Beware Self-Doubt in Query Phase

I’m in that foggy phase of writing–I’ve seen my child off into the wide world (I’d say wide, wide world except I haven’t yet queried most of the agents I’ve selected) and am having trouble letting go of it in order to turn around and conceive another. It’s as if Laps is out there wandering in the mist and I’m trying to get a fix on her, keep track of her progress…but the fog gets in the way.

During this phase, it’s important to redouble my goals and not succumb to self-doubt. One day I will get an agent and be published, I am sure. Of course, I’m more sure of that when my baby is closer at hand (as in, I’m in the middle of writing it). Once it’s out there, I have to fend off the little devil in my mind that says, “Forget about all this hassle. Stay in full control and self-publish. Let your audience find you.” I have named this little devil “Spam”–an acronym for Self Publishing Argument Monster.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly, and particularly author Zoe Winters, the following video has helped drive away Spam today:

Originally posted 2010-07-14 15:26:51.

The Kindest Rejection of All

Having sent out 8 queries so far (most of which I emailed only two days ago), and receiving two kind form rejections and one glorious request for my full manuscript, I am in that most uncomfortable state as a writer: awaiting judgment.

I know, I know…I need to put those thoughts aside and get on with my next WIP. And I will. I simply need a few days to breathe.

In the meantime, I lie awake at nights, my mind grasping for the next big idea (because the one I had now seems too daunting), fiddling around with fantasies of success, and worrying over whether I’ve done everything I could to be prepared for the best…or the worst.

I don’t envy agents and I know they really do want to find treasures among all the queries they receive. I’m convinced of this because they usually lay it all out so plainly for us. They tell us upfront what they’re interested in, and they often bend over backwards to give us clues (in blogs, interviews, appearances at writers conferences, etc.) to the kinds of queries that turn them off and the kinds that catch their attention.

Still, they have to write so many rejection letters that they’ve had to come up with form rejection letters for use in most cases. Even those form rejection letters ooze with remorse. I think they really do feel our pain.

I can’t recall where I came across this some years ago, but I call it the “kindest” rejection letter I’ve ever read. It was supposedly from a Chinese magazine (which makes all kinds of sense, because Asians are more concerned with saving face–either their own or another’s–than being honest):

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of a lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that, in the next thousand years, we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our shortsightedness and timidity.

Maybe we should all move to China.

Originally posted 2010-07-07 09:57:36.

Big Nugget: The One-Sentence Pitch

Also known as the logline or hookline (and not to be confused with an author’s tagline), the one-sentence pitch is important if you’re going to move your manuscript off your computer and into the hands of an agent or editor.

Rachelle Gardner reiterated what I’d heard before at the Maui Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writers Conference: it should be no more than 25 words in length.

But she also went into more detail. It can double as the first line in your query letter or the first sentence you use in your pitch to an agent at a conference. And it should include at least three of the following five characteristics:

  • Character
  • Choice, conflict, or goal
  • What’s at stake
  • Action
  • Setting

She then gave some examples from two well-known books, as well as a book she agented:

“A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who has murdered his parents.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

“In the south in the 1960’s, three women cross racial boundaries, risking their lives to begin a movement that will forever change their town and the way women view one another.” (The Help)

“Chaos is unleashed on a quiet coastal town when an unassuming crippled woman raises a young boy from the dead, unlocking a centuries-old curse.” (When Faith Awakes)

You can see that each of these examples include at least three of the five elements she listed, and while one does extend beyond 25 words, all pack the gist of their story into one sentence.

She said that the keys to composing an effective one-sentence pitch are:

1) Keep it simple (with only one plotline and 2-3 characters mentioned at the most).

2) Use strong nouns, verbs, and adjectives (I blogged more about this here and how it also applies to the first lines of novels. Check it out and vote on your favorite opening lines.)

3) Don’t pitch a theme, pitch what happens.

4) Make the conflict clear without hinting at the solution.

If you’re still fuzzy about how to compose a good, one-sentence pitch, she recommended the formulaic method espoused by fellow agent, Nathan Bransford here.

Originally posted 2010-06-01 11:17:08.

Webinar with Agent Rachelle Gardner

Today I spent 90 minutes online and on the phone with a literary agent.

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner

No, I don’t have an agent yet, and though I used my phone for the audio, it wasn’t exactly a personal phone call. There were probably thousands of others out there also listening in (including my friend and fellow writer, Liz Adair) as Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary Agency gave a power point presentation entitled “Sell Your Stuff: Learn the Secrets to Selling Your Fiction and Memoir.”

Sponsored by Writers Digest, it was definitely time and money well spent, as she covered in detail how to make sure your work is ready to pitch (particularly those first few pages), and then how to make sure you’ve got a good query letter, a good log-line (or 1-sentence pitch), and a good elevator pitch. She took questions (which we typed in and submitted throughout the presentation), promising to answer all of those she didn’t have time for by email over the next 2 weeks. As a bonus, we also get to send her an elevator pitch or 1-sentence pitch for her to critique personally.

So what did I learn? I’ll share my lessons in nuggets over the next couple of weeks through this blog. Today’s nugget:

Do NOT start your novel (or memoir) with backstory. In fact, don’t bring any backstory in during the first few pages. Then, if you need to add some backstory, weave it in skillfully. Most agents, including this one, will give the first few pages of a manuscript more weight than the query letter itself, so you’ve got to make sure you come off like a pro in those first pages and a professional writer plunges you into the story, rather than spending paragraphs and pages setting everything up.

More on what they’re looking for in those opening pages in days to come.

Originally posted 2010-05-27 17:46:29.

Reading, Reading, and More Reading

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

Sorry for slacking off here. I know I missed posting last Friday and this past Monday, but I was in the middle of a terrific writer’s conference (LDS Storymakers)…and then I was still recovering from it.

(A ten-hour drive in one day is not easy, despite M&Ms and other caffeinated products, particularly after you’re coming off of five nights of only 3-5 hours of sleep on average. But an audio book leant to me by my writing/conference buddy, Liz Adair, certainly helped!)

Anyway, it was a great conference. The best thing was that I had another excuse to see my daughter. I won’t have too many more opportunities like that before she leaves on her mission. And she even came to the Whitney Awards Banquet with me (that’s become a custom…I’ll definitely miss her next year).

Liz and I were roommates again and we also kept each other company during the massive book signing (and I got to pick up a lot of tips on how to do a signing by watching our neighbor, Janette Rallison, respond to the lines and lines of fans queued up for her signature or picture).

Liz and I at the Book Signing

Me with Janette Rallison and Rachelle Christensen

I took part in one of the critique sessions held during the Publication Primer the day before the conference and met some terrific writers there, including David King, Rebekah Wells, and Becky Tueller and her sister, Cheryl. Our group was led by Natalie Hickman, almost due to have her baby and just out of the hospital that morning. Talk about dedication to your craft!

Me with David and Rebekah

I pitched my WIP to Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency and she wants to see the first three chapters when it’s ready. YAY!!! She also said she’d have no problem taking on a client that wanted to write both Women’s Fiction and Middle Grade…all under my own name. Hmmm. Maybe I won’t need a pen name after all.

Also, I met with my editor, Linda Mullineaux, and they’re now looking at sending my book (which will be called something other than Laps) to press in August! I gave them a new suggestion for the title and I think they may go with it. But I’m not announcing it here until it’s finally approved. Anyway, I’m firmly a part of the Walnut Springs Press family, as shown by this picture of several of their authors taken after the Whitney Awards Banquet.

Walnut Springs Authors (Me, Angie Lofthouse, Liz Adair, Jenni James, Betsy Love, Theresa Sneed, and the injured Tristi Pinkston)

Besides the fact that I desperately need a makeover, I learned lots of great things at the LDS Storymakers Conference, as usual (particularly loved Jennifer Nielsen’s class on Middle Grade Fiction and Jeff Savage’s on Podcasts), though I didn’t get to attend nearly as many workshops or classes. That was because:

1) My body crashed after my Friday afternoon pitch . . . it’s a little too old now for these midnight film premieres (but “The Avengers” was terrific!)

and . . .

2) I volunteered to help do timekeeping for pitch sessions on Saturday morning. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be the one watching the clock rather than the one racing through my pitch over and over in my mind while waiting for the signal to go in and face the agent.

While I didn’t spend much in the bookstore, I came away with two more books to review this month. I was already set to review Jolene Perry’s Night Sky on May 14th (I just finished reading it today and have the review all written), but now I’m due to read Heather Moore’s Daughters of Jared and Tristi Pinkston’s Women of Strength, as well, before the end of the month.

Not to mention all the Whitney Award finalists and winners I’ve got downloaded. As I put in my title, it looks like all I’ll be doing the rest of this month is reading, reading, and more reading!

Originally posted 2012-05-11 13:23:28.

Consider Organizations, Not Just Individuals

Present word count of WIP:  47,161

Okay, I slowed down on my output the last two days. First, I was bummed yesterday at receiving another rejection. It was so nicely worded, however, and included enough good feedback that I almost felt guilty about feeling depressed. (At least, I know the agent judges me to be talented and would definitely consider future proposals.) Then today, things really began to look up and I simply couldn’t concentrate on writing all morning. I may have an important announcement to make next week, so stay tuned!

For now, Seth Godin’s next bit of Advice for Authors:

16. Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload. In other words, sell to organizations that buy on behalf of their members/employees.

This got me thinking about another way to market my second novel, LAPS, once it gets published. Since a couple of key characters in the novel have Asperger’s syndrome, I could contact local chapters of Autistic Support groups and donate cases of books or, at least, provide them at deep discounts simply to help spread word of the book.

Autism Society of America

Since my son has AS, we have been participating in a study put on by the University of Washington. In fact, we recently gave them permission to share all our data with the National Instititute for Health. They might also appreciate copies of the novel. It’s something to keep in mind, for certain.

Asperger's Under the Umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders

How about you? Can you think of organizations that might have a natural tie-in to your most recent or upcoming book?

Originally posted 2012-03-09 16:45:10.

The Effectiveness of Signings and Book Club Appearances

Present word count of WIP: 39,556

Okay, when I blogged yesterday about trying to begin today to make up for my lack of writing over the weekend, I didn’t count on waking up with a full-blown head cold. While I didn’t make any progress on SOG, I did get my full of “Laps” sent in to Jane Dystel (and received a prompt reply from her confirming she’d received it). I also helped edit a friend’s query letter, critiqued another friend’s chapter, and am now writing this post…so, while it doesn’t change the word count of my WIP, it certainly counts as writing!

Now, for Seth Godin’s next piece of Advice for Authors:

13. If you’ve got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book. If you do it 200 times a year, it will pay.

Is it just me, or was he being facetious when he wrote this one? Just kidding…I know he was because of his next piece of advice, which I’ll blog about on Friday.

I can’t imagine using almost two-thirds of every year for signings and book club appearances. When would you have time to write? And any good writer needs to be a good reader, so when would you have time to read?

Since my first book was self-published, I’ve only done a couple of bookstore signings (both local) and they accounted for maybe 10 sales total. I fared far better when it came to visiting book clubs (one here, one in Utah, and two in Southern California), but still only netted sales of perhaps 50-75 books total.

Whether you’re a reader or an author, which do you prefer? Bookstore signings or book club appearances (either by phone, Internet, or in person)?

Originally posted 2012-02-27 21:54:33.

What a Terrific Second Day!

Present word count of WIP: 39,556

Again, I didn’t have time to write and will definitely make up for it tomorrow. But yesterday was even more eventful for me than the first day was at the conference.

It started with next to no sleep the night before but, somehow, I dragged myself out of bed at 6:20 am for a 6:45 “All Star Breakfast” with the editors, agents, and faculty of the conference. The first 20 to register for the conference got this perk, even though I was feeling far from “perky” at that time of the morning. I certainly felt a lot perkier by the end, though!

You see, being the introvert I sometimes am, I headed for the unoccupied table in the back (forcing my roommate, Bonnie Harris, into my introverted ways, I’m afraid…but I think she was grateful in the end) then waited to see if anyone would join us. Susan Aylworth did and then, lo and behold, in came the top agent I’d pitched the day before–Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich–and she makes her way all the way back and sits down right next to me. She had asked to see the full of “Laps” the day before but I wasn’t sure if she was truly interested (after all, I’d submitted it to their agency two years earlier, though to a different agent) or simply being kind and encouraging…which she is. Then, five minutes later, we are joined by Linda Mulleneaux with Walnut Springs. In the course of conversation, Jane was describing her typical day at the office back in New York and I asked about her client list. She said she had approximately 50 active clients and perhaps 250 total, including the inactives.

Then she mentioned that she’d be having dinner that night with one of her clients there in Phoenix. Inside I’m thinking, “What a coincidence, since in my novel my reclusive protagonist is an author whose New York agent comes out to Phoenix to try and talk her into doing a book tour…so I was glad to hear that they really do make visits in this day of cell phones and email.” But I wasn’t about to mention that because we were having a great, relaxed conversation ranging from politics to publishing and I’d already done my pitch.

That was when Linda spoke up and potentially did me the greatest favor. Pointing to me, she said something like, “You know, Tanya here has written a terrific book. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m loving it. It’s got this great beginning with this woman finding one of her students dead in her pool and the poem he’s left her is so wonderful.”

Jane looked more intrigued and seemed to want to know more so I explained the setup to the novel in a bit more detail then added that I also had a NY agent visiting my protagonist in Phoenix in my story. Linda then said something about how excited she’ll be to finish it and see it published. At that point, I turned to Jane and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t bother sending it to you in that case” and she said, “Oh no, I’d like to see it!” She then turned to Linda in full agent mode (this is no doubt what makes her a great agent…she never lets an opportunity for a deal pass by, big or small) and asked what kind of advances they gave. She was surprised to hear they didn’t provide any, but she pressed on, asking about their royalty rate (10-12%).

Linda, recognizing Jane’s interest, told me I should definitely submit it to Jane. Let me tell you, I walked away from that breakfast more than satisfied!

Later that morning when I had my scheduled pitch with Linda (which now almost seemed unnecessary though it gave us a chance to talk about the book more), she was very kind and supportive about my possibilities for a bigger market. If it turns out to be a rejection from Jane, though, I will go ahead and contact Linda, for sure.

I also pitched School of Guardians to Anita Mumm with Nelson Literary that morning and she wants me to submit the first 30 pages when I’ve got it completed. So I headed for lunch, having batted a thousand over the course of the 2-day conference: 3 requested submissions (Jane, Anita, and Lisa Mangum of Shadow Mountain, an imprint of Deseret Book) and a potential deal for Laps with Walnut Springs should Jane turn it down.

Now, I’ve been to enough writers conferences to know that all four possibilities may well evaporate in the end, but at the very least, I know I’m getting closer to my goal. And, as Lisa said in her empowering keynote speech at the close of the conference, our dreams are closer than we may imagine.

At lunch, like icing on the cake, I was announced as the 3rd place winner in General/Women’s Fiction for my beginning of Laps…and the 2nd place winner in Youth Fiction for my beginning of School of Guardians. These announcements were made in front of those editors and agents to whom I’d pitched those works. I was even happier when Bonnie (who also got a request for her full mystery manuscript from Jane) was announced as the Grand Prize winner of ANWA’s first BOB (Beginning of Book) Contest!

The ANWA Conference is getting bigger and better and, needless to say, it was well worth my registration, flight, and a few sleep-deprived nights!

My only disappointment for the weekend: not enough of an opportunity to have a long, deep discussion about LDS fiction and our role as writers who are LDS with Bonnie and my other roommate, Heather Moore. Since Heather’s going to be the featured guest at this year’s Northwest Writers Retreat in November, however, I still hope to have that opportunity.

Originally posted 2012-02-26 11:32:35.

ANWA Writers Conference and Blogging

Present word count of WIP: 39,556

The one place it’s difficult to get any writing done is at (believe it or not) a writers conference. No matter. This has already been a success for me and it’s only been the first day! I sold all my books (of course, I only brought three since I was flying Allegiant and was trying to avoid any extra charges), had two successful pitches (Jane Dystel wants the full of Laps and Lisa Mangum wants me to send her the full of School of Guardians when it’s finished), and…most exciting…Linda Mulleneaux stopped by my book signing to tell me she had started reading “Laps” the other night and LOVED it! I’ve got an appointment tomorrow with her, so I think I may have some more news to share soon (hopefully). I also have a pitch appointment tomorrow with April Mumm for SOG. Wish me more luck!

Now on to Seth Godin’s next piece of Advice for Authors:

12. Blog mentions, on the other hand, matter a lot.

That’s certainly been attested to at this conference. An author’s online presence is very important to agents and publishers on everything from social media to blogs. If you can luck out and get a great review or even a mention from a blog that gets a lot of traffic, your name (and your work) becomes that much better known.

So, I’m on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, LinkedIn, and I have another blog along with this one on my website. The trick is learning to manage it all without cutting too much into your writing time.

I blog Mondays and Fridays, post to FB maybe 3-4 times a week, tweet a few times a week, and try to update on Goodreads once a week. I’m honestly not doing much with LinkedIn…yet.

How do you manage balancing online presence with your writing?

Originally posted 2012-02-24 21:09:12.

Worthy Investments

Present word count of WIP:  36,232

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

9. If you have a ‘real’ publisher (see #7), it’s worth investing in a few things to help them do a better job for you. Like pre-editing the book before you submit it. Like putting the right to work on the cover with them in the contract. And most of all, getting the ability to buy hundreds of books at cost that you can use as samples and promotional pieces.

I couldn’t agree with this more, particularly the pre-edit suggestion. Editors at publishing houses these days do not have the luxury of time they once had to spend on their authors’ manuscripts, trying to get them polished just so. For a while now, that job has fallen to agents (many of whom are former editors). Perhaps even agents don’t have the time or willingness to do it all that much anymore, because I’ve come across a number of published books that could have used a good edit! It’s far easier for an agent to drop your manuscript for the one that’s already polished to a sheen.

Some writers are funny about editing. It’s as if this masterpiece they have created will no longer be theirs if they allow someone to read it, make suggestions, and point out things that don’t work. To these writers, I simply say: There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Even if all (or at least some of) the edits are incorporated, it won’t be perfect…but it will generally be better.

That’s why I have no fear about submitting my finished manuscript to an editor, such as someone from the Precision Editing Group, which is headed up by a friend of mine. I want my manuscript to be the best it can be before submitting it to a publisher. And, no, someone with a Master’s degree in English will not necessarily do. I want someone who reads a lot of books for a living, someone who knows what sells and what doesn’t, someone who understands the pace and thrust of story and plot.

As for Godin’s other two suggestions (getting the right to provide input on the cover and obtaining an option to buy lots of copies of your book at cost), both are answered best by getting a good agent. And getting a good agent doesn’t cost money, only time.

So, hold out for what you really want and be patient while you keep writing.

Originally posted 2012-02-17 17:14:13.