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.

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I Dream, Therefore I Write

One of the bad things about getting old(er) is that it seems I don’t dream quite as often as I used to. I used to have so many dreams, so vivid in place and time and persons, that I kept a notebook by the bed. As soon as I woke up, I’d write down what happened so I would remember it later. Even though I mostly dream about real people in this world, my subconscious world is quite strange and exciting, not at all like my Real Life. Many of my dreams have ended up in bits and pieces of my writing.

I’m quite a fan of the unconscious state, although lately, I have too many things on the agenda to take advantage of sleep. When I was younger, I used to be a napper, but these days I feel guilty if I’m not cramming every spare minute with some sort of productive activity. I can’t remember the last time I napped in the middle of the day, but there must have been a malady or jet lag associated with sleeping while the sun shines.

The other night, I had a very weird dream. It was about my 40th high school reunion, which will be coming up shortly. (I know. How the hell did that happen?) I was speaking with my best friend from high school, who I haven’t seen nor spoken to in thirty years. He’s always been an artist; I’ve always been a writer. What was odd about this dream was that he congratulated me on my successful novel.

I woke up, sans notebook, and quickly jotted down the gist of the dream into my iPhone (where would civilization be without it? I ask you.)

Later, I opened my Notes and thought about the dream. First of all, I hardly ever think about my once high school best friend, although he comes to me in dreams occasionally and we have cogent discussions about what’s going on. Secondly…success? What does that mean? I’ve self-published the one short, romantically leaning novel. It was fun to write, and for some readers, fun to read, but can’t be considered a financial success. I mean, I’m not swimming in dough, lunching at chi-chi restaurants, and schmoozing with the elite over it. I’m still a coupon-clipping woman sliding into middle age and worried about retirement.

Success is relative, and you can look at success in other ways. For example, I completed the novel. That alone is a difficult task. I (with my Editor for Life) worked it over and reworked it over. Editing a piece is even harder than writing, if you want my honest opinion. Then after a year of rejection email from agents all over the country stating my work was too “out there” for them, I got the bright idea to produce it myself, to design the cover, and to market it myself (not a hard sell salesman yet).

So I only sold 100 books. It seems like a mere pittance, certainly not enough to quit the Day Job over, but it’s something. I know of authors with agents and contracts and hard covers who don’t sell 100 books. Writing isn’t a lucrative vocation, and if you think it might be a goldmine, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps the “success” comes from the fact that writing, like any other art form, is something that must be honed. It’s a skill that needs constant attention and practice. Perhaps the “success” comes from being able to touch and entertain a few readers with your words.

Gore Vidal is quoted as saying, “Ideally, the writer needs no audience other than the few who understand. It is immodest and greedy to want more.”

Got that, I guess I’m a success. 🙂

In the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming, not of money or contracts or fame or fortune, but of another story to tell. And therefore, I will write.

 

Social Media and the Time Management (What Time?) of the Antisocial Writer

This is about selling, this is about social media, and of course, time management.

Even though I’m a writer, and writers are notoriously introverted, it doesn’t mean we’re anti-social.

Well, it does. It’s the nature of the beast. We sit in dark rooms in the middle of the night, or in coffee shops nursing a double venti for six hours, alone with our thoughts and the characters who populate our imaginary worlds. However, in order to sell books, we have to resort to becoming salesmen. It’s really not that icky of a proposition, even though sometimes I feel like a used car salesman peddling a Yugo. (Let me insert here that my book is NOT a Yugo! It’s more like a Scion.) Selling means a modicum of social activity must occur. You can’t sit in your basement and hope and pray that someone is going to buy your work, because it doesn’t happen that way

Writers can improve their socialness in many ways: Going to conferences helps; smiling, introducing yourself to random strangers – including those in the position of power like agents and editors – that’s a scary exercise, but it must be done. But in the modern world, writers must also sell online.

Whee, the Internet! That’s where it’s happening. It’s so easy to be a social butterfly if no one can see your face! or your middle-aged spare tire, or your ugly shoes. You can even socialize in your unmentionables – hell, even in the nude. But wait! The Internet is fraught with sinkholes. That’s because the Internet, that shiny beautiful thing full of information and networks and contacts, is an incredible time sucking m-a-c-h-i-n-e.

And let’s face it, if your time has been sucked, there is no time left for writing.

Here are my strategies (both in time and otherwise) and reviews of the major social networks:

LINKEDIN:

I belong, but I don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I’m a dinosaur, or maybe because I’m not very “professional” in the strictest sense of the word. I see LinkedIn as a place for… well, salesmen. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel comfortable there. Every once in a while, I’ll get an email notification that I have pending whatever and whoos-it to approve and will dive in and look around for a hot minute. But honestly, LinkedIn does nothing for me.

MYSPACE:

Good for musicians, not so for writers. And of course, it is so totally un-cool. I have a MySpace account, but haven’t been in in forever. I spend zero time there.

FACEBOOK:

At one time, I was enamored of the Book of Face. Let’s see, it was right after the Powers of Face decided to allow more than college students to participate. I joined right away, at the suggestion of my then college-aged son. Facebook was snarky and new, a bright bauble of online fun. I could easily connect to not only my family, but to agents and editors and authors.

While the bloom is off the rose, thanks to many upgrades, and the fact that everyone on the planet (even my Boston terrier, Gracie Boo) has a Facebook page, Facebook still kinda-sorta fun. However, there’s a lot of drama going on. Politics, sniping, dumb shit. I don’t have time to get sucked into one side or the other. The jury is out as to whether or not posting links to your book generates more sales. You hope more than just your friends and relatives will buy your work, but I’m not a pushy salesman, so I don’t know. If I were a better salesman, I would conduct a survey. But I’m not, so there.

My strategy: Go in, spend no more than 15 minutes updating my page with a writer’s quote or a blog post, check out a few friends, and get the hell out. Push my book once a month.

TWITTER:

My new favorite social network. What I love about Twitter is that I can keep the feed open and not have to worry about people IM’ing me. Not that I don’t want to talk to my friends, but I don’t have sound on my work computer, and so I never hear the Facebook IMs. Not answering a Facebook IM makes me look antisocial, not deaf.

Twitter is very much like being at a cocktail party. You can eavesdrop on conversations, insert a witty comment here and there, or just plain stalk (and I mean that in the nicest way) people.

On Twitter, I can narrow who I follow. With a few exceptions, I follow agents, editors, and authors. The writing community on Twitter is a HUGE resource, even though I keep who I follow to under 200. Monday’s are great, so many links to so many great articles, it’s hard to choose what to read first. (I open up a browser just for these links, so it’s not on the same page as my Real Life work links.) Even if you don’t have any time, you can *favorite* the tweet and go back to it later.

I have no idea whether or not I’ve sold any books via Twitter. Ever the non-salesman, I just want to observe, learn, and keep my nose clean. I want people to see I’m not some sort of flake, that I’m serious about writing, even with the pitfalls I stumble into along the way. (I did experience one brief WHEE! TWITTER moment when an agent once tweeted out that she was looking for serious, literary fiction, I answered, and she tweeted back that once I was finished editing, I should query her. Update: I haven’t yet.)

My Twitter strategy is to leave the page open. For me, it’s the most bang for the social media buck.

The key thing for writers to remember is this: being a social is nice, but if you haven’t written anything, you’re a butterfly without a book.

🙂

And here’s where you can find me.

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Virtually Yours, now on Amazon

Real Life Bulldozer

I have to admit this, but as a writer, I’ve been really bad.

No, really, really bad. (Note the use of that adverb. It’s doubled, italicized, and bolded for a reason.) In fact, I’m almost a non-writer.

I won’t go into the grim specifics, but let’s just say that Real Life is kicking my ass.

The older I get, the more I realize there aren’t enough minutes in a day. Honest to God, it was just February and my return from the San Francisco Writers Conference last week! Wasn’t it?

I have three edits printed and waiting for me to slice and dice. Okay. So I did get to one of them about a month ago and made some significant progress, but then… yes. I ended up nowhere near my computer as I raced from one end of the world to the other.

So what do you do when life bitch-slaps you and leaves you with no time?

This is what I’ve been doing.

1. Write in my little notebook. The one I carry in my purse, religiously. I jot down ideas, lists, emotions, character traits I want to use later. Names. Places. Smells. Sights and sounds. It takes just a second. Sure it’s not a novel, probably it’s not serious, but every little bit helps.

2. Read. Here, I’m not doing so well, even with Kindle on my iPhone. BUT… I have discovered Audible.com. I am listening to THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand. I’m up to Chapter Three. I mostly listen in the car or…

3. While exercising. Because if you’re not going to exercise your brain, you might as well work out. Not that working out has made this aging hipster a babe. In fact, while losing a pants size, I have gained two pounds. Go figure.

4. Channeling my creativity to other endeavors. You don’t know how beautifully I can scrub soap scum off my shower tile. Of course, I have to break the chore up into four days. I can’t hack away in one sitting. Cooking is another way to expand on creativity, and it doesn’t take much time. Cooking, however, is fraught with pitfalls. According to my husband, who rails against my creme brulee or cherry duck, I should stop cooking altogether. But when I do, he gets mad.

5. Gardening. It is somewhat time consuming, but at least there are edibles at the end of the season.

6. As a writer, you should give yourself a simple, stupid-easy to accomplish task to achieve daily. Mine is THIS. I know. It’s frivolous, it’s silly, it’s dumb even, but it only takes me five minutes.

7. Buy a tool to help you in your quest to write. My current is 642 Things to Write About. I picked this book up at the airport in San Francisco on the way back from the writers conference (like I needed extra books? my bag was stuffed full of books -and wine), for a couple of reasons: 1., I am a HUGE Chronicle Books groupie, and 2., I often find myself without writing prompts. In fact, I just filled out a page yesterday.

Writing during real life can be done, although, the road isn’t exactly a scenic drive on new asphalt.  When the bulldozer threatens to mow you down, push back, even if the only tool you have is a child’s beach shovel.

It’s the only way to write.

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.

 

Setting My Baby Free – Or, It’s Query Time (Again)

On a cold day in February in 2007, I walked north along Ocean Beach in San Francisco and snapped the photo that now resides as the header of this blog. (It’s also a framed poster over my bed, where it gives me constant inspiration.)

Later that day, on a Northwest Airline flight to Detroit, I began writing in a notebook. It wasn’t a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, it was more a stream of consciousness about my walk on the beach.

When I arrived home, I put my musings into the computer. The seven or eight mini pages grew. And grew, and grew.

I honestly couldn’t write a word of dialogue back then, so my paragraphs were full of internal musings. Since I couldn’t write dialogue, I had eight different POVs…yeah. About 7 POVs too many. If there was a rule about writing fiction, I broke it – in spades, over and over.

When I had 70K words (of which 90% was pure garbage), I finally visualized the story: a woman of common beginnings, longing for love, thrust into a world of money and prestige. I leaned toward writing a romance, until I learned what the definition of “romance” was. There are plenty of romantic elements in the story, but this is no Happily Ever After. My main character suffers. A LOT. There was no room for flirtation in this tale.

The story: Cadence’s husband of many years killed in a car accident. His death uncovers many secrets, the kind that could devastate a strong woman, but they totally rattle Cadie. But it’s not just his hidden life and indiscretions she must wade through – in beating herself over his choices, she discovers that the compass guiding her own life is severely skewed. She spends a good majority of the book “finding” herself, thus the title: FINDING CADENCE.

It took two long years and 176K words (still 75% garbage) before The End appeared at the bottom of the page. Two years – I finished the first draft the Sunday before my first San Francisco Writers Conference (2009), scheduled for the upcoming Friday. If you are a writer you know the feeling of typing those two magic words; you’re on Cloud 9 for days. And I was going to attend my first writers conference. I was giddy beyond belief.

I was. Until I realized The End is just The Beginning.

Especially if you attend a kick-ass writing conference like the SFWC. I learned in two and a half days that my work was so not ready for the big time.

With that cold slap in the face, I put the manuscript away. And cried a little. (Let’s be honest; I cried a lot.) At first I’d shuttered it for thirty days, but when I peeked at it again, it was so awful, I put it away for a YEAR. I honestly thought my writing “career” – such as it was – was over.

After many online classes, another SFWC, a new manuscript (VIRTUALLY YOURS, totally different in feel and genre), and much prodding by my writing friends, I decided to give it another go. Opening the now dusty computer file, I discovered that while the execution was terrible, the story wasn’t half bad.

There was editing. Once, to get rid of redundant words, the adverbs, etc. That chopped off 10K post haste. The second go-’round I changed the POV from eight (maybe nine) to ONE – first person. The third, I cut, and cut, and cut some more. By this time the result was about 50% garbage. So off it went to not one, but two editors. I meditated  on this story – A LOT. As there is a musical component, I listened to a lot of music, especially Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2, and the subsequent modern day rip off riffs from the common themes of the piece. Like Cadie, her life appeared to undulate much like the three movements of the concerto. And so I discovered my theme!

I visited San Francisco many times, to get the feel. Also returned to Colorado, because the feel of the High Plains is NOTHING like San Francisco – or Michigan.

I also ran the manuscript through a Savvy Author class, devised a workable ending that made sense. When it was down to about 20% garbage, it went through another developmental edit, and voila! what I have is what I have now. (Hopefully with less than 10% garbage.)

So you can see how I view my work as my baby. 🙂

Now it’s time to set my baby free. Look out agents, the queries are coming, the queries are coming.

Soon.

A Break from the Break in the Clouds

Wednesday began a temporary break in the clouds, one that has somehow persisted until this morning. Among my other titles and duties, I am a guerrilla urban gardener, meaning I would rather water things I can eat than I would water grass. It is almost Mother’s Day, and as of Wednesday, I had very little in the ground. By this time last year, all the tomatoes were in, everything mulched, and I was sitting on the deck with a glass of wine in hand. This year my gardening duties have been curtailed by daily precipitation. I cannot garden in the wet, and I sure as heck am not going out in the cold and wet.

During the brief respite of sun and blue sky, I decided to get busy. Who knows, it could snow tomorrow. This is Michigan; anything can happen. While I was mowing my front yard and planting potatoes, I nearly missed that I had placed as a finalist in an online contest. That’s right, I entered a 25 word or less pitch contest, and was one of three who placed! But I wouldn’t have known but for reading my email.

My writing is many things, but being succinct is not one of those virtues I have picked up in my many years on this planet. (Okay… I’m looking over this sentence with serious slashing in the back of my head, but I’m leaving it just to make a point.) I find it difficult to summarize my work in a paragraph or two, and to cut it down to 50 words is 1. heartbreaking and 2. grueling. It can be done (and has been done) but perfect pitches (some say, or anything else I try to do) are so, so, SO hard for me.

I thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell with this contest, but what the hey? You don’t know until you try.

To break down my 96K novel into 25 words? I’m amazed I could accomplish it within the prescribed time, and flabbergasted that my meager offering was one out of 50 (FIFTY!) that managed to catch the eye of the Mystery Agent.

Soo… The synopsis is sent, the first 30 pages, and my fingers are crossed yet again.

And now I see there is another break in the clouds, so I’m off to the nursery to purchase seedlings. Have a great Mother’s Day.