Exciting things!

So. It’s been a while since I blogged. I’m aware of that. I smack my hand. A few interesting things have happened.

1. My poor, orphaned manuscript, The Black Bird of the Gallows, (the one that lost its contract when my publisher closed) now has over 1000 adds on Goodreads! And a couple dozen reviews, even though no one’s read it, including one delightful .gif animation that makes me smile despite the expletives. This is exciting because I’ve done nothing to promote it. It has no cover, no release date, no nuttin’. It got the adds based on the blurb, so I guess that’s one thing I can write well. Ha! But seriously, it’s the things like this that get you through the times when nothing is happening, which is often in publishing.

2. A different manuscript is a finalist in the 2016 Golden Heart® contest in the young adult category. It’s a big deal, in some circles, namely RWA circles, and I’m proud to be a finalist with The Beekeeper. It’s basically a dark, deranged re-imagining of the beauty and the beast tale, which I loved as a kid and still do as an adult.

So, these two things inspired me to polish up The Beekeeper and query it, as I’m without an agent at the moment. Querying is about as fun as sitting in rush hour traffic, but the right agent is so worth it when it comes to negotiating, submission and the occasional pep talk. Hoping the stars align for a little luck!

My querying odyssey

When I began seriously pursuing publication, I decided then and there to aim impossibly high (because I’m just masochistic like that). I wanted the same thing that many (but not all!) writers want: a big publisher, an amazing editor, a pretty book.  But in order to get through the door at those big houses that don’t accept unsolicited material, I needed an agent.

Agents are a capricious bunch. They have ever shifting wish lists and impossible-to-pin-down interests. What is an original voice, anyway? And do they really want “fresh and original?” They smile at conferences and send form rejections two weeks later. And then there’s the crush of other writers who are also querying, making the odds of signing one statistically improbable. Don’t research those numbers. You may begin to think you actually could win the Powerball Jackpot.

Despite all that, I was determined to get one. In fact, I didn’t allow myself the option of not getting one. I set my mind and decided that sooner or later, I would have an agent of my very own. If it wasn’t this book, it would be the next (or the next). Whatever. It was inevitable. It was fate.

But, fate needs help. First, I made sure my book was the Absolute. Best. Thing. I’d. Ever. Written. For real. I revised and revised and revised until I knew in my heart I could not make it better. I’m glad I took the time and did that, because those first rejections hit hard, and they hit low. It’s easy for little doubts to spiral into, “oh, why am I even bothering? This book sucks.”

It happens. That’s why “good enough” isn’t at all, good enough.

Next, I put serious time and effort into my query letter. I can’t stress this enough how important this is. It’s not fair that our entire novel is initially judged by a half-page letter, but it just is. I knew that I was increasing my odds of getting a read if I made that half-page shine. I don’t have a formula for writing these things. I still loathe query letters on a deep, fundamental level, but since they are inescapable in publishing, I was determined to write the best one possible. I started by writing one I though was good, and offering it for critique on the forums of querytracker.net and agentconnect.com to get feedback (lesson learned: not all the advice on there is good. Be choosy).

Next came the actual querying part. I also had a fairly complex method for querying so I didn’t query all my favorite agents with a query letter that wasn’t effective. Querytracker.com was invaluable. They have data for everything––query and manuscript response times, what genres an agent requests most frequently, the percentage of fulls/partials an agent requests and links to their websites/blogs. There’s a useful comment section, too, where users post their experiences, often pasting in their rejection letters so you’ll know if you’ve received a form. I set up a free account and began my list. Using the search fields, I added all the agents who repped YA, were looking for clients and were in the U.S. I researched these, checking out their blogs, looking up what books they sold, and chose my favorites. I set them aside. I didn’t want to query all my favorites straight off. What if my untested query was awful? From the whole list, I took note of the ones who replied quickly, the ones who only responded if they were interested and those who requested often. I sent out five at a time, making sure there was at least one quick responder and one frequent requester. I generally included one that I liked, too, and yes, I bombed out on a few top choice agents because they got substandard query letters. The “Rs” came hot and heavy in the beginning, so I knew I needed to tweak my query. I reworked it numerous times, and finally found a version that began getting requests with every round I sent out. That’s when my top-top choices got my query. I ended up with three offers and signed with Sara Crowe of  The Harvey Klinger Agency. Now, on to surviving the submission process!

This is what worked for me in my agent search, but it’s not everyone’s best method. The only part of my process that I think everyone should definitely follow is the part about not accepting defeat. Ever. Remember: (corny phrase alert) rejection doesn’t mean you’re losing the game. It’s proof that you’re playing it.

Here are my final query stats:
Query Statistics
Sent = 54
Requests for material = 12
Rejections = 30
(The remaining were non-responders.)

I offer free pep talks to anyone feeling down and/or considering giving up their or is confused by querytracker.com, so don’t be a stranger!

My meat computer is a Mac

The Meat ComputerNot too long ago, I wondered if maybe it was time to give this stupid dream of being a writer and go back to a snug, secure cubicle. I understand cubicles, having spent nine years in one. Rejection letters were coming every day, hot and heavy: “While your writing shows promise, your project isn’t a good fit…”, “Thank you for querying me, but your concept just didn’t grab me…”, etc. Rejection hurts. It just does. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t a human being.

It was during this time of self doubt that I ran across this article on the existence of free will. Neuroscientists claim that our brains are essentially “meat computers,” and any decision we make is simply the result of the wiring of our brains. We can’t make choices. We simply execute commands issued by the synapses in our brains. I have to say, the science guys made a compelling argument. Compelling enough to make me really upset.

By this reasoning, every stupid, cowardly and just plain bad decision I’ve ever made was the output of my meat computer. I stayed in that cubicle for nine years, in a state of static self-loathing, until electrical impulses in my brain lit up and said “now, we go.” That’s just depressing. Nine years of knowing I was doing the absolute wrong thing with my life but too afraid to change anything.

I figured, if I gave up and quit writing for publication, my meat computer truly was defective. I’d come so far. I’d written a book I was very proud of, revised it until I couldn’t stand looking at it and really, the rejections weren’t killing me. When it came down to it, I simply wasn’t going to stand for a substandard brain that said it was okay to quit when things got difficult––I’d done this before. It never got me anywhere.

So, I kept going. I recorded my rejections in my querytracker.com account, tweaked my query letter––again––and sent out another five. And one day, when I least expected it, an agent who I thought was miles and miles out of my league, emailed me. She loved my book. She stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it. She couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted the chance to convince me that she was the best agent for me. Yes, that was in the email. I nearly peed myself.

So maybe there isn’t free will. And maybe there is. it certainly felt like a choice to push on, slog through all the “no’s” to get to the “yes.” Either way, I have new respect for my meat computer. I wouldn’t be here without it.

To be like a shark

Before my husband was my husband, he used to have this little saying that went something like, “women are like sharks. They’re always moving forward.”

Whatever. It was him being nervous-guy about not wanting to get sucked into commitment. Turns out, he couldn’t stomach fighting the good fight and settled into domestic bliss with nary a squawk. But the phrase stuck with me, because in my case, it’s true. I’d change the word “women” to “writers,” though, and this article by Erin Bowman at The Crowe’s Nest blog lays it out perfectly:

“When you are querying, you just want an agent. When you get an agent, you just want a book deal. Once you have the book deal, you want your editorial letter. You’re anxious to move into revisions, and line edits, and copy edits, and cover art, and ARCs, and marketing, and tours, and reviews, and seeing your book on a store shelf. And then you want to sell the next novel, and the next, and repeat the process all over again.”

I am querying, and all I want is an agent. Among the rejections, requests from agents to read my book are starting to roll in at an alarming rate. My feelings on this range from giddy excitement to looming dread. If I’m soundly rejected, it means my book is flawed, fatally so. If I sign with an agent, I level up into a professional world that is currently foreign to me. I suppose in order for a writer to become an author, she has to want that next thing more than anything. Otherwise, no one would ever, ever write a query letter. And forget about a one-page synopsis. Just the words “one-page synopsis” makes me throw up in my mouth a little. But we write the query, and we write the  synopsis, because like a shark, writers are always moving forward.

Submission fail

So today, this post is inspired by my own idiocy. I spent a ton of time writing my book. Revising it. Editing it. Revising it again. And again. The query letter took weeks. I sent out the query to five agents, and lo and behold, I got a request to read the manuscript. I was very excited, so what did I do? I wish I could say I took my time, went over a checklist detailing everything that should be included in my submission, but no. I did not do that. I sent that submission out as fast as my little fingers could click. Not my best moment.

Guess which one of these fails occurred when I sent my submission:

A. I sent the whole thing in 16 pt. Ariel font
B. I left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages.
C. I sent an old, angry version of the book riddled with swear words wherever I couldn’t find an appropriate adjective.
D. I sent the submission to the agent one down in my inbox, from whom I’d just received a form rejection.

They’re all great and terrible submission fails, but if you guessed “B,” you’d be correct! left my name, contact info and book title off the submission pages. The title is the file name, however, and both the query letter and the accompanying synopsis has all that information, so I decided (after several agonizing hours) not to resend it. I thought it would be more annoying to send a “oh, I’m resending this because I’m a dumbass and am already proving myself a pain to work with.”

Still, I feel like an idiot. Lesson learned: Slow down, breathe. And make a damn checklist.