As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!
It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)
And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!
The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.
About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.
Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:
How do you argue with that?
If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.
You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.
And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.
So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.
Or at least base camp.
Yeah, I could be content with base camp.
* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!
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…
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
Jobs applied for & not offered: 2 Internships applied for & not offered: 2
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
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
Egads, has it really been over three weeks since my last blog post? How does time slip away so quickly? (Also, who actually says egads?)
Oh, let me count the ways…
We had more hospital time recently. After his initial surgery, my husband ended up with an infection which necessitated a drain. “Drains are great fun,” said no one ever! It’s been an issue on and off for seven weeks. Read that again. He’s had a drain in his body for seven weeks. Seven. (And we were told at the beginning that it would be two weeks and gone.) Complications made it necessary to change drains repeatedly and we’ve been back and forth to Philadelphia six times since mid-July to keep tabs on the progress. Supposedly, we’re looking at having the drain removed next week, but I’m still waiting for someone to rip the rug out from beneath our feet once again. It seems to be par for the course.
Remember my post about PitchWars—the contest that’s kind of like The Voice for writers? I didn’t get in. This is no surprise to me as there were nearly 3,000 writers vying for mentee positions and only 150 mentors. (I’ll let you do the math on that one.) While disappointing because PitchWars would have been a great opportunity to get extra eyes on my manuscript, not getting chosen as a mentee hasn’t deterred me in the least. I’ll keep querying this manuscript (as I have for the last couple of years) while I revise my most recently finished manuscript and work on my newest WIP. It’s all part of the job.
Critique Partners. While I didn’t get into PitchWars to get mentor eyes on my manuscript, I did manage to hook up with hundreds of other amazing writers. I now have not one, not two, but three new possible critique partners. (That’s a lot of reading!) Right now, we’re in that crazy “first date” stage. We’ve exchanged first chapters and are determining our compatibility as critique partners. In a CP, it’s really important to find someone who recognizes the flaws in your writing, but who also recognizes the potential. You want someone who will cheer you on while also letting you know why a particular paragraph isn’t working or a character isn’t reacting the way it seems they logically should. Furthermore, it’s a must to have a critique partner who actually enjoys your writing and doesn’t feel it’s a chore to read your work. But perhaps most importantly, you want someone who is encouraging in every way. The last thing a writer needs is someone who will pull them down and stomp on their heart. (Really. Writers do enough of that to themselves.)
School. School has been so quickly approaching that it’s taken everything I’ve got not to fight against it. I’m going to refer to the last three months as The Summer That Never Was. Because that’s how it feels. Between the rollercoaster of medical visits the past four months, all of our summer plans went out the window. (2018 had better make it up to us!) And so this last month I’ve been busy preparing for the kids to go back to school. School supply and clothing shopping completed, my kids were ready and excited for their first week back. So far, so good. (We’re three days in and no one has complained yet, but give it time. I’m betting they will by next Tuesday.)
Anyway, my point with all of this ramble? Life gets in the way. The unexpected (which really should be expected at this point) has kept me from doing the things I thought I would be doing throughout this summer.
And that brings me to a new point (and, consequently, the title of this post). Fresh paint. I first saw this sign when my husband was just out of his initial surgery and was being moved from the Surgical ICU wing to a regular hospital room. Six weeks later, when we came back for an emergency visit and ended up admitted because of an abscess, guess what sign was still there? Two weeks after that, when we came back because the drain had stopped working, he was in extreme pain from the abscess, and had a fever once again, it was still hanging. Three days later, and then another two weeks later still, it was there. I’d bet money that when we visit next week, that sign will still be in the same place on the same door at the end of the same hall we’ve been seeing all summer long.
Fresh paint. I’m fairly certain that the new coat of ‘fresh’ paint dried long ago. (I wonder how long the sign was up before our first visit.) The last time I saw that sign, I laughed. Somehow, in some obscure way, that sign is a metaphor for my life at this moment. That sign is the universe speaking directly to me.
There are times when it’s necessary to take on new challenges under new circumstances. And after you’ve done so, you’ll need to refrain from ‘touching’ no matter how much you want to. You’ll have to ride it out until that paint is dry. But just as importantly, you need to know when the paint is dry and learn to take control again. Otherwise, you could spend your whole life waiting for someone to tell you when it’s okay to start ‘touching’ again.
Or something like that.
Next week. Next week we go back to the hospital again. And dammit, that paint had better be dry because it’s time to start moving forward.
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:
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.
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 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!)
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.
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.
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!
Anne McCaffrey’s dragons (and Michael Whelan’s artwork) will always be one of my first fantasy loves!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Once 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.
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?
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.
I won’t lie. When I first began writing with the intention of finishing and someday publishing a novel (or fifteen), I didn’t have the first clue as to what kinds of water I was dipping my toes into. (Hint: Deep, dark, swift moving, filled with odd creatures who will take a bite out of you, and possibly even waters inhabited at times by the devil himself. I’m not making this up.) And when I speak with my non-writer friends now, it’s clear that they, too, have zero understanding of the publishing process.
It’s kind of funny, really, when non-writers ask me, “Oh, so you wrote a book? When can I read it? When will it be published? I’d love to quit my job and just write a book.” Most of them don’t realize what they’ve just done. They can’t yet grasp that they’ve engaged a madwoman on her most passionate topic. It’s like inviting a Jehovah’s Witness into your house to discuss God. Because I don’t fool around when I start talking about the writing—editing—submission—rejection—revision process.
And so the lesson begins.
Every book starts with an idea. Maybe it’s something that popped up as you’re drifting off to sleep or shampooing your hair in the shower. Or, maybe it was an idea you’ve had since childhood, one you’ve been contemplating writing about for years. Regardless of how an idea reveals itself, for me, it takes time to marinate in my brain before I can begin to write it down.
Award-winning fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson says that there are two kinds of writers—outliners and discovery writers. I most certainly belong to the former camp. Though I’m not the kind of writer who considers an outline the “Holy Grail” of writing, there are some writers who do. Me? I’m more of a write-a-loose-outline-chapter-by-chapter, highlight-the-major-events-that-need-to-take-place, then-bail-on-the-outline-about-a-quarter-of-the-way-through-when-another-great-plot-line-occurs-to-me kind of writer. Either way, the point is, an outline is a tool that helps to keep the story moving forward. Never mind the fact that I’ll write two more outlines before I get anywhere.
After the outline, depending on the topic of the book, there’s a lot of research to be done. Some of that can be beforehand, some of it is done as I go, and the rest of it falls into the category of [BLAH BLAH – FILL IN MORE HERE LATER – DETAILS!]. More professional writers will use [TK], meaning ‘to come,” but I’m just not that distinguished. I prefer sticking with the BLAH BLAH technique.
And don’t forget the mental block, also known as the dreaded writer’s block. That’s fun and always exceptionally unexpected. And once I step away from the keyboard, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be back any time soon… So for me, it’s critical to ignore writer’s block and just keep writing even if I scrap 90% of what I end up adding to the document. The odds are as long as I keep on writing, I’ll eventually write myself out of the block, but if I stop…well, I’m likely to easily lose a few months.
So, supposing all of this produces a finished novel, there’s also the revision process. That means going back, revising, refining, and hacking away until your raw treasure is a highly polished gem that’s acceptable to submit to an agent. But before you even submit to an agent, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got something worth submitting, and that requires beta readers – friends and family, and maybe even an online stranger or two, who will read your work and give you solid, honest feedback (no matter how much it hurts).
And, oh…an agent.
Somewhere around the time of your 5th draft or so (okay, maybe your 3rd if you’re really good), you can begin to query an agent. Since I began following dozens of agents on Twitter, I’ve started to feel really good about my query letter… If you’re unfamiliar with what a query is, there are hundreds of websites that show you how to effectively query an agent.
And there’s great advice from agents on how not to query an agent, too. Like this beauty:
(Really, following Dr. Stender on Twitter has become kind of a recent hobby for me… But don’t give him all your attention. There are lots of other agents with great advice, too! Eric Smith is another good one.)
Query: Dear Mr. Literary Agent-
Me: Please. Mr. Literary Agent was my father. Call me-#PubTip: Take the time to personalize your queries.
The best part (ahem…cough, cough…) about querying is compiling a list of agents who are looking for manuscripts like yours. I make a ridiculously overcomplicated spreadsheet that includes all sorts of info I don’t need, and I color code as I query. Yellow for queries waiting on a reply (including the date and the type of materials submitted), red for queries that have been rejected, and green for queries in which a full or partial manuscript has been requested, and let me just be honest and tell you that there’s a lot of red on my screen. When I open that file these days, it looks as though I’ve just murdered a small mammal. The problem with my green lines, of course, is that so far they haven’t stayed green, which means that I’ve gotten rejections even after a full manuscript read. But I’ve always gotten good feedback and I revise, revise, revise until I’m ready to submit again.
The most difficult part by far is the willingness to put yourself out there, get rejected again and again, and still remain confident in your ability. The key is to remember that agents are highly subjective and just because they turned down your work doesn’t mean they think it sucks. It just means they aren’t looking to represent that particular piece at that point in time. (Maybe they’re already representing a similar work, perhaps the story was too close to something else they know of, or maybe they just signed another author with a story that meets what they were looking for.) I like to give the ‘needle in a haystack’ analogy, only the hay is on fire and you just have to hope you find the needle in time. If you want to know just how tough querying is, check out a great guest blog by Shannon Parker about an insider’s perspective on rejection.
So if you nab an agent, and that’s a big if, it’s time to pop the champagne, right? Well…
Though it might feel a bit like winning an NFL championship, signing with a literary agent is really only the first step in a marathon run. Okay, maybe it’s the first mile marker in a marathon. (The first step was writing the book.) Your agent is probably going to request a revision or two before going on to submit your work to editors at publishing companies. And guess what?
That means now your agent is querying for you. Oh yeah, querying again. So, get ready to be rejected again. And if you get accepted – yay! That means you’re on your way to an actual published book deal…after more edits…and galleys…and edits…
And what then? Promotion, promotion, promotion!
Take those years of soul-crushing disappointment that you put into your first book, and use them as fuel to start a second, a third, and a fifteenth book. Oh, and be prepared to put in what amounts to years and years of work without getting paid a single dime because that’s how writers (and agents) roll.
So, tell me again how you’d like to “quit your job and just write a book.” The fact is, writing isn’t for the faint of heart and it isn’t glamorous. It’s work. Real, tangible, difficult and often unpaid work, but if you’re lucky and you’re persistent, you might just be able to succeed at making a career of it.