… is never done.
Let’s skip all the “how did you get here” fun… because to be honest it wasn’t fun. Though it was kinda cool. After many misadventures and a few side trips, I finally landed a literary agent. Yay! One step closer to my goal of traditional publishing.
Writing the book is the easy part. Then comes the querying for an agent. And the waiting. And the rejections. And … and … and … Patience and perseverance are required. A whole lotta both.
And the waiting wasn’t over. There was more waiting for contracts to be done. Then waiting for her edit and revision notes…
Which is the point of this post.
You think you’re done when you type “The End”? Or when you’ve done all your proofreading and revisions and had critique partners and beta readers, and…? Nope and nope.
I just completed the edits my agent suggested. There weren’t that many, and they weren’t that bad. And many of them made me bang my head into my desk wondering why I didn’t catch that stuff myself.
Next up? Putting together the whole submission package (with help from said agent). Then comes submitting to publishers. Dun-dun-DUN! The nice part about that is… I don’t have to do it! I just have to bite my nails and WAIT. Oh great. More patience.
And y’know what? When a publisher buys the book? (note I said “when” and not “if” – there’s that perseverance thing) There’s going to be more work. More revisions and edits. More tweaking and more waiting. And waiting. And then promoting. And saying “hey go buy my book!”
All while writing the next book… or editing the next book… or… Because a writer’s work is never done.
It’s a question that plagues most writers at some point – where do I start this story?
Don’t start with waking up. Start in the middle of the action. Don’t start with an info dump or backstory. Open with a hook. Do this. Don’t do that. The advice on how to craft the opening scenes of your novel is wildly varied, and often contradictory.
So which advice do you heed? The answer is simple, and horrible. You do what is right for your story.
Oh ugh! Really? Did I just write that? Yep. I did. Because it’s true.
I recently put the finishing touches on a new romantic suspense, and (writer angst about being a total hack aside) I’m pretty pleased with the story. I set out to write a tale that stayed firmly within a genre. It was my first real attempt at plotting before I started writing. It was a challenge and a learning experience for me, and I’ve got to say I’m damn happy with the results.
Then I got to the point in the process that’s hardest for me. Turning the story over to beta readers and critique partners. There is always a moment of abject fear: What if they hate it? What if it’s terrible? What if… What if… What if…
The responses come in, and… they’re not terrible. That thing I was debating deleting? Yep. Ditch it. That other scene I wasn’t sure about? Everyone loves. Oh, huh, glad someone caught that; don’t I feel silly for that mistake.
But… the starting point… One suggests an earlier start (something I had done but deleted – more on that in a moment). Another suggests a later start. Still another thinks it’s perfect just as it is. And… and… and…
If there was some sort of agreement, or unified voice, I’d have no doubts. But this? I can’t even tell if the story really does start in the wrong spot, or if it’s just that particular writer’s approach to story telling.
Back to that earlier start thing… I had, in early stages, started the story much earlier. In fact, right where someone suggested. When I finished and looked at the whole story, I realized that was the wrong starting point. A couple of trusted brainstorming partners agreed – for the genre, it slowed it down too much. Sure, it was an action-packed scene, filled with tension and emotion, but it was not the right starting point for the story I wanted to tell.
So, what am I gonna do?
This is where that simple and horrible answer comes in. I’m going to take an honest and dispassionate look at the story. I’m going to go back to those trusted brainstorming partners. I’m going to pick apart everything until I’m reasonably certain that I’m starting in the right spot… for my story. A different writer might start this tale in a different place.
And y’know what? That’s totally OK.
At an inner-city self-storage facility, I’m the only person in the lot when a nondescript panel van pulls in. I’m busy unloading the now empty bins of holiday decor, set to go back into storage, when a guy climbs out of the panel van. Nothing strange here, right? We’re at a storage facility after all.
Then dude strips off his sweater and shirt (it’s 40 frickin’ degrees outside) and tears into a plastic bag. He pulls out a brand new disposable coverall – the kind of thing painters use. And he puts this on. So… seriously? A disposable coverall?
Now… I’m sitting there thinking, do I really want to go into a deserted storage facility with some dude who just dressed up like Dexter? Maybe I should just, oh… wait out here, in the parking lot where there are cameras, and a casino parking lot across the street.
Of course, instead, I hurry inside, cursing my overactive writer’s imagination. Because, y’know… I did just finish reading a serial killer novel. And I am in the process of researching a new thriller. And I did just finish writing another thriller – that features a creepy dude stalking a woman. And I am doing final edits on a very creepy thriller with a serial rapist.
Yeah. Not like my brain is predisposed to think creepy things, instead of… hey, maybe dude is hauling a bunch of dirty stuff and doesn’t want to get his clothes yucky.
On the way home from said storage facility, I’m driving up the street and see a big, burly, scary looking dude walking along dressed in full camo gear and acting a little strange. No big deal. This is the city. There are strange folks around.
Except this dude has a gigantic Bowie knife strapped to one hip. And he’s marching along, stopping every now and then to make angry-looking gestures.
And of course, when I pull up to park, dude is coming up the street right behind me. Do I get out of my car? With angry-looking, knife-wearing camo-dude right there?
Once again, cursing my writer’s imagination, I get out of the car. Camo-dude ignored me as he continued up the sidewalk.
Back home… you can damn well bet both of these scenes were noted, jotted down, and filed away for future possible use, because… well, damn, I couldn’t make that kinda shit up.
The group was passionate, but peaceful… mostly young people, all clearly feeling very upset at the election results. They took to the streets of the city to voice their displeasure.
While some say “what’s the point” and “it’s too late” – I think the point is clear. For a great number of people, the opinions voiced by the President-Elect are not just objectionable, they are terrifying. His words are direct threat to the safety of women, people of color, anyone on the LGBTQ+ rainbow, immigrants, and a whole list of marginalized people.
Do I believe that a protest is going to change the election results? Or magically make the country somehow say, “Whoops, our bad, let’s just erase that and have a do-over, m’kay”… No.
What I do think is that protests will make people sit up and listen. I think it may be effective in uniting those with common concerns. I think it sends an important message – to those marginalized folks? You are not alone. You have allies.
To those who do not understand? Those who hurl epithets, or who (as one man at a Trump rally did) say they believe in “respecting women” while they’re wearing a shirt that reads “Trump that bitch” and “Hillary sucks, but Monica’s better” (yeah, that’s real respect right there). To those people? I hope these protests make you uncomfortable. I hope they shake your foundation and make you question your beliefs. I hope they stir something inside you to make you realize that yours is not the only view that matters, and that others who may not look like you, or think like you, are just as deserving of not only the same human rights as you, but the same level of courtesy and respect. I do realize that’s a tall order.
When I posted these images on social media, my Twitter feed blew up. A couple of news agencies asked for permission to share the pictures (granted). One asked for an on air interview – not granted. Why? Because I wasn’t sure what the questions would be like. Because I wasn’t interested in being labeled as an anti-Trump protestor. Because I want to be able to take time to express myself thoughtfully. Because… Because… Because…
I believe in the right of the people to protest. When Baltimore erupted in April 2015 over the death of Freddie Gray, the protests were not the problem. The subsequent riots and looting were the problem. I don’t know how the rest of this protest went, but what we saw here in our neighborhood was orderly and peaceful.
On social media, I see people grieving, people stunned, people dealing with all levels of shock, or anger, or frustration.
I am none of those things. The shock passed quickly. The anger passed soon after. Frustration was quickly replaced with something that burns far brighter – determination.
I am determined to be a part of the solution for a better tomorrow. I cannot change the past. I cannot change today. But I can sure as hell make sure I do my damnedest to bring about a country where ALL of my friends and family are treated equally.
I’m kind of an odd duck in the world of politics. Socially liberal, fiscally conservative, and a few odd subjects that swing completely opposite of what you’d expect – I don’t fit in any one candidate’s (or party’s) camp.
With this year’s presidential election, there is far more at stake than who will be the next POTUS. There is a vacant Supreme Court Justice seat. That’s not a position that will change in a few years. It’s not a position that we-the-people can vote someone out of. The current SCOTUS is split pretty much right down the middle, so… yeah. Do the math.
Combine this with a right-leaning Congress, and it’s pretty clear why folks are worried about the way things turned out on Tuesday night.
But what difference does it make to me? I mean… I’m white. I’m upper middle class. I’m… Yeah… just stop. I’m a woman. I’m a mother. My friends and family are from all walks of life and include an entire rainbow of race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, etc, etc, etc. But more than that, I am a human being, and I’d like to think a decent one, and the views expressed by a certain President-Elect are repugnant.
The idea that America could elect a man whose ideas are so abhorrent is mind boggling. This man has demonstrated that he is dishonest, entitled, priviliged, bigoted, misogynistic, and completely lacks self discipline or restraint. In fact, he has on several occasions behaved like a petulant child.
And this is the person who, come January, will be the head of our country?
In the name of all things holy and un, how did this happen? And why? And holy shit, America, is this really the direction you want our country to go?
Because America has just sent a very disturbing message to all women, and people of color, and immigrants, and the entire populace of LGBTQ+ citizens, and anyone else who falls outside of a very narrow, WASPish spectrum.
That message is clear: We don’t matter. We don’t count. Our views, our concerns, our liberties, and in fact our very lives are not important.
And if that doesn’t scare the ever loving shit out of you, then you’re part of the reason I’m afraid for the future.
There are generally two types of writers… those who plot and those who do not. Okay, obviously, there are hybrids… folks who do a bit of both, and the world is never quite as extreme black and white as all that, but… for the sake of this post, let’s go with it, m’kay? (cue the warnings of impending hyperbole, sarcasm, and other shit)
Plotters maintain that the only way to draft a novel is through meticulous planning. They make lists, detailed notes, outlines, and spreadsheets. There are countless plotting methods and everyone has their favorite(s).
Pantsers, on the other hand, basically sit down to write with some vague idea in their heads and not much else going on. They start throwing words out willy nilly in the hopes that they won’t write themselves into a corner.
Yeah, fine… over simplification, a little ridiculous, and not nice to either. I warned you, right? (If you really want to know more – check out this Goodreads post)
Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser. I start writing with an idea, a question really – what would happen if… I write linearly – in other words, I write start to finish. I don’t write the end scene, then go back and write the scenes that lead up to it.
Over time, I evolved into a primarily pantser hybrid – sort of sketching out a rough idea of the general story arc and leaving the rest to chance.
I recently decided to try an experiment. After a bunch of genre-blurring work I decided to attempt something that sat firmly in one genre. Gasp!
My favorite genre question has always been: what shelf/section would your work be on in the book store? My answer has usually been: ummm… multiple? (Aside from a horror novella, everything else has been kinda hard to define… which also means kinda hard to market. Whoopsie.)
Back to my point… I decided to write a piece that had a clear genre – one that I was at least already passingly familiar with. Then I did my research – got a better grasp of the genre, read several of the genre’s current top sellers, and a few of the rotten apples as well. Looked at agents and publishing houses that deal with the genre and at their lists – what were they looking for, what do they consider marketable, etc, etc, etc.
Shit. Here I am treating my writing as a business. Dammit. This is supposed to be fun. Oh. Wait. It is. I am having fun.
And so… after doing all of this and coming up with my “what would happen if…” question, I realized that I needed to do some planning. My habit, my experience as a writer would not necessarily take this novel in the direction I wanted to go. So… it was time to learn to plot.
Like the geeky person I am and pretend not to be, I researched different methods and discovered most of them drive me ape-shit-bonkers. Seriously. Bonkers. As in pull-my-hair-out, pound-my-head-into-my-desk. And I love spreadsheets.
After much digging, I finally found an approach that didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a splintery wooden spoon and gave it a shot.
It took a few tries, but I was pretty happy with the result… then I started writing. Pacing is not normally a problem for me. Word count is not normally a problem for me… Yep, suddenly I was struggling to keep the pacing tight, and to actually get enough words on the page. Grrrr…
Still… I kept going. It took three months. Three freaking months… okay, wait… that’s not that bad. In fact, all things considered, that’s not that bad at all.
The results? Well… I accomplished my goal. I wrote a novel that sits firmly within a genre, and I think it’s a pretty damn good story. Whether agents and/or publishers agree… well… that remains to be seen. I hope so. Because I kinda like this piece. In fact, I like it a lot.
Does this mean I’m a reformed pantser? Meh. I dunno. What I do know is that I’ve got some ideas for the next novel… and I’m going to try this method again and see where it leads me and get some more words on the page.
And that is all any of us can ever do… continue honing our craft and our approach to find what works for us. Pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between… it doesn’t matter. What matters is words on the page.
It’s been a challenging month. In the midst of the usual familial stuff, we’ve also been dealing with a major fracture among some of our closest friends.
I’ve been fortunate to have plenty to distract me from over-thinking the whole mess – kids, home, family, etc. plus putting a lot of effort into PitchWars (a writing contest), starting a new manuscript, and really focusing on my writing, have all kept my brain mercifully occupied.
Now that the dust has (mostly) settled and we start the process of grieving the loss of friendship, my wicked sense of humor rears its head. Big surprise, right?
Years ago, before we moved into our city digs, the hubby and I had already done a major cull of our book collections. We did another cull prior to the move – inner city living, not a lot of space, y’know? Even so, we still had boxes upon boxes of books.
As one friend hauled yet another box of books out of the moving van, he grumbled that he was going to buy us a Kindle (already had one, thanks!) and said, “I hate helping smart people move. They have too many books.”
Too many books?! What is this “too many” of which you speak?
And here’s where that sense of humor comes in… today, looking back… I can’t help but think, “huh, maybe that should have been a clue.”
I’m not saying I’ll only befriend people who are fellow bookworms, but… if you think I have “too many” books, or don’t understand my love of reading, prepare for me to give you major side-eye and to seriously question your judgement.
So the idea of Pitch Wars is basically pairing unagented authors with a more experienced author to tackle improving their manuscript before submitting to agents. (extremely short version there)
In years past, hopefuls selected the mentors they thought would be a good fit and submitted their query and first chapter to them. You had a limited number of names you could choose, but the mentors were allowed to do some swapping behind the scenes – so you could, theoretically, end up with a mentor you had not chosen.
This year, there will be no behind-the-scenes swapping of submissions. So, as a hopeful, you’re stuck with the four (or six if you donate, or win extra submissions) you selected.
Which brings me to the madness…
I keep thinking I have the list narrowed down to six names. Then something changes. Currently, I’ve got eight possibilities. Three are pretty much a given. Which means I’ve got three slots left, but five names with which to fill them. I’ve read the mentor wish lists umpteen bazillian times. I’ve Tweeted at them with questions and clarifications. I’ve scoured their blogs, and read sample pages from their books. And I’m still no closer to cutting two names than I was when I started.
So I decided to check their favorite books. Maybe getting a feel for the stories they like to read would help narrow my choices a bit.
One of my top choices, one I thought was a hands-down-gotta-sub, lists a book as their all-time, absolute, love-it-to-death piece that I not only cannot stand, but I find repugnant beyond words. As in, everything about it makes me cringe. As in, it is everything I do not like about a genre I normally love. As in, it represents some of the most unhealthy, codependent, romanticization of abusive behavior I’ve ever scene. As in, it makes 50 Shades of Gray seem like a good romance.
Cue freak out. Cue panic moment. Cue frantic scrambling to decide how important this information is and how to weight it in my choices. I mean, this mentor is one of my top choices otherwise. Harrumph.
Enter salvation from the PW community in the form of words of calm and wisdom from other hopefuls, and a few mentors.
Deep breathing ensued. Analytical thinking resumed, replacing the blindass panic of moments before.
OK. I can deal with this. It’s not a big deal. It’s just one little factor among many. And not everyone has the same literary tastes.
Crisis averted, but it still doesn’t help narrow my damn list down any!
On the plus side, one mentor who I adored beyond all possible belief (and whose favorite books I also love), but thought was not a good fit for my manuscript turns out to be more open than I’d thought, and is now among my top three.
I’ve spent most of my career as an editor. I know damn good and well the work a writer turns in usually goes through multiple rounds of edits before it approaches publishable status. Still, as a writer, there is that little ego trip that says, “No, this is my creative baby, and it is perfect, just the way it is!”
Yeah, well… Bull. Shit.
This time last year
I stumbled across a Twitter-based writing contest called PitchWars. Having just put the finishing touches on a romantic thriller, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. Shocker, I did not get selected. Cue mild disappointment.
But the experience was overwhelmingly positive.
I connected with a wide range of other writers. I learned some valuable lessons on craft, and about social media. And I got some really killer advice from a couple of the mentors.
Yep. Even though I didn’t get selected, two of the mentors were fabulous folks who offered me some individual feedback on my submission.
The things they said were both humbling, and encouraging.
Great voice, solid writing, a good opening, and an interesting premise.
The MC needs to be more personable up front, we need to understand more of the antagonist, and don’t be afraid of taking the story into really dark places.
The premise, while good, was not unique enough in a glutted genre like romantic thriller/suspense, and the query needed serious help.
Rework, Rewrite, Revise
I took my 80,000 word story and reworked it following that advice. I had beta readers give me feedback. I redid the query. Eventually, with my word count sitting at 84,000, I started querying.
Mostly I was ignored.
I got a few form letter passes. “This isn’t right for us.” I got very few requests for more, all resulted in a no.
The standard advice is: if you’re not getting requests, there’s something wrong with your query. If you’re getting requests, but no takers, there’s something wrong with your manuscript.
I tabled it. I thought about it. I debated self publishing it. I debated a lot of things. Eventually, I picked it back up and reworked the query yet again. Then I got a couple of critique partners and reworked the entire manuscript, again.
I was all prepared to do another round of queries.
Revisions Round Two
Then I realized Pitch Wars was right around the corner. Well, it was good last year, why the heck not?
Another round of revisions and tweaks came about courtesy of the advice shared on the Twitter feeds during the lead up to Pitch Wars.
I completely trashed and rewrote my query letter after a series of critiques and exchanges. Then I tweaked it, revised it, and rewrote it again.
We will not even discuss the tortured hell that is a synopsis.
No, really. We won’t.
I added nearly 5,000 words to my manuscript, cut nearly 10,000 words, then added a few thousand back.
Final word count is currently at 85,000.
Well, we’ll see how Pitch Wars 2016 goes. I’m hoping to land a mentor this time through. If not, I’ll take whatever advice I get and continue polishing this manuscript until it’s as shiny as I can make it, and then send out some queries.
But what about the story?
Well… I’d like to think that I held onto the good, improved the bad, and prettified the ugly.
My main character got some major overhaul work done, and she’s now far more relatable far earlier in the story.
We get to know the antagonist a bit more as well, even though we may wish we didn’t.
Which brings me to the dark places… I went darker and creepier and opened doors I wasn’t sure I wanted to open. But y’know what? The story is better because of it.
As for the unique elements? I’m hoping that by taking the story into the deeper reaches of a dark and screwed up mind, I’ve hit that target. While the story could still be called a romantic thriller, I think it’s far closer to a thriller, that happens to have a romance.
And the query? Well… we already know that got completely redone.
In the end… we’ll see. And once again, Pitch Wars has been an overwhelmingly positive experience that has improved my skills as a writer.
Now excuse me while I get back to proofreading everything. I’m on deadline.