You did what?!

Whoa. It’s been a while since I posted. My only excuse is that I’ve been down a writer’s rabbit hole, and am only now popping up to see the light!
Here’s a brief rundown of the crazy events of the past few weeks. My last post talked about the pitch contest I entered, and why I’m a fan of such events. Well, that contest led to an agent request, which was exciting! Then I decided to play along with a twitter pitch contest running a few days later, put on by the same creative minds behind the Pitch Madness contest. THAT led to a small press publisher partial request!

And here’s where things went crazy.

 

That small press pub partial request (query and the first 25 pages of the manuscript) turned into a full request (!) … and a few days later, an offer of publication.

This. Was. Exciting. Like, really (REALLY) exciting. I was in Florida on vacay with the family, trying to sort out what I wanted to do. If I took the offer it meant my book could be in the hands of readers (or rather, on the screen of their e-readers, as it was a digital only press) by the end of 2013. Now small press publishing hadn’t been something I’d considered before. I have been set on the idea of getting an agent first. I really believe in the partnership of agent-author, and that felt like the right path for me.

But to be published by year end? Tempting …

However, there were some challenges with the offer, including editorial changes I wasn’t sure about. Contracts can be tricky and sticky, and I didn’t love the idea of slugging through that process on my own.

So I did what some lovely writer friends advised and sent notification of the offer to the agents I had queried. There weren’t that many of them, because I had only sent out a handful of queries before this all happened, but I ended up with eight agents reading my full manuscript by the end of the week.

To make a long story short (although I suspect it’s too late now, because this story is already long…), by the deadline I had one agent who offered representation and the publication offer on the table. I very carefully considered both offers, and then turned them down.

Many may think this was a crazy decision. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted, after all? Well, yes, but it wasn’t that simple. Through the passing agents’ feedback I got a good handle on what’s really working in my story — plenty of compliments on my writing and the ‘freshness’ of my premise and concept. However, I also sorted out what wasn’t working … and I wanted a chance to fix that on my own first. In truth, while both were GOOD offers, neither was the right fit for me … or my book — for reasons that aren’t important to mention here. But in my gut I knew I had to take a step back and start anew. So that’s what I did.

I have no regrets about my decision, even when I’m struggling through my revisions and feeling like I may never get it all done. Writing is like anything else — if your heart, head, and gut are not aligned, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing. That has never let me down before, and I’m confident it won’t this time either.

Off I go back down my rabbit hole again … see you when I see you …

 

 

To pitch, or not to pitch …

If you’re a writer, on Twitter, and have at least one completed manuscript, there’s a good chance you’ve participated in a pitch contest (if not, why not?).

So far I’ve entered four: one was on a blog where you submitted your query letter and first 100 words, and an agent would give feedback and make requests; another was a ‘first pages’ contest, where you submitted your first 250 words; yet another was a based on query letter and your first 250 words (also for agent requests); and the most recent one is Pitch Madness (curious about this one? It’s running right now and you can learn all about it over at the amazing Brenda Drake’s blog).

In the first contest I didn’t get a request, and the agent called my query “confusing”, BUT I did get great feedback from her on voice. Excellent. I took this as a win.

In the second one, the first pages contest, I actually won. Which earned me a query critique (rewritten multiple times since the ‘confusing’ comment) from an agent, and she had lots of good things to say. Win, win.

In the third contest, I didn’t make it to agent round but once again got good feedback on both query and first words. Also, I met one of my critique partners through this contest. Win, win, win.

In the meantime, I shelved that first manuscript and wrote another one, The Doctor’s Daughter, which is women’s fiction with a dash of magical realism. You can read the excerpt here (reworked from the excerpt below, which is what I entered for Pitch Madness … also, I’ve changed my main character’s name, but I’ll post on that another day). There were a few GREAT contests running while I was finishing up my edits, and while I SO wanted to be the impatient writer and enter them, I’ve waited until now.

Why? Because entering an unpolished manuscript into a contest is like serving undercooked chicken at a dinner party — pink chicken makes you sick, and guarantees your friends will NEVER eat at your house again. Similarly, an unfinished or imperfect manuscript guarantees you’ll disappoint (anger) agents who might be hooked by your pitch/first words, and good luck getting them to request anything from you again!

Pitch Madness is still running, so I’m not sure how my entry will shake out in the end. I made it through Round #1, where slush readers (aka ‘slush zombies’) read through 420+ entries and whittled them down to 167 to go through to Round #2. I’m one of those 167, which is great, and I hope I make it into Round #3, which is when the final 60 entries get a shot at grabbing an agent’s attention. But whether I go through or not, there’s a lot of amazing stuff I’ve taken out of playing along:

  1. It’s FUN: Contests can be super stressful — especially when hints are being tweeted out, which amps up the excitement AND obsessive nature of querying writers. But for me, I find them more invigorating than stressful — it’s exciting, watching and wondering how your entry is faring, and ultimately it’s an opportunity to learn, learn, and learn some more.
  2. It’s GOOD PRACTICE: Getting ready for Pitch Madness meant polishing my 35-word pitch (and this is SUPER TRICKY, taking 80,000+ words and turning them into only 35), perfecting my query letter, and making sure my manuscript is as good as I can get it (read: polishing, not fussing). On the note of getting pitch-ready, I know my limits and enlisted help — if you’re looking for query/pitch critiques, Lauren Spieller is awesome (she’s a writer and agency intern, but runs a query critique biz on side).
  3. It’s EDUCATIONAL: Before I started paying attention to contests I had no clue what Steampunk / Speculative Fiction / New Adult / Fantasy vs. Urban Fantasy really meant. I’ve loved learning all the different genres, and what writers can do to make their books stand out — including within my own genre!
  4. It’s a COMMUNITY: I’ve talked about writers helping writers before, and what a kick I get out of that. I have been both on the receiving and giving end of this, and think it’s one of the VERY BEST THINGS about being a writer these days. And social media makes it easy for us to connect — to support each other, be cheerleaders, offer critiques, and celebrate successes.
  5. It’s MOTIVATING: When I know a contest is coming up, especially a big one like Pitch Madness, I push my Type A into high gear and am always amazed by what I can do with a deadline. Also, I love seeing the success stories … and there are plenty that come out of contests … because on those days where the writing feels impossible, or I’m sure it’s never, ever (ever) going to happen for me, those stories remind me to ‘buck up, buttercup’. Hard work trumps all. So don’t give up.

So on that note, here’s my Pitch Madness entry:

Title: THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER
Genre: Women’s Fiction (magical realism)
Word Count: 83,000

Pitch: Following an odd premonition and news of her father’s death, surgeon Penley Attwater is forced to return to her traditional hometown, only to become a surrogate for her late parents’ one remaining embryo—her sister.

Excerpt:

Like always, it started in my toes.

As if stepping into a too hot bath, the prickly warmth enveloped my feet before reaching into my thighs with fiery fingers. Then the heat wave crashed into my chest, quickly moving higher to mark my cheeks with blistering circles. Under the garish bathroom light my sweaty face glowed neon pink. I took a few deep breaths and waited. Soon it would be over.

Many middle-aged women know this well: the menopausal hot flash. But today was only my twenty-eighth birthday, so I was nowhere near the change. Besides, I’d been getting them since I was about six years old.

If only I understood why.

“Penley?” The soft rap of his knuckles against the cheap wooden door startled me, and I knocked over the toothbrush holder that sat on the edge of the sink. With a soft plop our toothbrushes landed in the toilet bowl and quickly sunk to the bottom.

“Shit!” I said, too loud for the small bathroom.

“Hey, you okay in there?” Bradford tried the knob and I was glad I’d locked the door.

“I’m fine!” I leaned heavily against the sink, queasy from the heat.

Silence. “All right, but don’t take too long,” he finally said, his voice retreating. “I have a surprise for you.”I held my breath, letting it out when our mattress squeaked Bradford’s return.

Back when I was a child the flashes always ended in a raging fever, which had been resistant to any remedy my physician father could come up with.

Why I love other writers, and Twitter.

I follow a lot of other writers and aspiring novelists on Twitter. And almost as many agents and publishers. Which means every day I’m seeing plenty of good news in my stream … writers getting agents and book deals, agents signing authors and sharing ‘happy publication day’ tweets, and a whole lot of publishing love.

And every.single.time I see one of these good news tweets I give a ‘congratulations’ shout out. Even if I’m having a bad writing day. ESPECIALLY if I’m having a bad day. Because these writers? They’ve worked DAMN hard to arrive at this good news place — whether it’s getting an agent or a book deal, finishing a new book, receiving a great review, winning an award, learning of a publication date … regardless, they deserve to be recognized for not.ever.giving.up. Plus, every time a writer gets her publishing wings I’m reminded what is possible. And I decide I’m never.giving.up.

I’ve heard rumblings of writers not feeling the love for other writers (market is tough and competitive, blah blah blah). That we’re sort of jealous and territorial about success, kind of like this:

But when I see a tweet about a writer getting ‘the call’, or read someone’s good news on one of the message boards I visit? I don’t feel all Black Swan-like. Nope. You’re more likely to find me doing this:

In my experience, writers love helping other writers, especially via Twitter. Stuck on a line in your query? It won’t take long to get some tips, or perhaps even an offer of a critique. Frustrated by your revisions? Add #AmRevising to your tweet and you’ll find out you’re not alone. Up at 5 a.m. writing, wondering if you’re crazy to be doing so when everyone else is sleeping? Check out the hashtag #5amWritersClub — used every morning by a bunch of super supportive, crack-of-dawn writers who will keep you company. I have been endlessly amazed at the kindness of the writers I follow on Twitter, and how willing they are to help one another out.

So when it’s my turn to announce the good news? Here’s what I imagine I’ll be doing:


And the best part? I know there will be a whole crew of other writers celebrating right a long with me … Kermit flail and all.

Revisions (aka WTF)

When I finished my first draft of book #2 I immediately had a glass of wine and patted myself on the back. I’m DONE! I exclaimed to my ever-patient/ever-supportive husband, who filled up my glass and let me bask in the glow of my accomplishment for a few blissful moments.

It was around the last sip of glass #2 that I remembered I wasn’t done, really. Not even close. (which sobered me up enough to have a third glass of wine) Because while I knew the book had legs, I also knew it had a long way to go to get wings. I want this book to positively sparkle before I send out a single query letter. And that takes work. Killing my darlings kind of stuff.

And then I felt like this:

Because the truth is I haven’t ever revised a full novel all in one sitting. Book #1 was revised as I wrote. Some weeks all I did was polish a chapter, rather than writing the next one.

So I vowed to do book #2 differently. I caressed and massaged the idea for a while, then I wrote an outline detailing all the plot points, character traits, and other goodies I could come up with. I engaged forced my husband to listen to my ideas and read the outline. He liked it, which immediately told me I had something (the genre is women’s fiction, so he is not the target market obviously). And then while he and my daughter spent the long weekend up at the cottage, I sat at our kitchen table and wrote nearly 20,000 words in two days. It looked a little like this:

NanoWrimo got me another 50,000 words, and by January 2nd I had finished the book.

I am not one of those writers who wants to hide her work. I am not fearful of someone telling me it sucks. So out book #2 went, in all its rawness, to beta readers and my critique partners, who together are God’s gifts to a writer. Truly. I’m also using revision workbooks and tips from other authors, and letting my own instincts for storytelling (and my experiences with book #1) guide me the rest of the way.

And with all that, hopefully by early spring this is how I’ll be feeling about the state of book #2:

Wish me luck!

Book #2

It’s been nearly three months since I’ve blogged here. (oops)

But enough about that. I’m back, and I have a few things to say.

One, I finished book #2. Like, wrote ‘the end’ finished. Here it is, printed out and ready for polishing.

It’s hovering around 87,000 words and most of them I like. Which is amazing to me. Book #1 took nearly 6 years, and now I understand why taking that long isn’t the best idea: it makes the story less sticky, the threads weaker, and the tension tenuous.

Of course now I have to edit all those words (gulp), but I’ve started and I will finish. Soon, I hope, because book #3 is calling my name…

As for a book #1 update, after 40 queries I had 4 agents read all of it and one read part of it. All rejected it, but four agents expressed interest in seeing my next project. My plan is to revisit book #1, to take the valuable feedback (which I agree with), and to rewrite it. But not yet. First I need to give book #2 some wings.

I have a few plans for this space. I’m going to continue (hopefully more regularly) writing about writing. I also hope to put up links to contests and post other resources for writers. And I’m going to blab about my own project(s), even if just for my mom, my CPs, and a few of my kind social media friends.

So on that note, here’s the blurb for book #2:

The Doctor’s Daughter: Surgeon Penley Attwater returns to her tiny, hackneyed hometown to take over her dead father’s medical practice, bringing with her a shocking pregnancy and a mysterious genetic legacy, whose secrets jeopardize the life she’s come to love.

 

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