April 23, 2010


I gots the new project bug bad. It bit me early in the week and I've been writing in the evenings until I'm literally falling asleep at the keyboard, writing at work (shhhh), writing through dinner, scribbling notes on scraps of paper in the middle of the night (for me at the moment that appears to be "around 4am") and while I'm putting on makeup or brushing my teeth.

I'm working on a sequel to the novel I just finished. Towards the end of the last one, I got the idea to spin off one of the characters who was practically choking me to have his own book. Luckily for him, I concurred. I held off for several weeks while revising the original manuscript for my writers' conference earlier this month, because dude, I know better than to get started on a new project. They have a way of taking over, no matter how you might try to balance them.

I don't know if I've ever been this excited about a story. I don't think I'm alone as a writer in hoping that at some point, the people I'm writing for actually get a chance to read it. Otherwise all of this sleep I'm losing is going to feel pretty damned silly.

April 19, 2010

Shallow Cuts First

No, I'm not blogging about torture. My title refers to what I'm doing with my manuscript... which is too freakin' long. First-time YA novels should be about 70k-80k words. Mine is a wee bit longer.

I've cut a little over 3000 words. Though this is tough to do, it's not impossible. My rule is: make the shallow cuts first. Cut adjectives and strengthen nouns, cut adverbs and strengthen verbs, remove extraneous words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and in a few glaring cases (they're in there, trust me) - whole scenes. You have to be in the right state of mind for this work. You can't be timid, but you aren't going to kill your story or novel by cutting. You're striving for a tighter and better read, and cutting almost always serves that purpose.

Scenes and hunks of chapters are definitely difficult for an author to whack. I've heard it referred to as "killing your babies," but honestly, that shouldn't be true (note how I'm not saying it isn't true). Look at it this way: the story/poem/novel itself is the baby, not every word or sentence or clever phrase. By walking through what I've written and trimming (albeit with a machete), I'm helping it evolve so it can survive.

April 15, 2010

Bubble Girl

Knowing that an agent has three chapters of something I've written, and she will either pass or request more, is exhilirating but intimidating.

What is it about the thought of something you've written being read by someone who matters that makes you want to rip it into little pieces and eat them? (Metaphorically, of course, since I can't tear up or ingest the words that appear on my screen.)

So... I'm thinking of breaking out of my safety bubble and joining a writing critique group, if I can find one that works for me.

That's possibly the most horrifying sentence I will utter/write all month.

April 14, 2010

On Revision

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." ~ Oscar Wilde

"In a writer there must always be two people -- the writer and the critic." ~ Leo Tolstoy

"Suspect all your favorite sentences." ~ Kenneth Atchity
"The first draft of anything is shit." ~ Ernest Hemingway

April 9, 2010

Pitching. You Know, Like Softball.

I'm attending my first writers' conference this weekend. Over the next couple of days, I'll be spending time with other people who think they can write. I count myself among the "think they can" group because I've yet to prove differently, where proving differently is becoming a published author. (Don't make me go into the number of books I've read/attempted to read that don't agree with this statement. For now, Published = Able to Write.) The conference consists of: a keynote speaker (novelist), several breakout sessions (led by authors, agents, people involved in publishing), a cocktail party, and a ten-minute pitch session with an agent - which is like a query letter, in person. Basically, you tell the agent about your completed novel, and they tell you whether or not they might be interested enough to have you send in a few pages of it.

Most people don't understand how difficult it is to become one of the traditionally published few. Stroll through any major bookseller and glance around. There are so many books on the shelves!  It looks as though practically anyone can do it! Right? No.

Here's the deal (for writers of novel-length fiction): A few years ago, publishing houses and editors decided that they were being overrun by (mostly crappy) unsolicited manuscripts. (This is what's known as a "slush pile.") So, most of them stopped accepting these at all. If you send a manuscript directly to an editor, it goes directly into the trash. In the new publishing world, you must find an agent to represent, introduce, and submit your work to editors/publishers.

Yay!  That's easier, right?  Um, no.

It's pretty much the exact same thing as before, but now prospective writers have another layer to get through on their way to possible publication. Trust me, it's needed. Even as I lament having to jump the hurdles myself, I know it's necessary. (And no, whining and railing against these barriers and/or trying to ignore or get around them because you're so brilliant won't change a thing, except to put you straight into crazyland camp, as far as publishing people are concerned.)

Queries: Agents get a lot of query letters. Most report that they request pages (5-50 pages, from my research) from about 1% of the queries received. Of that 1%, a fraction are invited to send in the entire manuscript (most will not read a page of your manuscript if you send it in without being invited to do so).  Of these, a fraction are signed as clients. If an agent gets, say, 200 queries a week and the end result is 3-4 new clients a year... that's a tiny fraction. So if you get an agent, congratulations!!!

Yay!  I'm going to be published, right? Um, no.

First, there's revision. Time and effort on this is going to vary, of course, depending on just how polished the manuscript is and whether or not the agent feels he or she can sell the story as written. (This is the scary, "You need to change this ending and delete this character, add a chapter here in the middle and take out 50 pages or so overall. Oh, and delete about 495 of the word "breathed" from your MS because it's in there about 500 times. Okaythanksbye and lemme know when you're done with that.")

If you survive revision (I imagine, sadly, some people don't), then it's time for your agent to get out there and sell your book, pound the pavement in your honor, call up, email, visit editors they know or have worked with, ask to be referred to someone else if the book isn't right for one publishing house.

Yay!  I'm going to be published now?

You already know the answer. Chances of getting published are ginormously improved, once you have an agent. However, once the agent begins the process of peddling the book comes one of the roughest parts for the writer. (Oh hell, what am I saying, there is no easy part. This is just difficult in a different way.) The reason - there is nothing the writer can do. The entire thing is out of your hands at this point, and in the hands of that trusted agent. You're finished writing, revising, polishing, wooing agents with query letters and initial pages, revising again. Your hands are good for nothing but being sat upon.

If you're able, you'll follow your agent's instructions, which undoubtedly will be, "Start writing the next book." You will not call, text, email, or facebook chat him or her every few days asking if anything has changed. If something changes, you will know about it.

So do I look forward to enduring all of this? Yes. Which is why today, I'm getting down in my head the 4-5 lines describing my story, and tomorrow, I'll pitch my novel, with a shaky voice and a smiling face, to the agent I chose to meet out of the 10 agents who will be there.