Monday, March 29, 2010

Fixes & Trims

My query process has been pretty slow going cuz I usually just send out a few handfuls, then wait for responses. I consider my first several months of querying to be like toe dips into the water. Sure, you could cherry bomb into the pool and hope for the best, but if you instantaneously get fifty people wet with rank hideousness, it skims your best picks right off the top, leaving you with lesser-thans.

If I get no requests after ten or twelve, I make changes. I'd do this for a while, then stop to make changes, but without feedback, it's hard to know where I went wrong. Was my MC too whiny, wimpy, dull, what? Does my concept suck? Is my letter pure crap? It's so impossible to know...Maybe not.

Well, I feel dunce-cap-worthy it took several months for the light bulb to finally flick on over my near-empty skull, but I decided to just query agents who requested a query letter only, then I'd know for sure if the main glitch was with my letter. I kept sending out my query, then I'd revise and try again. I didn't find much interest.

I mean, maybe the main conspiracy of my novel comes across too unbelievable boiled down into one sentence of explanation and tucked into a couple paragraphs of what's, who's and how's.

So, I scratched my letter completely and wrote an entirely new one that is huge on voice and character with minimal plot points.

One agent requested a full, but she thought the work would be better in First person, which told me she'd only read a few chapters because anyone who's read further on would never in a million years think that. My MC doesn't know the greater details of the plot until the epilogue, so, a limited perspective just wouldn't work. The bulk of the story's big mystery is revealed to readers through my parallel protagonist's journey instead.

However, hints of that didn't break open in chapter 8. So, I bumped his weirdness up to his first POV scene in chapter 4. The bit of commentary I'd received was not entirely right for my particular story, but it helped me to see I needed to point the good guts out much earlier.

If my book were simply a girl against two would-be-killers, then First person would probably work great, but it's not. Originally that was my concept, 'tis true, but sometimes stories just grow and unexpectedly surprise the writers penning them. And that's what happened with me and my story.

Even if I don't wholly agree with suggestions, they do usually help me to see where I've gone wrong and what adjustments need to be made. If you have Betas or critters of any kind, consider their opinion valid, even if you don't agree. If you give it some time, you may see they're right. Maybe they're not, but keep the notes and try to see your work through fresh eyes. Maybe a part of what they're saying is correct. Maybe it hints at a different, deeper problem like mine did.

Even though I liked it, I had to change my first chapter after several people complained of it being too confusing. The advice you get, whether prickly or smooth, could be just the thing to make your story even better. As the writer, you owe it to your story and your readers to write the best you can and edit with that same drive.

And if you're in the querying stage like me and frustrated by all the form rejections you're collecting that say, "Not for me" or "I'm not the right agent for this", without so much as a hint of feedback to suggest where you misfired, try querying agents who only request the letter. Start there. If you're get nothing but form letters from agents who rep the kind of work you write, and you don't have 200,000 words or some likewise monstrous book, your letter needs some work, so have it critiqued and keeping working on it until it shines and gets results.

If your letter is sparking interest and several agents request a partial or a full, then turn you down without much feedback, you'll know the error is with your work, probably within the first few chapters. So set that sparkling jewel of a letter aside and take a hiatus to work on your manuscript. Once it's ready, get back in the game.

Happy writing, happy hunting!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Editing Surprises

I took a brief hiatus from querying to sharpen my MS and hack and slash some words. I went from over 106,500 words (which I had this past spring) down to an astonishing 88,000. I didn't think I could cut that much, I really didn't. And when at 98,000 words, I even stated on my writing site that I could maybe cut 5,000 but NOT 10000 or whatever it was, but I DID. Yes, yes, yes. Doing a happy dance. Join in if you want.

In the word slashing stage, I really needed to look at each sentence with a fresh perspective to see if it was truly needed or if it could be changed up. I condensed passages of exposition, tightened dialogue, omitted anything unnecessary, already obvious or redundant. My mistake in the fall was that I was simply looking for words to cut. But, when I did that, my scenes lost personality. I ended up returning much of what I'd taken out to fix that. I mean, voice is what really makes your work stand out.

Along the way, I discovered some new and better turns of phrase and brought an even greater sparkle to my already quirky voice than I had before. So I'm really exicted about the end product.

I even added some things like some more internalization or action around dialogue, deeper perspective voices. So, I still can't believe I cut nearly 20,000 words. That's an amazing feat in my opinion, especially because I didn't have to hack off scenes.

Well, I did remove three small mom scenes, but I'd only added them later to make my work seem less YA, but now that I'm going YA, I made the mom's arc extremely minimal. But in all, these particular extractions only amounted to about 1500 words.

The new approach really worked for me and made my work much, much stronger. Now, I'm back in the hunt again.

So, when you're going through to edit, really think about how you can keep the essence of each sentence while relaying it with a more succinct, sharper, wittier delivery. That will take the sting out of killing your darlings. You'll be super excited with your work's shiny new luster and will be a better writer for it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Be Shark Bait in the Treacherous Ocean

I have a couple of phobias. One of the things most likely to make me faint is knives. I'm terrified of them, well big ones, sharp and horrifying. Like the Chef's knife, that diabolical slicer made most famous in Psycho. I'm not quite sure why I jump back and shudder at the presence of a knife or why I can't use or wash one in the sink, but that fear is just there. I could never keep the block of them on top of my fridge cuz on the freakish chance you bump into it while getting HalfBaked, the block could tip over and the alliance of daggers would then butcher you to death, or at the very least cut off your eyebrows or do some serious damage to your girls or piggies.

My fear is so intense I can't even watch someone dice carrots or a knife infomercial. Honestly. That Rock-n-Chop is not of God, right out of hacker-slasher hell, and my best friend had the nerve to send some sales guy over to my house for a demonstration. [I don't care that he was earning money for college or whatever. That's Sick!!! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? WHY? How would you like it if I sent a moose over to your house? You wouldn't. That's right. Sick freak.]
And if you've ever seen Predator, you know how violent it is, but the only part I can't watch is where a guy is shaving with a straight blade. Uggghh. I CANNOT watch a guy get shaved that way at the barber or even think of seeing Sweeney Todd live. Panic attack for sure.

I'm also afraid of bees, even so much as to run several feet away from my children to avoid them. I shriek and wiggle and pull over my car if one of those mean creatures invades my space. If I were ever on Fear Factor and bees were involved, I'd forsake the million, or whatever the prize was. I understand their importance, but I despise them nonetheless.

And my worst fear of all is sharks. Though I'd go hang gliding or jump out of a plane no problem, I won't go on a shark dive or surf or do many oceanic activities that might bring me into contact with them. I totally hate that about myself because I love adventure. With writing, I'm afraid of what's out there in the unknown, but I have no choice but to jump in the deadly ocean and watch out for sharks. I do hope to be published, and that's my first plunge into making it happen.

Once work is polished and ready for submission, some writers don’t know what to do next or how to go about finding representation. You’ve written the query, the synopsis. Now what? Don't send work directly to a publisher. Go find a literary agent, a good one. Searching for agents on the web can be overwhelming. In the scary murk, with hundreds of sharks out there hunting for young and na├»ve prey, how do you find the dolphins, who have the communication skills, connections and muscle to get work sold? To avoid being chum, here are some red flags to look out for so you can find the good guys.

If an agent charges reading fees or anything upfront, RUN. Some agents in smaller agencies charge for supplies, but look for sold work, talk to represented authors, make sure there’s a cap on expenses and know exactly what you’ll have to pay, and really only choose an agent like that if you’ve exhausted all other options. Agents should get paid off commission, not nickel and dime writers into the poorhouse.

If there’s no proven track record of sales and more sales, RUN. Look for works sold in the genres they say they represent. Good agents aren’t secretive about their sales. Who would hide published success? Really.

If a website is too vague and sparse, no agents or bios in sight, authors with only first name and last initial giving glowing testimonials, RUN. Sometimes they’ll sweeten their appeal by offering a 10% commission instead of the customary 15. These “agents” are salivating for fresh, young meat. Really. Run.

If an agent’s website is lacking clarity or full of errors, grammatical or otherwise, RUN.

If an agent is not a member of the AAR, the Association of Authors' Representatives, PAUSE and do some more research before sending in or signing anything.

If an agent is running ads to get business, WALK AWAY BRISKLY. Even if it’s a legitimate agent who’s starting up and wanting to get his name out into the world, opt for an experienced agent with contacts. New agents have no clue what publishers are buying or how to get in the door. This is your work we’re talking about. Would you let some inexperienced doctor operate on your child just because he ran a good ad campaign? Think not. Let some other writer be the Good Samaritan and business booster. Top agents don’t have to reel in writers. They’re swamped with submissions already.

If an agent offers to represent you ONLY if you use such and such editing services first or their suggested rewriter, RUN. Kickback is in play.

If an agent hasn’t sold works to the big houses, WALK AWAY BRISKLY. Your book might have the potential to be the next best seller, but who would know? With a smaller press, your spankin’ new, published book could die right out of the box. A good agent knows what type of publisher would be best for your work and has contacts all over the map to get the right deal done.

If an agent works with subsidy or print on demand [POD] publishers, RUN. You could just as easily do that yourself if you wanted to go that rout. Why pay the extra fees?

Check out Writers Beware for already tagged sharks.

You can find a comprehensive list of agents with bios and contact info at these FREE sites: LitMatch and Agent Query. Advanced searches can pinpoint agents by name, genre, location—not only the U.S. btw. You can also organize and track submissions instead of having to set up a spreadsheet in Excel. There’s also a resource page listing agent blogs.
Look for agents who are seeking and selling what you write. Every agent has their own personal guidelines and tastes. Don’t do a blitz submission or even write a form query letter. It’s really impersonal, unprofessional and ineffective. Choose agents carefully and write individual query letters for each one.
Nothing to fear. With your eyes alert and your mind sharp, you can avoid being shark bait and find your way in the treacherous current. Now off you go. Nothing to fear? Maybe I will take a shark dive sometime. Haha. Doubt it. Not without Valium and an army of prayer warriors on their knees.

~Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What I'm Pretty Sure I Can't Do

I'm up for just about any challenge with writing. I've written a few novels, some short stories, a couple flash pieces, even tried my hand at structural poetry like an English sonnet and a villanelle. But there are some things I'm pretty sure I can't do.

I can't see myself writing historical fiction. You really have to have a passion for this kind of thing, and I don't really. I'm not opposed to the genre. Some extra special historicals have really resonated with me actually, like the Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers. I believe those three books are the best novels I've ever read because they introduced me to well-rounded characters, put me right into Roman times, made me cry, challenged me spiritually and entirely gripped me.

That's some amazing writing if a book, a series of books really, can do all that.

But as much as I loved those books, the amount of research you'd have to do just seems so daunting to me, in just making sure every single prop is correct. I'd be so afraid of ruining credibility with some stupid bumble, it would kill my drive.
Although, now that I've said that, I'll probably get an idea for a book and I'll have to scratch my 'can't', to 'well, maybe', then, 'okay, yes I can'.

I also could not write a First person novel with a narrator who is not the protagonist. All but four of the Sherlock Holmes books are this way, with Watson as the narrator. He is the every man, sidekicking Sherlock around, providing some distance from the brilliant, analytical mind of the hero as he solves the crimes.

But for me, part of the fun of writing First Person is discovering voice and revealing character. It is almost too difficult for me to wrap my mind around this concept. I think my narrator would soon outshine the protag. I don't know.

What are some things you're pretty sure you can't do with your writing?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stir Up a Whirlwind of Curiosity

I tend to enjoy novels that have multiple threads. They are the most memorable for me. To give your book more interest and originality, consider working in some subplots to further pique curiosity in your readers and make your book harder to put down.

Let’s take a look at Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz. Here’s the summary from my book review:

When Spencer Grant, an ex-law enforcement officer, who’s living off the grid, tries to reacquaint with Valerie Keene, a waitress who dazzled him in a bar, he discovers she’s being hunted by government officials on a mission to kill her. From what he knows of her, they can’t possibly have good reason for wanting her dead. His quest to find her makes him the target of an assassin, who works for the shadow agency hunting Valerie and kills emotionally wounded or physically hindered individuals to show them mercy.

While tracking down Valerie with his trusty, skittish dog, Rocky, by his side, the internally and externally scarred Spencer must not only uncover a buried memory that haunts his dreams and is just a breath away but also avoid the most efficient eyes and ears on the planet. Finally reuntied, he and Valerie embark on the run of their lives in a nail-biting chase. Frustrated and peeved, the assassin pulls out all the stops and drudges up Spencer’s worst nightmare to use as a snare, jerking various characters into a stomach-churning climax, leaving readers cringing and unsure as to who if any of them will survive.

Now, in this book, not only does the main character have a desire to find a woman he likes, he also must unravel the mystery of something from his past he can’t remember. Then when he finds her, he aims to win her heart and has to face the reason for his scars in order to beat the man who's out for their blood.

The book also opens us up to the antagonist's mission, a partner in crime he finds, and we learn about the flight MC's love interest is in.

The best way you build in subplots is by constructing well-rounded characters, who have many goals and desires as well as pertinent pasts. You can also have several characters with different goals, all aiming for something they want or need.

In my latest work, Sapphire Reign , I have several storylines that seem completely different and separate, like individual rainbows, but they all move towards each other and finally intersect and collide in a big dome and explosion of color.

Dig into your story and your characters to find the extra extras you can add to enhance the read. Go for depth, breadth, scope. Stir up a whirlwind of curiosity with your work. All the unmet goals will be as important to your readers as they are to your characters. Keep writing. Rock on!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.