A Random Thought: The Elevator Picture

I sign up for a variety of email blasts, most having to do with writing or writers, but some having to do with business or music. The nice thing about email blasts is that I can pick and choose which to read, and don’t have to write myself sticky notes on which web sites to visit on a regular basis.

One of my favorites is the weekly e-zine sent out by Jeffrey Gitomer. I signed up after purchasing a copy of his LITTLE GOLD BOOK OF YES! ATTITUDE, at the San Francisco Airport. What is funny is at the time, I hadn’t even started writing my first novel. Now that I think about it, I began writing the first novel on the plane ride home from that particular trip, probably minutes after finishing the book.

The most notable Jeffrey Gitomer trait is that he is enthusiastic. I’ve read many of his books since that day in 2007, and dare I say it, the man is never, ever down. A tiny book, like his green, red and black books, it’s packed with a lot of heart-thumping yet congenial energy. You can’t help but be swept into his positivity. Life might have pitfalls, but with a few tweaks and attitude adjustments, we can overcome!

The YES! attitude is a quality that translates across all lines in one’s life, be it business, relationships, children, and yes…even writing. I can be a cynic, a bitch, a naysayer, a purveyor of doom and gloom, yet once a week, Jeffrey Gitomer bumps me back into a positive rail.

Today’s Gitomer newsletter included an intriguing article on elevator pictures. As writers, we all know about the dreaded elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is also a standard with salesmen, which might explain why I never went into sales. Being naked in front of a bunch of people is not one of the things I like to do, and there is nothing that more closely resembles naked vulnerability than an elevator pitch.

The first time I tried speed dating with a bunch of highly regarded and therefore intimidating literary agents, I landed ker-plop on my face, with egg and everything else on it. Elevator pitching is all about confidence, a succinct delivery, and something about you that makes you memorable.

The actual pitch and the working it down to twenty-five of the most powerful, compelling words you’d ever want to regal an agent with is the easy part, in my opinion. You can critique your pitch with your writing friends, or pick up Katharine Sands’ book (or hear her speak, she’s phenomenal!) and work your pitch over until it’s sleek and, in her words, “POPS!”

Confidence can only be generated by the author (meaning YOU!) so if you’re not feeling it, perhaps you’d better look your work over and revise and edit until you DO feel it.

As for personal memorability: I recall discussing my first pitch-fears with a noted online author. “What do I do?” His reply was to wear a low-cut red dress. I opted for red, but decided to leave out the low-cut. I’m selling a book, not my services. But it did lead me to wonder…these agents see hundreds of hopefuls at dozens of conferences every year. What is it that makes me stand out among the rest?

The answer most “writers” would want me to say is The Story, stupid. But, wait…no! Like those copier, pharmaceutical, or siding salesmen, it’s not just the product. Think about it; I know I have chosen plumbers and car dealers not only because of the service or product, but also because of the personality of the salesman. It’s the “je ne sais quois” that gets the business every time.

After following agents on Twitter for a year, I gather that they’re not only looking for the next great book, they’re looking for an author who would make their job easy by having the personality to sell, to become a wag, to be memorable as well as prolific. While I don’t know the percentage of published authors who were picked up at a conference during an elevator pitch, I do know that a sparkling pitch followed by a stellar manuscript equals an author whose personality naturally bubbles.

Back to Andy Horner’s article on elevator pictures: Taking this concept to the realm of the agent-writer elevator might not be such a bad idea. And it’s not just the red, low-cut dress or the Steampunk jewelry. People these days have a limited capacity for words, especially in a world full of computers and smartphones, YouTube and Twitter. According to him, words are just too “2D” for most people.

I’m not going to share any of my ideas for the elevator pitch of the 21st Century, but I can tell you that my future pitch just might include pictures.

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Things to Do While You’re Waiting for Your Rejection Email

Even though my queries are shooting through cyberspace at the pace of two a week, the responses are slow in return. Not complaining, mind you. At this rate, I figure I’ll run out of agents long before the rejection letters, meaning I’ll be waist-deep in the aftermath for months to come.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with a list of things to do while you’re waiting for rejection. I’ve done most of these, but I’ve yet to do some. Can you guess which ones? 🙂

1. Take up a new hobby. It’s hard to do when your head is full of angst and wonderment about the next form email to hit your inbox. Or you could be silly like me and expect the next return email with “QUERY_VIRTUALLY YOURS” in the subject line may actually be an offer. (A girl can dream, can’t she?) I usually take up a new hobby just to see if I can get my mind off my worrying.

2. It’s very fattening, but cook. I always cook in times of stress. Of course, that will make a person fat, which leads to…

3. Working out. Even for ten minutes. Drag the dog out for a walk, even in pouring rain.

4. Open your manuscript one more time. No, don’t do that. It will drive you mad.

5. Start a new project. That’s right, write some more. Go in a totally different direction. Write in another genre even.

6. Bug your husband to buy you a comfortable bed.

7. Buy yourself some pretty notebooks and a nice pen and put it in your purse. One can derive a lot of inspiration from paisley covers and turquoise ink. Plus it makes you look like you’re a serious writer, even though you are really a wannabe sitting on pins and needles.

8. Take a class. I highly recommend Jeremy Shipp‘s online class for those like me with no time to commit to a brick and mortar class. Even though I do not write in his genre, but I found his exercises very motivating.

9. Google your favorite authors to find out who represents them. I know that’s close to cyberstalking, but these are desperate times.

and finally…

10. Read. Reading is more than fundamental, it strengthens the brain. The more writers read, the more they want to write, and that is the whole point, isn’t it?

A Writer’s New Year Resolutions

I know. I’m a day early. So shoot me. I have plans for tomorrow, not for wild partying and ringing in the New Year, but for hunkering down at home with the hubby and enjoying a nice meal and bottle of bubbly. And maybe somewhere in there, I will prepare my manuscript for a query spree to begin next week.

Looking back over 2010, I’ve achieved a lot in my journey as a wanna-be published writer. Here is the breakdown, in no particular order:

1. I finished a few edits on Book #2. In fact, I think I’ve edited it a dozen times. I lost count back in November. It is almost, almost ready for a wild round of querying.

2. I submitted my work in a few contests. Placed in a Query Tracker contest back in February. Just submitted into another this month and won’t know until February.

3. Attended the San Francisco Writers Conference, Year Two. Although I belong to Romance Writers of America and also the local RWA chapter, I attend the SFWC because… well, I don’t write romance. My work is women-aimed with romantic elements. There are plenty of romance writing resources during the conference in San Francisco, and I can’t afford two conferences – yet. I like the broad picture, because I have a lot of broad ideas.

4. Took a writing class. Not sure if I learned anything.

5. Queried once.

6. Took out Book #1 and really started going through it. I’m hopeful this will be in querying condition very soon.

Now… for the dreaded resolutions for 2011:

#1 with a bullet. Stay away from the Internet. This includes Twitter and Facebook. Facebook, especially. It’s not because I do any socializing on the dreaded, evil FB, it’s that I am addicted to FB games. I had been giving myself a pass on going online by telling myself I needed the Internet for research. Every once in a while, I would need to look up a map, find a grocery store in Fayetteville, North Carolina, or use the oft-trusty Thesaurus.com. Leaving the Internet wide open is like leaving me in a Godiva store, locking it and throwing away the key. I won’t come out. Not. Ever. Until the chocolate goodies are gone. Let’s face it; I can’t tear myself away from Scramble. I love words too much.

In order to aid my Internet avoidance, I have decided to A. only open Internet Explorer for “research” with tabs already set to where I need to go (instead of using Firefox, which has all my playtime tabs), and 2. go cold turkey on Facebook. Give myself a timer. I give myself 30 minutes a day, that’s it, and I will cut off my own fingers if I should fall off the wagon.

2. Really query more, not just talk about it. I’ve had several people beta read my book – they love it. I don’t think they are telling me this because I’m their friend, their relative, or their boss. One person even wrote a nice email detailing what she liked about it. I think it’s way past time to send my baby out into the world. I have to ready my query letter, let go of my baby, and go for the gold.

3. Resolution #3: Take another class. Signed up. Paid. Done and done.

4. Write more. I’m a basically lazy person, I know that. Plus, I sometimes get sidetracked by family issues, health issues, and Day Job issues. Sometimes I know I should write, but instead I take a detour and make a batch of persimmon cookies. Or, like yesterday, I was finally annoyed enough by the bathroom that I decided to clean it. I COULD HAVE BEEN WRITING!

5. Finally, I need to read more. OMG, my pile of books to read is dangerously high. It might fall over and kill the cat. (Yes, I am Kindle-less, but am thinking of taking the plunge, just so I can clear my bookshelf.) Come to think of it, a Kindle would hide my to-read pile. I’m going to nix that.

Other than the obvious, it’s back to the salt mines. Mining my head for stories.

See you next year.

Tweaking the Baby

Last Friday, I finished the edit on VIRTUALLY YOURS, and sent it back for a second pass. I also gave it to a few select beta readers for their input.

You know how I was so happy when I first finished it? Then I was deliriously happy when I placed in the Query Tracker contest? And I was bubbling with joy when I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and received so many thumbs up from so many agents? Then so happy that Mr. Ed loved it and offered great tips and encouragement?

Well, I felt that way for what? almost the entire weekend…then the doubts started sprouting up like so many mushrooms in my basement.

Since Monday, I have re-edited the manuscript a total of two times and am currently doing the third pass. Never mind that before last Friday, I went through three times before.

See, I thought of more things to add, more things to remove. I thought of plot lines that were mysteriously left up in the air with no resolution. I thought I should bolster the dialog of my Best Man, give him some colloquialisms to get my point across. I checked my commas and quotation marks, made certain my homophones were correct. I took out telling and inserted dialog. I even woke up in the middle of the night and remembered what I’d forgotten!

I feel like an over-protective hen mothering my egg. Since I’ve gained weight in the last month, I just hope I don’t squash it. I want a published novel; I don’t want an omelet.

This leads me to wonder: Is a Work in Progress ever complete? Those magic words “The End” in actuality mark a beginning. Will I ever walk away and say “I’m finished, this is it,” or will I constantly be tweaking my baby until the end of time? (or publication.)

I’m getting ready to query (which is another post altogether – talk about the work involved researching agents and houses!), and now the dread begins to settle.

I’ve incubated this little sucker for almost a year. I’m proud of the story and even more proud of how far I’ve gotten in this journey through fiction.

When do I know she’s ready for an unveiling? When do I cut the cord?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Writing and Re-Writing is Learning Something New Every Day

When last I visited this blog, I was still in San Francisco, just about to meet the person who is helping me edit my book. Since then I have been inundated. Not only did I come home to a week’s worth of laundry, a pile of Day Job responsibilities and tasks, and my husband unable to find clean sheets with which to change the bed (they were on the couch in our room, right under his cell phone charger), I also left the Bay Area armed with a lot of information.

Things to do! Things to do! Does it ever end? I guess the operative word is “NO.”

First off, I was instructed to make a grid in order to count my characters and their interactions with each other. I’m not much for high tech, being barely able to navigate the internet, so I took a piece of graph paper. Along the top, I listed my characters; same with the side. I then went through the manuscript and made hash marks.

At first I wasn’t sure what this exercise was supposed to do. Then the light bulb came on over head… “Ah,” I thought, “This shows which characters are strong and which are basically wallflowers.” I didn’t start off wanting to make anyone a wallflower – I wanted all the women to be equal, more or less – with regard to relationship to each other. I can now see where some of them are going to need a decent reinforcing.

The second thing I did happens to be something I just finished. I listed all of my scenes and came up with 115. Currently, each character has a chapter, and while that might work out later in the book, the beginning seven chapters are full of people and the reader is lost amid the sea of names. It’s the one thing my beta readers found confusing. Eventually, I will take a scene from let’s say #53 and put it between 5 & 6. I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to work out, and I’m having a difficult time thinking beyond the linear aspect of the book. It starts out on November 1 and ends on November 30. It appears I’ll have to rethink my strategy, which is difficult with two holidays to contend with (Halloween is discussed and then there’s Thanksgiving, or climax day).

I also took a notebook and have started sketching out all of my characters, not only in this book, but in the first one I’m currently editing. This includes a checklist of questions I answer as each one. Then I pen a little bio; it includes age, what the character looks like, schooling, basic likes and dislikes, family members, etc. I realized I had to do this, especially after the editor remarked he thought of one of my characters as Bette Midler-ish, with loud voice and red hair – when in actuality she’s petite and blond and her chutzpah comes from within. I know what my characters look like in my head, but rarely do I ever describe them on the page. Character description is something romance writers are known for. (I’m not really writing romance, but there are elements.) I attribute my lack of attention to the fact that I’m not a girly girl, but it’s something I need to do.

I’m amazed that I never thought of this on my own! Or perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed I never thought of this on my own? After all, I’m not schooled in the art of writing; whatever talent I have is innate and didn’t come via university training.

It might take more than a couple of weeks to muddle out of this edit. What with email, time differences and the fact that my head is thick as a brick, this might take until the end of the year to complete.

Oh, well. I’ll be learning along the way.

A Quick Post by Your Local Spelling Cop

Since my plane is delayed an hour due to Air Traffic Control mayhem somewhere in the country (where, I am not sure, since the weather here in Dallas is splendiforous), I thought I would quickly pound out a post on spelling.

Yes, my friends, S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G.

In my other incarnation on another site, the supposed fun-loving participants would be at war with the contingent that was known as the Grammar Police. I thought it funny at the time, but when I first started out, I made the common lazy mistakes of posting in all lower case and using cutesy abbreviations for words. This is what the cell phone and text messaging has done to civilization. It’s all sound bites and globs of letters that need to buy a vowel. I wised up rather quickly. You have to if you want people to believe you are a real writer.

It is my opinion that as a modern people, we have become woefully negligent to this very important feature of language. Proper spelling is not only essential to the continuation of the civilization, it is a necessary component for writers everywhere.

Before pooh-poohing my theory, just think: Without words, there would be no sentences. Without sentences, there would be no paragraphs. Paragraphs are necessary for the building of stories both small and large. I  know, I know. There are other considerations, like grammar, story arcs, sympathetic protagonists, developmental tension and the like. However, every good (and bad) book starts with a single word, and if the word is misspelled, oy vay.

Next to the protection of homophones (there-they’re-their), my interest in spelling is long-lived. Blame it on the fact that my parents did not have much money for books, but they did manage to buy a set of encyclopedias (for those who are 1960’s challenged, that’s like Wikipedia bound in twenty-six ten-pound tomes in leather), a thesaurus and a dictionary. My kids will dispute this simply because they cannot fathom it (modern whippersnappers!) but I actually read the entire encyclopedia and the dictionary JUST FOR FUN. My devotion to the written word was complete when I gained a place at the Colorado State Spelling Bee in 7th grade. (I didn’t win, but I didn’t place last either. I was comfortably just south of the 50% mark.)

I cringe when I see misspelled words. I also gleefully inform the miscreant who maligned the word. I’m sorry, but that’s what a spelling cop does. I used to write letters to the editors of major newspapers regarding poor spelling in their articles or would call the local TV station when banners contained misspelled words.

I thought I would die of a fit when my oldest son was in elementary school back in the mid-1990’s. Back then, the fad in spelling was “inventive” spelling. This meant the kids were supposed to attempt spelling a word by sounds only. Not phonics, the kids were encouraged to scramble any and all combination of letters into a soupy and wrong, wrong, wrong word. The only way to learn how to spell a word is to write and re-write it a few dozen times. This is how I learned – my mother was Japanese and her English wasn’t perfect – and this is how my son learned. He didn’t like it, but hey, that’s what parents are for.

Even with my advancing age and pre-Alzheimery mind, I can still outspell just about everyone. The brain as a tool isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and I admit it. I’ve even re-read things I have posted online to find that I’ve misspelled a word. (Horrors!) A quick email to the online editor usually fixes the problem.

Here is another secret: One cannot rely on spell check to pull his/her sorry ass out of the fire. Been there, done that.

My advice? Take a word, any word you aren’t familiar with. Take one a day. Learn how to spell it correctly and learn how to use it in a sentence. Try to incorporate it into your writing. Get rid of one of the tired old stand-bys you’ve been using since the dawning of age. Bathe in the glory of your new-found acquisition, and breathe easy that the spelling cop will be passing you by the next time she feels an urge to write you a citation.