Sweets and Sours

I have some interesting news, potentially awesome. But I don’t want to jinx it. As soon as I have more info, I’ll share it.fingers crossed

But it’s been a good few weeks as far as writing goes. In a business full of rejection, and the lovely habits of swallowing those rejections week after week, it’s good to know my story and voice has reached a few people.

A few people who are veterans in this business.

But I can’t let this get to my head. I must get back to writing. As often as I can, with the lovely trials and challenges of every day life.

For those of who who’ve asked, the family situation I alluded to earlier this year has still not been resolved. But we’re closer. One way or another, I’ll make it happen and we’ll be the better for it. Even if I must set some things aside, and change a few goals, I can do it. And I know my writing will be there waiting, no matter where we are.

 

Changing Face of Publishing, Including Romance

My mind has been preoccupied for the last 2-3 weeks on one overwhelming thought.

I’m not certain I’m writing in the right genre anymore.

Everyone knows the face of publishing across all genres is changing. Dramatically. With the boom of e-publishing, closing of independent bookstores and distributors and the profit squeeze for authors, agents, editors, and publishers (everyone, really), it’s inevitable.

But more specifically, the genres themselves are changing. Not just ‘vampires are on their way out, dystopias are one their way in’ blah blah blah. But the face of romance and it’s intensity has changed.

Just in the last 3 years, I’ve noticed a dramatic swing of editors looking for spicier, hotter, and more descriptive love scenes. Things that a decade ago would have been considered in the erotica lines, but are now mainstream.

I recently had an in-person pitch session with an editor for a newly launched romance line. Half way through my pitch, she stopped me.

“This sounds more like a suspense story than a romance. How much of your story is the romance?”

My reply was 60-70%.

The look on her face told me her answer without another word. But she explained anyway. (Thank goodness).

Their line, as well as most other publishers, are now looking for romance to have 90% or more of the pages be strictly the romance. All thanks to the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey craze.’

(Raise your hand if you just rolled your eyes).

Though my story sounded extremely interesting to her, she couldn’t use it for her line.

Another dear friend of mine received a similar response from another publisher, claiming she didn’t have enough ‘romance’ in her romance novel, though hers was dramatically spicier than mine, both in content and frequency.

I’ve been baffled ever since.

I don’t think my writing fits the genre anymore.

I have too much romance to be considered a suspense, or even general women’s fiction. And I have too much suspense to be considered a romance. At least today’s definition of ‘romance.’

So now I’m left wondering: do I change my style to fit what publishers want, or do I keep my style and voice and hope it finds a home somewhere… eventually?

I know I’ve read this same situation on dozens of other blogs and interviews. Particularly with science fiction and fantasy writers.Too much romance to fit in strictly sci-fi or fantasy genre, and too much sci-fi or fantasy to fit in romance genre.

Why can’t there ever be a happy medium? While the romance is important (showing that relationship between two people), but I also relish a good plot. Not everything is about sex. Why can’t I write that in my novels?

Query Status: Eternal State of Waiting

Audrey’s Promise (Contemporary Romance)

Queries Sent: 10 (and 2 contest entries) to mostly agencies

Rejections: 5 (all form letters)

Partial Requests: 1 (Synopsis sent to agent, and since rejected)

Full Requests: 2 (both from Publishers, still pending)

I’m doing it the smart way. I send out 3-4 at a time and wait for responses. If I need to tweak my query letter or pitch, I do (with the help of great friends!) and submit to 4 or 5 more. If I don’t get nibbles, then I know I need to revamp the letter again. Querytracker.net is a great place to help me keep track of all this. As well as the ones I want to query, but need to wait or do more research. Meanwhile, I keep entering contests online. We’ll see where this goes!

Improving Every Day…

As much as query rejections get me down, my husband reminded me to step back and look at where I started in my writing ‘career’ a few years ago. And honestly- not to jam on my own piano like Sir Elton John or anything- but I’m freakin’ proud of myself.

A few years ago, I had no other friends or connections in the writing industry, my bookshelf was practically empty (except for college textbooks I wanted to hang on to- yeah, I was that sad!), and a half-completed story in an obscure file on my computer that I’d started in my teens.

Now I have 3 ½ completed manuscripts on my computer, a half a dozen short stories, 80 blog posts, a writer’s conference under my belt, three full bookshelves (and several drawers full of books), and a whole group of writer friends who UNDERSTAND ALL OF THIS and WHY IT’S SUCH A BIG DEAL!

But not only that, my writing has grown so much, just in the last 2 years alone. Trust me- any writer who is brave enough to go back and read what they wrote when they first started in this business will tell you how much they cringed. Some may have even crawled under the table afterwards. Or started a bonfire and roasted marshmallows over them.

I know a lot of this improvement is directly related to the awesome partners I have in my critique group. Some of it’s from reading other books (both in and out of the genre I write), but mostly my critique buddies. And I’m not talking about the kind of critique partners who tell me ‘good job. Keep going.’ I mean the ones who are honest. Who push me to do better. Call me out on the crap, the lazy descriptions, the evil adverbs, the passive sentences or the unrealistic characters or scenarios. And what’s more, put up with me.

When I email them chapters to read through, or vent about something, or ask stupid questions (contrary to belief, those exist), they’re still my friends afterwards and will still read my work. Likewise, they’re still my friend when I rip their chapters to shreds (because I’m trying to make their work better, too. I promise- I’m not out to be a witch just for grins.)

Cheers

So I raise my rum-and-coke to you, my friends. Thank you.

I’ll keep improving every day, with every manuscript that’s still stuck in my subconscious, it’ll get easier and easier to swallow rejection until that one moment where I get ‘the call.’

Then my thanks will be more than just a rum-and-coke toast, but an acknowledgements page.

And a signed copy. 🙂

Query Time and Tax Season

It’s that time in my career again… Queryville.  Which inevitably conjoins with Reject-o-season. Much like tax season. It’s painful. ‘But necessary.’

Thanks to some help from dear friends, I had a query letter and synopsis written up fairly quickly and sent out to an agent whom I’ve followed for years. And after a glorious week of anticipation, tax season showed up.

It hurt. I won’t lie, my hopes were built up on this one. I thought it was a perfect fit for them and this manuscript felt better than any of my others. But I have to be grateful I received a response at all. Many people don’t hear anything back when rejected.

But that means I simply have to query out to the masses as I did before. Semi-slowly. Four or five at a time and wait for a few weeks. Which means I need to bust out querytracker.net again and rifle through all the profiles and submission guidelines.

But at this point, I think I’ll take Queryville and Reject-o-season over the horrible season called Presidential Election campaigns. Publishing is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed school girl compared to the upcoming attacks of the political Olympics.

12 Steps for Writers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Susie, and I’m a writer.

It’s been 3 hours since I’ve written anything. And a good 3 weeks since I’ve written fiction. I know I’m breaking the rules by writing this very post.

I admit I will always be addicted to writing and feel a pull inside my soul to put a pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. But I need to be constructive, productive, relative, and any other ‘–ive’ that’s necessary to make my life- and writing- manageable.

I trust in a higher power, greater than myself, to restore my sanity after moments of writing and the lunacy that it sometimes ensues. I willingly turn my will, life, and pen over to the care of that higher power. The all-knowing muse that has my fingers continue to race over the keyboard.

I need to bring closure to my writing life by apologizing to any critiquers, editors, and agents, whom I may have snapped at for rejections or poor reviews. It came from an ignorant and bad place inside me, that I’m constantly striving to improve. And I’m sorry they were the targets of my negative energies.

I need to thank those who’ve supported me and believed I could be better, improve, and build upon my skills with a positive focus. Encouragement is essential, and I’m grateful for them.

I’m grateful for the sun, the moon, the air, light, food, chocolate, and a working charge in my laptop. But more importantly I’m grateful for my husband, my son, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my peers, my neighbors, and anyone else that has put up with my crazy antics and habits as a writer. Including writing snaps at midnight and the light that keeps others up, putting lunch or dinner on the table an hour late, or emotional breakdowns when scenes aren’t going right and I have to backtrack. I know I look like a toddler throwing a tantrum during those times, and I’m grateful they haven’t shoved me in a corner for a time-out. I’m grateful my time-outs involve a Diet Coke and a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.

Sorry, Caden.

I apologize for the days I haven’t bothered to change out of my PJ’s and forget I’m not wearing a bra under my t-shirt and haven’t bothered to comb my hair for my trek to the mailbox, and thereby scare the neighborhood children playing in the street.

I’ve always been ready for the higher power to remove the bad habits I employ as a writer. I’m ready for Him to remove all adverbs from my vocabulary, instill an enduring sense of ‘show, don’t tell’ in my imagination, and remove a constant need for coffee in my nervous system. I ask the higher power to remove these short comings, and just allow my first sale to happen with the next ring of my iPhone. And let that sale be a six-digit paycheck, so I no longer have to suffer through the pains of my shortcomings.

I will continue to identify when I’m wrong, when my writing isn’t sufficient or entertaining enough, and believe that those I’ve hurt will carry on believing in me, and read my work. More importantly, I will continue to acknowledge when an editor or agent just doesn’t get my work, and the loss of a sale is on their shoulders, not mine. I will continue to try and reach the same level as James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, and even JK Rowling, even though I know my writing has the potential to be better. And I’ll continue to pray for the higher power’s will and knowledge to teleport into my fingers and write the international bestseller that will put my addiction in a place where it is no longer insanity, but ingenious.

For the world will be a better place when I acknowledge my weakness, and force others to read it.

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Cartwheels over Finished Rough Draft

Cartwheels, electric slide, general happy dance inspired by Steve Carrell, once again.

I finished my rough draft on Friday this week. While my husband and son went to sleep early, I pounded at the keyboard for another 3 hours to finish it. I had to keep up the roll I was on earlier in the week and it paid off. (I wish literally, but for now just figuratively). Don’t ask me how long it took me to complete the first draft. It’s embarrassing. But that doesn’t matter. What counts is that I finished it.

I’m under no illusions that this is ready to submit. Far from it. I have an ungodly amount of revisions to complete that I kept track of during the first crash course, and obviously I have to pass it through my writers group, trusty critique partner Kim, and a few others. Then revise. Then do it all over again. Then revise. And all over again once more. Then maybe… maybe,  I’ll be ready to submit to agencies again in January. That’s my goal, anyway.

And hopefully avoid the pesky slushpile. 

 

 

 

So for now, as the weekend winds down and I gear up for my writers meeting later today, I shall do the happy dance.

Commence Celebrate music…

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Doesn’t that just make you smile?

Romance Manuscript Woes – Final Swan Song

Another bird portrait. The white swan from Aub...

Image via Wikipedia

I had to sit on this thought for the last week. I didn’t want to make any rash decisions on this, considering that I’ve worked five years (off and on) on my first manuscript. But last weekend I received another rejection on my full manuscript submission to a literary agent. I appreciated her thoughts on my work, and that she actually spent the time to personalize her rejection, inform why it didn’t work for her and gave me specific examples on what didn’t jive.

But it still hurt. A lot. No one likes to hear their first baby (granted, just a piece of literature) is unliked. The unpopular manuscript in class. But as I sit back and reread her rejection email over and over like a deranged mother, I realize it has a lot in common with another personalized rejection letter I received a few months ago from another agent. Both reference issues with voice and style (in one form or another). And any writer, or aspiring writer can tell you that’s not something that can be fixed overnight. Not even over a weekend or month. It can take some writers years to develop their voice. And that thought crushed my motivation.

After spending five years on my first manuscript, and now I’m halfway through my second story, having to spend MORE years trying to develop my style and voice before acquiring an agent is the epitome of frustrating. So I’ve stewed over this for the last week, discussed it with my husband and perused the blog tours for more insight. And I believe I’ve come to a heart-breaking decision.

I need to shove my first baby in a drawer and let it alone. It has sung its final swan song.

Maybe down the road when I’m more experienced and have a more developed voice I can go back and rewrite it *gasping and sobbing at the thought of starting from a blank slate*.  Maybe I’ll have a better chance with this second story I’m writing. I’m not too far into this manuscript that I can’t go back and fix some things relating to my voice.

I’m not being overly dramatic in my decision. Just two rejection notices and I give up on it? Absolutely not. This is after probably 40 rejections on this thing over the years (between publishers and agencies). I’ve given this manuscript a good run. The story is great, the plot is well-developed and I really like the characters. It was all about voice. Probably just sheer lack of experience in putting words onto a page. And that’s what hurts the most. That’s what a writer does. Puts words on a page. And if I’m having the biggest problems with that aspect, then what does that say about me as a writer?

My motto has always been to keep writing forward. And I will. But it’s been a little harder this week. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. And if I’m practicing bad writing, that’s exactly what I’ll be: a bad writer. And I don’t handle failure well.

So here I go: keep pushing forward, no matter how much muck and sludge I have to plow through. Keep writing forward.

Day in the Life of an Aspiring Author

Querying and submitting to agents is a long, arduous, and nerve-wracking process.  I finished my first manuscript (contemporary romantic suspense) a few months ago after years of writing, and another year of revising, editing, cutting, splicing, and crying.  (Emotions run rampant around these pieces of my soul on paper).

Then I started the massive undertaking of finding a literary agent.  I’ve read so many self-help books and tips on publishing that I believe I have the basics down.  Now its down to the nitty-gritty in getting my query letter noticed among the thousand of queries agents read every day.

Most agents aren’t looking for new authors to sign right now.  “Our agency is currently occupied by catering to our current list of clients.  Please check back with us next year.”  I’ve read this tag line on so many agency websites.

For those agents who are considering signing new talent, the competition is brutal!

I’ve sent out 45 queries over the last several months, and have received back 15 rejections.  However, I did receive one agent’s interest, and he asked for my first 3 chapters.  I was physched! Made my Thanksgiving complete!  After a month, I received a devastating blow- another rejection from my most promising prospect.

Granted, this industry requires an extremely thick layer of skin.  But that was hard to swallow.  I appreciated that he responded with a few tidbits as to why he passed on my baby- excuse me, manuscript.  I’ll try to learn from them.  But really the only way I can keep moving forward is just to keep writing.  Not only that, but keep writing what I love.

I’m looking forward to my first Writer’s Conference in February.  I hear that is an excellent way to learn, network, and potentially find at least an intro to an agent.  Its intimidating, but I’m anxious for it.

Needless to say, I also entered a bajillion contests over the last few months as well.  I’m waiting to hear back from several.  Including 1 contest in which I won a consolation prize of a critique of my first chapter.  That was back in October and I’m still waiting.  But that’s normal for this industry.

Pain, anguish, and infinite waiting is normal for this industry.