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

The Genre Game

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It turns out the hardest part of writing a query isn’t trying to fashion a snapshot synopsis, (although that is definitely not an easy task). The hard part comes in the “logistical” paragraph. Right after the title and word count, agents want to know what genre fits your novel. That’s a toughie for those of us who write something that doesn’t exactly fit into a precise pigeonhole.

The genre section of my query letter is a sentence with a blank space until I figure out what genre best describes my novel. I have a few choices that include sub-genres of YA: fantasy, paranormal, romance, urban fantasy, magical realism or a combination of two or more.

I decided the best place to start my research was at my neighborhood bookstores. The Young Adult section is divided into Fiction, Fantasy, Fantasy & Adventure, Romance, and Paranormal. I looked at various books on each shelf to find anything that had any sort of reference to Greek mythology or re-imagined myth. One bookstore had those books shelved under Fantasy, but another had them shelved under Paranormal. Yet another, had them shelved under Romance. Clearly, there is dissension among the ranks.

Now even more confused than I was at the start, I went online and researched general definitions for fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal and magical realism. These are the four genres I feel have the strongest relationship to my work, but after researching them I’ve discovered the line dividing them is much thinner than I previously thought.

Fantasy: commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as primary plot element, theme or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.

Urban Fantasy: sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Paranormal: encompasses elements of the paranormal, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proven.

Magical Realism: magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. Magical realism portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.

Hmmmmmm. A story about a girl who falls in love with a male muse could easily fit into both fantasy and magical realism. Plus, the fact that the bulk of the story takes place in a modern city gives urban fantasy a point as well. Heck, we can even give YA Romance a point! The only one I think I can safely eliminate is paranormal because it seems a little darker in subject matter. Muses aren’t remotely scary like a vampire or werewolf.

The Muse takes place in the real world for the most part, but also in a fantastical world towards the end. It includes human characters and magical beings. And mythology is re-imagined and ushered into the modern era. I’ve got fantasy on one hand and magical realism in the other. Can it be both??

Why all the fuss about genre? Agents are pretty picky about they want to see in their inbox. If I don’t label my novel correctly, it could end up in the slush pile without a single look.

What’s a writer to do?

I have no idea.

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c.b.w. 2014

Genre Information courtesy of Wikipedia and http://www.wisegeek.com

The Writer’s Waiting Game

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Query letters have been sent. Competition entries have been submitted. Drafts have gone off to beta readers. In the age of instant gratification, waiting for a response in the writing world is a grueling endeavor. Weeks and months are a long time to wait when you’re dying to know whether your work is good enough to get picked up by a publisher. Or at the very least, whether somebody like it well enough to say, “good job.”

In the case of waiting for a literary agent to respond to a query letter, I go in with the assumption that nothing but silence with follow my inquiry. When a kindly worded rejection shows up in my inbox, I’m thrilled. Positive thinking is a powerful thing on this journey. So is keeping busy. The wait for any sort of a response is agonizing and it never seems to end. You’ll go nuts unless you keep yourself occupied with something other than obsessing over that elusive response.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve perfected the art of waiting with distraction. Trust me, keeping yourself busy makes the process a lot easier to take and in many ways softens the blow of rejection. Here’s a few ways to keep your muse inspired and give your patience a boost…

1) Keep writing.

Start that next novel or punch out a few short stories. Maybe even dabble in poetry or non-fiction articles.  Follow your muse and write because you are a writer, regardless of your publication credits, (or lack thereof). Sometimes a “distraction” piece can turn into something great. My second novel began as a distraction and ended up as my passion project. It got me through a number of rejections and ultimately lead me to a new path.

2) Research literary agents.

Finding the right agent takes a lot of work. It takes research, research, and more research. Every agent has different tastes, query package requirements, and personalities. For those of us playing the waiting game, all the work and time required to find the right agent plays right into our hands. It takes a lot of time to compile a list of possible agents and prepare customized query packages. Luckily, time is something we have in plentiful supply!

3) Read.

Every writer I know is also a voracious reader. Between loving a good book and wanting to figure out how published authors crafted a great story, writers are inherently addicted to reading. While waiting for any sort of response to arrive, it’s nice to escape to another world and enjoy the ride. Plus, some authors thank their agents on the acknowledgments page. This ties in nicely to #2.

4) Edit.

Most writers are never happy with a “final” draft. We’re always looking to make a sentence better or find a more perfect word. My final draft for The Muse has been altered (albeit slightly) multiple times since I started pitching it. A word here, a comma there, I’m always tinkering with it to make everything about it a little bit better. It’s time consuming and tedious work, but well worth every hour. While waiting for that one e-mail to arrive, I am happily ensconced in my fantasy world.

5) Find a hobby.

My craft closet has more stuff in it than my clothes closet.  When an afternoon of writing is done, I’ll pull out a craft project to keep my hands busy and my mind occupied. It beats sitting around and thinking about why an agent hasn’t sent an excited request to read my manuscript. Of late, knitting has been my savior as it inspires my creativity and challenges me to try new things. My muse loves it, too. While I’m knitting row after row, she whispers to me and new stories are born.

This weekend, I sent off my entry to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which means a new round of waiting and waiting has commenced. I suspect my to-read stack of books will get shorter and the sweater I’m knitting will soon have sleeves.

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c.b.w. 2014

Five Things I’ve Learned About Pitching a Novel

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Writing a great novel doesn’t guarantee publication. The publishing industry is brutal, highly subjective, and has no room for the weak-willed. I’m relatively new to the novel pitching game, but I’m already learning it takes a lot of determination and thick skin. Four rejection letters and two beacons of silence are all I have to show for The Muse, despite months of querying.  Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I can go on and on about how important it is to be tough, but I think the bigger lesson is to remember to have a little fun with it and don’t take anything personally.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I have pick up a few nuggets of wisdom along the way …

1. Agents are not evil-doers who love to say no.

I’ve read horror stories of vicious rejections letters and negative interactions with agents, but so far my experience has been quite positive. The rejection letters I’ve received have all been very encouraging even though they all said “no.” I don’t know if this is because I only pitched to super nice people or if my work is good enough not to elicit venom. Honestly, I like both possibilities equally.

2. Sometimes a response can take months.

We all like to think literary agents have the superhero ability to stay up all night and read really fast, but the fact is they are human. They need sleep and they like to read carefully while considering someone’s work. The last response I got from an agent came four months after I sent the query letter. I had already marked the agent’s space on my spreadsheet with “no response!” It just goes to show you never know when a response will come. Patience is everything.

3. Finding the right agent takes a lot work.

There are literally thousands of agents looking for a good book. And they all want different things! It took months of research to create a list of six agents I though might be interested in my novel. As much as I hate using a cliché on this point, the process of looking for the right agent is exactly like looking for a very tiny needle in a huge haystack. In the end, I’m hoping all relentless research will be worth it when I find the perfect agent.

4. Writing a synopsis sucks.

I know as a professional writer I should be able to write anything, but squishing my entire novel down to a single page is pure torture.  Moreover, it’s ridiculous that I can easily write a short synopsis for a book I just read, but not my own! It’s been six months and I’m still editing a synopsis for The Muse. I’m either being too picky or I’m a moron that can’t write a synopsis.

5. Persistence will pay off.

Every account I’ve read from a published writer reinforces the reality that persistence is everything. Agents don’t go looking for you, so you have knock on their door with a kick-butt query and novel. Getting published is all about self advocacy and seizing every opportunity. If you skulk in a corner and refuse to speak, your writing will never see the light of day. Persistence is everything … and so is a little luck.

Write those queries and believe with everything you’ve got!

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c.b.w. 2014

Wreck This Journal: Be Unpredictable

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One of the reasons I went to London was to shake things up a bit.  I needed to break out of my routine and give my creativity a jolt.  New surroundings along with a temporary shift in my every day life seemed like the perfect way to see things from a new perspective and possibly find new inspiration.  The muse is more likely to sing when she’s given something unexpected to ponder.

I expected my muse to get the same jolt with a Wreck This Journal page that literally gives instructions to make an unpredictable move.  I was wrong on so many levels, but ultimately for the best.  When I first encountered this page, I hesitated and started to do what I always do when given a task . . . I made plans.  About two seconds and three plans later, I realized that I was not following directions.  Nor could I even argue I was interpreting them in my own way, for there’s no such thing as planning an unpredictable move.  So, I closed the journal and put it aside.

A few days later, a random moment struck and I picked up my journal.  Without thinking, I flung it into the kitchen and watched it crash against a wall and ricochet off the laundry room door.  The movement was violent and incredibly irresponsible as I could have broken a couple glasses that were sitting on the counter.  Regardless, I found the whole process exhilarating even though it disrupted my peaceful home and self.  I may have been looking to shake up my muse, but the moment rattled something else entirely.  That flying book made me wonder what kind of writer was hiding underneath the fear created by my inner critic.

Too often, I let my inner critic decide the strength of a piece or whether I will allow anyone to read my work.  The choice should really be my own and I should be making that decision with more confidence. Perhaps, I need to stop over thinking and just start believing.  Who knew flinging a book across the room could lead to such an epiphany?

I documented the event by drawing my journal’s trajectory through the air as it flew into the kitchen. The book took a few hits, but doesn’t that always happen during a brave and bold move?  I’m bound to sustain a few bruises after deciding my novel deserves to do more than just collect dust on my desk.  New readers are on the horizon and the search for an agent is about to begin.

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Previous Wreck This Journal Posts:

Igniting the Spark

Keep Reaching

Letting Go

c.b. 2011