#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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Everything is Possible

It’s been a long while since I posted, mainly because little was happening with the book. It was with the proof reader and all I could do was wait. Sure, there was the next book to begin work on, but it felt as if time stood still while I waited for the first one to be polished.

Finally, it was back in my hands. I spent an entire day going over each change suggested and either accepting or rejecting them. More time consulting with the editor. A few more changes and I fired it back to the editor, waiting for a final chat this weekend before it was given to the literary agency that has some interest.

It’s kind of a surreal moment. I’m like a plucked harp string – thrumming with excitement. Everything is possible… perhaps not probable, but possible. For instance, it is not probable that I will top J.K. Rowling in sales, but it is possible I will publish this book and finally be able to support myself doing what I love. It’s also possible it will be very successful, be turned into a movie, and I’ll get sucked back into the very industry I fled. Or it’s possible it will get published, fail, and I’ll still have to find another way to earn a living. Who knows. It’s pretty much all possible.

I feel change on the horizon, and as I drove to work the other day, I reminded myself to be present because it’s possible my life could be changing. And I have been far more mindful. Two years after I replanted myself in Missouri, it still feels like paradise. I sit at my desk to write this blog and look out across the green field in front of me, binoculars nearby to watch the little red foxes that live in the park and sometimes come out to play… as well as the human wildlife that occasionally jogs by on their way to the greenways trail. I have just come in from sitting on my sun porch, sipping on my first batch of homemade kombucha, and eating a couple of mulberries from my neighbor’s bush that drapes into my yard. We had a delightful thunder storm last night, and today puffy white clouds with dark undersides push their way across the sky, telling me more storms are coming. Tonight I will go to a drumming circle with my friends at the Friday Night ArtWalk.

It all feels perfect. In the past two years there has not been one microsecond of regret for the move.

Perhaps that’s what made it easier for me to absorb the latest bad news, when I found out the book is being put on hold just a bit longer. My editor is unexpectedly unavailable until next week, and once again I’m cooling my jets and putting my dreams on pause. One silver lining, I am pleased with my ability to absorb the disappointment and not get dejected. In LA, the frustrations had piled up to the point where even the slightest disappointment led to a spiral of despair – proving to me once again that I was never destined for a career as a writer – that the universe was conspiring against me. This time I took a deep breath and went on with life. No big deal. So, if that was the test from this hiccup, I think I passed.

I’m grateful to have made some personal progress, if not book progress. I’ll focus on that for now. It’s good to take the time to notice when you handle your struggles a little bit better, and then celebrate it. So what did you handle better today than you did last year? Give yourself some credit for improvement. Celebrate. Look out the window. Listen to the birds. Take it all in, before it changes, because it will. It’s inevitable.

Hopefully the next time I post, it will be with the news that I have an agent, or the news that I am continuing the hunt for one.

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Adapting and Evolving

Writing my first book turned out to be easier than I had expected. You so often hear about the agonies of writer’s block, and hours spent staring at the ceiling, looking for inspiration. I did not experience that. Sometimes I didn’t feel inspired to write, but I always had words to put on the page.

That stems from the fact that despite it being my first book, this is not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been writing for most of my life and learning along the way. One book that made a huge difference was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I never made it through the book, but I made it far enough to benefit. One exercise has you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning. It might be, “There is nothing in my brain. Oh, I need eggs. Shoot, I don’t have time to go to the grocery store. I can wait. Look at that cute guying walking his dog.” It really didn’t matter what you wrote, you were to just write. That exercise teaches you one main thing. Your words aren’t that precious. They flow constantly in a never-ending stream. Just put them on paper, they can always be fixed later.

As a writer, that was eye-opening. I had agonized over words in the past, and often stopped writing because I couldn’t find the right ones. No more! My method became to spit it out the best you can and fix it later.

The other book that helped me was On Writing by Stephen King. With 25 years of writing screenplays, I had become a slave of the outline. When you have to cram an entire story into just two hours, getting all the beats right is not only difficult, but crucial. It’s like doing a Rubik’s cube. But, for me, the outline took all the joy out of writing.

Stephen King taught me to let go of the outline and let the story tell itself. Don’t worry about where it’s going. Don’t worry about structure. Just let the story unwind. Let it sit, then when you come back to read it, you will see obvious themes. Rewrite everything to those themes and voila… you have a really good, well-crafted story. Now working in novels, and not tightly structured screenplays, I can more easily follow his advice.

Cameron and King were the foundation of the easy flow of my first book. It was great, but the editing process showed me the cracks in my foundation.

With book one I did not edit. I didn’t want to slow down the flow. However, when I got to the end of a 75,000 word novel, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of editing needed. I didn’t know where to start. I was too impatient to get it to an agent and publisher and couldn’t seem to take the time I needed to really evaluate and fix the manuscript… especially since my “just dump it on the page” method left a lot to be fixed. Thankfully I have a miracle worker of an editor who did all my heavy lifting for me this time around.

Last weekend, with the major editing behind me on book one, it felt like it was time to turn my mind to book two. I sat down and started to let the story flow again. Oh, what joy! Much to my surprise, I discovered that once again, my process is adapting and evolving. In the past it was common to write 2000 words a day. This time around, 1000 words seems to be the mark to hit. Now, I actually catch myself writing in the passive voice. I see where a verb could be more active. Or dialog can have more impact. I stop, consider my sentence, and rework it. My editor had warned me about this, but so far I don’t feel like it’s a problem. It slows me down, yes, but it doesn’t stop the flow. In some ways, it makes it far more enjoyable. Like savoring the scene instead of racing to put it down.

And this time I will set aside some time each writing day to go back and edit the previous day’s work. That way when I get to the end, I won’t be quite so overwhelmed. My first draft will be a much more polished, ready-to-publish, work.

Everything in life is a process. Just because you’re good at something today doesn’t mean you can’t be better at it if you adapt and evolve. Even this old dog is learning a few new tricks.

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