Monday, May 02, 2005

Query City and Some Ruminations

I've been a querying fool over the past few days, sending out agent queries for two of my books. Now comes the fun part--biting my nails (what's left of them, anyway) while waiting for those SASEs to start trickling back in.

But like they say, you can't sell anything if you never send it out.

My revisions of Crybaby Falls and Wild Card are now complete. I'm down to just the requested revisions of Code Name: WILLOW that Susan Litman offered to look at again. I've written one draft of the revisions, but now I'm going to go through the book and make sure I've maximized the emotional punch of every scene and answered all the questions and concerns Susan had about the story. Then, I'm shooting for sending it back to her by the 15th of this month at the latest.

I've learned a few things about myself during these last few busy weeks. First, I can still write. After the struggles I went through just getting Code Name: WILLOW finished last year, and the subsequent struggles to drag it kicking and screaming into shape, I'd begun to wonder if I still had the creativity and the emotional and mental stamina to write fiction anymore. There were definitely times when I wondered if I shouldn't just concentrate on my day job and quit torturing myself with my dreams of being a published writer. I have a decent job that pays a pretty good wage and my family and I are financially in pretty good shape--nothing spectacular, but we're not living hand to mouth, either.

But after a brief respite, and a few false starts at a new project, Wild Card came along. I'm a little afraid it's spoiled me; it came together in a rush, the story almost fully formed within a day or so after the initial idea for the heroine came to me. But it did prove to me that I still have good ideas, that I can still take those ideas and put them together into a story that holds together plotwise and satisfies the emotions. It gave me back my confidence, which is a good thing, because soon after that, I received editor requests for two other books that weren't ready to head out the door just then. I took some of the organizational skills I learned from writing Wild Card in "Book in a Week" style and applied them to my revisions of the two requested books. I'm proud to say that one of the books is already with the editor, and the other one should be ready to go out in a week.

Here are some random lessons I learned from my descent into writer's despair and my journey back to hope:

1) Don't enter an unfinished manuscript in a contest unless you're sure you can finish it in a timely manner. Because as sure as you do, you'll get a request for a full from an editor.

2) If you do get an editor request for an unfinished manuscript, and you know the project is going to take you a while to finish, don't hesitate to write the editor and offer her a different manuscript while you're working on final revisions of the one she requested. Be sure that the manuscript you're offering is suitable for the editor's house and line, but take advantage of the opportunity to keep her thinking about you while you're working on the unfinished project. If an editor asks to see a full from you by way of a contest, she probably thinks enough of your writing to be willing to look at another project from you.

3) When you query an editor with whom you already have a relationship on a new project, try this trick: Instead of sending an SASE, send a self-addressed, stamped postcard with the following typed on it:

Please check one of the following options:

___ Please send me the full manuscript and synopsis of (Your Book's
Name Here).

___ Please send me the first three chapters and full synopsis of
(Your Book's Name Here).

___ I am not interested in seeing (Your Book's Name Here).

I've tried this twice and both times, I've received a request for the full, and pretty quickly.

4) Keep writing. Don't stop. Don't give yourself more than a week's break. Put your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard (or the pen and paper) and write. It's who you are. It's what you do. It's your gift. It's your curse.

5) Learn what motivates you to write. For me, it's an Excel spreadsheet with pages per day that I have to finish to reach my goal. I check the spreadsheet every day when I'm working on a project, whether it's a first draft or a revision. It keeps me focused because the work is broken down into doable increments that add up to me meeting my self-imposed deadline. It keeps me going because I can see tangible results of my work, right there on the spreadsheet.

Your motivations may vary. Maybe you reward yourself with a piece of jewelry or a piece of chocolate or a trip to a favorite museum or park when you reach your weekly writing goal. Whatever it is, use what motivates you to keep yourself writing on a daily basis.

6) Ultimately, every writer has to decide for herself whether or not she's got what it takes to keep going. But if you have a dream, and it's within your grasp if you just work at it hard enough, then give yourself permission to go after it. I know other things have to come first--families, marriages, jobs--but there will probably be a time in your life, sooner or later, when those things don't interfere as much with your dream. Until that time, keep the dream alive. There are a lot of successful writers who didn't write their first book until they retired from a job, or their children were grown and on their own, or whatever other obstacle existed earlier in their lives disappeared. You're never too old to follow your dream if you have the talent and the will to pursue it.

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