Archive for March, 2015

Happy Dance

Posted: March 25, 2015 in Writing
Tags: ,

Snoopy happy dance

Sometimes the hands of the Universe Clock line up.

Monday was not that day.  On Monday I received my very first rejection letter.  Er … rejection e-mail.

I had been expecting it.  I’ve sent out over a half-dozen queries — many of them blind — and some of them were getting ripe, past the six week expected reply time.  The rejection was not bad.  She said she was not connecting with the story in a way she needed to to effectively represent it, but looked forward to seeing it in print.  Which is perfectly understandable; no book is everybody’s cup of tea.  This was an agent who had requested a query during #PitMad, so the swift turn-around was nice.  And I am not the slightest bit discouraged.  I’ve now joined a new tier of writers and I feel less like a rookie.

The next day, Tuesday, was when the cosmos aligned — briefly but with an audible “Bong!” I felt all the way down to my toes.

The microwave at my office died, leaving my frozen lunch still frozen.  So I grabbed my keys and my iPhone and headed for my car to pick something up.  As I walked I glanced at my phone and saw a notification that I had won that eBay bid for the 4-season box set of Downton Abbey for $30 (those retail for $100)  I smiled, because my wife and daughter and I have decided to re-watch the entire show from episode one, one episode per Sunday, as during the season just ended.  We have a ritual, complete with honey-rich tea, served from a collectable Downton Abbey teapot in Downton Abbey mugs.  We figure if we start now we’ll be ready for season six just when it makes its way to the States.  But $100 is quite a lot of money for a TV show.  $30 is much better.

A moment later my phone rang and it was a call I’d been anticipating for weeks — nothing that would excite or interest you (life insurance), but the call meant that after months of forms and extensions and records retrievals and signatures and doctors visits, we were good to go.  My smile ratcheted up another notch.

Then I saw the e-mail from #WriterPitch. An agent had read my pitch and was requesting that I send her a query and chapters.  This is an agent who is actively seeking to build her clientele, and loves children’s books. The hands of the universe clock clicked into alignment.

The “Bong!” I felt down to my toes? By this time I was sitting in my car with the engine running, and I turned on my iTunes Radio.  And this song, which I had never heard before, blasted out of my speakers like a congratulations from Bumblebee (my imaginary transformer car who communicates via audio clips).

If this doesn’t make you want to dance, stop what you’re doing and call 911.  You’re pulse has stopped.

image

Nobody writes alone.  Just like it takes a village to raise a child, so does it take a community to write a book.

I realize there is this archetypal image of the reclusive artist who barricades himself in a room, cut off from the world, and slowly bleeds genius onto the page until at last he emerges with a finished manuscript.  Maybe Plato did it that way, but only because he didn’t have access to decent wifi.  But even Plato borrowed from Socrates.

Robert Heinlein gives us a glimpse of this mythical writer in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls:

…there is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all… and, if you shake him at this stage, he bites…

In the modern world authors rely on dozens of people to help craft their novels: critique partners, alpha readers, beta readers, fellow writers, friends and neighbors, mentors, agents, editors … the list drags on.  Quite aside from the legions that came before and showed us the way, or wrote down their advice or experience or research … writers need feedback.  At every stage of the novel-writing process.

Before I even started my latest novel, The Last Princess with my daughter, I bought books on plot and watched and rewatched Dan Wells’ lecture series on the 7 point story structure. As I wrote I sought the advice of fellow writers in my online critique group, then all over again with a finished manuscript and beta readers.

But, as I am now learning, even when the book is finished, the community is still an invaluable asset. As I began the querying process I stumbled into the Twitter writing community like Brad and Janet finding Frank-N-Furter’s castle. Here I discovered the secret world of the Twitter Pitch and the 35-word logline and the first 250, and an endless stream of people willing to give away thier advice on how to craft them for maximum effect.  There are contests every month where you can enter your novel pitch and be judged by experts, perhaps to be exposed to an agent or group of agents.  And as these contests loom there are countless individuals and websites offering practice runs in return for a promise to give critiques on others who enter along side you. I even saw an offer the other day for a $200 full novel editorial review (usually several times that price, but a special for the month of April).

Querying, it transpires, is much more difficult than actually writing a novel.  And nobody does it alone.  My own pitch and query letter and synopsis and first 250 words have all been improved immeasurably by the Twitter writing community and my willingness to put my work out there. And it hasn’t cost me one thin dime.

If you’re at the point where you want to start querying your novel, take time to follow a few twitter hashtags:

#amwriting

#amediting

#amquerying

#10queries

#askagent

#querytips

#WriterPitch

#AgentMatch

#PitchMadness

#PitMad

#PitchWars

#NestPitch

#PitchSlam

#MSWL

I also recommend you start following agents and writers who have similar tastes as you. They will often follow you back, and this tends to snowball if you click on Twitter’s recommendations. There is a certain time commitment, but this is negligible when compared to the benefits.  Give it a try; you know you can quit any time you want, right?

You are not alone; a whole community awaits you.

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I can’t say that the querying stage of being an author is any easier than the actual writing part.  In fact, I can’t even say it will take less time (I would certainly like to say this).  But I can definitely say it is more exciting!

In the last two weeks we have thrown our hat into a number of query/pitch contests/parties, with mixed success.  I’ve written at length about WriterPitch, and I call that a success.  We collected a great number of promising wishes during MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) day, and now we have a lot of agents that appear to be looking for what my daughter and I are pushing.  That’s a success.

I blogged about #PitchMadness, here. We entered it and spent the next several days haunting Twitter, hoping to see any hint that someone liked our manuscript.  Several of the tweets by the judges teasing their picks seemed to be talking about our manuscript, and our hopes rose.  But in the end our pitch was not chosen.  But the following day I did receive this personal tweet:

LB Tweet

So … that happened.

I also decided to try out the Twitter pitches I had crafted for #PitMad on a smaller Twitter pitch contest for a small book publisher.  They are not as well know, so I’m sure there were far fewer competitors.  I really would prefer an agent to a small publisher, but my goal was to see if I got any response.  In fact I received favorites from three different editors there.  I sent our query, synopsis and first three chapters, per their guidelines, and three days ago we received a request for the full manuscript. So this tells me that based on our first three chapters somebody wanted to read the rest of our book.  Most definitely a success.

But I guess the most important part of this experience has been the many, many individuals and teams who have offered to read our query letters and pitches and first 250 words, etc., and given us free, very helpful feedback.  So the experience has taught us a great deal, and if we win no other contests or get any nibbles on our tweets, we at least improved our chances as we continue to query the old-fashioned way.

So … huge success.

WriterPitch screen

Okay, everyone.  You can relax now.  Help has arrived in the form of WriterPitch.com.  Samantha Fountain’s vision of a platform for authors to promote their unpublished books to agents in the market has been realized.  It’s like a directory of pitches, organized and searchable by fiction/non-fiction, category (Adult, YA, MG, etc.), genre and keyword.  It has been up for about two days and already several authors have received requests from agents.

The obvious benefit to this set-up is that registered agents can window-shop the pitches, learn about the authors, sample a few of their blog posts, and if a pitch peeks their interest, they can read the first 250 words of the manuscript.  Only registered and vetted agents can see this.  So it’s secure.  And agents can tag pitches they’ve read so they don’t waste their valuable time reading them again later.

But there are a number of added benefits not immediately obvious to the casual observer.  And here is where Samantha’s genius shines. The site encourages you to tweet and post links to any author, pitch or blog post you like, so you can promote the books you’d like to see on the shelf some day.  And those pitches that get the most social media love get featured in the day’s Top Ten, along with the top writers.  Most popular agents get their own boost from sharing, too.

Don’t order yet; there’s more!  As a new author pitching his first book, I am somewhat overwhelmed by how much work needs to be done AFTER you’ve finished your book.  You have to craft a Twitter pitch and a logline and a query and a synopsis and the first 250 words and….  What WriterPitch provides is a community.  A place where writers both seasoned and raw can mingle and read one anothers’ pitches and queries.  A place where you can comment and promote those that inspire you, and receive comments from others whom you’ve inspired.  And you can see what’s out there, and what’s working, and who’s in the same place you are.

Samantha didn’t just create a space.  She created a universe.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to create your free profile and get your pitch out there.  If you’re an agent, I invite you to go window-shopping, and bring your wish list. And if you’re anybody at all, I hope you will take a peak at my pitch and tell me what you think.

Better yet, tell the world what you think. This is going to change everything.