Querying…Again

OK, so I’ve been over this manuscript, what? A million times? Rough draft, second rough draft, third rough draft, final draft, three edits with MR ED, after which, a year of self-imposed edits, one edit with a completely different, third party editor, several contests, a half dozen SmartEdits, another edit this month, and finally a proofread or two. I even thought of a scene that I’d forgotten to put in, and have bookmarked a scene to take out in case I can’t get permission to quote two lines of lyric. This baby about as tight as it’s going to get.

And so today, with tentative fingers, I decided to open my query (newly polished from a LitReactor query class I took in December). I spiffed it up, and then opened QueryTracker and scanned down my list of agents (since it’s January, thankfully many have opened to queries again), studied their web sites, including the types of clients they represent and the titles of books they’ve helped get published, and, OH MY GOD, I clicked SEND on three of them.

“No big deal,” you say.

Are you shitting me? I started hyperventilating after the first one.

Especially when I saw my email after I sent the first one. Why is it my formatting is so wonky? Many agents want the first few chapters imbedded into the email. Once I copy and paste, the formatting goes right to hell and stays there. I’m not a newbie, I know how to format a manuscript now. I’m doing it the right way. And this story is so straightforward; there are no text messages and very few email, only some italics, so it’s not like I’m trying to perform literary gymnastics.

It’s not just the query letter, or my email server problems. I’m well acquainted with my story, and it think it’s a good  great one. I’m well-versed in penning business letters, I do that every day. I’ve married the pitch to my business style in a beautiful ceremony that’s not too staid and not too sappy.

That part doesn’t bother me. My (now) angst is the result of moving on to the next step. This story is finished, complete, as good as it’s going to get. Now I leave the artist phase and enter the hopeful-for-an-agent phase, to be continued on to the product-selling phase.

I queried three agents today.

*deep breath*

I’ve done it before, and it’s not any easier now than it was then. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and realizing your seat belt isn’t secure. WHEE! and oh, shit.

This part of the process takes time, and you can’t take it too seriously, or you’ll lose your mind. I have a plan, though. I’ll distract myself by working on the next edit. It’s been nagging at me for a long time.

And maybe I’ll query someone else tomorrow.

A Rant Unrelated to Writing… Or Maybe It Is

I love social media.

Usually.

It’s fast, it’s easy. I can keep track of my friends and relatives without calling them. I can laugh at jokes and eCards, view photos and videos from all over the world, and shop for bargains. I can monitor world events, see what’s hot and what’s not, and find large bits of useful and useless information, both meaningful and dumb. I gave up my newspaper subscription, because 1. the Detroit News is a shadow of its former self, 2. news is readily available online, and 3. my bird died.

I especially love social media because I write. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads (social media for writers), and Instagram – writers tend to use these forums to dispense information. I can check out my favorite authors’ new releases; I can research people and places; I can stalk agents (discreetly) and find out what they really think about us poor, helpless writer-schlubs. I can learn about upcoming contests quickly, thus freeing me from blog hopping all over the information superhighway. Saves both time and aspirin.

But social media isn’t all about ONE THING. It’s…well, social, meaning that what happens in the world spills over with some of these personalities. Believe me, I have narrowed my follows to people I really know or like, or authors, writers, agents, and/or others in the business. While I tend to shy away from the troll types, I engage with people who, quite frankly, I don’t agree with on many issues.

I’m not a pithy Tweeter, and I try to stay away from Facebook as much as possible. I love to be sociable, but these Internet water cooler-coffee klatch-parties are a time suck, my friends. My plate overfloweth. I run a business, a household, and I’m trying to write in between many crushing Real Life commitments.

That being said, while I like a nicely executed verbal exchange of ideas, there are things I do not like. One, I don’t care for a constant battering of positions which inevitably winds up some hapless soul being virtually lynched. I (and others) can have our opinions without being called stupid or worse.

Recently, I’ve noticed the online tone changing from an exchange of ideas to a pity party, where people tend to play the victim card with every revelation or change in government. I don’t care if you’re white, black, red or purple, I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, born here or (like me) not, if you had perfect loving parents or were abused, I don’t even care if you’re a Donkey or an Elephant. Honest to God, when I look at people, I see none of this.

What irks me more than any or all of these distinctions is that people tend to claim victimhood as a valid argument for any position.

I suppose it’s because I’ve had my craw full this week. Not only do I see this online, I see this in offline relationships. If your mother was a child abuser, if your skin is a certain color, if your spouse cheated, if your boss is a bitch – all these are reasons to justify bad behavior. WHAT? (That sound you heard was my head hitting a brick wall.) First of all, why give the other side that much power? Secondly, if you’re over 18, why not own your situation and carry on? If you have brains and strength and chutzpah, figure out your problems and devise a workable solution.

I am a woman, I am of mixed race, I am old, I have issues. I’m flawed BIG TIME. A physically and emotionally abusive mother raised me. Never once in the last 57 years have I blamed any of my shortcomings on my external environment, that the “man” was keeping me down as a woman or anything else. That’s because I control my life and my destiny, and the parts I can’t control I deal with the best I can.

After ruminating on this revelation and my subsequent annoyance for a few hours (after shutting down Twitter, because I couldn’t stand it anymore), I realized that the victim card is played by aspiring authors too. I’ve been to plenty of writers conferences where there are a few disgruntled and unhappy attendees. They see other writers as enemies or rivals, and agents as tyrants. Perhaps their manuscripts aren‘t the next Harry Potter and need more work. Instead of taking control of their work and their destiny, they choose to play the blame game.

It’s so much easier, right?

Grow and let go.

Rant over.

Big Money: A Dream Writers Must Let Go Of

In addition to writing, I enjoy other interests. Key among them is working, although truth be told, if I were to happen upon the Lotto jackpot, I would retire from the time-sucking Day Job and write full time in a heartbeat. I also enjoy gourmet cooking, gardening; I paint, I sew, I make twisted things out of wire and gems. I play guitar and violin (badly).

I argue that anything one can do in life can be elevated to art. Even the time-sucking Day Job.

Even *gasp* menial tasks.

I think back to when I started writing “seriously” in 2007. I’m pretty sure making money was the furthest thing from my mind. I know for a fact that my seedling of a story had no outline and no intended ending. Getting it all down on paper was the goal, and it was a huge one. Once you’ve achieved the goal, the next step is editing. Re-writing. Polishing. Weaving subplots and intricacies into the story. Editing and polishing some more. And then of course, querying.

I’m constantly amazed by writers who think they can make money from the writing venture. I suppose there are some who can pump out volume after volume and sell – sell big time, even. They talk about platform, social media, marketing. It’s all necessary. Even the big houses aren’t paying for publicity anymore, so the author is expected to peddle – I mean, sell – their own work.

When you add up the time creating, fold in the time and expense of editing, and cap it off with the time marketing, most writers make about 2 cents an hour. If that.

Obviously, one cannot look at writing as a money-making venture.

I liken writing to my jewelry making venture: it’s something I do, and do well. It’s something I enjoy. I love creating art, whether it is visual, wearable, or readable. My output is unusual, quirky and, well… artistic. It appeals to some, but not to the masses. I have reconciled myself as a jewelry artist with any dreams I have of being able to live off my work. I can’t.

My son has a degree in piano performance from a prestigious music conservatory. He’s a fabulous pianist, truly an artist when it comes to playing the piano. But there are hundreds, no, thousands of fabulous pianists within a twenty-mile radius of his house. He’s great, and he can barely live off his work.

I belong to writing associations and go to conferences. Some think that book sales in the 2-3 thousand range is great. It’s not enough to live on, but it’s respectable. You might break even. If enough people love it, your agent might want you to produce more of the same, therefore ensuring continued success.

But are you kidding? There are literally thousands and thousands of great writers. I have a To-Read list that threatens to crush me. Some of the books were recommended; others were given to me to read for review. Many were self-published. Not everyone can do a decent job of writing a book, but believe me, there are plenty out there that do a kick-ass job – and they don’t have contracts with big houses.

As an artist, I recommend the following: let go of the Big Money dream. It’s nice to have for the occasional foray into pleasantville, but the reality is that even with self-pubbing and e-pubbing, the best you can do is small money and some recognition.

As an artist, I thoroughly recommend honing your craft. Study. Make use of information – there’s a ton of it out there. Make a few mistakes, and don’t be afraid of trying something new. Approach writing as a learning experience. Your artistic work is and should be your primary focus, not snagging an agent or getting a contract. God forbid, not hoping for the big pay-off.

After all, you have a better chance of hitting the Lotto.

I’m BAAAcck! I’m Back in the Saddle Again

Ebbs and tides. This is life, and this is the writing life.

They say once you know how to ride a bicycle, you can always get on one and ride away into the sunset. I’m not sure I want to try it on my bicycle, which hasn’t been out of the garage since 2004 when we moved here, but such a plan certainly works with words.

Last night, my dog, the fabulous Princess Grace, was having severe gastro disturbances resulting in a very messy house. Coincidentally, my protag, Ashe, finds the family dog Jim Bob in a similar physical state after he (the hound) devours a dinner of honey buns AND barbecue sauce. Ashe has a fastidious brother to clean up the mess; I had the hubby.

During this fiasco, I was struck by an amazing solution to my first chapter problem.

I’m going to write it like my final chapter! Which, for those of you who haven’t read the book (since I want a few people to actually buy the book), is a series of email sent by my characters which wraps up the loose ends and suggests other plots and twists for the sequel(s).

My first chapter of yore contained a chat room exchange which many (including a great number of agents) found too confusing to read. This was done in order to introduce the characters to the world, but instead resulted in being a lot of noise which did very little to advance the story. I’m going to give it a good stab, but I think visually and psychically, this might be the way to go.

So… dear friends, I am technically back in the saddle again. Once I dust off this major change, I might rant about the economy.

Now for your listening enjoyment, let me include the following:

Gene Autry, for my gentler readers.

And Steven Tyler, who rocked then and rocks now.

Queries and Agents

Now that the novel is finished (I think…if I can keep my hands off it, finally), I’ve spent the first week of the new year adjusting my query letter. I actually sent one off too! My goal for this year is to send one out each week. However, the entire process of querying agents is often overlooked by fledgling published author-wannabes, who send out mass email blasts to every literary agent from coast to coast.

That’s right, querying agents is not so easy.

In fact, I spent a couple of days researching agents before I sent off my first letter.

Before that, I spent a year following agents around online. This is easily done on Twitter and Facebook. OK, so it’s professional cyber-stalking, but it’s a necessary task before the clueless writer sends the work off to the great beyond. This because there is a protocol, and God forbid if Clueless Writer does something totally tacky. You can gain a lot of insight by reading the pet peeves of various agents. They are sometimes funny, sometimes informative, and sometimes downright scary, as in you don’t want to mess with this person kind of scary.

Twitter is a wonderful resource, because you can eavesdrop on agents as they talk to each other. The agent web appears to be quite huge. After a while, you get to know them by their responses. I know you don’t really know them, but it gives you a feel for their personalities.

As luck would have it, I happened to see this online yesterday – talk about timely. This article is a must-read for anyone who is contemplating sending out a query letter. It’s long, but there is so much information packed into the post that I have bookmarked it for later use.

I use the Query Tracker website (if you do not, you should check it out), where you can search for agents according to genre. This, my friends, is a very good thing to do. Agents who only represent non-fiction are loathe to answer a letter from a romance novelist, and there is probably similar annoyance going the other way.

But it’s not only finding the agent to fit your needs, you must find the right agent for the genre, for the type of book you have written. For example, in the world of romance, there are many sub-genres. Agents who represent historical romance usually stick to that sub-genre. It’s the same with chick-lit, steamy traditional romance, Christian romance, alternative romance, etc. I can imagine an agent of Christian romance opening up a query letter from someone who has written erotica. Oops doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I also took some time to research where my favorite authors are represented. Yes, it’s painstaking. I know a few authors (some by name only and others more personally) but I would never think to ask them who their agent is. I could be wrong, but that shouts TACKY in 120 decibels. Besides, a good Internet sleuth can find the information with a little perseverance. Take copious notes, because if you’re like me, you could lose your place among the hundreds of agencies you are looking at.

Query letters are business letters, and aspiring authors should remember that. In my Day Job, I write business letters all day long, so I realize the need to be concise. It’s just a little different with a query letter, in that you are trying to sell your work using as few words as possible. There has to be a hook, something that will keep the agent reading. Be pleasant, be respectful, and try not be cliche. Agents are looking for a spark of creativity. You’re a writer, right?

Be prepared to have a synopsis in your back pocket as well. I have a huge, detailed query letter for those agents not asking for a synopsis, and a shorter one for those who do. (A confession: I am not good at writing synopsis. I know. I should take a class.)

I may not be an expert, but I know how to follow those who do.

I Am So Proud: My Very First Rejection Letter

You may have wondered where I have been for the last three or four weeks. Picture someone constantly checking email for response to my full manuscript being sent out. Counting the minutes, then the days and the weeks with bated breath. Wondering if my baby ended up on someone’s slush pile or under a pile of manuscripts on the agent’s administrative assistant’s desk.

Of course, the news isn’t good — this isn’t a fairy tale Nirvana here.

That’s right, I just received my very first rejection letter for the very first query I have sent out.

I know I shouldn’t be, but I am absolutely giddy.

(What? Did you think I really thought I was going to get a contract on my very first try? I may be a dreamer, but I’m not stupid.)

My reasoning for my glee is  many-fold. First of all, the response was sent out in exactly four weeks, a virtually whiplash-causing turnaround in the publishing biz. I’ve heard other wannabe novelists complaining of months, and months and months without word.

Second, the rejection letter was very kind. I could tell the agent in question actually read my book, from the very personalized feedback she provided. She pointed out a few obvious flaws, ones that I had been fretting over, but gave me some positive props as well.

Third, it could have been worse. MUCH worse. The horror stories are out there: boilerplate rejections two minutes after sending, thorough dressing downs.

I expect to be the recipient of many more rejection letters before someone loves my work enough to snap it up. Some successful authors, like Stephen King, endured years of rejection.

Instead of crying in my beer, I’m energized. I’m ready to take those first fifty pages and transform them into something dazzling, a work of art that will sparkle and shine, catching the eye of some lucky agent out there.

Birth of a Query Letter, With Explanations

Well, I finally took the plunge.

This morning I sent out my first bona fide query letter to a real-life literary agent, in NOO Yawk City, no less.

Why, you ask, would it take me so long?

Well, despite the fact that the book is complete and has even merited an Honorable Mention in a contest, I am not that self-assured. Unlike some writers who view their babies as monumental literary masterpieces, I know my novel is flawed.

After the initial hoo-ha and jumping up and down with the thrill of victory, I then realized I was asked to submit a partial. Hit the brakes. Is my story truly ready for inquiring minds? I wasn’t so sure, so I edited it again, then again and again before today.

It’s still not perfect, but oh, well. It’s time to dive in.

So, here is part of my query letter, with explanations:

Dear Ms. (Fill in the Blank) You know who you are. And yes, I know you are a woman. I checked the web site. I figured ‘Ms.’ is the preferred title. I know I am partial to it. By the way, you are a beautiful woman.)

Thank you for awarding my submission, VIRTUALLY YOURS, an Honorable Mention in the recent QueryTracker romance contest. (Oh my God! I was delirious with joy! I jumped up and down for three days straight!  I emailed everyone close to me, and everyone not close. I posted the results and the web page on Facebook and Twitter. It was my birthday weekend, too, happy birthday to me. One out of FIFTY! Fifty? Holy moley!) Per your request, I am submitting the first ten pages of VIRTUALLY YOURS for your review. (I’m ready. I’m not ready. I’m ready. I’m not ready…)

(Brief description on the characters, Internet based, making it relevant (I hope) to modern readers, with a unique plot twist… Blah, blah, blah. Don’t worry. It’s not over one page. Check it out under “Novels” if you are so inclined.)

VIRTUALLY YOURS is a 75,000 word chick-lit romp, light in heart but includes serious perspectives on the lives of modern moms. (So I’m old school. A story isn’t a story without a moral or two.)

I am a businesswoman by day and clandestinely rendezvous with my Muse to write by night. (I don’t know where the fine line is drawn between brilliance and hokey. This is my first query, remember?) My writing credits include frequent contributions to Blog Critics and Associated Content, and I am a member of both Romance Writers of America and the Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America. (It’s all I have. I could have fluffed up, but why stretch the truth?)

Thank you again for your consideration. (Please, please, please give me more than a form letter rejection. I’m really looking for feedback. And oh, did I tell you I think you are a stunningly beautiful woman? Because you are.)

Oh, my. I’ve fallen off the deep end.

:-)

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