A Day’s Writing

When I had my third child my husband and I decided, for various reasons, that I would stay home. It’s a wonderful, amazing thing to be lucky enough to live on one salary and to have this time with my children and I’m grateful for it every day. It also seemed like a great time to finish the stories I’ve been working on for years and start submitting manuscripts, so I suppose that if I wanted to I could describe myself as a full time writer?

In the first flush of enthusiasm I thought up a sensible plan where I would devote half of the hours my oldest is in school to chores/children/errands/laundry/dishes/house and half of those hours to writing. Ahahaha. Hahaha. Several months later, here is a small slice of how my full time writing job is working out*.

Breakfast is done, 10 year old is at school, dishes are waiting for me in the sink but let them wait, a load of laundry is washing and the 3 year old is set up with her show. It’s Go Time!

It was Nan, of course, who caught her walking back towards the house. Her cautious tiptoe through the narrow dirt alleyway in between her own clapboard home and Seaton’s Grocery next door had become more of a victorious march, before her voice shot out from amidst the clean washing snapping against pegs in zigzag lines over the alley.

“PUT your brother DOWN! Right now! He is not a toy.” The baby is back on the floor, my heart is beating normally again, and it’s Go Time once more.

“Anne Butler! What am I going to do with you? Wandering back here, casual as you please! Just look at your hair!” 

My 3 year old: “Mom? I want a drink of water.” I get up to get the water and hand her a cup. She hands it back. “I want it in a cup with a lid. The Purple one.” The water is transferred to the right cup. Happiness reigns and I can keep going.

The sharp tones cut straight through the screen of laundry to her, drawing out a wince. “Down around your shoulders like some wild woman….” trailing off into irritated mumbles, the voice came closer. “Only two hours left to get you ready for the wedding. Go! Go on and brush your hair out. For mercy’s sake get out of that old dress and pack it up. Go on now!”

I realize that I’m singing along under my breath to Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and that needs to stop right now.

A quick, apologetic hug made the stiff lines of Nan’s shoulders relax, just a touch, but her pointing finger was firmly directed at the back door and her stern face reinforced the command.

“Heave Ho here we go together as a team…..” Damn it.

Anne smiled wryly and started down the narrow hallway to her room to do as instructed. Really, she thought as she grabbed her old wooden brush, she had been gone too long on her walk, but she had wanted one last chance to cherish her letters from the man she had hoped to marry.

And the baby is crying. He’s changed and fed, so he probably wants attention and then a nap. 40 minutes later, he’s down for the nap but the 3 year old wants a snack. I’m done for the next hour while I deal with that and get some more laundry done. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few hundred words done before it’s time to pick the oldest up from school. And I’m laughing at myself for thinking I could use this time at home to be a full time writer.

*There are authors out there who work a full time job, take care of a family, have hobbies and a life, and still somehow manage to write. I bow down to them in abject adoration, because they have it so much harder than I do. And if any of them is reading the blog and has a few tips, I’m all ears over here.

 

featured image via stocksnap.io & Thong Vo

A Perfect Query

Even as my manuscript goes through stages of polish, the query letter (a better, more brutally honest title for it would be “begging letter”) goes through stages of its own. Even more than writing perfectly balanced evocative prose as a novel, as my previous post rants about, writing a one page letter describing how amazingly awesome your manuscript is and why this agent should give it a chance is a daunting task.

Yes I said daunting, and I’d go so far as to add difficult, depressing, and dastardly.

In this process the Internet, and the kindness of strangers on the Internet, have been invaluable. In particular, I turn to Writer’s Digest.com. Their site has an ongoing series of actual query letters that worked alongside comments from the editor or agent about why they responded to that particular query. A good basic post to start with from their site is “How to Write the Perfect Query Letter” from 3/21/2016. You can find it here.

Another resource that I’m increasingly grateful for is Jane Friedman. Her website is basically a goldmine for unpublished authors (it’s possible that published authors could use some of her articles too) and she is so generous about sharing her expertise. If I ever get a chance to meet her in person  I owe her a big box of whatever treat she likes best. A good post from her on this subject would be “The Complete Guide to Query Letters” from 9/7/2016. You can find this one here.

If my own query letter ends up working *fingers crossed* I will be sure to post it on the blog. If it even gets more than one reply, I will go ahead and post it because hey, something about it gets replies and it might help another author write their query. I’ll be sending out another round of begging letters this week, which means adding to the scoreboard sometime before Christmas. So I’ve got that to look forward to.

Header image credit: stocksnap.io & Sergei Soloviev

The Show, Must Go Wrong

In obedience to the timely tip from the agent who replied to my query letter, the manuscript has been looked over, read, read again, tweaked, perused once more, and fixed. After refreshing my memory on the difference between showing the reader emotion and just telling them what your character is feeling, changes were made. It’s still a work in progress, it seems like every time I read-through there’s one more tiny thing to tweak, but the manuscript is officially finished and this polishing is making it stronger. I’ll post the first paragraph below, before and after.

The insistent, all-pervading advice that the FIRST SENTENCE HAS TO BE AMAZING! GRAB THE READER AND DON’T LET THEM GO! NO ONE WILL EVER BUY YOUR BOOK UNLESS YOU OPEN WITH EXPLOSIONS, A SPY CHASE AND ALIEN LIFE FORMS ATTACKING! was like a cloud hovering over every word I wrote and it smothers. So I ignored it, and just wrote what opens the story. Spaceships are not going to make an appearance, just by the way. It’s a historical romance set in Nevada, after the gold rush. (If I wanted to work Aliens into it I would have set the book in Las Vegas, in the 60s. Goes without saying.) Without spies or things going bang my conflict depends on my characters and their choices, so they have to be good, strong personalities. And can I just say what everyone already knows? Balancing necessary exposition with moving the plot along, while creating a breathtaking setting, and showing your characters feelings using amazing, evocative language of course…..is freaking difficult.

BEFORE:

The last part of the climb up the hill was steep enough to leave Anne breathless. She paused for a moment at the top as her lungs worked hard to take in the thin mountain air. From here she could see the whole valley, mounds of rocky hills rising on each side. The whole bottom of the valley was brown earth patched with dried yellow grass and the flat ribbon of the river cut its way just under her chosen viewpoint. The rising sun made the muddy river gleam with wide swaths of gold. To the west of the river stretched out in front of her was Dayton, the town she had just left. The mills at Rock Hill pounded away on the ore extracted from Virginia City, Silver City and Goldhill, filling the valley with artificial thunder.

AFTER:

             The last part of the climb up the hill was steep enough to take Anne’s breath. She paused for a moment at the top as her lungs worked hard to take in the thin mountain air. The whole valley spread before her, umber mounds of rocky hills rising to define each edge. A patchwork of dark earth dotted with dried yellow grass covered the floor of the valley while the flat ribbon of the river cut its way just under her chosen viewpoint. Wide swaths of gold that the rising sun painted lavishly on the river were so beautiful she had to smile. Spread out in front of her on the west side of the river was Dayton, the town she had just left. The mills at Rock Hill pounded away on the ore extracted from Virginia City, Silver City and Goldhill, filling the valley with an artificial thunder that drummed into her ears.

She’s Just Not That Into You(r) Query

Diving headfirst into the literary waters of sending out Query letters contained a number of surprises. Leaving aside the fact that I jumped the gun on querying, these surprises add an additional humble factor. I’m assuming it’s to keep me from actually exploding with the pride of finishing one manuscript.

cast-fail

Like surprise #1 you don’t send a Query Letter and leave it at that. It’s more like a query letter and short synopsis. Or a query letter and first chapter. Or First 3 chapters. Or Synopsis, plus chapters, plus author bio, but synopsis and bio must be in the body of the email and chapters must be attached. Or Query plus full manuscript, all attached and not in the body of your email. Can’t you read the guidelines! We only accept queries sent on a warm Tuesday in February for this genre!

You would not believe how many different requirements each agency has.

Surprise # 2, you will not get any replies. As in, zero messages in your inbox from the person you queried. Not even a rejection. My mature, big-girl-panties-are-on side reminds me that agents are only human, they have slush piles that probably reach the terabyte level of inbox fullness, they say 4-12 week response time for a reason, and there just isn’t enough time to reply personally to every #pass.

My insecure author side is petty enough to think; couldn’t they spare even the nanosecond to push “send” on the form rejection email letter? Like, isn’t there a way to make your default signature something like “Sorry, this didn’t work for our agency. Too much (telling, blah writing, grammar mistakes, doesn’t grab me, isn’t unique, seriously did you even read the submission guidelines we don’t DO written in crayon, scanned and attached 200,000 word memoirs?)

OK, I feel better now.

In the midst of this fun, I actually got a reply. A reply! It’s like finding a gold nugget just sitting  in the middle of the sidewalk! It’s that awesome. And it doesn’t take away from that golden feeling that it was a “Sorry, doesn’t work for me” reply. Because this agent took the time to read what I sent and sent me constructive criticism. Which I really, truly, very much need. As much as possible. I can’t use her name or actual reply because I haven’t gotten permission from her, but in general her reply was something like “I liked your idea, but the writing dragged with too much telling instead of showing. I think with a little polishing this could be a solid story. It just didn’t grab me until the third page (insert sentence she means, proof she actually did read it!) and the third page is too far along. Best wishes, agent.”

So, to add to the scoreboard.

Soul Mate Publishing: #pass

But in spite of that pass, I can wholeheartedly recommend Soul Mate Publishing to romance authors who are querying. They are good enough to hit that “reply” button, and that’s good enough for me. And can I just take a moment to be incredibly happy that she liked my idea? I like it too! It means I’m on the right track. The road might be rough on the ego and covered in incredibly individual submission guideline road-bumps, but I’m on the right one. Thank you, Soul Mate Publishing, for injecting some hope back into the process for me. You are priceless.

 

 

 

featured image via stocksnap.io & Alissa Anton

 

The Magic of Manuscript Rejections; The Beginning

Lets be brutally honest. Have I read all the Writer’s Digest articles and endless guest Editor/Agent blog posts about editing, revising, re-editing, getting beta critiques, editing again, and just for a change, editing once more BEFORE you start sending out your fragile-winged query letters on breaths of hope for Agents to shoot down one by one?

Yes. Yes I have.

Did I follow that sage and undoubtedly accurate advice?

Nope. Sure didn’t.

In my defense, the high of finishing that LAST SENTENCE, of seeing in your mind’s eye the words “The End” followed by a big, fat, period . . . well that high can lead you to do silly things. Such as, to use a random example, sending out several query letters while AT THE SAME TIME frantically editing, revising, and making changes to my first finished manuscript. Sure I edited myself and had one beta reader look it over, but it now seems so incredibly badly written that I wonder why I had the gall to send out any queries at all.

In this, I’m pretty sure I’m following the well trod footpath of aspiring authors everywhere. I will guarantee you that 181 years ago Charles Dickens finished the last sentence of The Pickwick Papers, hollered and danced around a bit (not that I did that, of course) and immediately  ran down the street to hand it to a publishing house in London. Without revising it. By now, rushing off to query before you’re 1,000% ready is practically a tradition, and I’m proud to continue it.

In that tradition then let’s start keeping score of query rejections with me, in-between googling creative writing articles and frantically trying to cram all of the new ideas into my manuscript where they, immediately, don’t fit and/or flow naturally. It’s traditional.

The Score so far:

Established Medium Size Agency: No reply. It’s only been 2 weeks, I’m holding onto hope with all my withered author’s heart but I fear it may be a #pass

Established Medium Size: No reply. It’s been almost 12 weeks, I’m assuming this means #pass

New Small Agency: Zero reply and it’s past their stated 4 week response time. #pass

Established Medium Size: No reply. Their stated reply window is 12 weeks and it’s only been 2, so until I’m forced to change it this one will be filed under #softyes #maybe #please?

Established Medium Size: No reply. Their response time is listed as 4 weeks and it’s only been 2 so this one is also a cautious #maybe

Romance Only Publisher: No reply. I sent this one yesterday, so full steam ahead to the #maybe

Big 5 Romance Imprint: No reply. This one went out today, so the bloom of hope I shelter for it has not even had a chance to see sunlight yet. I’m also listing this one as #maybe

See my next blog post for the one agency that replied. Yes! A reply already!