Sunday, December 5, 2010

Query Letters-Round Two

I sent out my first query letters on October 24, 2010. I have received eight rejections on my query letter alone. Two agents requested partials, but both issued rejections with the nicest compliments.

One agent said my writing was straight forward making it a breezy read, but that my work was not right for them. Another said she enjoyed reading my work and thought my story concept was good, but that she could not relate to the writing.

Now, some writers I know would not take the above as compliments. But, think about it-agents are busy people. They must read hundreds, or even thousands, of partial and full manuscripts each year. Legitimate agents make their money from sales of books written by writers they represent. It is important for them to think the work will sell, otherwise they don't make their money. Thus, for an agent to provide any kind of personalized feedback in a rejection is a true gift.

At his point, I still have eight agents I am waiting to hear back from. I know from reading their guidelines, some will only contact me during a specified time period if they are interested in my work. Soon, it will be time to get another round of query letters in circulation.

Writing a good query letter is a must. According to those who have read my query letter, it is well drafted. The point of the query is for the agent to want to read more. I have wondered if my query does not have enough story information, or if my hook is not strong enough. I think before I send out the next batch, I will play around my query a bit and see if I can make it stronger.

Writing a synopsis is another story. I have condensed my 70,000 word novel into about 1,000 words, but it must be shorter. It must include the main characters, the plot and the meat of the story, as well as the ending.  It is not a this happened, then this happened kind of deal. My research tells me a synopsis must be similar to the inside cover of a novel.  I've been working on my synopsis for weeks, just in case an agent asks for one.

Anyone who ever said writing is easy is wrong. The writing itself is hard work, but the query letter and synopsis are grueling! Perhaps next time I will share my experience with writing my synopsis...that is, if I have it completed.

Until then- happy writing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Queries- Round One

It took me longer than I expected to send out the first batch of query letters. I wanted to be thorough in my preliminary research. I would like to share the steps I have thus far taken in the query process. However, before I go any further, I have some important wisdom that published writers have so graciously passed on to me:

A legitimate agent never charges you a fee or money up front, they make money off the sales of your books only. If any agent wants to charge you upfront fees for anything, run the other way.

Now, on to the other important stuff.

I started by researching numerous agents at Query Tracker under the thriller genre. I studied their websites, which generally contained client lists and submission guidelines. I read what others at Query Tracker had to say about them. I conducted a general internet search, checked their reputation at Preditors and Editors, and searched the Bewares section of Absolute Write. Knowledge is power and leads to great success.

For me, success is about how I choose to live this entire query process. I have seen blogs and message boards dedicated to novel rejections, wherein there is a whole lot of complaining and putting down of agents who reject their work. I cannot help but wonder what the expectation is when sending out query letters. I want to find the right match for me and my novel, just as much as the agent wants to find the right book to sell. Rejection is inevitable.

My goal is to have between five and ten query letters in circulation until I find an agent. I realize I need to account for agents who might ask for a limited exclusive to review my manuscript, or who make an offer that I might want to accept. I have no doubt that I will find an agent.

For now, I need to work on my synopsis and other works in progress. I have a first chapter of novel two in the works (it’s an older work I did not complete).

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain for rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put your work on the market.
  5. You must keep you work on the market until it is sold.

This is it for now. Happy writing to all!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Query Weary

I never thought writing a one page query letter could be more difficult than writing a 350 page novel. In a query, I have one paragraph and three to five sentences to reel the agent into my fictional world. My pitch must be succinct, colorful, and end with a hook that gets the agent’s attention. My dream: once they read my brilliant query, they will want to read the rest of my manuscript. The reality: it is tough out there in the publishing world, and I will probably receive rejections no matter how great my query letter is. After all, rejection is part of a writer’s life.

After researching numerous resources on the internet, it took me about two weeks to complete my query letter. I stared at the blank page, and then wrote stupid sentences and long rambling paragraphs. Finally, I found a template at the Writers Beware blog, and the premise behind this skeleton of a letter began to take shape.

I have heard that pitching your novel is like speed dating—you have three to five minutes to tell a potential significant other about your greatest qualities. You must deliver a vivid picture of your novel in as few words as possible. It is essential to acquire both verbal and written skills in providing an unforgettable snapshot of your novel. You never know when you might run into an agent.

Last night before turning in, I posted my query letter at Absolute Write in Query Letter Hell in the Share Your Work forum. I was surprised this morning to find five or six replies, all of which were thoughtful and honest. The biggest compliment I received was that my query was solid. Someone else could not help me with the query but wanted to read more. Some writers suggested changes, which I incorporated into my final draft.

I have acquired a list of eight agents using Query Tracker. I have checked them all out at Preditors and Editors. I have researched their websites viewed their client lists, and read their blogs. What is the next step?

Tomorrow, I will buy nice off-white stationary with matching envelopes. I will personalize my query for each agent. This next week, I will send out queries to the eight agents. My plan? To keep sending those queries out until I find a reputable agent to represent my work.

If you are in the query process, keep your chin up no matter what. Start working on your next novel.

Happy writing!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Next Step

I have completed one hard copy edit of my novel, including major revisions and a few cuts. I am now twenty pages shy of completing a second edit, which had proven to be much easier with less mistakes and more smooth sentences. Now, I am ready to progress to the next step, which could be any of the following:

  1. Send a query letter to agents or publishers that do not require an agent;
  2. Send a query letter with three sample chapters to an agent or publishers that do not require an agent;
  3. Run to the self publishing house to publish their work right away;
  4. Send it to a freelance editor who, for around $300, will critique the writer’s work;
  5. Edit, edit, and edit some more until the story has morphed into something else;
  6. Send it to beta readers;
  7. Stuff the story in a trunk and forget about it, because it will never be good enough anyway.

(Whenever a semi-colon is used, an angel loses its wings. Believe me, I feel very guilty right now).

I have thought long and hard about what my next move is. I do not care to self publish, and I am not interested in a freelance editor, because I believe money flows to the writer, not away. I have completely revised my story, as well as completed at least two rounds of editing, with the help of my critique group. I think it would be foolish to stuff my manuscript into a trunk and forget about it, because I truly believe it is a good story. Finally, I do not want to go straight to publishers, even if they do accept work without an agent.

Well, that leaves numbers one and six. My first order of business is to send my story to beta readers. Two of the people who have accepted to be readers are bookworms who read just about every genre out there. I want their opinions as readers. In other words, if they read the first few pages while in the bookstore, would they buy it? Once they stared reading, were they be inclined to read further?

While my manuscript is with readers, I will research agents in the thriller genre. I will also learn how to construct a proper query letter. I can’t wait to read Noah Lukeman’s EBook, How to Write a Great Query Letter. Finally, after my readers have given me their feedback, I will decide if anything needs to be revised.

That’s it for now. Happy writing!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Saga Continues- Part II

I have not kept up with my blog as much as I would like to, but only because I have been spending an inordinate amount of time editing my novel. As of today, I have about 55,300 words edited. What this means is that I have taken away and added paragraphs and pages, (it was heartbreaking discarding those brilliant sections that had little to do with the story), found incorrect punctuation, and sentences where I used one word when I meant to use another. However, my biggest chore during this edit is to tighten those sentences up.

What does sentence-tightening entail? It means using a whole lot less words to convey my meaning. This is not from my novel, but it is a great example:

Wordy: She went to the car, opened the door, and got into the driver’s seat.

Better: She slid into the driver’s seat.

Such a short simple sentence to convey the same meaning.

Words are important in writing, because every genre of short story of novel has a word count range. In order to increase our chances of selling our work, we must follow the publisher guidelines. We must make every single word count.

I find editing like eating healthy and exercising. If I eat the right foods and run four times a week, I get the physical results I want. Well, if I write tight and make every single word count, then I know I have turned out the best product I can. Perhaps the next step will be to catch an agent’s eye, with the grand finale being publication.

Now, it’s time to go for my run and then edit my novel. Happy writing all!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Saga Continues

I completed editing my first draft Sunday- May 23, 2010 to be exact. I now have a 305 page manuscript adorned with green sticky notes. Entire portions of my novel contain handwritten notes and lines through words, notations to add words, and small reminders to watch for repetitive phrasing. I gained insight into my novel’s strengths and weaknesses in both character and plot. It is up to me to take this manuscript and make it the best work product possible.

Yesterday, after pondering what my next phase of creativity would look like, I decided to sketch an outline. My story spans five days and contains viewpoints of one main character and two others. When editing, I noted some of my timelines were a little skewed, to say the least. My goal is to ensure that my timeline is spot on. I need to eliminate any reader confusion.

Last night, I started the chapter/scene outline. Today, I completed my outline/synopsis up to the newly revised chapter 8 (if I had not combined chapters, I would have been to chapter 13). I have been at it about an hour and a half. I can stop for the evening and do something else.

I am proud of myself.

My goal is to complete my outline by sometime next week, though I suspect it could be sooner. After this comes the restructuring of my novel, along with the revisions and additions, as well as deletions.

Many people have been giving me support during this process, for which I am grateful and blessed. A writer must write alone, but it is important not to isolate and shut out other people.

Happy writing all!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What Editing Feels Like

As of today, I have edited forty-five pages.

Once I completed my draft, I did what most writers do-- I put my precious novel (bestseller, of course) away for a few days and tried not to think about it. The problem was I could not stop thinking about it! I knew I had left some plot points straggling and would have to pick them up and intertwine them throughout the story. Where did I drop these important tidbits? How would I pick them up again without changing major chunks of the story?

What if I had to start the entire story over because of one straggler?

This kind of thinking exhausted me. I knew I needed to take a step back.

Monday, the day after I wrote The End on page 305, I had this insurmountable urge to look at chapter one, or maybe just the first page or first few paragraphs. But, I stopped myself, because it felt like I was too close to the story. It’s dangerous for a writer to edit when they feel like they are a part of the story rather than its creator.

Tuesday, I decided I would start editing on Wednesday. I needed more distance.

Wednesday, I decided it was still too soon to start. My final decision was that I would start editing when it felt right.

Thursday felt like the right time to start looking at my novel through critical editor eagle eyes. So many questions came to mind. Will my hook catch the reader’s eyes, keep them reading? Are spelling and grammar correct? Do I use adjectives and adverbs sparingly? Are my sentences, paragraphs and scenes clear, and do they convey what the reader needs to know? Do I have unnecessary repetition in my story? Do I write distinctive voices for my characters, which means lean dialogue tags? Am I writing tight and lean sentences? Am I too wordy in some places?

Sheesh, the list continues into oblivion!

When editing, I need to be willing to kill off some of my darlings that do not belong in the story (actually, we don’t really kill them off, we just past them to a documents titled Little Darlings for Future Use). If a scene, character, or minor plot point does not work within the larger picture, I must let them go.

After editing-- which I am doing by hand, and then rewriting in my word processing program-- my goal is to start looking for an agent. I don’t want to circulate substandard work. I want my manuscript to be as close to perfect as I can get it. I want to leave as little work for an agent, editor or publisher as I can. It’s the writers’ job to know how to write.

Time to get back to editing. Happy writing all!

Monday, May 3, 2010

What The End Feels Like

The end of writing a novel, that is. I cannot begin to describe the exhilaration I felt when I typed those precious two words. Thirty-one chapters and approximately 60,000 words.

The End.

I will soon start editing. Some writers let their novel sit for a week or two, maybe three, and proceed to other writing projects—a few short stories, an article or two. Some might even start working on another novel. Other writers let the manuscript simmer for no more than a day before they start the editing process.

I didn’t touch my novel today. I didn’t start any other stories. Instead, I watched an episode of Ghost Whisperer, followed by Medium. Some great stories in those television shows. Perhaps tomorrow I will start editing, or I might decide to take the week off. I’m not sure when I will start editing, but it will be soon.

I know editing requires that I take a step back and read my novel as a reader, not as a writer. I must be willing to sacrifice sentences, scenes, perhaps pages, that do not advance my story, even if the aforementioned will knock the socks off of any agent, publisher or reader. I must make sure my writing is tight, utilize correct grammar and spelling, weed out useless adverbs, watch for repetition of words—the list goes on. My most important task, I believe, is to make sure my story engages the reader through the gift of showing. Show don’t tell.

I care about my characters and their lives. They are as real to me as my family, friends, next door neighbors (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit here, but just let me make my point). I must give breath, body and personality to my characters in order for my readers to see them as whole human beings. The last thing I want to do is create cardboard characters.

Now that I’ve written this, I have decided I will start the editing process in a few days. Most likely on Wednesday, for no other reason than it is the day after tomorrow.

The end (for now).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Fifty Feels Like

Fifty-thousand words, that is. Last night, when I hit that 50,000 word mark in my unfinished novel, I had those same feelings as when I finished in my first Bay to Breakers race around fifteen years ago- surprise, exhilaration and complete satisfaction! Just like I knew I would finish the race, I know that I will finish this novel.

Anybody who believes that writing is easy is wrong. Just ask the writers who make a living with the artistry of their words, who have deadlines to meet, agents, editors and publishers to satisfy, and long hours trying to weave their words into saleable material. Just ask those of us who write long hours after our jobs to try and create a story that will grab readers and make them want to keep reading. I have not reached the “author” stage yet, but I know many who have. Just like novelists-in-progress, they produce a lot of sweat to put out an excellent product.

Currently, I am working on my second draft, which is quite different from my first. Why? Because the first time around, I was writing just to get the basic story down. This second draft, my story has been developing more meat around the plot, depth to my characters and the knowledge that if I have come this far, I can reach that finish line.

In fact, I guesstimate that I am about five or six chapters from the end. I don’t know how many words I will need to accomplish this. My goal is to complete this draft by the end of April, but I will not beat myself up too much if this does not happen. The first rule of thumb is to be kind to yourself no matter what.

One thing a writer must remember is that words are not just words. While a certain word count is necessary to comply with publisher guidelines, a writer cannot just write words for the sake of word count. When I was eighteen, my mother bought me one of the most valuable books in my library, Make Every Word Count, by Gary Provost. Now, thirty years later, the highlighting in this section has faded out, but the words are like music to me:

Remember this: the reader is always aware of the words you use and of the fact that you chose to use them. He takes your mistakes seriously. It doesn’t occur to him that a word slipped by you or that it jumped onto the page when you weren’t looking… (pg. 67)

Remember, word count is important, but make sure they are the right words. As for me, I must see what my characters are up to now. Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Favorite Writing Books

You can go to any bookstore and find a multitude of “how to” books on just about every aspect of writing, from how to get the first word down to how to find an agent, from publishing your book to marketing. It’s all there in the tall dark bookshelves of your favorite bookstore. In fact, most bookstores have an entire section on writing (though, in the last few years, many bookstores have merged the writing section with reference). In any event, if you want to learn how to write, then go down to your favorite bookstore and find the book that suits your needs.
When you get to that little independent bookstore on the corner, I want to urge you to look for two of my favorite writing books: On Writing by Stephen King and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. Why? Because both are about the creative process and writing life with a whole lot of biography stirred in. Both of these books are both small. You can stick either of them in your handbag (if you’re male, you can put one in your overcoat pocket), and catch a word or two at lunchtime. You can take them everywhere with you.
On Writing is a memoir on Stephen King’s life as a writer. Part one is his C.V., or more properly his Curriculum Vitae, about how he obtained his writing experience and the writing jobs he has held over the years. Part two is about what it takes to be a writer, and includes the tools her utilizes every day. He does not paint a rosy picture of writing, but a constructs a realistic panorama.
Zen in the Art of Writing was first published back in 1973, and has been reprinted several times. This lovely little book contains ten of Bradbury’s straightforward, intense and colorful essays. Like King, he writes from a biographical point of view, utilizing his own experiences to illustrate the truth about the writing life.
While my bookshelves are packed with many writing books I have collected over the years, the two aforementioned books are always within reach for a quick read. In order to be a writer, you must write. It’s also important to be realistic about what the writing world is like. Many writers, including me, have not quit their day jobs. I know one author who has written six novels, most of them on the best selling list, and he still works part-time. I love to write, have profited a little bit, but I know I will be at my job for quite awhile.
As for my writing, I just finished chapter 24 and approximately 45,000 words, and believe I have about five or six chapters left to go. I am getting really excited about concluding draft two. Then I must face the hard work of editing, adding, and taking away. This stage will be more intensive as, after two drafts, I feel I have crafted a good story.
Happy writing all!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Just in General

I was surprised when Zac Petit from Writer’s Digest asked if they could quote me in their magazine. At the Writer’s Digest Forum, a question was posted regarding opinions on the best ingredient of a novel, the choices being plot/premise, style, characters or setting. I chose characters. Why? Well, since writing my entire response here might constitute plagiarism, you must go to the sidebar on page 10 of the March/April edition of Writer’s Digest, to read what I said. Writer’s Digest is one of the best magazines out there for writers, along with The Writer. I read both religiously.

I am still writing my novel, with my goal for completion for April. I am being lenient on myself, not committing to a strict deadline of 12:00 a.m. April 1. My goal is have the entire second draft completed by sometime during the month. Thus far, I have written 41,014 words. I already have a novel (40,000 words or more), but the story is half to three-quarters finished. I have anywhere from 20,000 – 40, 0000 words left to complete the story.

If I write 1,000 words per day, it will take me 20 days to reach 60,000 words, or 40 days to reach 80,000 words. Either way, I would reach my deadline. If I feel really industrious, I could write 1,500 words a day for the next 20 days and produce 30,000 words, and be done by the end of March.

I want to find markets for three short stories I have written. Persistence is the key. Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules of Writing from his essay On the Writing of Speculative Fiction, published in 1947, are well known to many writers:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

These are excellent rules. I have given extra thought to number three, since many writers disagree with refraining from rewriting. However, Heinlein’s intent is very clear. As writers, it is our job to create a first draft that is polished and ready for the eyes of an editor, agent or publisher. Think about words, plot and every aspect of your story, and make changes as you go along. Once you put “The End,” you are done. While I agree with this rule, I have not yet gotten to the point where I do not go back and make changes.

Now it’s time for me to work on my novel. I am on chapter 23 to be exact. Until next time…happy writing, and write like it is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Old Writing and Rejection Slips

Last week, I decided it was time to rearrange my home office and sort through old paper. I already knew secrets were hidden in the shadows of ragged manila folders- old writing, rejection slips, and a lot of stuff I did not really need. While I am not attracted to things, as in “toys” (except for books, I love my home library), I hold on to paper longer then necessary. I am not admitting to anything, but it's possible that I might be a survivor of some kind of phobia-- perhaps Papermania or RTD, also known as Recycled Tree Disorder.

Well, that day as pulled cracked yellowed paper from disheveled folders, my shredder hummed at full force. Out went the duplicate copies of short stories (I only need the latest version), old bank statements, because everything electronically archived now, and other random documents that held no purpose but to gather dust. By the time I was done, I was elated to have more space for rejection slips dating back to 1984, important tax documents and unfinished work I intended to revive.

While I was going through those old papers, I ran across the jewel of a lifetime: eight aged pages from a journal I had written when I was 22 years old and a college student at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California. I was a Police Science major, ready to go into the academy. I wanted to be a cop first, private investigator later. Due to a physical disability (bad eyesight), that dream never happened.

However, I also wrote about my one true dream of becoming a writer. At twelve, I started writing lyrics and poetry, and then moved on to short stories, and now my novel. I am not a big name in the writing world, but I have published poetry in small press, won first place in at least three writing contests, and have had four short stories published. I am proud of my accomplishments.

I also realize that I have not been holding myself to a high enough standard. I don’t submit my short stories to magazines often enough, and I have not been diligent in sitting down and writing every single day no matter what. I don’t study the markets enough. In other words, I have allowed myself to become complacent.

My goals are is to submit a story until it’s either sold or I have run out of markets to submit to, write every single day on one piece of substantive work (novel, short story), and make sure I study my markets well. The only way to be a writer is to sit down and write, and do the grunt work that goes with writing. Nobody else can do any of this for me.

Now, it’s time to get ready for my Redwood Writers Club meeting. When I return, I write. Happy writing to all!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Working Full Time and Writing

This morning I read about a man who gave up his daytime job to write full time. With little money made from writing, he just up and quit. I felt admiration for this man, because I know it is hard to make a living from writing. It took a lot of courage for him to take that step.

I know of one author who has published six novels, some on bestseller lists, who keeps his part-time day job. He said his second income is necessary for him right now. Of course, I have no doubt he will quit his day job soon and give us more bestsellers.

I am one of the several who works full time while writing in the off hours of the day. Even though I have made a little money writing, I am not brave enough or ready to try and give writing full-time a try. Maybe if I win the lotto, or some rich relative dies and leaves me their millions (no chance of that, as I have no rich relatives).

With or without a job, sitting down and writing is what is important. I try to write at least an hour per day. My goal is to complete the second draft of my novel by April, need to be more disciplined. Two hours and/or 1000- 2000 words per day a will lead me down the road to completion. A little much for a girl who works full time? Maybe, considering I want to write some short stories and start submitting more.

I am a good writer, even though I am constantly learning. Discipline is the answer. In other words, I need to sit down and write more. Make more time, as it will not just come to me.

Hello, Everyone! I am throwing out a reminder to followers of this blog that I have launched a new website which I am now maintaining at w...