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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Chinese Water Torture

It’s maddening. It truly is. The slow yet constant drip of rejections, coming at an unpredictable rate. I never know when I’m going to open my mailbox to find a letter from an agency I queried. I got one Sunday morning, when I wouldn’t have expected agents were responding to queries. Then I got one last night before bed. Sweet dreams.

Without even opening these emails, I immediately feel defeated somehow knowing it’s a rejection. Lately I try to pause and allow myself the sliver of hope that it might be a request for my manuscript. I remind myself that things can change any second. It only takes one yes. The results haven’t been any better.

Then I read a tweet from an author saying, “My lifelong dream to be a published author is finally coming true.” I clicked on her profile.

She’s 24. Her lifelong dream has maybe been ten years.

As someone who is susceptible to insecurity and a lack of confidence, the battle to keep going is requiring more energy than I expected. I’ve decided I need to do two things. First, I need to look at the first five pages, which is pretty much all they allow you to send them. When I wrote this chapter, it was in chronological order, and my editor snatched it from the middle of the book and made it my prologue. I’ve realized there are things discussed in that chapter that would be familiar to the reader by the time they got to the middle, but would have no meaning whatsoever to someone not yet immersed in this world. I need to look at this chapter with fresh eyes and see what can be improved. The difficulty with that is that my prologue is already at 5 pages, and if I expand on description, I will not be able to send the entire prologue as my sample.

After I’ve improved those first five pages, I need to read the entire manuscript. I’m beginning to doubt my story, my writing, my characters, and pretty much everything else. I know when I’ve read it before, I’ve gotten sucked in and kept turning the pages. I need to remind myself of that. It’s been long enough since I read it that it might even feel a little fresher. I need to regain my confidence that someone will recognize the value in the story I’m telling, and I just need to keep looking for them.

So many agents are looking for books with a quick hook, and I’ve read those books. They’re fun. But a year later, I couldn’t tell you the plot or characters of most of them. I might remember the stunning location where it was set or maybe a scene that was impactful but the rest fades away. They’re fast food fiction. Really enjoyable in the moment, but not really sustaining.

My story doesn’t have such a quick hook. I’d like to think it’s intriguing, but I take my time introducing characters and unwinding the story at a comfortable pace. As the book moves along, and the conflict builds, so does the pace. So is it going to grab you by the throat right away? Probably not. It’s why I’m so frustrated that the entire book is judged by the first few pages. Not only can you not judge a book by it’s cover, you can’t truly judge a book by it’s first few pages.

Now, I get it. Agents are buried under queries and manuscripts. One agency responded in their rejection letter that they get 500 queries a week. One agency – 500 queries in a week. How could anyone possibly keep up with that? There has to be a quick way to weed through and focus on the best choices, so they’ve decided the first five pages and a snappy query letter are the way to do it. I wonder how many quality novels have slipped through the cracks because of it.

There’s nothing to do about it, but keep searching for an agent that will give it a read. I’ve also found two publishers that will accept hardcopy manuscript submissions without an agent, so I intend to print one out and get that in the mail soon. And of course the final option will be to self-publish and let the public decide. The amount of marketing I’ll have to do is daunting, but hopefully I’ll have book two finished by then and in the editing process (if I can afford it) so can focus more on marketing.

Until then I will reread, perhaps rewrite, and try to keep my sanity and hope under the drip, drip, drip of rejections.

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Another Step Forward

Progress is never a straight line. It’s always a few steps forward, a few steps back. That’s exactly what the past few months have been for me.

While waiting for my editor to return to work, I had someone from my target audience read Fear Unleashed — a 12-year-old girl who reads voraciously and loves scifi/fantasy. The verdict? She loved it. I even had a chance to sit down and ask her a few questions and hear her suggestions. It was a confidence booster. She was anxious to read the next book, so I better get it finished! One step forward.

Beyond the test of patience while I waited for my editor to return to action, it felt like I was faced with another test. I came home last week, opened my mailbox, and instantly my heart froze in my chest. It was a letter from the IRS. It’s the one piece of mail that instantly signals bad news. It’s never a letter saying, “Hey, we found out you overpaid and now we’re sending you thousands of dollars.” It’s never that. No, it’s always something scary and something bad. I instantly went to a dark place. I saw my dream ending. I saw the last of my savings gone. This leap left little room for error. A serious illness, injury, a totaled car… all things that could put me in a desperate place. I never figured in the IRS, but that could do it too. It felt like once again the football was being pulled away just as I was kicking. A huge step backward.

I went to the dark place, but I didn’t stay. Even as a lead ball formed in my gut, I attempted to reason my way out. I read and reread the letter, looking for an indication of what they thought I might owe. While I realized it would be painful, I could take the loss. I got ahold of my accountant, and was reassured that everything was fine. This was a computer error that would quickly be straightened out by him. Once I got him all the forms he needed and signed where I needed to sign, I felt back on track. Having had a chance to get my feet under me for the past two years, it was easier to regain my balance. Being a part of a supportive community also helps me remain steady.  So, I managed to deal with a delay in submitting my manuscript, and a threat to my finances without losing hope. Yay, me! Two steps forward.

Today I finally took the next big step forward. The manuscript is in the hands of a literary agency. It may be months before they make a decision, so there is nothing for me to do at this point except keep writing and wait. But Fear Unleashed‘s journey has begun. Will this be the start of rejection until I finally find a “yes?” Or will I defy the odds and land an agent straight off? Stay tuned to the unfolding saga.

And even though I’m celebrating my steps forward, I recognize I will surely have to take a step or two back yet again. Going with it instead of fighting it, is a more graceful response and turns the whole process into a dance. And that’s what I’m hoping to do… dance all the way to publication. Cha cha cha.

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April Fools & Merry Christmas

For months now I have been telling people my book was done. I believed it was done. After all, I was at 75,000 words and a first time YA novelist in the scifi/fantasy genre typically shouldn’t go above 80,000. So, I found a passable ending and stopped the first book of three. The end.

April fools! No it’s not!

I was never happy with this forced ending. No one who’s read it was happy with it. But what’s a first time author to do? I had no more words.

Except I do!

You see, my editor had cut 15,000 words, and it finally dawned on me that I had more room for a better ending! It will make this book stand alone, which is awesome! It also brings this book closer to my original vision for it.

I am excited to be back to writing, and can’t wait to see the result. It’s always fun to find out what happens next. Despite the fact that I have to sometimes drag myself to my chair as if I’m a kid being told to take a nap, just like that napping kid, once I’m doing it, it’s the best thing ever. Wish I could spend every day this way.

So that’s my April Fools. Now Christmas.

It seemed like it had been years since I had gotten a cold, but this year, they all caught up to me. So far I’ve had two doozies, with this last one being the worst. Perhaps it falls into the flu category, not sure. It hit on Wednesday night and it wasn’t until today, the following Monday, that I feel human again. Because of that, my Christmas was spent alone in front of either a book or the TV. I had said I wanted a quiet Christmas at home this year. Be careful what you wish for.

Despite this sad state of affairs, I actually had a really great Christmas present in the form an of an email from my editor. He told me there is a literary agency lined up to read my book when it’s ready. I was stunned and excited. Of course this doesn’t really mean anything. They might read it and politely tell me to take a flying leap, at which point I can tell them that I already have.

Still, knowing I have a toe wedged in the door, gave me a huge boost on what was at moments feeling like a woe-is-me Christmas morning. It’s no surprise really that I’m feeling better today. This should really push me to finish. The brass ring is in sight. My arm is reaching. I can almost feel the slick metal in my hands… almost…

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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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Hiring an Editor – Check

A little over a week ago I contacted an editor and sent him my manuscript. I’m studying quantum physics for the next book, and so for the past week it’s felt like my manuscript has been like Shrodinger’s cat… neither alive nor dead, nothing but waves of potentiality. Surprisingly, rather than feeling frustrated by the wait, the anticipation and possibility of anything happening was lovely.

Tonight the wave became a solid particle, and I now have a highly-experienced  professional’s opinion about my book. As expected, there is good and bad. Some of the bad can easily be fixed. Some of it may have deep roots that will be difficult to untangle… not impossible, just difficult.

He pointed out bad habits that I have developed – some are remnants of my screenwriting days, one is the very common bad habit of writing in the passive voice, and the rest are just personal weaknesses. Hopefully the more I am aware of my flaws, the harder I can work to fix them in my future writing.

There were also compliments, which provided some encouragement to keep trying. It’s very nice having a professional in the publishing world describe your manuscript as enjoyable and entertaining. So, as I watch my savings dwindle, I feel encouraged that it’s not time to go to plan B just yet.

What’s next? I don’t know. I am a babe in the woods when it comes to the publshing world. My guess – I go back to work with the guidance of my editor, and when we have something polished I start writing query letters to agents and publishers. Will that lead to a publishing house? It’s a roll of the dice, but at least in today’s world, there is the option to self-publish. One way or another, I will have a published book, what is in question is what reach it will have.

I just have to keep checking things off the list. Step by step. Bit by bit. It’s how every dream becomes a reality.

What’s the next thing on your dream’s checklist?

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