to be submitted. That means I better have a killer query letter to sell then entire series.

Onward and upward. It’s not the last rejection I’ll get. But I won’t quit. Not yet. Perhaps not ever, because I only fail if I quit. I will persist.

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