2019 Wrap Up

Welcome to December! I should be working on my WIP right now instead of tallying up numbers from this year, but what is a writer if not a procrastinator, right? So I bring you my 2019 writing stats. People often ask me how long it takes to get a book written and what a writer does (besides the actual writing part), so here’s a little peek into what 2019 looked like for me.

2019 Writing

Books published: 1
eBooks published: 1
Audiobooks produced: 1
Signing events attended: 5
Independent Book Award Entries: 4
Independent Book Award Finalist: 1
Independent Book Award Losses: 1
Independent Book Award Unknown Outcome: 2
Manuscript words written: >86,000
Manuscripts finished: 1
Manscripts queried: 3
Query rejections: 39
Requests for partial: 1
Requests for full: 2
Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2019): 5
Online pitch contests entered: 2 (if you count tomorrow’s #PitMad on Twitter)
Blog posts written: 26
Number of new SCBWI critique group members discovered: 3
Writing friends made: too numerous to count

Happy Holidays, friends! I wish you a happy, healthy, and successful 2020!

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2017 Stats

Hey, writers and readers! It’s once again that time when everyone you know in the writing world looks back and reflects proudly on their accomplishments throughout the past year. I’ll admit that when I look at the writing statistics of other writers & authors this year, I immediately relapse into another bout of Imposter Syndrome. Just who do I think I am, anyway?

Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished very much at all, and that’s why I decided to publish my list of 2017 statistics. Given all the things that occurred in the Personal category, I guess I didn’t do so badly in the Writing category all in all…

Writing

Manuscript words written: >71,000
Manscripts queried: 1
Query rejections: 40
Query no responses: 9
Requests for partial: 3
Requests for full: 2
First draft manuscripts finished: 1
Second draft manuscripts finished: 1
Third draft manuscripts finished: 0
First draft manuscripts started: 1
Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2017): 3
Writing conferences attended: 1
Online pitch contests entered: 3
Writing friends made: too numerous to count
Blog posts written: 32

Professional

Jobs applied for & not offered: 2
Internships applied for & not offered: 2

Political

Letters to congress sent: 110+
Rallies & marches attended: 2
Petitions signed: A lot
Political posts on social media: enough to annoy a lot of people

Personal

Days caring for cancer survivor: 209
Trips (as driver & caregiver) to Emergency Room: 3
Days spent in hospital with loved one: 11
Trips to Philadelphia for medical care: 23
Days as Mom: 365 (24/7)
Lives led: 1

Querying (Part IV)

Hooray! This is the last installment of my querying series.

(Read: I think this is the last installment of my querying series, unless, of course, the person who is critiquing it as I type comes back with drastic changes that need to be made… Never done, people. It’s never truly done.)

I used to read about authors who said that they would have kept working on a particular book of theirs had it not been for their agent telling them quite forcefully that they were done. And I would think, “How??? But it’s perfect! How could they have worked longer on it? How could they possibly have made it better?” As a reader, it’s so easy to believe in perfection. As a writer? Never.

So, without further ado, my query as it currently stands:

 

Dear (Agent),

At eighteen, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina agrees to allow two determined escorts to accompany her on her journey for truth, but each comes with a mysterious past of his own. Her estranged childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, left their village years ago and only recently returned, harboring dark secrets behind a solemn exterior. And despite his status as a perfect stranger, a dashing captain by the name of Niles Ingram is quick to fight by Reina’s side at whatever the cost.

There’s just one problem with Reina’s two companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy and as potential suitors no less! But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s tasked with defeating a usurping general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne? For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her.

A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is a 100,000 word YA quest-based fantasy featuring a headstrong heroine who discovers that magic runs far deeper than even a prophecy could have foretold. It would best be suited for readers who enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and White Hart by Sarah Dalton. Thank you for your time and consideration. I very much hope we can work together soon.

Best Regards,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The things to note:

I’ve eliminated the reason why I’m contacting an agent. That doesn’t mean I won’t add it back in. Undoubtedly I will. But, I am using this query for PitchWars, so that means I’m not contacting an agent directly. I’m looking to work with a mentor and mentors aren’t interested in why you chose them. (At least, not up front!)

That being said, I began my query with the hook, with the story. I want to make a strong case early on. I want to make a reader say, “Hmm, intriguing. Tell me more!” You might notice that I still have a bit of a “When X, then Y” thing going on. (“So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs, unlock the talisman’s secrets, and harness the magic within.”) I wouldn’t use this formula more than once in a query, but if it works (and it’s proven that it does), I think using it is just fine. (Trust me, though, if I could find a way to get rid of this formula, I still would.) I’ve also used specifics for the Y part of my formula. The key to a successful “When X, then Y”  is staying away from general blanket statements. The more specific you can be, the better. (Within reason, of course. It wouldn’t be any good for me to say, “When a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and end a war, she must figure out how the talisman works, use abilities only she possesses, and devastate an army without any backup.” That’s a little too specific.)

At the recommendation of an industry professional, I’ve also opted to add more detail about both of Reina’s suitors and I’ve given a little more of detail on how they are included in the prophecy.

Additionally, I’ve added the stakes. I thought that by sharing the tone of the novel (Hey, there’s a war going on, an evil general to defeat, and a true king that needs to be found!) that I had given enough info to make it seem obvious, but it was brought to my attention that I’d never really named the stakes. So, “For Reina, the only solution is to discover the truth before death discovers her,” makes it pretty clear to me. The stakes? Reina needs to figure out what the heck is going on before she’s killed for her role in trying to uncover the truth. I think that about does it. (But I’ll certainly let you know if my latest critique goes over well or not!)

And lastly – my comp titles are reined in a bit (only two this time) and I’ve changed the type of fantasy I’m pitching. Is it still a “chosen one” tale? Yeah, it kind of is, but (without giving away the plot) there’s a catch and so I don’t want to pitch it just as a “chosen one” fantasy. There’s far more going on behind the scenes. For me, a quest-based fantasy definitely seemed to be a better fit over all. So make sure you know exactly where your book fits in because it makes a big difference in who will want to read it.

So that’s it! Now you have seen the 3+ year history of my querying progress. I hope that this helps you in your querying and that you see more than just form rejections in your inbox! Thanks for following!

A Thousand Years to Wait

(A little novel aesthetic I included for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT for my PitchWars family. You know, in case you’re a visual kind of person!)

 

Querying (Part III)

By now you’ve probably got a pretty good idea where I’m going with my queries. (Progressively better with each version, but still not quite “there.”)

This particular version netted me requests (both partial and full) from several agents. It’s better, but it’s still lacking.

 

Dear (Agent),

Though your website lists that you are currently closed to queries, I saw your recent tweet about opening to queries that match your MSWL. As such, I hope to interest you in TARROWBURN, a YA alternate world fantasy featuring a mystery of otherworldly proportions and a headstrong female protagonist with the power to solve it.

At 18, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and find a way to end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs and learn to control the magic. Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy. But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s busy defeating an evil general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

Tarrowburn, a 100,000 word, “chosen one” fantasy is the second novel I’ve completed, but the first I’ve written with the intention of doing something other than stashing in a desk drawer. While I have degrees in subjects completely unrelated to creative writing, writing has long been my true passion. Growing up, I was strongly influenced by the world-building talents of Anne McCaffrey and C.S. Friedman and quickly fell in love with both dragons and magic. Though it is a stand-alone novel, Tarrowburn is meant to be the first of a trilogy. Comparable titles for Tarrowburn might include Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass, White Hart by Sarah Dalton, or The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. As requested, I have included a synopsis and the first ten pages of my manuscript below. I would be happy to provide you with a partial or full manuscript upon request. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

The Things I Did Right:

Hey! I’ve finally managed to remember to use all caps on my title! That only took two full years. (Did you notice that my title changed? My word count is also up again…) Also, I’ve directly addressed why I’ve chosen to send to this agent. She specifically had an item on her Manuscript Wish List that matched what I had written.

Notice that my summary paragraph is much more concise now, that I’m not bumbling around about how Reina likes being alone and misses home. Sure, those things might still be a part of the story, but they were never the focus and shouldn’t have been included in the query at all.

I’ve now listed what kind of fantasy I’m writing. It’s a “chosen one” tale. That being said, it’s also a “hero’s journey” (heroine’s journey?), and an alternate-world fantasy, so it fits into more than one tiny niche.

I’ve used comp titles that are more within the scope of my novel, other books that include kick-ass, teenage heroines who generally don’t take any crap from anyone.

 

Things I Didn’t Quite Do Right (Also known as Things I Did Wrong): 

My first paragraph is wrapped up pretty well, but I’ve been told that, “I hope to interest you in TARROWBURN,…” doesn’t relay confidence. One reviewer told me that they thought I sounded like a waitress in a fancy restaurant, trying desperately to pitch the night’s special. “I hope to interest you in this evening’s special dish of braised beef tips served over egg noodles in a delightful mushroom sauce, with a side of steamed broccoli lightly drizzled in garlic butter.” (Now I’m just hungry.)

Another told me that I sounded almost like a used-car salesman. (Shudder!) And a third said that she understood what I was going for (humble and polite), but that it sounded instead as though I doubted my own work. Yikes, that definitely isn’t what I want agents to think!

My second paragraph is better at summing up the story, but still hasn’t quite relayed the stakes or the urgency in its entirety. I think I’ve done a better job of that in my most recent query, but we’ll get to that later. Someone pointed out that I mention both companions are featured in the prophecy, but I don’t say how. I assumed that my next sentence, “But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two…” made that connection clear, but sometimes it’s easier to make a connection when you already know what’s going on. It’s not nearly as simple when you aren’t already in the loop on the particulars of the story.

I’m guilty of having a bit of amnesia in my last paragraph. I’ve forgotten (again) to put the title of my work in caps. (Twice, in fact.) You’ll notice my word count went up again. I did a little more world-building as I revamped the book and brought it into the YA realm where it belonged.

While I finally used the right kind of comp titles, I’ve used entirely too many of them. I’ve also done something that can be seen as a bit pompous (which is ironic, given my “humble” opening). I’ve used a best-selling series as my first comp title. Agents don’t necessarily advise against this, but if you’re going to use a bestseller, be sure that your work really does match the voice/setting/characters of a book you are comparing it to. (I would definitely advise against using Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games as your comp titles together! Nothing screams “cocky” like using three separate bestselling titles with extended movie series.) This is why I also chose lesser known titles as my other comps.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if you’re going to use comp titles, use more recent books. It shows that you read within your genre and that you’re familiar with what the genre currently offers.

I also don’t need to say what authors really got me into my love of of the fantasy genre. While it’s good information and might show my style a bit, it doesn’t really mean anything in the long run and it’s something that I could always discuss at a later date. Again, the agent wants to know about my book, not about me and my loves.

So this query is better and it did get me several requests for manuscript reads from agents. But I still think I can improve, and as I’ve taken on the challenge of submitting to PitchWars, I’ve decided to rework it again. That’s a post for another day!

dragonflight-by-michael-whelan

Anne McCaffrey’s dragons (and Michael Whelan’s artwork) will always be one of my first fantasy loves!

Querying (Part II)

After a year and a half of constant rejection, I finally revised my first query into something a little more focused. It’s not quite as rambling as my first and it seems like maybe I knew a little bit more about what was going with my own book on at this point.

Dear (Agent),

I viewed your recent manuscript wish list requests via manuscriptwishlist.com, and I hope to interest you in The Tarrowburn Prophecies, a 95,000-word fantasy novel featuring a mystery of otherworldly proportions and an independent female protagonist with the power to solve it.

Moreina di Bianco is a small town village healer and nothing more…or at least that’s what she’d like to believe, but visions that plague only her serve to remind her on a regular basis that she’ll always be different.  Despite her second sight, Reina is one of the few citizens in the kingdom of Castilles who doesn’t believe in the thousand-year-old White Sorceress Prophecy.  How could a talisman and a lone woman save the kingdom from the war that has raged on for four long years, a war that looks ever more desperate with each passing day?  So, when ironically unforeseen circumstances declare Reina the White Sorceress with the ability to rescue the kingdom from the grasp of a power-hungry General, she’s forced to accept the truth within the prophecy’s words and must take fate into her own hands.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions.  They, too, are featured in the prophecy.  But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s faced with ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science and a Master’s in Business Administration, but writing has long been my true passion.  After eight years in the pharmaceutical industry, I moved into the world of animal welfare where I currently work as a nonprofit marketing director for Humane Pennsylvania.  I do plenty of writing in this role, but none of it fiction.  In my opinion, the only thing better than snuggling puppies and kittens is writing fiction, and I endeavor to make it my lifelong career.  Additionally, I currently write part-time as a freelance writer for blogmutt.com and writeraccess.com.  The Tarrowburn Prophecies is my second novel, but the first I’ve written with the intention of doing something other than stashing in a desk drawer.  Please note that the full manuscript is currently under review with another agent who understands that I have continued querying while she reviews.  At your request, a synopsis and the first 50 pages can be found below (in a larger font for hopefully easier-on-the-eyes reading).  Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

Guess what? This query is still pretty wild and it’s way too long—this time over 400 words! You probably noticed that I did a little work on the manuscript since the last version. (My word count is about 4k higher than the last query as a result of the first time an agent gave me feedback!)

First off, in this version, I started with the reason why I contacted this particular agent and it’s okay. Nothing flashy here (notice no comments on personal appearances). It’ll do the job, but now I find I usually like to give a little more detail in this paragraph, like the fact that the agent and I share a love of Outlander or that this agent just mentioned on Twitter that she was looking for kick-ass heroines and alternate world settings. Something along those lines.jamie-fraser-picture-outlander

The hook is still too long and too “un-hooky.” (Sure, that’s a word.) I still ramble a little, albeit not quite as much as before. After nearly two years of querying, I still hadn’t figured out the heart of my book and how to present it! (More on this in an upcoming post.)

The worst part of this query, though, is the fact that I’ve made my bio nearly as long as the two preceding paragraphs about the book itself! Typically, you want your query to contain a sentence or two about you, but this is definitely more important if you have publishing credits to share. No one cares what my degrees are in, where I previously worked, that I liked snuggling kittens and puppies, or that I wrote another manuscript and don’t want anyone to ever see it. This information is completely irrelevant. (Okay, most of it is completely irrelevant. Degrees are good, but they don’t determine your success as a writer.) Also, notice I still haven’t used caps when mentioning the title of my work.

My thought at the time I was using this query was that agents were interested in knowing who they would be working with just as much as as they were interested in knowing what the book was about. Wrong. Yes, of course they want to know who they will potentially be working with, but at this stage of the game, they don’t care. That’s for future emails and phone calls to determine. Right now, the only important information they need to know is the premise of your story. And if you can’t manage to sum that up in the neat, little package of your query, they’ll have to pass.

So, work that hook!

Captain-Hook-killian-jones-captain-hook-33583000-1000-1324
(No, not that Hook! Although…)

Querying (Part I)

Any writer can google how to query, so contrary to the title of this post, I won’t be teaching you how to query. There’s tons of information out there regarding how to query a literary agent — what to say, what not to say, how to say it, and how to say it well.

No lie. Querying is hard. In a previous post, I wrote about how long it took for me to get my query letter to the point where I finally got more than a form rejection as a response. So what I aim to show you in this series of query posts is the difference between my beginner query, my “better” query, and my most recently revised query (that was said to be “solid” by established writers).

Are you ready for my beginner query? Prepare yourself. It’s pretty bad.

 

Dear (Agent),

Translating prophecy is a tricky and inexact science, and one in which Moreina di Bianco doesn’t exactly place her faith, so when she finds herself at the center of a thousand-year old prophecy, everything she holds dear is suddenly threatened.

When Reina is chosen to accompany the White Sorceress candidates in their search for the infamous Faranzine Talisman, she quickly agrees to help. What she doesn’t realize is that her own life is about to take a drastic spin, and turning back won’t be an option. When the talisman unexpectedly chooses her as its wearer, Reina must not only accept the truth within the prophecy’s words, but also must find a way to save the kingdom from the malicious grasp of General Bruenner – a daunting task for a village healer who doesn’t even believe in magic.

Reina’s only help on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend, Quinn D’Arturio, as well as a dashing Captain who claims to be her protector…oh, and her second sight, which she insists is nothing more than a slightly heightened sense of perception. As if discovering the key to unlocking the talisman’s untold power, ending a war, and placing the rightful king on the throne weren’t enough of a challenge, Reina is also forced to address a most unpleasant section of the prophecy – the part regarding two suitors. For a quasi-hermit like Reina, the only thing more overwhelming than losing her much coveted solitude is the prospect of losing it forever, but Reina soon discovers that there are things more important than solitude, and that sometimes home can be found even afar.

The Tarrowburn Prophecies is a 91,500 word fantasy novel ideally suited for readers who enjoy tales such as C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy or Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Though it is a stand-alone novel, it is intended to be the first of a trilogy. Initially, I decided to contact you based on your profile on AgentQuery.com, and upon reading more detailed information on your submission website, my decision was confirmed. Like you, I have a diverse background, having worked in many different professional atmospheres. Thank you so much for your consideration! I’d be happy to provide you with a copy of the manuscript upon your request, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

L. Ryan Storms

 

Okay, so do you see the issues with this letter? I cringe just looking at it!

First off, it’s way too long and cluttered, and it rambles without focusing on the conflict and the stakes. It’s almost 400 words! (About twice as long as it should be!) There’s a lot of description here, but not much focus on what the book is really about. There’s no need for me to talk about Reina’s love of solitude. Is she a bit of a hermit in the book? Maaaaaybe. But that’s not really essential to the heart of the story. Why is the part about two suitors in the prophecy so distasteful to Reina? This query makes it sound like she wants anything but to fall for a guy, but in reality, that wasn’t it at all. (It’s because she’s so focused on figuring out a way to end the war!) I could go on, but you get the point. There’s a lot of ramble in this query.

Next, I made a rookie mistake in my first paragraph with the “…everything she holds dear is suddenly threatened.” In trying to hook your reader, the last thing you want to do is use the word “everything.” There is quite literally almost no possible way to be more vague. Then, I went with, “For a quasi-hermit like Reina, the only thing more overwhelming than losing her much coveted solitude is the prospect of losing it forever, but Reina soon discovers that there are things more important than solitude, and that sometimes home can be found even afar.” Really? Was losing her solitude that bad? Honestly, it wasn’t even a major part of the book… Why was I so stuck on this theme?

My point? Sometimes what we think the book is about isn’t really what the book is about at all. When I was writing this character, I wanted to invoke a sense of longing for home, a sense of loneliness, of a desire to return to the mundane, everyday life, but it wasn’t what the story was about. I hadn’t yet figured that out at the time I wrote this query.

I also used a lot of the formulaic “When X happens, then Y is the result…” Just look at my second paragraph. Surely there were better ways than utilizing the much overused “When X…” And yet, I used it not once, but twice…in one paragraph.

When I mention the title of my work in the final paragraph, I forgot to put it in all caps. You work should always be listed in all caps. (This is something I still have issues remembering even today!) This is not the most horrendous thing I could possibly have done, of course, but using the caps lock for your manuscript’s title is a good way to make sure it stands out right away and it’s generally accepted as the proper protocol for query letters.

Lastly, my comp titles are all wrong! To be fair, this version of my query went along with a very early version of the book in which I had the wrong age range targeted. I was trying to squeeze what was essentially a YA book into an Adult category. No wonder it wasn’t working for me. (And no wonder I had no idea how to summarize what it was really about!) When I finally admitted to myself that I needed to revise my entire manuscript to fit into YA, I was in a much better place, both with the book itself and with the query.

And for the love of God, please do not, under any circumstances comment on an agent’s appearance. That’s just…creepy. I am absolutely mortified to admit that I did this when personalizing an early query. (Like, so mortified that I want to crawl under a rock and never come out.) The agent had said something about her unruly curly hair on Twitter and I ran with it. I shudder when I think of what kind of creep I came across as. So… Just. Don’t.

I try not to be too hard on myself because I know learning the querying process is all part of becoming a writer, but I still cringe when I read my earliest query. And I honestly feel like I just published a couple of nude photos of me! (But then again, I just told you how I commented on an agent’s appearance. Notice how I didn’t post that query.)

If you learn can from my mistakes, it was worth all my discomfort in putting this out there! And perhaps this will help you gain a chance at getting something a little more personalized than the dreaded form rejection!

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(Yep, that’s one I received on 2/14/2014. Feeling the love? Not so much.)

On Work and Effort

I’ll admit that I’ve been slacking a bit when it comes to blogging (for the obvious reasons), but as I’ve scrolled through my Twitter feed, I’ve seen a lot of my writer friends elated either because they are about to send out their very first query letter or because they’ve received their very first rejection letter!

I vaguely remember that excitement. The feeling of being a “real” writer on a legitimate path to publishing my beloved work. How would my story unfold? Would my offer of representation from an agent come after one query? Ten? A hundred? What if I had multiple offers? How would I choose?

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Oh, how funny I am! How naive. How cute and hopeful. The book I began querying nearly three years ago recently received its 85th rejection. To be fair, at least 30 of those rejections were really me trying to figure out how to heck to query an agent—what works, and what doesn’t. It should come as no surprise that for the entire first year that I queried, I didn’t get a single agent request for either a full or partial manuscript read.

My first full manuscript request didn’t come until after nearly two years of querying. To say I was elated would be putting things mildly. I shook with excitement. (Literally.) Needless to say, that agent didn’t offer representation, but what she did offer me was hope. What had previously seemed a futile attempt at baring my soul to no one who seemed to want to listen now suddenly seemed a legitimate line of communication. I had been sending out emails, but getting no responses for so long that I might as well have been using a megaphone to announce my intent to an empty parking lot. Getting that first request for a full read meant that someone out there had not only heard me, but was willing to having a conversation.

It’s been a year and a half since that first request, and since then I’ve received 3 more full requests and 2 partials on a manuscript that has continuously morphed into a deeper story than the one I originally wrote. That couldn’t have happened without accepting and embracing the feedback I received from each of those agents. So even though I’ve received 85 “no thanks” emails (or worse—cringe—no responses at all), I’ve got a stronger story and a better query letter than I had when I first began my journey.

Why mention all of this? Because I want my newly querying writer friends to remember not to be discouraged after they receive their 15th rejection and to keep going even after they receive their 50th. No one writer’s journey is the same as another, and the only way to be certain you won’t succeed is to stop trying.

Never stop trying.

Tweet On

twitter-logo-1Once upon a time, writing was really a very solitary activity. Writers would hole up in a room by themselves, channel their inner muse (and hope that she showed up), and tap away on their typewriter (or – GASP – word processor) until a finished manuscript managed to produce itself. This was before the time of the internet, of course. Certainly before Twitter.

Now writers spend half their time chatting with other writers on Twitter about the difficulties of writing.

And that’s okay.

(What? You thought I was about to get preachy, no?)

Sure, Twitter can be a major distraction, but it’s also a tremendous source of encouragement. I’ve learned more about the writing process, the fourteen different stages of going from writer to published author (Okay, you got me – I picked that number at random. It may not actually be fourteen.), and the sheer determination (in addition to talent) needed to keep going on those days when it seems like the only thing you’re good at is pressing the backspace key as many times as you hit all the other keys combined.

The writing community on Twitter is an overwhelmingly positive source of support and encouragement, and provides an endless supply of knowledge from those writers who are one, two, or ten steps ahead of you in the writing journey.

I can’t lie. Shamefully, when I first joined Twitter, my intent was to stalk. I wan’t online to interact. I just wanted to learn. Putting my own sentiments out there into the infinite space of the web was not high on my list of things to do. (Ha! Says the lady who is now blogging…) Besides, what knowledge could I possibly impart onto others?

Guess what? I was wrong. (Really, someone take a screen grab of that… My husband will want to frame it.) Seriously, though, even though I feel like I have little to share with emerging writers, the fact is, I still have encouragement. And the longer I’ve been involved with the online writing community, the more info I have to share.

One of the best ways to get involved and to befriend other writers is to enter online writing contests, contests like #PitMad, #PitchMadness, #PitchWars, and #QueryKombat.  (There are lots more, but you get the point!) Most of the time, the outcome of these contests will leave you crying in despair, wondering if you’re ever going to make it. But the object of writing contests isn’t to “make it.” It’s to encourage interaction and fine tune your craft. To learn.

And it works. The evidence is in the dozens of writers who see an uptick in interest in their work after entering contest after contest. Contests aren’t a measure of your worth as a writer. (Or, for that matter, as a human being!) They are a measure of your skill as a writer, your potential to construct a query that will grab an agent’s attention, and your ability to sell yourself and your work in a simple elevator pitch (one preferably without the “Uh’s” and “Um’s”).

So the next time you find yourself on Twitter and you suspect you might be stalling (because, admit it, you’re stumped on that one scene), give yourself a free pass to continue tweeting. It’ll make you a better writer.

And if it doesn’t?

Well, you’ll have new friends, and that’s always a win.

Will You Go Out With Me? Circle Yes or No

Remember middle school? If you’re like me, you’ve done just about everything in your power to forget as much as humanly possible about those awkward middle school years, but no matter how hard you try, there are still these lingering memories in the foggy corners of your brain of every horrific social interaction you’ve ever had between the ages of 11 and 13.

But nothing was as bad as trying to ask out your longtime crush. Scribbled notes on ripped pieces of notebook paper, folded into these weird triangle football thingies (that no one under thirty understands), were a direct line of communication to the chosen one of your affections. And often times, the message contained a single question:

Will you go out with me?

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I don’t know if today’s middle schoolers are any cooler, as my own kids are only starting to veer into that awkward-aged realm, but I suspect they still ask the same question even if the mode is more likely to be technologically advanced.

And that’s more or less what it feels like to query an agent as a writer. It’s a thrilling ride of ups and downs, but mostly you just feel like you want to throw up. Mood swings rivaling those of a raging hormonal teenager are common, and my husband can attest to the fact that some days I’ve been so depressed that I cry into my dinner. Thirty minutes later, a perfectly timed email request for a partial or full manuscript read has me giddy by bedtime. In just a few weeks, a pass on the full read (even with encouraging feedback) has me racing downward again. On and on we go. (Have I mentioned that I’ve never ridden an actual rollercoaster because I can’t stand the ups and downs?)

Querying is hard, and it’s not for the emotionally frail, but I will say this. I didn’t fully realize just how stubborn I was until now. I didn’t embrace the emotional fortitude I possessed until I faced rejection after rejection. It’s like asking your middle school crush out…again and again and again.

Someday, I hope to remember this ride fondly. Someday I’ll say that this was perhaps the only rollercoaster I’ve ever enjoyed.

Certainly it’s the only one I’ve ever willingly embarked upon.