Friday, February 26, 2010

When jobs collide.

I haven't been published, but I think of myself as a writer, simply because I do it all the time, just as when I was in the professional world I thought of myself as a legal assistant, not because I had a degree, but because I legally assisted all the time.

However, no one is ever just a writer or just a legal assistant or just an accountant or . . . okay I think I've made my point.  My other hat, the one I rarely take off (last time was for a writer's conference I attended in September '09) is that of chauffeur, dietitian, bodygaurd, jester, educator, maid, cook, personal trainer, groomer, shopper, dresser and all around slave to a two and half foot tall blond person who has the face of an angel and a temper that's more usually attributed to redheads.  She also has a deep need to take home all things Disney princess related from wherever she finds them, you know, Walmart, Toys R Us, other children's houses.

Yesterday morning I was trying to get her to a playgroup that began at ten o'clock.  I was also being hounded by my current WIP.  Dialogue, scenes, metaphors, descriptions were churning around in my head as though my muse had inserted a stick into my brain and was whirling it around at top speed.  So there I was at quarter to ten unshowered, unbrushed, clothed in grey sweats, a t-shirt and a Snuggie (yes a bona fide Snuggie.  Favorite Christmas gift EVER!) typing as fast as my little fingers could fly.  All the while said little blond person kept asking 'time for 'nastics now Mommy?  Time for 'nastics now Mommy?' in a sort of hopeful yet despairing voice that would have skewered the heart of someone less immersed in a reality apart.

Finally when the hope gave way to high pitched screeching, I hauled my Snuggie covered bum off the couch rushed upstairs and had us both ready and out to door by ten thirty.  However, all the way to playgroup my story kept plaguing me, torturing me really with fantastic ideas that, while bouncing on trampolines and plunging thigh deep in the foam pit and holding little hands while little feet negotiated the balance beam, I had no way of getting down on paper. 

Then it was time for grocery shopping and by the time we pulled into Walmart the rabid pestering of my muse had died to a sort of fatigued, intermittent plucking.  I rushed through grocery shopping, hoping that by the time I got home and put little blondie down for her nap there would still be a spark of inspiration left that would roar once again into a bonfire when I got in front of my computer.  So home we went.  Groceries were put away, lunch was fixed and consumed (sort of) and blondie was settled in for a short winter's nap.  I hurried downstairs, turned on my laptop and sat staring at the blinking cursor while the spaces of my brain echoed back at me their emptiness.

After fifteen minutes and several false starts, I admitted defeat and, due to the prodding of little person number two who is currently baking in my oven, went to take a nap of my own. 

Yesterday's tally: Ideas, a bajillion.  Actual words on paper, zero.  Happy, appropriately fed, appropriately stimulated, well rested children, one (and a half if you count the bun if my oven). 

I guess somedays there's only time and opportunity to do one job right.  I just hope my muse comes to roost at a more opportune time today.  Note to muse: naptime is between two and four.  Bedtime is at eight thirty.  See you then (right?)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nuts and Bolts?

This morning when I woke up I decided to do a sort of nuts and bolts post about what I've done so far on my road to getting published.  And I still intend to do that, however, you know that scene in Love Actually when Laura Linney kisses her long time crush and then has to go into her stairwell and have an absolute freakout.  Well, excuse me, I'm headed into the stairwell.  I GOT A REQUEST FOR A PARTIAL FROM A NEW YORK LITERARY AGENT!!!!!!

Okay, and we're out of the stairwell.  Now I will proceed onto the nuts and bolts portion of this post. 

Nut (or bolt, take your pick) number one:  I wrote a book.  Now I know this may seem elementary, but I've been surprised by the amount of agents who say on their blogs and agency websites not to query them until the book is complete.  I thought that sort of went without saying, but apparently not.  So, if you've actually completed a book, pat yourself on the back.  You're ahead of an apparently significant portion of your competition.

Nut number two: While I was writing said book I read books about writing.  How's that for a trippy mess with your head sentence?  The book I found to be the most helpful was On Writing by Stephen King.  I already worshipped the man because of his phenomenal characterization ability, but this book almost deified him in my eyes.  Part autobiography, part writing advice it is absolutely amazing. It was also at times so crazy hiliarious I laughed until I cried.  I also found this article by bestselling author Elmore Leonard to be extremely helpful.

Nut number three: I followed the advice dished out in what I read.  I went through and trimmed adverbs, adjectives, passive voice and, in an effort to also expunge static voice, changed most 'was doing' or 'had done' to just plain 'did'.  I also finished my first draft and, following more of Stephen King's advice, found some beta readers with teeth (some were toothier than others, but all were very helpful) and put my manuscript into their hands and out of mine. I involved myself in another project and almost two months later, when I felt my slate had been wiped clean of the first manuscript, I went back to it.

Nut number four: After I edited all I felt I was capable of on my own, I sort of flailed around for awhile because I didn't know what to do next.  I knew I wanted a professional edit and exchanged emails with a published author who provided this service, but I wasn't really sure if she had the kind of editing experience I was looking for.  Then one of my aforementioned beta readers (who also happens to be my sister) suggested a writer's conference.  I went and enjoyed myself enormously.  I also learned alot about the publishing process (Query letter, what the hell is that?  Wait, an agent, I need one?  Really, I shouldn't mention that my mom and all my siblings loved my book and are convinced I'm the next insert famous author of choice here? Pink, scented paper is a bad idea?).  I also spoke to one of the authors who did a self editing workshop.  She referred me to these guys.

Nut number five:  I got my edit back from Precision, implemented nearly all of my editors suggested changes and then hit a wall, a big, fat, thick one that looked like this QUERY LETTER.  From October until December I did nothing on my book, but I did spend a lot of time on this blog and this one and especially this one. I also downloaded and read this great book by agent Noah Lukeman. I even submitted a draft to the shark, but unfortunately mine either wasn't quite bad enough for her to sink her rows and rows of teeth into or she just hasn't gotten to that particular steaming pile of craptastic query yet.  Finally, I ended up back at Precision, draft in hand or in email.  They posted it on their blog for Monday Mania and it, my friends, crashed and burned, big time.  Second draft went straight to the author who edited my manuscript.  It too tanked.  It took me a month to work up the guts to try another and, lo and behold, it passed muster. 

Nut number six:  With the ok from Precision I began querying immediately, like, literally that day.  I got rejected, immediately, like, literally that day.  Talk about disheartening.  I initially sent off ten queries, decided that wasn't enough and sent off ten more over the course of the next week. 

Since doing so, well, obsessive doesn't even begin to describe my behavior.  My email is never closed.  My postman probably thinks we've finally returned from a two year vacation because this is the first time ever in all the time we've lived here that I get the mail on a daily basis.  Sometimes I even check a few times between four and four thirty when he's late getting here.  I also spend a ridiculous amount of time on Nathan Bransford's blog and Jennifer Jackson's blog and Janet Reid's blog and The Rejectionist's blog and, well, you get the idea.  These are the important lessons I've learned from these agents:

Always, always follow the submission guidelines.  If it says send a query letter, send only a query letter.  If it says send a query letter, a synopis, a bio and the first chapter, send all of those things and only those things.  If it says they don't accept attachments, don't attach anything.  If it says send a picture of yourself painted yellow with purple spots standing upside down then find a friend who's handy with a paintbrush and start practicing your handstands. 

Personalize your query.  At the very least address them by their name, i.e. Ms. Jackson, Mr. Branford.  If you really want to go the extra mile and set yourself apart from the crowd find something in the agent's bio or client list that you can refer to in your query so they can see you did your research on them.

Be professional.  They're professionals. They want to work with professionals.  Nuff said.

Don't lie.  Don't say you've read one of their titles when you haven't.  Don't say you love one of their authors when you don't.  They will catch you and, aside from being humiliating, it will also ruin any chance you had at getting them as your agent.

Nut number seven: Don't let rejection get you down.  Remind yourself that you write because you love it, not to reach some end goal of publication, or fame, or wealth.  If you remind yourself of this it won't matter how many times you get rejected because you're still getting the most important thing out of your writing, joy.  I say this with ten rejections under my belt, one request for a partial and nine pending queries.  And folks, that's not much, especially compared to some of the authors I most admire and respect.  Take a look at Stephen King's rejection tally in On Writing if you truly want to see something impressive.  He never quit.  Neither should you.  I'm not.  My current online haunt is here selecting the next agents that I plan to query if the nine still pending and the agent who requested a partial all reject me.  But I know we all have down days, so if you need a little pick me up, take a little trip to this blog and see who's rejected Jenny today or for a good laugh check out this funny and creative collection of literary rejections.

As usual I've spent far more time on this post than I should have.  I gotta go work on my 'real' writing now.  Good luck y'all.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pollyanna is on hiatus.

I'm feeling - uninspired today, by my life, by my writing, by, well, pretty much everything.  What, you may be asking, happened to the Pollyanna of a couple days ago.  Well, she got rejected - a couple times.  One was on a three by five preprinted card which was somehow more disheartening than a letter on professional letterhead even though it said essentially the same thing as the rejections I've received on letterhead.  The other rejection was from an agent who, based on her bio and current clients, I  really thought would have an interest in my book.  Apparently I was wrong.

The question I find myself asking today is this.  How long do I pursue this and how much do I put into it i.e. time, money, emotion, before I admit that I'm like one of those auditioners on American Idol? You know the ones. They fervently believe, most likely because they've been told by friends and relatives, that they can sing.  They aren't in some kooky costume or there with some gimmick to ensure their fifteen seconds of fame.  They really, genuinely believe they can be the next American Idol.  Even in the face of the judges's laughter and ridicule they still adamantly insist that they CAN sing. 

I'm not to this point yet, but I think given enough rejections, eventually I'll have to face the fact that the literary agents of the world have united to become one large, sarcastic, buzzed cut, tight T-shirt wearing critic sneering at me that I shouldn't quit my day job. 

I think, though, even if I get to that point, while I may give up on getting published, I'll probably always write.  I really do love it.  It fills a need in me and I don't think I can give it up just because someone (or many someones) tell me I no good at it.

I imagine that those Idol rejects still sing along to their car radios and tell themselves they sound better or at least just as good as Kelly or Carrie or Adam or Chris (Daughtry or Allen, you pick).  It probably makes them really happy and so I say to them, sing on, my fellow rejects.  Sing on!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Yes, Virginia, there really are nice people in the publishing industry.

Last September I completed the novel I am now shopping around to agents and I thought 'what now?'  Then, as though sensing my need for a compass, my sister (who read my book and loved it.  Bless those beta readers) emailed me a link to a writer's conference not far from where I live.  I thought 'okay, that's what now' and I went.

To me that was my first step onto the tremblingly fragile and at times seemingly insurpassable construction of queries, synopses, bios, agencies and agents that are supposed to help the unpublished author cross the chasm between where they are to the fantastical realm of the published.

The conference was well worth the time, money and drive, but the most important thing I came away with was a referral to a professional editing company, Precision Editing Group (the link to their blog Writing on the Wall is on my blog roll).  I visited their website and found that they provide a free, yes, free, utterly free, no strings attached, no credit card number required before they proceed, truly free sample edit of the first ten pages of anything. 

With no further ado, I emailed them the first ten pages and was so impressed by what I received back that I immediately contracted them for the rest of the project.  The edit I got back was great! And not only that, it was such a light edit that they gave me a fairly hefty discount. Not convinced of their niceness yet?  Just wait. I also got out of this experience an email correspondence with one of those mythical, unreachable, untouchables; a published author.  She was responsible for editing my manuscript.  Not only did she edit, she also helped me with the query, provided other invaluable advice and very recently, just because I asked, gave me the ungettable get; a referral to an agent.  During the course of all this I realized that she WANTED to help me navigate that fraught and frightening path to publication.

In my aimless and endless search of agents's and writers' blogs, I've come to realize this is more the norm than the exception.  Take for example Query Shark (also in my blog roll).  The teeth behind the shark belong to a New York literary agent, Janet Reid by name.  Guess what?  You can send her your query and she will revise it for free.  Granted she uses her sharky mouth to rip it apart (in a most constructive and helpful manner) in public, but she also gives you as many chances as you want to put it back together in a way that works. 

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent based in California (and so to my mind rendered slightly less intimidating) provides a number of helpful columns on his blog (surprise! also in my blog roll) specifically for unpublished authors.  He also encourages, like really encourages, new writers to query him. 

I've visited a myriad of other blogs i.e. The Rejectionist (hilarious), Dystel and Goderich (intimidating, but also helpful), Jennifer Jackson, she reads all queries she receives and blogs about them (encouraging and discouraging at the same time), among others.  All of them, despite the different angles of their blogs, provide free advice to help writers GET published. 

And sure despite this outpouring of kindness from literary types around the nation, I may still find that bridge to publication barred by some machete (or at least rejection letter) wielding scion of the publishing world.  So far, however, the people I've found to help me across have had nothing but helping hands and encouraging words, including most of the rejection letters I've received.  Even the form ones tell me to keep submitting, keep writing, keep trying and so I will.

Turns out published dust, like pixie dust, is exceptionally hard to come by.

I attended a reading tonight in my hometown.  It was hosted by the local library and provided an opportunity for aspiring authors to put their talent (or lack thereof) on display.  I attended it because I plan on reading at it next month, but I wanted to, I don't know, scope out the competition I guess before I committed to anything.

There was one author who presented that had the magic word 'published' tagged on after his name.  At the conclusion of the evening every author there, even the thirteen year old girl with the oddly poignant short story (and yes, me too) flocked to him, surrounding him like a bunch of pecking, pestering birds eager for our own bit of bread.  It wasn't bread that we wanted though.  It was a little bit of his magic to rub off on us, a little bit of his published dust to transport us to that magical land of advances and royalties and loving readers and displays in Barnes and Nobles' windows. 

I got my chance to hector the poor man and in my five minutes of conversation with him I quickly realized no published dust would be forthcoming.  His road, like mine is turning out to be, was a hard slog of queries and rejections, mistakes and discouragement and questioning his sanity for ever taking a single step down this path. 

When I walked away, however, I wasn't disappointed, because if I'm on the same road he traveled, chances are I'll end up at the same destination. Maybe just maybe the next time I read at one of these things, I'll be the one with the single magical word after my name and everybody there will be clamoring for a little bit of my bread.  If not, I've learned in the last year that I truly love to write and no one, not even an uppity New York literary agent can take that away.