THE CALL

This is a story best told in two parts. Actually, three, if you count writing the first book, which is now gathering dust on the shelf where many (most?) first novels go to die. I’m going to try and tell it succinctly, and with as few GIFs as possible.

So let’s start with Part 1: NOVEL WRITING 101

I wrote a book. The idea came to me one rainy afternoon at the cottage. I’d never written a book before, and wondered if I could finish it. I did, but it took almost six years. It had some really good moments, but it didn’t have enough of them. So after going through the process of learning how to query and get a book ready for agents, and getting a few nibbles, I shelved it. Hey, we all need a practice book.

Part 2: YOU DID WHAT?!

So I wrote another book. This time I set out to do all the things I didn’t with the first book. Namely, to write it in less than six months and up the stakes. And thanks to a dedicated 5 am writing schedule and NaNoWriMo, I wrote it in three months. Then I revised it for three months. I got help writing the dreaded query letter (from Lauren Spieller, who helped me make my query letter ah-mazing. She’s for hire, so check her out!) Then things got very, VERY exciting. There was a contest, requests, offers, and more revisions. If you want to know more about Part 2, I wrote about it in great detail so I won’t bore you with that here. But Part 2 left me feeling a little like this:

Part 3: A long haul to THE CALL

Once I turned down the offers, choosing to take my chances with more revisions, I spent another three and a half months revising the book. It was a long, challenging, and frustrating process, and one I could not have done without my amazing critique partners Rosey, Abby, Kristy, and Kate, all of whom gave me fantastic crit notes and were tough on me when I needed it. The book would truly not be where it is today without their excellent comments and speed reading abilities!

Finally, my critique partners signed off on the manuscript and I felt the story was in the best shape it could be. It was polished, ready to go. So on May 28th, I sent out my first query. At first I sent them out in batches of 10, to my list of agents I’d meticulously researched. When I got a rejection, I’d send out another query or two.

Now I don’t know if ALL THE AGENTS IN THE WORLD were on vacation in June, but my inbox was full of crickets. Silence. Nothing was happening. I spent most of my days hitting refresh on my email, willing something interesting to show up. I also watched this video a lot, because it makes me strangely happy (thanks, Summer, aka Fizzygrrl, for first introducing me to this weird and wonderful GIF):

 

I was bored. Worried. Hitting refresh way (WAY) too many times a day. Wondering if I’d made a mistake querying during the summer. Waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Finally, stuff started happening. I got a request. Then another one. Then partial requests were upgraded to fulls. Good sign. At the same time form rejections were coming in. But that’s okay. I was ready for them. I was happy to get them because it meant I could send out another couple of queries.

It’s often advised you send out small batches of queries, then wait for a response on all those before sending any more out. And that you query your top, “dream” agents first. I appreciate this advice, but like all advice, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt (please excuse the cliche — as a writer I know I’m supposed to loathe cliches but I can’t help it — like the trampolining elephant, cliches make me strangely happy). I’m going to write more about the querying process in another post, but here’s what worked for me: I didn’t have a “dream” agent; I don’t believe such a thing exists. I had a list of agents I would have loved to work with, and I was going to keep sending out queries until one of them said “yes.” If no one had said “yes”? I would have shelved book 2 and worked on book 3. That was my strategy.

Now while I was in what one critique partner refers to as the ‘query ditch’, I did have low moments. Times where I was sure none of this was going to work. I talked about shelving book 2. I filled my critique partners’ inboxes with depressing drivel. I lamented not having taken up a different “hobby” — like knitting, imagining I’d have stacks of blankets and scarves rather than forgotten pages of words. I still had a few fulls out with agents, but had started to accept I needed to let go of the book and the process and start the next story.

So I started writing my next book.

Then July 31st happened. It was a Wednesday, and I sent out a very important query. To an agent I’d been twitter stalking (c’mon we all do it), but one I wasn’t sure represented my genre. I had sent her a message via Twitter a few weeks earlier trying to find out if she was interested in women’s fiction, but never heard back. However, her name kept popping into my mind so I decided to just send her the query and see what happened.

So at 3:21 pm on Wednesday, July 31st, I sent her the query. Not long after I got a response. She’d love to read it. There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting a full request from an agent. You get all bubbly and excited, the anticipation of “maybe … just maybe this will be the one who pulls me out the ditch …”

Then next day I got a rejection on my full from a different agent. Rejections on fulls suck. There is no other way to put it. But for some reason I didn’t feel all that upset by this one. I chalked it up to experience and practice (nothing like getting good at getting rejections!), and moved on.

That night, I checked my email before going to bed. It was 10:44 pm. And there, in my inbox, was this from the agent I’d queried the day before:

Hi Karma,
Are you available for a chat tomorrow?

I stared at it a moment, calmly trying to figure out what it meant (yes, I realize it’s pretty obvious, but querying writers like to OVER ANALYZE EVERY WORD). I showed my husband. I started freaking out. What could it mean? I asked him. He looked at me like I was crazy. Obviously it means she wants to chat. (Obviously) But … why? I asked. Again, the look from him. But, but … I said. She’s only had the full manuscript for ONE DAY. What, is she some kind of speed-reading super agent?

Yes. That is exactly what she is.

We set up the call for the next morning and I spent the night like this:

Turns out she did in fact read the manuscript in one day. And she loved it. And when we chatted on Friday morning? She offered me representation. And when I got off the phone I DANCED A JIG. Honestly, I did. Because not only had I just had THE CALL, it was amazing, and she was so passionate about the story and what we could do with it that I just knew she was the one.

Now because I still had fulls out with other agents I needed to let them know I had an offer. As was standard, I gave them a deadline for the next week and then I waited. But this was a good kind of waiting. I had an offer I was thrilled about. Best. Feeling. Ever. Kermit flail kind of stuff.

 

Fast forward a week, deadline day, and things got crazy. I ended up with two other offers, and a big decision to make. I won’t bore you with the gory details of that day, but will say it involved a lot of stress. And stress eating. And stress. There may have also been a tad of wailing. And I considered cracking open the wine at 2pm. Did I mention the stress?

But ultimately I kept coming back to my conversation with agent #1. And I knew she was the best fit not just for the book, but also for me.

So because this post has grown out of control like fruit flies on ripened peaches (sorry!), I’ll end it with this: I am now represented by the amazing Carolyn Forde of Westwood Creative Artists, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Nothing like crossing a massive goal off your list. So thanks to Carolyn for pulling me out of the query ditch!

And because we all seem to love stats, here are mine:

Queries: 70

No response: 30

Rejections: 30

Requests: 10

Offers: 3!!! (from three amazing agents … feeling very grateful)

Finally, I have a few thank yous. First, to my husband, who has patiently listened to all the drivel, the story ideas, the plot points, the whining, the excitement, the annoying analysis, and told me over and over I’m talented and this will happen … I’ve got a good one in my corner. Also, I couldn’t have done this without the help of my amazing crit partners, Rosey, Kate, Abby, Kristy, Julie, and Kim. Or my early beta readers, Katja and Melissa (and my mom!). And of course, my morning #5amwritersclub crew, who kept me company and kept me motivated during those early morning writing sessions! And I wouldn’t have survived the madness of deadline day and multiple offers without a few others: Dahlia (if you’re querying, or have any questions about author stuff, you must check out her blog), Summer, Juliana, Lauren, and Rachel. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH.

And because I’m nerdy like this, here’s a pic of me signing the agreement. Of course, it’s sort of staged because when I actually signed the only one home was my five year old. Who is not bad with an iphone, but hasn’t mastered her photo skills yet. So I saved one copy and signed again later. Still, it’s important to capture the moment, don’t you think?

How not to become a query cautionary tale …

I’m always amazed when I see comments from agents on Twitter about querying writers going off the rails or making (very, very basic) mistakes in their queries. The agents usually give specific examples (like a recent “Dir Sirs,” salutation), and often include a handy-dandy hashtag (#querytip, for example) to help others who might be about to hit ‘send’ a tad prematurely.

Agents are nice people. They WANT us writers to succeed. After all, we have a symbiotic relationship, and success is good for all. So because of that, let’s all try to make our communications with those in the publishing world courteous at a minimum, and enlightened whenever possible. Deal?

To help with this, I’ve compiled a list of “10 ways to make sure your query doesn’t end up on a ‘what not to do’ list on Twitter“:

  1. Be professional: Think of each query you send out like a resume for a job you WOULD DIE TO HAVE. Have you double and triple checked for grammar and spelling boo boos? Did you fill in the agent’s name correctly (on this note, always go with the Mr. or Ms. + Last Name salutation, unless you have a previous correspondence where you know FOR CERTAIN using his/her first name would be preferred — by them, not you, just to be clear).
  2. Never lie: Okay, maybe I should have put this one first? Regardless, never (ever) lie in your query. Don’t say you know so and so if you don’t; don’t say your manuscript is finished if it isn’t; and don’t claim you have the next bestseller (you just might, but unless you can predict the future, this one won’t get you far).
  3. Be sure you have the right agent: Crazy, I know, but agents tend to put their submission wishlists on their websites or blogs. Or tweet about what they can’t wait to read next. Or mention in interviews what they’re dying to see in their slushpiles. Sending an agent a genre they don’t represent is an instant rejection, and wastes everyone’s time. You can also check out sites like Query Tracker, which allows you to search agents by genres. Also? Read interviews to learn quirks, likes, and dislikes. If your book is about a future world run by corrupt unicorns, it’s helpful to know if any of the agents on your list have a hate-on for unicorns (if that’s even possible…I mean, c’mon, unicorns are the COOLEST…)
  4. Write a great query letter: I’m going to leave it at that. If you want to know HOW to write a great query letter, check out this article from Writer’s Digest or visit one of my fave sites, Query Shark, to see real query letters getting put through the wringer. Also, enlisting help is a fab idea. I relied heavily on my amazing critique partners, and hired someone to help me polish my query letter (Lauren Spieller, who was AWESOME and definitely worth the investment).
  5. Have someone other than your mom (or cat) read said query letter: Unless your mom is an ex English teacher with a passion for grammar (like mine), be sure to get some extra eyes on that letter before you send it out. After reading something so many times (like, 101), your brain starts to skim over words that look familiar … including words with errors.
  6. Don’t become a stalker: Be friendly with agents you follow on Twitter, but for the love of God, do not tweet one minute after sending your query telling them to check their inbox, or send a Facebook friend request, or call just to find out if they did in fact get your query, or send multiple DMs with random questions … just relax, okay? If they like what they read, they’ll ask to see more. Then you can send a lovely and excited email with your REQUESTED submission.
  7. Keep it together: You will get rejected. Lots. So be prepared. Gather your chocolate, single malt scotch, tub o’ ice cream, or whatever else you keep around for those low moments. And KEEP IT TOGETHER when you get a “Dear Author, Thanks for thinking of us but we don’t feel it’s right for us at this time…” email in the inbox you’ve been refreshing every 5 minutes since you sent the query. It doesn’t feel good to be rejected (because when you hit send you were SO SURE that agent would love the premise and jump on a request), but it’s all part of the game.
  8. Go OFFLINE to rant: Part of keeping it together is having someone to vent to when you feel frustrated about the querying process, and you’re long out of feel-better chocolate. And keeping the rants offline is critical — whatever you put on Twitter is there for all to see. So unless your goal is to piss off Agent X who rejected your query a full two minutes after you sent it, do not take your frustrations out online. It’s bad practice, and you will be remembered for it versus any future brilliant book idea you come up with.
  9. Remember it’s a business: Rejections are business decisions. They don’t mean you can’t write, or that another agent won’t want to see your manuscript, but agents are in the business of selling books. And if an agent doesn’t feel she can sell your story, for whatever reason, she can’t take you on. It’s not personal. Unless you’ve engaged in social media public shaming of said agent, or one of her friends … then it’s probably personal.
  10. Try to remember it’s not the end of the world: I’ve said it before — no one NEEDS to write a book or be published. I certainly want those things, and I’m going to keep writing and querying until I make that happen, but I’m not losing perspective while I do. Life will carry on, even if I send out 1000 queries and get 1000 rejections … but if you ever see me writing about my “999th” query letter going out, “fingers crossed!”, please do me a favour and suggest I STOP IMMEDIATELY. Thanks.

 

 

Querying: Sticks and Stones (and dodgeballs)

About a week ago I finished revisions. For the eighth (give or take) time. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a single word in my manuscript that I haven’t touched or retouched. I was lucky through this round to have fresh eyes on the story, and can’t thank my critique partners (Abby, Rosey, Kate, and Kristy) enough for sticking with me (and not telling me to STOP.SENDING.THEM.EMAILS).

So now I query. And toughen up, because I forgot how hard querying can be. I liken it to putting a bunch of strangers in a room, handing out rocks, and asking them to throw the stones at you (repeatedly) … for fun. Or like playing solo against a really good dodgeball team, sort of like this:

 

Why do we do this? Because let’s be honest, no one NEEDS to write a book. No one NEEDS to be published. Authors do this for all kinds of reasons, probably ranging from “why not?” to fulfilling a lifelong passion that won’t let them rest. As for me, I write because I love it. Stones and all.

There’s this pervasive saying amongst authors looking for agents … it’s always some variation of keeping at it until you find the right agent for your book. Which basically suggests there’s a right fit agent for nearly every book, and every writer. I’m here to suggest that is simply not true. I wrote two books when I was in middle school. My mom had both bound, and my daughter loves reading them with me (she’s also quite impressed by my illustrations of mice, toadstools and ice skating elephants). However, I guarantee there is no right agent for those picture books. They are not books that have (much of) an audience outside the walls of my home. And that’s okay.

Believing this ‘right agent’ myth is akin to believing there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or that it’s good luck when it rains on your wedding day. While there’s nothing wrong with a little magic, and having a positive attitude goes a long (long) way, it also pays to be realistic … even if I desperately want for there to be unicorns, fairies, pots of gold, and for Hogwarts to send me my admission letter by owl.

I do believe there is an agent for (nearly) every well-written, thought-provoking, fresh concept, well-told story out there … as long as its author is prepared to do the work, and refine the manuscript until it’s so shiny it hurts to look directly at it.

So as I sit here today, a few queries out, a full manuscript requested (and subsequently rejected), I remind myself that my book is only as good as the work I’ve put into it (which, for the record, is a lot). And that hopefully there is a right agent out there who sees its potential and wants to team up with me in making it even better.

And that maybe this time I’ve been smart enough to hand out soft rubber balls, rather than stones …

 

 

For the love of writing …

When I was in journalism school I heard a lot of this: “Oh, so you want to be a writer?”

Um, no. I do not want to be a writer, I’d say. Television’s my thing. I had dreams of anchoring the news, or maybe becoming a producer. “I’ll never be a writer. Never,” I vowed.

Well, seems I was wrong.

Writing sort of snuck up on me while I was busy doing other things, including marketing, consulting, and (oh yeah) kicking cancer to the curb. After I was cancer-free, I took a good long look at the state of my life and priorities. I realized being in TV was not ideal for the life I envisioned. It didn’t allow the flexibility I wanted, and couldn’t accommodate the roots I hoped to put down.

So I put the title ‘writer’ on my business card and off I went. At first, it was all corporate work. A lot of marketing copy. (Like, A LOT). That was good, but I wanted to write for magazines. So I started researching and pitching, and eventually (when I say ‘eventually’, I’m talking about a year) I got a break. I met the editor-in-chief of Canadian Family Magazine (Jen Reynolds, who has now moved to Canadian Living as EIC) at a blogging conference, and we chatted. Over the next year we chatted more, here and there (mostly on Twitter), and then I pitched her a story. Which she bought. Then I pitched another one. She took that one too. Then I was published, and I checked that box off my living life bucket list. All the while I was writing fiction, too, but my book was hiding on my laptop, not quite ready to face anyone.

This week something exciting happened in my little writer’s world. I got a National Magazine Award nomination for a piece I wrote for Canadian Family last year, called ‘Frozen in Time‘. It was supposed to be a 500-word story, cooked up with Jen one day over lunch. Then I did some research and realized there was a lot more to it. So Jen gave me a whole bunch of words and a nice big space to do it right. Have I mentioned she’s a rock star editor? Well, she is.

You know when people say the first thing they’d do is quit their jobs if they won the lottery? I wouldn’t. I’d keep writing … just in a fancier space, maybe overlooking the ocean on the Amalfi Coast. Sigh. (Oh, could I write all the words with this view …)

Turns out I love writing. It’s creative, challenging, and offers a glimpse into nooks and crannies of the world I maybe wouldn’t get to see or experience otherwise. It’s an escape. It’s grounding. It’s humbling, and refreshing. It’s fun. And what it lacks in terms of security and a (regular/big/fat) paycheque, it makes up for with soul-filling satisfaction.

I guess ‘never’ really meant ‘later’ — good thing.

 

 

 

 

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 …

 

 

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