And Now For the (Semi) Good News…

As you know, I’m lucky enough to have a permanent editor, i.e. my Editor for Life. He’s a nice guy, is personable, does good work. Seems to even care about me. 🙂 I also take online classes (currently taking a LitReactor query class), and have many eyes both professional and not reading my manuscripts.

I’ve taken Finding Cadence down a very long journey, from conception on a windswept beach in San Francisco, to bits of prose jotted on napkins, slips of paper, and backs of deposit slips, to a bloated manuscript (170K words) clogging my hard drive, to a complete re-write, to major editing (over and over and over…and over), to the lean and mean 120K words it is today. I’ve sliced and diced and eliminated adverbs and adjectives and junk and chaos, reworded my cliches, showed more and told less. I’ve entered it into contests (positively received). I’ve toiled over this novel for SIX YEARS. (I know, that’s forever.) The last ten months of my writing life have been dedicated specifically to this story.

After this last edit – completed December 3 – I sent the manuscript over to my alternate set of eyes. When I called her Thursday for her opinion, she intoned the words I never thought I’d hear; “I can’t tell you another thing to do. This book is ready.”

It’s ready?

As in, I have nothing else (except proofreading for typos, and the dreaded query) to do?

Whoa…

To hear news such as this is a double-edged sword. You’re giddy, because finally there is validation from a professional that your life’s work (and believe me, it’s my life and it’s been a labor) is complete. You can finally move on to another project, another edit. You reach for the champagne (which you’ve kept in constant state of chill just for this occasion) and vow to down the entire bottle. You want to tweet it from the rafters (or wherever tweeters tweet), and yell it until your throat is sore.

On the other hand, a certain sadness falls, fast like a winter dusk. Your baby has grown up, sprouted wings, taken off without so much as a backward glance. You won’t have to spend three or four hours at a time studying your characters, layering into the story psychic suffering and the resultant scar tissue, smiling at their triumphs and crying at their heartbreak. Your characters are your family, your friends, and to finally (and literally) close the chapter isn’t easy.

It’s a somber goodbye, but it’s also a new beginning. Writing a book, like any art, isn’t just the idea hatched in the artist’s head. It’s also technique and time, and later, marketing.

Now I must gather the strength and courage to start the query process, and hope (and pray) some agent somewhere will feel the same as I (and my alternate set of eyes) do.

Fear not, I’m not out of ideas. You (and I) might see these same characters again, someday, in a new situation.

That’s the beauty of storytelling.

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An Omen: When Your Dog Soils Your Query

It’s a beautiful Sunday in the neighborhood, and while the sun shines and the temperatures are mild, I figured I would get up early and finish weeding and planting my vegetable garden. I made significant progress yesterday and want to finish NOW, so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Gardening used to be a lot easier when I was young(er). I bounced out of bed today with an aching shoulder and a bum knee. Still, I’m on a mission – to eradicate weeds and plant more tomatoes. (Sorry. It’s my Army brat upbringing. Plus, you can never have too many tomatoes!)

On my way to locating my tennis shoes, which were next to my laptop and a six inch pile of printed manuscripts waiting for me to edit, I noticed that my dog had a gastronomical accident. On two pieces of paper that had escaped the tower of editing. Those two pieces of paper happened to be my query. On the query I sent to and received back and edit from a Big Name Agent as part of the Writers Digest class I took on querying back a couple of months ago.

Nothing says “YOU SUCK” better than runny diarrhea on my corrected query.

This, my writing friends, is an omen. First of all, I should have never left my query on the floor. Secondly, I should have spiffed it up and produced a better query from Helpful Agent’s notes a long time ago. Thirdly, I should really impress upon my husband that feeding the dog steak bones and whipped cream is not good for a Boston terrier.

Of course this disaster could be a more serious omen. Like God telling me I should ditch that particular manuscript (FINDING CADENCE) and perhaps channel my time more wisely into something that has more than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it past an agent’s assistant. Or maybe that I should give up writing altogether.

Yeah. Giving up. That would be the easy way out.

After I finish my urban farming, I’m going to work on my edits, dammit. And I’m going to make serious headway.

Because somewhere in my email, I have a copy of that edit from Helpful Agent.

Take that, Powers That Be. Your nasty little omen is powerless against this writer.

Diversion: Things I Would Rather Do Than Write a Query Letter…

Get this: I have a finished manuscript on my hard drive, one that I really like, one that I slaved over for YEARS, one that I think is ready for the Big Time (at least, for publishing), one that I have stripped and clipped and polished and buzz sawed and tightened and dreamed about, and I’m at an impasse. I can’t seem to get myself to send it to query.

Why?

Because although the manuscript is good, my query is not. And I’ve been laboring over the query just as hard as I have the actual story. Yes. I started working on the current incarnation of my query letter in December. I even took a Writers Digest webinar on query letters, and received an edited copy of one of my incarnations back from the agent holding the class. I also have several writers who were kind enough to critique my letter, writers from many different genres. And I gave the query letter to my MR. ED, hoping he could add his own spin.

I’ve researched the masses and masses of info online, for hours and hours, and have come away with killer headaches every time. I’d pull out my hair, but I don’t have much left. I can’t spare a single strand.

I honestly have at least a dozen different query letters for the same query, ranging from bare bones, here’s the story, here’s my contact information, to business letter snappy, to a mini-synopsis wedged into two paragraphs. I’m not happy with any of them. (I’m happy with the story, not with the queries.)

The query letter is a fine art all its own. A good query letter conveys a great pitch. Katharine Sands (high powered agent whom I’ve met and observed in workshops) says the pitch must ‘pop.’ It has to sustain enough pizazz to capture an agent’s attention, leaving God (I mean) he or she, clamoring to read more. I understand that publishing is a business and businesses survive only by making money, and that agents and publishers tend to gravitate toward that goal, meaning a manuscript and a writer who is succinct and shows promise. Querying is very much like selling your idea.

You know me, I’m not much of a salesman.

Honestly, what if your story is ‘pop’-less? What if it’s not about dragons, demons, vampires, dystopian future worlds, wild bondage sex, wizard man-children, war, pestilence, charmed city girls with a closet full of designer shoes, or impudent teenagers? What if it’s about a woman and her personal struggle, internally, within her friends and family, and/or with an external force dogging her? (Novels I like to read, by the way.)

Enough of my rant: It’s Monday and I have a minute. Quickly (before the phone starts to ring), I will list a few things I would rather do than write a query letter.

1. Laundry.

2. Vacuuming.

3. Dusting.

4. The dreaded once a year pelvic exam.

5. Picking up dog poo.

6. State audit.

7. Day Job work.

8. Working on the new manuscript.

9. Devising a complicated spreadsheet for the other half.

and last but not least:

10. Poke a needle in my eye.

Enough of my bitching. I have a bookmarked page I must peruse.

Onward and upward, query.

 

Preparing for the 2013 San Francisco Writers Conference – Yikes!

OMG. I just realized that in one short week, I’ll be packing to go. Am I ready?

Not really, and it’s not just because I realized when my wayward 7 By 7 (code for San Francisco) daughter came home for Christmas that her suitcase was bulging with MY sweaters (I was wondering where my sweaters ran off to…I dry clean them, so they couldn’t have gone the way of missing socks) and I really need to shop for replacements to fill the holes in my trendy, business casual wardrobe – retail therapy I don’t have time for.

No, it could be that my re-write on FINDING CADENCE still is not finished.

That’s because I’ve been tightening and deleting, and tightening some more. Then I had to reread what was left to determine if it all still made sense. I have to balance a tenuous psychological component with the fact that my antagonist is an attorney running for Governor,  so I’ve had to button down the legalities of my story. And I still need to exterminate at least 5K words, to take it from the scary, over 126K mark down to a count that won’t scare off an agent. (I’m fairly confident a little white query lie of 120K will petrify anyone in the biz.) Every once in a while, I drag out my query and take a stab at it. The art of the query is not my major forte. Honestly, it’s like trying to kill an opossum with a chopstick. It’s slow, I’m stupid, and it just won’t offer me a speedy demise.

And while I’m feeling super confident and open to any and all suggestions, I am suffering from the same stomach-trapped butterflies I found in my stomach five years ago – just before attending my FIRST San Francisco Writers Conference. When I was a newbie and afraid of not only agents and editors, but of fellow writers.

Now editors and agents don’t scare me anymore. They’re people, just like me. And fellow writers are the best! They are helpful and kind and many of them stay in touch after our weekend is over. While I’ve made huge strides in my writing, have learned, struggled, written a LOT, queried, even self-e-pubbed, there is still the lingering d.o.u.b.t. You know the drill. Am I good enough? Will my epic tale ever find a home with a good agent, one who has faith in me and my work? Will I ever sell more than a hundred books?

I recently learned I’m not a finalist in the contest this year, another semi-crushing blow (for a minute).

And the final, Big Truth moment? THIS IS MY FIFTH CONFERENCE.

Not that I don’t love it; I do. When I go, I get caught up in the enthusiasm and all the positive energy. I learn something new every year. The SFWC is what I need to drag me out of winter doldrums and writer’s slowdown. No, while the venue is heavenly, it’s just that one would think my learning curve might have improved over time. Over the span of five years (not counting the two years before that I spent on the first draft). Shouldn’t I have been scooped up by now?

Well, I have expended my twenty minutes of doubt and self-pity. It’s time to get back to the edit, and my Honeybaked ham bean soup. And my edit.

See you in San Francisco.

🙂