Archive for March, 2017

Being Liked

Posted: March 29, 2017 in Writing
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It’s nice to be liked.  I can say this without ego, because for quite awhile, now, I have been persisting without likes.

Aside from the general low-level anxiety that comes with little or no acknowledgement for one’s work over time, I also have been experiencing some confusion.  When we started querying my daughter’s and my novel in early 2015, we immediately began entering pitch contests.  Our very first #PitMad, we received several likes, including one from a small publisher.  As you will have guessed, none of these resulted in the sale of our book, but that’s hardly the point. The point is, we were utter novices at pitching, and yet in our very first contest we interested several agents/publishers.

That never happened again.  Our first pitch (all four versions, in fact) were horrible.  We hadn’t even properly identified the stakes or what were the key parts of the plot to pitch.  And yet we got 3-4 likes.  Later we sought and received advice on our pitches, on how to query, and most-importantly, how to actually improve our manuscript so that identifying the stakes and key plot points were much easier.  And yet, as we improved our manuscript and our presentation to agents, we received fewer requests.  In particular, #PitMad seemed to forsake us altogether.

I’m not bitter about it, not especially.  But I am curious, because I want to succeed. I want to crack the formula that leads to success — the sale of our book.  I see others manage it, and they are almost universally younger than I am.  And that implies to a thoughtless observer that they are less experienced, and therefor less deserving. This is the sludge that builds up in one’s motivational “engine.” I know our manuscript is better than before (and I am improving it still, as I have notes for still more important revisions), yet my confidence going forward is not where it should be.

Last week, during the most recent #PitMad, our latest pitch got liked. And just like that, I felt my confidence rushing back.

It’s a little pathetic, isn’t it?

#RevPit is Coming!

Posted: March 23, 2017 in Writing
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You may have heard that Pitch to Publication (#P2P17) has been postponed indefinitely. Pitch to Publication is a contest to which writers submit their complete samples of their complete manuscript to a choice few of a wide range of professional freelance editors. Each of the participating editors will select 1 (or possibly 2) manuscripts, which they will then spend the next five weeks editing.  Essentially, if you get chosen, you get your manuscript edited for free.  Those chosen will then have their polished manuscripts put on display for agents to request.

We have not been given a reason for the delay of this year’s Pitch to Publication, nor a new date. However, the stable of editors nevertheless refuse to disappoint the eager and aspiring writers who have been anticipating this contest.   They formed a new site, called Revise and Resub, and they have announced a brand new contest which is essentially the same as #P2P, called #RevPit.

This is fantastic news! Pitch to Publication has had great successes in the past, and now those same editors are on-board to perform the same service in a nearly identical contest on the same exact date, April 7th.

So check out the details and choose your 3 editors (and 1 alternate); you can check out all of their bios, specialties, and wishlists on the Revise and Resub page.  Then get your query and first 5 pages polished to a shine.  And follow #RevPit on Twitter to keep up-to-date on the contest.

How to Boil a Frog

Posted: March 15, 2017 in Writing
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“If I’d known then what I know now….”

There’s this fable about boiling a frog which goes something like this: If you put a frog in boiling water, he will immediately jump out.  However, if you put the frog in water that is comfortable and slowly bring it to a boil, the frog will happily stay in the water until he is well and truly cooked.

I’m the frog.

When I decided to write a novel* I went into it with the conviction that if I really gave it my all, I could probably finish a whole novel good enough to be published, and I could probably do it in a year.  This was a real commitment, because I would have to do all of the writing  between two jobs and three kids, after chores and after everyone else had gone to bed — and I am a big fan of sleeping.  But with each chapter my confidence grew, which was good, because the job of writing the novel become more complicated, too. If I had known when I started just how much research and foreshadowing and weaving of complex plot points there was going to be, I might never have gotten up the nerve to climb into the water in the first place. But, really, the water was only slightly warm at that point.

A big part of my initial conviction was that I would not only write a novel, but get it published as well. And when I decided to turn up the heat, it seemed like just a little bit of heat. I mean, writing the novel was the hard part, right? Now I just needed to write a letter and send it out to a couple of dozen agents. I bought a copy of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market and I was all set. Another couple of months and I would be Published.

The water was still pretty comfortable.

But I’ve since learned that writing an acceptable query letter is almost as much work as writing the novel.  If every word in a novel counts, every word in a query counts about 200 times more; not only do you have to get across the setting, tone, characters, and stakes of your novel, but you have to make them so irresistible that an agent must want to see the whole manuscript based on just your query.

Little wisps of steam had begun to rise at this point, but I was happy where I was.  I could keep this up for a good long while.

In an effort to improve my query and those ultra-important first pages I started entering pitch contests.  This, naturally, turned the heat up even further, but I had been prepared for that — in fact I welcomed it.  That’s why I entered the contests in the first place. I wanted to up my game, get more feedback, become more competitive.  If I could perfect my pitch and query I was sure to get an agent sooner rather than later.

This is about the time I discovered a little-known (to me) fact, which is that 90% of writing a novel is re-writing the novel.  As the rejections began to pile up, and more and more feedback came in (and as I slowly relaxed to the possibility that the feedback was correct and I had more work to do), I embarked on the first of a series of full-manuscript revisions.  Each resulted in a new pitch and a new query letter, and a whole new round of rejections. The water began to swirl and bubble, but it felt good.  Maybe I could get one of those drinks with the little umbrella in it.

The water is uncomfortably hot, now. But I’m not ready to get out — not after everything I’ve gone through.  I’ve gotten too used to being in the thick of it.  I’ve been here far too long to just get out and dry off with nothing to show for it.  I’ve learned a tremendous amount since I started. And, of course, I firmly believe that this revision will be the one that lands me an agent.  But, if I had known then what I know now….


*The second time. My first novel was utterly directionless and took about 18 years to finish writing the first draft.

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I’ll be the first to admit sometimes I just can’t find the motivation to dive into another big revision of my manuscript. After a time one gets used to the chapter-by-chapter scale of writing, and whatever your pace is, that pace becomes comfortable, familiar. If you are part of a critique group, you can get feedback on that chapter within a week or two, and fix most issues in a couple of days. But full manuscript revisions?  Not only do they take more time to plan and actually write (it’s like taking a finished tapestry and deciding to replace all of the yellow theads with green theads), but once you’re done, getting meaningful feedback on your changes can take months. This is especially onerous if you have interrupted your querying process and wish to get back to it.

So … you’re not querying, and not exactly writing, either. You’ve put aside any other writing projects because you want to put this one to bed. You do a lot of planning and mulling of possibilities and testing of various ideas, while the clock ticks relentlessly.

This is where I am. I recently received some useful feedback and embraced the suggestions, seeing real possibility of improvement if I can make the changes just right. But the other two books I’m working on have been shifted to the back burner, and no matter how much I stare at my notes, I can’t seem to get excited about actually messing with the latest “final” version of my manuscript. That one is still in the hands of beta (gamma?) readers, for chrissake! Sure I want to get back to querying, given that the possibility of success ought to be higher with the revisions in place, and I want to get back to working on the sequel, but even if I do, how long will it be before I can rustle up anyone willing to read it and give me feedback? Because I don’t want to burn any bridges, querying with a flawed manuscript (again).

The motivation to revise (again) has taken a sabbatical.

You remember how I’m always saying how entering contests is good for your craft and career, even if you never actually get picked for any of them? Well, here’s some proof. In my online critique group someone started a forum topic on the recent Pitch Madness contest. “Who’s entering?” “Want to swap entries and gI’ve each other feedback?” And like that. I posted my entry — a 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of the book, along with the genre and age group. I didn’t get picked in the contest, this year, and given that this is the third year I’ve entered with a different version of this same manuscript, I later commented that I was beginning to question my ability and the marketability of this particular book.

Someone else on that thread said that they’d read the entry I had posted, and doubted I had anything to worry about. They would be delighted to read my full manuscript and offer feedback, if I wanted.

I responded immediately that I would gladly welcome the kind offer, but first I needed to finish this pesky revision.  And, boom, I had my motivation to get on with it.  Because I had a reader already lined up, eager to give feedback, so I could get back to querying.

You never know where motivation will come from. Be on the lookout for it and when you glimpse it snatch it up like ambrosia. Because sometimes it apears just like a gift from heaven.

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They say with age comes wisdom. I’m 53, and I’m still waiting for mine.

But I’ve been a serious writer for much less time. I wrote in high school and college, and even eventually (20+ years) finished a Dungeons & Dragon’s-inspired novel, but I didn’t get serious until about 4 years ago, when I embarked on a middle grade novel with my daughter. For this novel I approached it from the very start with the intention of being traditionally published. I already had a good foundation of how to write good dialogue and descriptions and pacing and tension and all of that. But this time I wanted to end up with a novel that somebody else might actually want to read.

So I got busy.  I took online courses and bought books about plot and downloaded lectures on the 7-point story structure. I found the online writing community and became an active participant in a critique group. I discovered the universe of writing hashtags on Twitter and jumped in with both feet. I figured out how to access my manuscript on my smartphone and bought a portable keyboard so I could write anywhere or anywhen. I kept my enthusiasm at a constant slow roiling boil, and was always working on some aspect of my book or its plot or its characters or the world-building or the query or the synopsis.

And when I thought everything was ready, I went into a frenzy of querying agents.

I wasn’t ready. Actually, the manuscript wasn’t ready, but both statements are equally true. The thing about querying is that for the most part, once you’ve queried a given agent and they pass, you’ve pretty much burned that bridge. There are exceptions where an agent might ask for a Revise and Resubmit, or tell you the manuscript isn’t quite ready but please keep them in mind if you decide to revise it on your own. These are pretty rare. And while there are hundreds of agents out there seeking books in any given genre, the list isn’t infinite. If you’re not careful you will eventually run out.

In the past, whenever I managed to get some feedback on my full manuscript, I typically endeavored to revise as swiftly as possible so I could get right back to querying.  But now I’m a bit more philosophical (if not not yet wiser). I’m realizing I don’t want to cross off another swath of potential agents by sending out a manuscript that isn’t ready. So I’m developing some patience. I’m taking my time to make sure these latest edits are going to stick and solve the problems pointed it by readers. I’m realizing I don’t want to do this forever, and I’m realizing the end of my list of potential agents is not that far away.

Maybe I’ve gotten some of that wisdom after all.