Twelve-Thousand Words

When Anna Yeatts suggested I cut 12,000 words from my completed, edited 87,000 paranormal romance novel, I was a bit skeptical.

Her reasoning was perfectly sound. The shorter paranormal romance would be more marketable.

But sheesh. 12,000 words, or just a bit less than 14 percent of the book. Was it possible? Could I do it? Did I even want to do it?

But okay, I’d try.

I’m now on Chapter 23 (of 39) and have cut 8,000 words. That’s about 350 words per chapter. With 16 chapters to go and only 4,000 words to cut, I’ll probably make it.

The process has taught me three things:

  1. This story needed to get “colder” before marketing. The line edits were completed in January, and it would’ve make a huge difference to let it sit until at least March, and then giving it that final once-over.
  2. Cutting extraneous details makes for a stronger story.
  3. “Kill your darlings” (Faulkner) is good advice. I noticed that this month’s Writer’s Digest included an article on overwriting.

So where am I, and where do I want to be?

I’ll finish up the word-cut this week. A final read before restarting the query process and thinking about #PitchWars this coming fall. And I’ll go back to writing the first draft of the next in the series–which is one-fourth completed.

Whew.

I’m Conflicted

I had another short story accepted for publication this week. I also had another rejection, but I get so many of those, it almost doesn’t count. The story should appear in July—more on that as I know more.

Meanwhile, I’m getting my completed novel ready for the next round of agent queries. I can’t decide whether to send queries out before or after I submit to #PitchWars. If accepted, I’ll work with a mentor to more fully polish my query materials. That’s coming up in September, which feels like a long way away, but really isn’t.

In the process, I re-read my first chapter and hated it.. What was I thinking?

As a result, I devoted most of this week to revision, cutting extraneous details to laser in on the primary conflict for my main character. I’m about to re-read chapter two. I sure hope I won’t be rewriting this coming week.

Hope yours is a good one.

An Uninvolved Narrator

I wrote a short story about a sorceress betrayed by a king. She offers to have the king’s son, but he reneges on his promise to marry her. Her revenge? She refuses him his heir by staying pregnant for eight years.

That’s the premise. The story, which is mostly about what happens to the boy after he’s born, is told from the perspective of the sorceress’ giant bodyguard. More or less an uninvolved narrator. He follows the boy and tells the story, but doesn’t contribute much of anything to the plot.

The story—in addition to being somewhat clunky in its current form—has just never worked. It comes across as mostly “tell” with huge narrative distance. Maybe due to the point of view. The giant just doesn’t have enough at stake to keep the tension high.

On the other hand, both sorceress and son die at the end of the tale, and since “dead men tell no tales,” the piece can’t be written from their perspective. Maybe one of them should live?  I might try writing it that way and see if it works.

Have a thought about the uninvolved narrator? Pass it along.

On the querying front, no news to report. I’m looking at a couple of interesting options, including #PitchWars in September.

Submission Calls

I started writing short stories in 2017 after reading about the Ray Bradbury challenge. Bradbury recommends writing a short story a week, and that it isn’t possible to write fifty-two bad short stories. I aimed to prove him wrong.

At the end of the year, I had thirty-six completed short stories, fourteen of which were deemed good enough—after much revising—to submit for publication. Since I began, I’ve sent these fourteen stories out seventy-seven times total. Six are currently pending. Five were accepted for publication, three of which have been published.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had sixty-six rejections, not counting the rejections from agents I’ve queried. Novels don’t count.

So I wondered. Would I have better luck if I wrote short stories specifically for submission calls? I’m about to find out.

I stumbled across a submission call for a dark romance. Lucky for me, I had exactly that in my “story starts” folder. After some frantic revision, I sent it off. While waiting for a response to the submission, I reread the story–a mistake because now I’m perseverating. I think I made three errors—not typos and not grammar. Fixed, I could have improved my story arc. Serves me right for rushing.

Next, I found a submission call for a horror story similar to a premise I’d been trying to get on paper since 2017. I managed to complete the piece, but here come the doubts. Is it an overdone trope? Is the twist predictable? Are the characters likeable—especially the main character? Do I have too little exposition? Too much? Is the dialogue stilted? Is it overwritten? Underwritten? Enough descriptive detail or too much?

Time will tell. I have to keep reminding myself to embrace rejection, be patient, trust the process, and learn to be lucky.

#PitMad

What is #PitMad? That’s the question I asked Anna Yeatts last March when she encouraged me to “do it.”

#PitMad is a quarterly event (March, June, September, December) during which writers pitch their completed novels on Twitter, using no more than 280 characters including–at minimum–the PitMad hashtag.

The goal is to attract agents who might want to represent your novel to publishers.

So no problem. After learning about it, I decided it would be a snap to condense my 87,000 word paranormal romance into 280 characters. And, since writers can tweet up to three times during a 12-hour, I needed three different tweets would be swell. That took some time to figure out, and quite a bit of brainstorming and revising to get it close to right.

Last March, I had fewer than 20 followers and didn’t understand the power of retweeting. Multiple RTs make a tweet to more likely come to the attention of everybody, including agents. My third tweet in March got 12 RTs.

Today, June 6, is the second #PitMad I’ve participated in. This time around, thanks to the amazingly supportive #WritingCommunity, and a large number of new followers, I had 92 RTs and 8 likes, although sadly, none of the likes came from agents.

Never mind. I met a lot of new people and RT’d a gazillion pitches for novels I definitely will want to read someday.

My tweet for The Last Summer Queen read: At 19, Macy wants her magic but first, has to get pregnant. Not easy in a female-only town. Summer Queen magic fails. Macy casts a forbidden spell and triggers an old curse. She loses her powers only to learn that love is the strongest magic.

I’m still waiting to hear from the agent who asked to read the entire manuscript and other agents I’ve queried. Based on everything I’ve learned, this is a process that can take a while. Like gardening, patience is key.

Meanwhile, I’m in Chapter 10 of my new work in progress. Let me know if I have any beta readers out there–I should be done with the first draft sometime in early September.

Heroes and Villains

Whatever happened to stories that distinguished the hero from the villain by the color of their hats? White for the hero, black for the villain. Where are the villains stroking their handlebar mustaches and laughing maniacally while tying the helpless, hapless heroine to the train tracks? And where the heroes galloping up on a white horse at the last possible second to save said heroine?  

For me, reading Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar—I think in high school—changed forever my perspective of what a hero could be.   Lochinvar comes too late to the wedding, forcing him to steal the fair Ellen from her family. Is kidnapping heroic?

I’ve written about the character milestones I use as a way to organize character arcs. In my latest work in progress, I discovered—with amazement—that my hero and my villain had virtually identical histories.

Both lost mothers. Both had emotionally unavailable—absent—fathers. Both had conditional love and support from replacement mothers. Both were sent far from home to learn their craft under the same demanding and morally-suspect teacher.  Both were forced to accept culturally defined roles that curtailed their freedom.

The difference between them, what made one the hero and one the villain, had more to do with conscious choices than with nature or nurture. Neither was born inherently good or evil.

Leaving me to ponder—am still pondering—the difference between them. Resiliency? Stubbornness? Positivity? Sheer dumb luck?

The challenge for me is to sort through the little choices they made and will make as I tell the story. I need to sketch their emotional connections to those choices, to get at what motivates them to be hero and villain. I’m a bit daunted.

Meanwhile, the query quest continues. No news on that front, but I hope there will be soon. Please keep fingers crossed for me.

Starting with Character Milestones

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Sitting down with a blank page and just writing. It hooked me early on—maybe around age 12. Many years later I learned the term pantser. Oh yeah, that’s me. A confirmed pantser. No plan except the vague one in my head.

Until I found myself getting to The End and needing to start over. And over and over and over…

I tried half a dozen outlining methods. No dice. For me, writing was all about letting my characters do the talking. When I imposed structure, my characters got sullen and silent, and I got stuck. I needed their voices. If characters don’t—won’t—speak, nothing happens.

But what if I gave each character their own therapy session? What if I just let them speak, telling their life stories, focus on what’s important to them?

I started with my villain and learned all sorts of important things I didn’t know. Most important, it was writing the way I like to write: in the zone, stream of consciousness, inside what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow.

By the time I finished letting my characters dictate their milestones, I earned their permission to do some chapter-by-chapter plotting. They were happy. I was happy. A finished novel was the result.

The how-to is pretty simple. I start with a description of the character, then stay open to whatever they want to tell me. It never seems to matter whether in first or third person, present or past tense. My job is to take what feels like dictation.

Instead of my drudging through their goals and flaws and aspirations and hopes and dreams—making stuff up about them—my characters reveal what’s important to them. What happened at age 6. Age 12. Age 16. Age 25. Childhood. Puberty. Traumas. Struggles. Rebellions. Everything else emerges from those tales.

Nothing works for everyone, and nothing works for anyone all the time. But if you’re stuck with a character or a plot, giving your characters control is worth a try.

Query update: This week, an agent asked to read the full manuscript. It took me a day to get back to normal.

Thanks for your past good wishes and please keep wishing me luck.

Embracing Rejection

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As a technical writer, I didn’t worry about rejection. I worked for mid-sized agencies and companies and, for the most part, helped them grow through grants and business proposals. Rejections came only when the company I worked for decided to compete on the national level. Those rejections were less about my efforts and more about the company’s offerings.  

My life in fiction started off differently. I began submitting short stories in early 2017 and was dismayed by the number of rejections I received. Experienced writers are probably laughing right this minute at my naivete.

My editor/coach/mentor, Anna Yeatts said to think in terms of wallpapering my office with rejections. So, okay, I was trusting her. But I didn’t really feel okay about rejection. I mean—who does?

In January 2019 I got this message on my Duotrope dashboard: “Congratulations: Your acceptance ratio is higher than the average for members who have submitted to the same markets.”

And that’s when it came to me. I was doing something wrong. For a high acceptance ratio—given the number of acceptances I’d had—I wasn’t getting my writing out there often enough. I needed more rejections. I needed to embrace them.

That’s my goal for 2019. With querying agents and getting stories, both old and new, to market, I expect a boatload of rejections. It means I’m ready for my voice to be heard.

Wish me luck.

The Basics: Querying Literary Agents

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The adventure begins. After 18 months and five rewrites, I have a finished, polished novel manuscript. Now, to sell it.

Here are the essentials according to every book on selling a novel I’ve ever read and my mentor/editor Anna Yeatts.

  • The manuscript itself
  • A one-page synopsis
  • A query letter

I put together all three with a lot of help from Anna, an editor friend of hers, and a novelist friend.   

The rest has been research to find the right agents. How to search? Look for agents who want to represent your genre. Or check #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) on Twitter or Pinterest.

And now the fun begins. I started with a list of 13 agents (yes, I also planted 13 trees in my backyard) and started researching. Not just the literary agency website, but also all social media, including podcasts. And found a wealth of helpful information.

What worked for me was to send one query three days a week. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I narrow my sights on a single agent and end by hitting SEND on the email or SUBMIT on the query submission manager. Different agents want different items. A query letter only. A query letter, a synopsis, and the first—five pages, ten pages, three chapters—of the novel.

So far, I’ve received four rejections that say my submission—a paranormal romance—does not line up with the agent’s MSWL

I’m waiting for the email that says, “Please send the entire manuscript.”

Wish me luck. Stay tuned.

Querying Agents

 

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I’ve always been fascinated with the life of Emily Dickinson. A virtual recluse, she wrote almost 2,000 poems, and published only about a dozen during her lifetime. The rest ended up in folios, and she left instructions for her family to burn them when she died.

Instead of a trunk, I have flash drives for my short stories and novels. While I’ve been tempted to have my work destroyed when I’m gone, I began submitting for publication last year. And had unexpected success thanks to a lot of support from Write Stories that Sell  and Anna Yeatts.

Last month, I finished what I’m going to call my first novel. It’s probably closer to my fifth, but it’s the first one I think is publishable. Followed by the decision point. Look into indie publishing? Find an agent? Go the vanity publishing route?

I’d already had a year of rejections under my belt from sending out short stories, so why not query a few agents? All I had to do was overcome my Dickinson-like reluctance to put myself out there. And I’d already done that once.

So how did I do it? Here’s what worked for me.

Self-Talk

Stern with myself, I refused to wallow in prediction. I banned any question or self-talk that started with “what if,” including the positives.

Example: what if the very first agent I queried picked up the book and sold it right off? Banned.

Also banned was the more likely scenario. What if I received a zero-day rejection?

Small Steps

Querying is nothing like writing. It’s more like proposal writing, and to my advantage, I wrote proposals for two decades.

I already had honed the skills of careful reading and adherence to the instructions. And I already knew how much effort and attention it takes.

For me, the question was how many times each day did I want to devote to sending out a proposal? Answer: I’d send out three queries a week, one a day on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Procrastination

I like to believe I’m not much of a procrastinator. Twenty plus years of writing to deadlines cured me of that. But I tend to do what I like and leave the rest for later. So no kidding myself—that’s procrastination.

To surmount it, I use trigger activities and a bargaining brand of self-talk.

  • Just turn on the computer.
  • Just look up one agent.
  • Just bullet point the query letter.
  • Just brainstorm the synopsis

Once I get started, I usually keep going until I’m into the next activity. Finding one agent’s name includes reading the submission guidelines. Bullet pointing the query letter means filling in the sentences.

You get the picture.

Results So Far

Today is Thursday. This week, I’ve sent out two queries.

I received my first zero-day rejection. I lived.

Tomorrow I’ll send out a third query, Monday a fourth, and so on.

I’ll keep you posted.