Real Life and its Inevitable Consequences

The last month has been extremely busy and exhausting – so much that even banging out quick updates for this blog became daunting.

But that’s over. I’m still recuperating, but at least I’m going into the weekend rested enough that working on my writing will be plausible.

So, what are the plans for the next few weeks?

First, I need to do some maintenance on my query spreadsheet – I need to figure out how many of my queries are still live, and who are my next targets. Then I’ll write a long overdue query report (which will probably be depressing, but oh well.)

I’m also going to reread Book the First. It won’t be a full editing pass (although I’ll surely do some edits) but I need to get it back in mind, because I’m considering a few smallish changes. Specifically, I wrote a short prologue that serves as a framing device, and judging from the feedback I received from agents, it’s not working all that well. I want to see if it’s necessary or not to the story.

And while I’m at it, I should probably give the first three chapters another thorough editing pass (and especially chapter 1.) They’re good, but not great, and apparently great is what’s needed to hook agents.

That’s going to be hard, unexciting work, so I’ll keep working on my other books as well. Unless my schedule takes another hit, I think I could have a Shitty First Draft done by late August.

So that’s what I’m looking toward.

Query Report 3: Ouch.

It’s that time again, and this time, it’s not so good.

  1. Potential Agents Identified: 29. As usual, that’s probably low-balling it a bit.
  2. Query Letters Sent: 23. That includes one letter sent directly to a publisher, who’s actively soliciting un-agented manuscripts.
  3. Rejection Letters Received: 15, including one from the agent who had requested a partial manuscript. That’s the “ouch.”
  4. Ignored Queries: 0. I’ve moved the three I had in that category into the clear rejections category. Right now, all of my queries have been either rejected, have been responseless for at least a month more than the recipient claims is their dead-by date, or are still well within the live-query zone.
  5. Manuscript Requests: 0. The one request I had has been moved to rejections.

Where does that leave me?

Well, obviously, my basic query wasn’t working. A 1-in-8 manuscript request rate wasn’t great, a 1-in-15 rate is flat-out terrible.

So I’ve reworked my query – I’ve added comparables and a short bio, and I’ve rewritten part of the pitch (there was some awkward phrasing in there that I’m very glad I fixed.) We’ll see how it goes.

Back to the Query Drawing Board

I’m now beginning to get replies from my second series of queries, and I have to face the music: what I’m doing is not working very well.

On the positive side, it’s my query that seems to be the problem, not my manuscript. And I have inklings of what is wrong.

First, my query didn’t include an author bio. That may not seem like a big thing (and it probably isn’t the main reason my queries keep failing,) but including a quick line about me probably makes the letter a bit more relatable. And it’s something that I should have remembered: people are much more likely to give you a chance if they like you.

That’s easy to remedy, too: it’s easy to integrate a line or two that turn my impersonal query in a personal email. It’s a small-cost, high-impact change.

But the lack of a bio isn’t the big issue, I think. The major problem is that I didn’t state comparables. I’m probably too modest for my own good, and by ignoring comps I’m making it a lot harder to understand what story I’m offering, and it’s also ignoring the opportunity to sell my book.

Comparables are tricky, however. If I had to pick just one, I’d say my book most resembles the Dresden Files. But that’s a major series, and obviously some could find it a bit presumptuous that I want to compare my freshman novel to a beloved, fifteen-books-and-change opus. It’s not my intention: I really do think that my book is similar in structure, and style, to Fool Moon or Grave Peril.

But I’m going to try it, at least for one round of querying. Hopefully, it’ll hook more people than it’ll turn off. We’ll see!

Query Report 2: Don’t Panic (Yet)

So, it’s been roughly a month since my first query report, and since I said I’d try to do those monthly, I might as well get to it. Plus, there is something to report, so…

  1. Potential Agents Identified: 16 so far, and actually a bit more as some agencies don’t have in-house referrals, meaning if your first contact at that agency isn’t interested, you’re free to query the rest of the agency in due time. I didn’t get much research done in the last month, as I ran out of mental stamina a few days after the first Query Report post.
  2. Query Letters Sent: 10. That includes the first six I’d sent prior to the first Report, two more I sent in early December, and the two I sent yesterday. In this case, the low progress was deliberate: I didn’t want my queries to fall into the huge pile agents have to sort through as they come back from vacation.
  3. Rejection Letters Received: 4. I’m trying very hard not to over-analyze those, as they’re more than likely only form letters. Still, one in particular was surprisingly positive. But the fact remain that they’re still rejection, and so I’ve began looking at ways to adapt my basic query to up my success rate.
  4. Ignored Queries: Rapidly approaching 3. Of those, only one is from an agency that doesn’t clearly state their response/no response policy. But it’s been on hold for long enough that I’m calling it dead.
  5. Manuscript Requests: And that’s the good news. One of the agent I contacted requested a partial manuscript. So far, I count this as a 1/8 success rate for queries (the two queries sent yesterday don’t count, obviously. )

So let’s hope for further good news this month!

Query Report: 1 of Hopefully Not Too Many

In commemoration of the receipt of my first official “Not Interested” answer, I figure I can throw some numbers out here, just to illustrate where I currently am in my search for an agent.

  1. Potential Agents Identified: 12 so far. I’m a firm believer that targetting agents who state their interest in the kind of book I wrote (contemporary fantasy, if anyone’s interested) is a lot more likely to lead to a successful query. Plus, it’s basic courtesy not to spam people.
  2. Query Letters Sent: 6. As a corollary to point 1 above, I think each agent deserves something better than a Dear Agent letter. Besides, the submission guidelines change from agency to agency, which means I have to rework each letter anyway. Still, I really need to push those remaining six letters out ASAP.
  3. Rejection Letters Received: 1. That’s not cause for concern yet. At this point, I’m trying really hard not to second-guess myself (and my approach) yet. Some rejections are perfectly normal (and I much prefer getting a formal response than being ignored – see below.)
  4. Ignored Queries: Rapidly approaching 1. The second agent I queried has a “If you don’t hear from me in two weeks, I’m not interested” policy. While I prefer to be told flat out if a particular line is dead, at least this gives me an idea of when to stop hoping. In this case, we’re right on the two-week mark… but I’ll give it a few days more, as the query was sent during Thanksgiving.

So this is where I stand. Obviously, not where I want to be, but this isn’t cause for anxiety yet. I’ll probably write up an update in a month or so.

And Here we Go!

Well, my first couple of queries have been sent. That’s not a lot, but I figure it’s better to send one or two well-written query per week instead of spamming the same one to half the agents in North America.

And honestly, getting the first one ready was hard enough. Obviously, there’s the letter itself to write, but the agent in question also requested a synopsis, which turned out to be a serious pain to write. Condensing a 76,000 words novel into two interesting and fun-to-read pages, while still hitting all the important plot points, turned out be be a solid weekend’s work.

On the plus side, I can see how getting better at writing outlines and synopses will help me at writing in general. They’re awesome tools to locate plot holes and fix pacing issues. In fact, I’ve written two short outlines for future projects already, and I’m planning on writing a third one just to practice that skill a bit more before starting on my next book.

Really, I’ll do anything to keep from checking my email compulsively at this point.

Editing: Done!

I’ve been meaning to post this for a few days.

WOOHOO!

I’ve finished my third draft/second revision/neverending torment! Don’t get me wrong: doing that additional editing pass was absolutely worth it, but boy am I glad that’s done.

I’ve also ran the spellchecker (always worth it, even if it only caught a couple of mistypes) and formatted the manuscript to industry standards. All the actual text is as final as I can make it, although I probably need to think about the title some more.

The next step is *gasp* writing queries. I’ve put some work into that particular hellish task, enough to know that it won’t be easy. The factual/business part of the query letter will be easy enough (if there’s one thing you learn working in law, it’s how to write professional-looking letters), but I really need the in-voice description of the book to work, and so far my attempts have been of the not-worth-saving-the-file variety. Sigh. A good night’s sleep and a day off is what I need I think.

Still, I’d rather spend a day crafting a letter than doing Yet Another Revision. With that in mind, off to bed I go.

An Update with some Progress

Life has been relentless recently, but that doesn’t mean I’ve dropped the project.

In fact, I managed to get through a fairly important milestone: I’ve finished going through my list of planned verifications and corrections (what I call my search-and-destroy list.) Those were all the small, but noticeable issues I found while doing my second revision.

For example, I probably tend to probably use “probably” and other adverbs probably too often, probably. So I searched my entire manuscript for every instance of “ly”, and made sure to cut that down to a more reasonable ratio.

You’d be surprised how many small, relatively easy-to-correct issues like that cropped up. Clever constructions that I use more than once, metaphors and similes that are maybe too similar to once another… and of course, even more adverbs, probably.

You would also be surprised at how incredibly annoying fixing that can be. So getting that task out of the way is a pretty great step for me. Now I just have to:

  1. Finish my last reading-and-correct (I’m about 40% through);
  2. Run the autocorrect through my text, just in case;
  3. Touch up my presentation a bit – it’d be stupid to get rejected for purely cosmetic issues;
  4. Write and send my queries.

Can that be done in time to start a new manuscript during NaNoWriMo? We’ll see!

On Screens, Hardcopy and E-readers

I love my Kindle. As an avid reader, having access to an entire library with me when I’m on the bus, on a plane or on vacation is a godsend.

But lately, I’ve fallen in love with how it gives me a new perspective when re-reading my manuscript.

Obviously, most of my revision work has been done directly on my laptop screen. It’s where I work, there’re those handy red squiggly lines to let me know about typos, there’s a thesaurus (and Google) right in the next window over…

But at some point, you have to review your manuscript in hardcopy, if only because your eyes get too used to the text on screen. Reading your text on paper will let you spot other mistakes and, if you’re anything like me, will let you get a better sense of the timing of your novel.

Recently, I converted my manuscript to a PDF and threw it on my Kindle, figuring Yet Another Reading of the Book couldn’t hurt. I expected to find a few more mistakes and possible improvements. But let me tell you, seeing my work in the same type, size and format as everything else I’ve read in the last few years has been eye-opening.

On the plus side: the Book is really quite good. I’ve read commercially successful works in the same genre that weren’t as well written.

On the minus side: over a hundred additionnal small corrections to make already, and I’m nowhere near done with that re-reading. Well, good thing I wasn’t planning on querying this weekend.

But seriously: if you’re writing your own manuscript, get a Kindle (or another e-Reader.) It’s absolutely worth it just for the new perspective it will give you on your work.

Revising, Reviewing and Rewriting

Since I’m currently finalizing my manuscript, I figure now is the right time to discuss all the steps I went through to get there.

First, I wrote my first draft, skipping all those nitpicky details like “planning” or “writing an outline.” Surprisingly enough, that wasn’t as bad an idea as it seems. It probably cost me some efficiency, but on the other hand getting that first draft done was probably more important than getting it right. I needed to know that I could bring the project at least that far before running out of motivation.

Once I had that first draft done, however, it was time to make it good. So I grabbed my red pen, printed out the whole manuscript, and got to work. That first revision covered everything, from fixing plot holes to improving my characterization (and, of course, correcting all those inevitable typos and grammar issues.) In the process, I added about 20,000 words to the manuscript, bringing it up to a publishable size.

I also realized how much my writing had improved in the relatively small interval between starting my prologue and completing my epilogue. So I actually ended up my first revision with even greater motivation than ever before.

While I was revising, I was also sending my completed chapters to a pair of first readers. Inevitably, they caught mistakes I missed, but their input was also valuable for additional plot doctoring and characterization editing.

Which brings me up to now. As I wait for the final comments from the second of my first readers, I’ve started Yet Another Revision. This time, I put my book onto my Kindle, just to look at it from another perspective. And… it was a good idea. I still see small stuff I want to fix, some minor issues and weaker sections. It’s a bit frustrating to see how imperfect the book is… but on the other hand, I can see how quickly I’m improving my writing skills.

And on the plus side, I think that once I’m done with that final revision, the book will absolutely be of publishable quality. So it’s not as demotivating as “third revision” might imply.

Moral of the story: don’t underestimate the need for revising your work, but also don’t underestimate the benefits of doing so. I’ve gotten so much better at writing just by reviewing my work that even if Book 1 fails to ever see the light of day, I know that my next project will get closer to that goal.