Good news; Bad news

If. I’d. Had. Any. Idea. How. Torturous. Trying. To. Get. An. Agent. Would. Be. I. May. Have. Stuck. With. Short. Stories.

(Not that short stories are any easier to get published, but you certainly put fewer hours into writing them.)

Back to the BAD NEWS. No, I did not get a rejection today (it’s not Friday). What I did get was some (valuable yet hard to figure out how to fix) feedback on the query I submitted to the Agent’s Inbox contest. Specifically, that it’s confusing as hell (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist). It’s not the not liking it/not being hooked by it part that’s stressing me; it’s the idea that maybe I’ve missed something critical in the 70,000 words I’ve written. Maybe the story just isn’t there after all.

I think I’ve mentioned I’ve rewritten my query well over 100 times? Looks like I need to head deep into the triple digit rewrites. Le. Sigh.

But the GOOD NEWS is that while my query was ‘confusing’, my sample was ‘loved’ — specifically the voice. My voice. (Deep breath out…relief) Voice is such a tricky thing, and I’ve read loads of agent commentary on how critical it is to a project’s success. So I’m going to hang on to the “loved the voice” comments like a life preserver while I try not to sink under my query rewrites.

The hubby asked me earlier if I was frustrated (yes) or upset (no). Of course I knew this was going to be tough. And I haven’t even gotten to the stacks of rejections yet! So I need to regroup and work this $#$%!@ query out. Because a confused agent is never (ever) going to request pages.

And if they don’t request pages…well, you know the rest.

Book. Shelved.

So this is my pep talk to myself. Do not stop. Have faith you will nail it (maybe on revision 201?).

The short stories can be Plan B.

 

Tough skin

Well, it’s Friday. Otherwise known as ‘rejection day’ for my inbox. Must be a day where agents clean out emails and slushpiles, because I always seem to get rejections on Fridays.

So my stats after this latest reject: 7 queries sent. 5 rejections. 1 still out in email la-la-land. And 1 request for a (hip hip hooray!) full manuscript. With my one positive response, I’m running just over a 10% success rate, which apparently puts me in the ‘normal’ querying category; some might even say ‘good.’

Honestly, the rejections haven’t broken through my thick skin (yet). I never expected every agent to say yes. I’m thrilled one did, but I know there are plenty more rejections coming to my inbox. In the meantime, I’ve made some big changes to my manuscript. I’ve added plot, and cut out cheesy writing and anything that felt excessive. I’ve completely changed the first, and last chapters. I’m toying with a title change. I’ve added a character. Increased the bad news factor for a few others. I’ve killed a few of my ‘darlings’. I’ve revamped my query, yet again. I’ve listened in on two webinars, one about writing awesome first pages (hence the first chapter changes) and one about the dreaded synopsis (which I will blog about shortly, if I survive the process).

Both the webinars came with a critique element, so my first two pages (before I revised, though) are sitting with an agent, and my synopsis is getting a critique next week. I’m also entering this query contest, where I expect (hope) to be torn to shreds. I welcome it. Otherwise, how will I learn? How will I become a better writer?

I remember an interesting convo I had on Face.book a few months ago. It was around receiving feedback on WIPs. I was amazed at how many writers didn’t want to be critiqued, or felt they weren’t ready. Bottom line? Take the feedback and make your work better. Ask to be critiqued, even if you have one page complete and you think it kind of sucks.

Because no one is born with tough skin. You have to grow the layers.

A query coffee date

I have sent out seven query letters. My plan is to send out about 80, which means I’m pretty much still a query virgin.

As for the agent response, it’s about as expected: three form letter rejections (two within 48 hours and one within 10 days, on a Sunday night); three no response; and one tiny nibble of interest, with an agent requesting my full manuscript. Everything I’ve read suggests a 1% request rate is common. So if an agent gets 500 queries in a month, they’ll request more from about 5 of them. Stiff odds, for sure, but there are plenty of agents out there. In fact, I have a list of over 250 who represent women’s fiction. (Read: Don’t. Give. Up. Of course this is hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it.)

So a nibble is exciting. But it is far from a book deal. Let me explain. Before I met my husband I dated, like most of us do. I went on blind dates. Coffee dates. Dinner dates. Weekend dates. And I did a few rounds of speed dating. Ultimately I wanted to get married. So I knew the only way to achieve that was to date. A lot.

But the road from coffee date to the alter is fraught with challenges. Most of the guys I had coffee with did not make it past date #2. Similarly, most of the agents I query – including the ones who request a full manuscript – will not be taking me past our coffee query date. That’s the reality of the industry. But all it takes is one agent to see potential and take a chance.

Good thing I like coffee…

 

Query, Query, quite contrary…

Uncooperative. Defiant. Insolent. These are other words I’d use to describe the query letter. Two hundred and fifty words. One page. Should be easy, right? After all, I just wrote 70,000 words. But as I’m learning the things that should be easy are, well, often not.

I read a lot about how to write a query before I ever put one word down. I obsessively read through queries on sites like Query Shark and Slush Pile Tales – both places where brave wanna-be authors can submit queries for (torturous) helpful critiquing. I learned some key things, like you should never (EVER) start a query with a rhetorical question (Seriously, never do this. This is a guaranteed way to get an instant rejection). That 250 words is not many, so use those words wisely (don’t mention sub characters or the fact you have a dog named Earl, which also happens to be the name of your protagonist…). Never write ‘Dear Agent’ as your salutation. And for the love of G_d, never send a mass query out. All these things make agents prickly. And a prickly agent is not going to give you a second glance.

But I also left my ‘research’ confused. Some agents say a four-paragraph query format is best (title/word count/genre, hook, synopsis, author bio); others long for the ‘unorthodox’ query. As long as you don’t write it in your main character’s voice. They hate that. Even if it’s a most clever book about a crime-fighting parrot. Or a vampire who is allergic to blood (also, vampires are out).

So after I couldn’t possibly cram any more query stuff in my brain (I was dreaming about it, for reals), I started writing. And re-writing. I emailed my writing buddy and critique partner with each version. She kindly gave me feedback. Multiple times. Then I rewrote some more. And more. And then a little more. Finally I had something I thought worked. So I sent a few query letters out (happy to report out of my first three I received two instant rejections and one request for a full manuscript) and let the words marinate a little more. Then I rewrote it again. And you know what? I bet it isn’t the last time.

I think I’m on version number 123 of my query letter. It’s better than version 90, and definitely WAY better than version 10 (if I can even remember that far back…). The other piece of advice I gleamed on queries is to make each one custom to the agent you’re querying. This is obvious, of course, but I have a feeling many don’t do this (see ‘Never send a mass query out’ above). I have a spreadsheet with all the agents I’m going to query, with links to interviews and articles where they delve more deeply into what they’re looking for, and other tidbits helpful in customizing a query letter. I have a word doc for each and every agent I’m querying. And I send one email at a time. Not only does this help me keep track, it ensures I’ll never send the wrong letter to the wrong agent.

Because the number one thing agents have to say? You have one chance to make an impression. (So don’t screw it up).

My First Book : Life After Lilies

I’m just a girl. With a book. Looking for an agent (and ideally, a publisher) to love it.

That pretty much sums it up. It took me nearly six years to finish my first book, LIFE AFTER LILIES. It’s a story about a woman who posthumously travels between past and present, uncovering secrets of those she loved and discovering life is not always as it seems (read an excerpt). The characters have lived with me for six years, and at times I forget they’re not real. Writing a book has been an interesting process: at the best of times, glorious, creative and satisfying; and at the worst, frustrating and downright depressing.

I considered simply shelving it. Because I always stated the goal was to finish the (damn) thing. But now, after all this time, that seems boring. So I’m going to see if there’s another home for my little book; somewhere other than sandwiched between my collection of Nancy Drew mysteries, and the novels I wish I’d written.

Here, I hope to share how it’s happened, and what happens next. From how I write, to querying, to getting my manuscript polished, to beta reading, to finding an agent, and to (fingers crossed) getting published. Oh, and starting book number two, which is needling at my writer’s brain daily. Now I just need my preschooler to sleep in past 5:30 am so I can harness that early morning creativity…alone, and with coffee I haven’t had to microwave three times. Wish me luck.

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