No sooner had I started blogging again, getting back in the habit of regular posts then…

I got into Pitch Wars!!!

Y’all! This is a huge step for me. I’ve entered PW twice before and gotten great feedback, but never got in. But… it has also been an ungodly amount of hard work. And worth every bit of blood, sweat, and tears.

Now that it’s winding down… some fellow 2018 mentees and I have some plans (see the news). The PW Agent Showcase is coming up in early February, so this leg of the journey is almost over.

People say publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And while that’s partially true, they forget to tell you that it’s an Iron Man Marathon – where each leg of the journey is a marathon in and of itself. And then you go on to the next.

There’s been a lot of coffee consumed…

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dep8hqfvyaaww7gLast week, I wrote about revising an old, retired manuscript…

Except this isn’t just revision. This is full-on rewriting. At this point, I don’t know how much of the original text and story will remain. I have a suspicion. Quite a bit of the bad guy will be hanging around. He’s sexy and scary, and terrific and terrible. The supporting characters, especially the main male character, are interesting and likely to remain largely unchanged – at least in personality.

That MC, though? She’s gotta go. She’s a pain in the ass and flat out awful. Not in the unlikable, but I still want to read about her way, either. More like in the I wanna smack her head into a wall, or throw this book across the room way. Not good. She’s due for a major overhaul.

And the plot? Holy slowpokes Batman! Let’s get this shit in gear, huh? I get that literary can be slower, but this is fucking molasses on a winter morning.

So, if it’s so much work, and such a pain in the ass, why am I doing this? After all, this was a story that got rejection after rejection, and finally got shelved in favor of a stronger piece.

Why make the choice to revise an old manuscript rather than write something new?

Oh, lots of reasons… But two really stand out…

At its core, it’s a good concept, and there are some really compelling bits in there (the bad guy in particular) that just won’t let me go.

It’s a story that is clearly pointing in a particular direction—now that I’m able to see it. Unlike the new piece rattling around in my head that is wavering between domestic thriller and romantic suspense.

After tearing the piece apart last week, I got to the even harder work of rebuilding the framework. It’s just an outline at the moment, a bare sketch with a few scenes (all the bad guy’s) left virtually untouched. But there is a foundation, a direction, a rough plot…

And it’s very different than before.

The pace is faster (thankfully), the steamy romance replaced with simmering chemistry and tension (damn it, I like my kissing books, but I think the tension better serves this story), and the main character has undergone a personality reboot—she’s still in the fledgling stages, but this woman is a vast improvement over her previous incarnation.

So now it begins… the work of digging into characters, finding their voices, and building their worlds, and then gleefully throwing havoc in their paths.

c5r6mc9umaa1pjxShelving a project you love is never fun, but…

My first PitchWars was (mumble, grumble, looks at calendar, gives up) more than a few years ago. I entered my then barely completed (and nowhere near ready) MS that I inexpertly described as an edgy romantic suspense.

I didn’t get in, but gained so much from the contest. The CPs, query help, and community were so amazing. I revised the ever living crap out of that piece (it became a literary thriller). Still, after several rounds of queries and only a few partial and full requests, I got nowhere.

Regretfully, I shelved it and moved on.

Two completed books later, having landed and then broken up with an agent… with countless (who am I kidding, I’ve counted) rejection letters, pages upon pages of feedback, and a completely different perspective about genre and writing… I’ve found myself in an interesting place.

My work straddles the line between romance (romantic suspense to be more precise) and domestic or literary thriller.

That’s a hard fucking sell.

I’ve been spinning my wheels on a new piece, unable to really move forward—should I write it more romance? Should I go more thriller?

My now-former agent’s advice on that question was: What do you want to write?

My answer was simple and complex and naive: Both, but I want to write what will sell.

Yesterday, I made a choice. I dusted off that old MS… and I proceeded to rip it apart, down to bare bones. Now? Now comes the scary part.

Putting it back together.

And it appears to be taking a whole new dimension, leaning toward straight up thriller, or even psychological thriller.

Let’s see where this ride goes, yeah?

… 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.

Scene 1:

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.

Scene 2:

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.

Scene 3:

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.

plottervpantserThere 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.

Ahem…

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.

Dun-dun-duhhhhn!

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.

IMG_2922I’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.

The good:

Great voice, solid writing, a good opening, and an interesting premise.

The bad:

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 ugly:

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.

Well. Shit.

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.

The Results?

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.

What is a “crit partner”?

Google the term, or the unabbreviated “critique partner” and you’ll see a confusing list of definitions, and places to find fellow writers eager to pair up with a crit partner.

In my eyes, and those of the folks I most frequently work with, a crit partner is usually a two-way relationship that involves mutual sharing between fellow writers. Beta readers are a totally different lot, and they deserve all the praise and thanks in the world, but a good crit partner is a match made in heaven. A bad one… well… you can imagine the opposite.

Just like any relationship, the terms of what makes for a good crit partnership are not set in stone. Each writer has their own needs and preferred ways of working.

Things to know before you seek out a crit partner

  • Are you ready for critique?
    If you think your manuscript is well polished and shiny and ready to go, and your crit partner disagrees, how are you going to handle their opinion?
    If you know you’re in the rough stages, and your crit partner suggests something isn’t working, can you step back and view your baby through their eyes?
  • What do you want from a crit partner?
    Are you looking for developmental edit work? Finding and fixing plot holes? Do you want a line-by-line critique, or just a general idea of how things flow and feel? Want input on what works and what doesn’t?

Things to know about a potential crit partner

  • Are they familiar with your genre, and do they like it?
    It’s not going to help quite as much to have a crit partner who loves cozy mysteries reading your erotic thriller. Think about that for a minute.
  • Do you respect their opinion and/or work?
    If you think their work is not for you, you’re not likely to value their opinion. Make sure you look for crit partners whose thoughts you actually care to hear.
  • What do you each want from the partnership?
    If your partner thinks this is a mutual exchange and you go in thinking it’s a one-way street, you’re going to clash pretty quickly. Talk before you trade and make sure you’re both on the same page about what you do and don’t want from your crit partner.
  • What level of honesty do you want, and can you offer?
    Some folks need their critique coated in sugar, and that’s fine. Others take it straight up, thank you very much.
  • How do they want their notes? How do you want your notes?
    Not everyone uses the same software, and not everyone is familiar with “track changes” features, or comfortable following comments. Which method works for you, and is your crit partner willing to give notes that way? And vice versa.

Things to know when you get a critique, or when giving one

  • Critiques are opinions.
    Sure, sometimes it’s on a factual matter, but really, this is one person’s opinion. You don’t have to agree on everything, but be respectful about it. The same is true whether you are getting or giving a critique. This is an opinion.
  • Be nice.
    Whether you’re giving critique, or receiving one, be nice. Even if your crit partner isn’t. Why? Just because it’s the nice thing to do.

When things aren’t going well

Sometimes it happens. You find a crit partner, and only after getting started realize this isn’t a good partnership. Or maybe you’ve changed genre or writing style. Or they’ve changed. Or… whatever. Life happens.

Reasons don’t really matter when it comes to a break up. Be respectful, be courteous, be kind and above all, be brief.

If there are problems that you believe are fixable, talk to your crit partner about them. It may be a simple misunderstanding of expectations. If you don’t believe they’re fixable, then it’s time to move on, nicely.

A simple, “I don’t feel our crit partnership is working out” or “I’m going to have to back out of our crit partnership” is all it takes.