And We Go Back

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It’s been very quiet on the novel front (even though my muse has been very chatty on the sequel!), but that’s about to change. I’m ready to take another dive in the literary agent pool, despite the ever growing odds against me.

I spent the summer waiting for query responses that never came – the silence was deafening – and evaluating both my novel and query package. After another round of rejections, I can’t help but ask myself if some of the changes I made were doing more harm than good.

The last round of query packages included a new query letter and a full Chapter 1 rewrite in the novel. Both changes were prompted by several rounds of rejections. There’s only so many rejections you can take before you consider that maybe there’s something wrong with the product.

Prior to the changes, I was averaging about 75% actual responses and 25% no response to my query package. While it is gratifying to receive some sort of a response, the fact of the matter is they were all rejections.

After the changes, the stats changed significantly and not in a good way. In the last round of querying, less than half of the agents I queried responded. The rest offered nothing but silence. This was either a really bad stroke of luck or I need to rethink the tinkering I did on my novel.

Given the drastic change in statistics, I’m thinking it’s time to get back to basics. It’s obvious the rewritten first chapter isn’t grabbing agents’ attention (all that I queried requested the first chapter as part of the query package), so I’ll be scrapping the rewrite in favor of the original version.

After comparing the two this weekend, I can honestly say I like the original version better. It moves a bit slower, but it offers a stronger introduction to the lead character. Furthermore, it provides stronger contrast to the character she evolves into as the novel progresses.

As for the query letter, that’s where it gets a little tricky. I like my new query letter better than the original, yet it’s also part of the package that incited little or no response. So, now the question becomes, was it it the query letter, the rewritten first chapter, or both that turned off so many agents?

Yeah, that’s a sticky wicket.

I went back and read my original query letter and there’s a lot to like about it, but it’s not that exciting. The new query letter has a little more personality and leaves a little more room to personalize it for individual agents. The logical solution to pull the best elements of each and combine them into one new query letter. Yet, I’m left asking myself if that’s really necessary. The original letter has a great track record for getting responses – why mess with it?

If I’ve learned anything in this process, second-guessing yourself can be disastrous. I’ve believed from the start that my novel is something special and I can’t afford to lose that focus. The plan moving forward is to submit the original novel (as structured by me and my editor) and to utilize both query letters. As I research agents, I’ll decide which query letter might be the best fit for each agent on my list. Social media, blogs, and websites for prospective agents offer a lot of insight on personality and preferences.

I’ll consider this last round as yet another lesson learned. We’ll just add it to the lengthy list of things this process has taught me! Despite the constant failure, I remain optimistic. My novel will find its way into print – it’s just a matter of when.

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c.b.w. 2016

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A Weird Writing Dilemma

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For the last few days, I’ve been busy pulling some really old writing files, (see Getting All Nostalgic for the reason why). Some of the files I had to track down date back a full decade! The fact that I even found them was truly astonishing (thank goodness for an archaic laptop that didn’t succumb to a virus), but it turns out that was only a fraction of the battle that was ahead.

First, ten-year-old files don’t like transferring to updated versions of software. Especially when those old files are part of a program that basically no longer exists. Back in the day, I was still playing around on a PC. PCs often came with a free abbreviated version of Word called Microsoft Works. Almost every post I wrote for my threads on The Office message boards was drafted in this program.

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I’ve since evolved to a Mac in which I run the full Microsoft Office software. It turns out none of the files I pulled off my old PC would open on my Mac. Ugh. Are you kidding me? After a few minutes of crafty thinking, I realized I could probably upload the files to google docs on the off chance they would magically convert to that format.

I was close! Google Docs prompted me to convert my files using CloudConvert. I didn’t have to download anything, but rather my files could be converted to .docx in the magical realm known as the cloud. Once converted they were sent back to my google docs account all shiny and new. From there, I downloaded them to a USB.

Voila! My files opened and all my hard work was saved. There are some formatting issues, but the text is all there and that is what matters!

This is when I thought the hard part was over. Silly, silly me. The hard part began when I opened those files and started reading. Ten years is a long time in the life and evolution of a writer. I’ve come a long way since then and its almost painful to see words I so badly want to fix.

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While it would be easy to go in and make all sorts of improvements, herein lies the problem: Do I really want to alter something that so many readers have already enjoyed? The whole point of this nostalgic project was to find a new online home for message board posts that currently are no longer available, (the message board is now defunct). The reader who requested them loved them they way they were and so did many other readers.

As a writer, I find myself in an odd place. I know I could rewrite those posts and make them better in terms of style, flow, and organization. At the same time, I don’t want to mess with something that is a perfect snapshot of a wonderful time in my life where I was rediscovering myself as writer. Nor do I want to mess with what is a perfect preservation of fandom memories for readers and myself.

Ultimately, I decided to do limited revisions. One of my trademark flaws is leaving out entire words because my brain moves faster than my typing fingers. I’m doing my best to fill in the missing words. I’m also fixing punctuation issues such as commas, semicolons, and hyphens to help with reading flow. Other than that, I’m leaving the original posts as original as I can. It’s painful, but I think it’s the right think to do considering their newfound purpose.

I never thought I’d find myself in this position, but I suppose this is how published novelists feel about their work. There really is no such thing as a final draft, but sometimes you just have to let things go.

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c.b.w. 2016

Killing Chapter 1

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My decision to cut the entire first chapter for The Muse came when I realized I had started my novel with just about every single thing most agents hate to see in an opening chapter. After reading multiple articles and long lists of tweets from agents, a definitive list of things agents hate in an opening chapter began to emerge:

  • Too much backstory
  • Describing the weather
  • Describing the sky
  • Main character waking up
  • Prologues

It’s funny how you think you are not doing these things as you write, re-write, and edit. Even after multiple rejections, I still believed I had a strong opening. However, once I compared the list to my novel, I realized I had committed every novel sin except for the prologue.

Then, I visited the YA section of my bookshelf and started scanning through all the first chapters of my favorite books. Keeping the list in mind, it was easy to see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. A change needed to be made and it needed to be big.

editwars2 I pulled up my manuscript on my Kindle Fire and read the first chapter multiple times. The biggest issues were backstory and weather description. Luckily, the solution for backstory was easy. I could track each segment of backstory to another section of the novel, so I truly did not need it in the first chapter.

As for weather description, the foreshadowing was nice, but not entirely necessary. With these two elements eliminated, there wasn’t much left of Chapter 1. Hmmmm . . . that got me thinking,  why don’t I just delete the whole thing?

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as just hitting the delete button. When I scrolled down into Chapter 2, it was promising in that as the new start, the reader is dropped right into the story. However, Chapter 2 begins with the main character waking up. Ahhhh! Another thing on the hate list. Two paragraphs down, a sky description shows up! Yet, another thing on the hate list!

Before total panic set in, it became clear that both issues can be easily fixed. A sentence here and a slight deletion there should clear up the hate list issues, while also transitioning Chapter 2 as the new beginning to The Muse.

I guess we’ll see how it goes!

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c.b.w. 2015

The Finish Line

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After four months, I’ve finally worked through all of my editor’s comments and my list of revision notes for The Muse. While the process took longer than I would have liked, I’m still basking in the accomplishment of reaching the finish line.

As I look back, I can’t help but laugh at myself a bit. When I first started this project, I thought I had a polished manuscript with my Third Draft. Ha! They say ignorance is bliss, but in this case it’s a first class ticket to the slush pile. After reading a little more about the publishing process, I had the good sense to realize I had A LOT more work to do!

I got brave with my Fifth Draft and sent query letters to five agents. Looking back I probably jumped the gun a little bit, but I still got responses from all five. Even though those responses were rejections, the fact that they took any time at all to answer me told me I had something worth pursuing. After some reflection, I figured out two things: 1. I needed an editor. 2. I needed to research agents on a deeper level.

Hiring an editor turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done for my novel. The particular editor I hired turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done for me as a writer. Not only did my novel go from an okay piece of work to a beautifully polished novel, but I got some serious insight into my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

My editor, Kristen Fairgrieve, has an eagle eye for grammatical and word usage errors, but also for plot holes. I’m not going lie – there were a lot of grammar issues and a few plot holes. Not to mention superfluous sentences and paragraphs that she painstakingly condensed. Even now I sit in amazement at how she whipped my manuscript into shape!

While she fixed the majority of this issues plaguing my work, there were a few things that only I could address. Instead of offering a quick fix, she asked me questions or made comments to make me think. When it was all said and done, I probably spent more time thinking than I did typing. The process was enlightening and forced me to consider my characters and plot line with a new perspective. In many ways, Kristen showed me what me readers might be thinking as they work their way through the story.

So now comes the tricky part: getting published. In the midst of thinking and editing, I researched agents who might be interested in The Muse as well as self-publishing options. At the moment, I’ve pegged nine agents who might be responsive to a query package. I selected them by digging around in directories and checking the acknowledgment pages in YA books with a similar theme to The Muse.

My query letter has gone through several drafts, but I think I’ve finally got something that represents my novel in terms of voice and selling points. My ducks are all in a row, which means there’s only one thing left to do – Get brave and query!

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c.b.w. 2014

2014 Goals: October Status Report

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1) Pitch The Muse.

I’m still working on final edits, but the good news is I’m down to the last three edits on my list. I have one description to tinker with and two issues with plot consistency to work out before I can call it a day on editing! All in all, I’m pretty happy with my progress considering a rather rough month at the day job.

I sent my new query letter to a beta reader and got some great feedback. After a few little changes, it’ll be ready to send off to my list of prospective agents.

2) Outline and start writing The Muse: Lineage

Time constraints this month left this goal wondering where I went. 😦

3) Submit writing.

I made the decision to participate in the 2014 November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge over on Poetic Asides (via Writer’s Digest). I had so much fun with last year, it only made sense to jump in again this year! To make it even more fun, I decided to add an extra element. Every poem I write for the PAD Challenge will be in the haiku format. This can get tricky because haikus are traditionally focused on nature. Not all the PAD prompts can easily be translated into nature, so I may have to get very creative!

4) Continue to build author platform.

Once again, I’m having too much fun on Facebook! Traffic continues to flow as do engagements with my posts. I even gained new followers this month!

Twitter continues to be a struggle, but I’m trying to get back into the conversation. Followers held relatively steady.

Facebook likes went from 374 to 378

Twitter followers went from 549 to 548

Thanks so much to everyone for clicking those follow and like buttons! Your support is greatly appreciated.

5) Inspire others.

As always, I hope I am a positive presence.

The invisible goal:

6) Be flexible.

Life has been a little crazy lately and it has admittedly caused some distraction. I haven’t been able to focus enough to work on some of my larger projects, but I still write every day. Perhaps that’s why haikus have been such an inspiration and comfort to me lately. Who knew 17 syllables could mean so much?

 

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c.b.w. 2014