Category Archives: Alpha Readers

A Matter of Queries and Representation

What a week and a half it’s been!

I apologize in advance for any meandering, poor spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors you may find in this post. I don’t sleep well on a normal day (what is a normal day anyway?). The past 10 days my abilities to ward off restful sleep have been exceptional. This is a superpower you do NOT want.

Before I get into my big news (and it’s big, let me tell you, it’s BIG), let me give you a bit of background.

I don’t query randomly. Every single agent that I’ve ever queried is someone that I genuinely think would be a great fit for both my writing and, more importantly, me. That’s of course all based on the limited information I can gather by Googling, reading interviews, stalking on Twitter, and chatting them up.

There are a LOT of fantastic agents out there, of all stripes (and spots, and paisley, and I suppose houndstooth…).

That said, everything has to click in both directions. I have enough rejections from those same agents citing “wonderful writing/world building/characters/other words describing stories” but they just didn’t “make the connection” (or some variant thereof) to wallpaper my office and some surrounding surfaces.

They came fast and fairly consistently at first. I’d query, and then receive a rejection the next day or week.

I went back and rewrote my base query letter (I tweaked it a little for every agent). Responses went from generic forms to personalized responses (not all of them, but some). I even had a few requests for partial submissions.

Following that path I continue to tweak and tinker my query, all the while continuing to get further input on CROW’S BLOOD from my awesome Alpha/Beta Readers (including my wonderful wife, who put up with so MANY drafts) and Critique Partners (Colten,
Rachel, and Clare) and worked to make it better.

I entered CROW’S BLOOD in contests. You know the best part about contests? The community and support that comes out of them. They’re a fixed point. Everyone entering is (in theory) at the same point of their writing process and/or career as you are. They know what you’re going through, they’re doing it too.

Renee Ahdieh chose to mentor me in Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars. With her helpful pokes and prods I polished CROW’S BLOOD even further. Trimming out a few scenes that were so necessary in my head (I’d done so much world building to support them!) that weren’t actually needed in the book. She’s also a master at spotting my Shatner Commas and teaching me to identify them as well (I’ve removed 3 from this paragraph alone).

Last week I got wind of an agent I really liked reading my full… MY FULL!!! Excitement warred with dread. What if he didn’t like it? What if I didn’t stick the landing? I wanted to scream (politely) “If you find anything drastic, I’ll fix it!”. But I didn’t. Because I am a professional! (stop laughing!)

I waited, and slept poorly, and waited.

Thursday was a normal day (there’s that “normal” word again). Things teetered on the edge of going oh-so-perfectly and/or blowing up spectacularly at my day job. I was packing up to go home when my phone sounded the “email in the writing mailbox” notification (it doesn’t say that, but it is distinctive).

It was an Offer of Representation! He wanted to have “The Call”.

I hyperventilated for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life. I had an offer! From an agent!!! I remember thinking “Ok I need to get my head on straight before I reply so I don’t come off as a complete idiot…” I barely remember the drive home.

After dinner (I have no idea what, or if, I ate) I painstakingly crafted my reply. It took me 35 minutes to write and edit that email.

“I’d love to chat.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was about the level of awesome I was functioning at). We scheduled for the next morning.

The call was awesome. I acted like a complete noob while trying to be all professional and cool. The agent in question handled the situation like I was a sane and perfectly functioning adult.

He answered all of my questions and asked a few of his own (which I think/hope I answered).  I let him know I had some other Fulls out and needed a week to get those settled before I signed (because it’s the right thing to do), which he was completely cool with. We ended the call, and I sat there, stunned, for a good 30 minutes before reaching out to the other agents with my full.

Here we are, a week after that call. I’ve badgered several agents with questions and clarifications, and I’ve communicated and settled everything with each and every agent that had my full, a partial, or even a query. I won’t go into details on all of that here, they’re not the point.

Today, I’m proud/pleased/excited to say:

I am now represented by Leon Husock of the L. Perkins Agency!

P.S. Leon said to save some of my celebratory antics for when we sell CROW’S BLOOD.
To which I say:
Leon, this is nothing. When that happens, the world won’t know what hit it!

I’m going to sleep now.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Agent, Alpha Readers, BookB, Critique, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Id, Motivation, Query, Research, Revision, Validation

So… Yeah. This writing stuff is work!

See the progress meter down to the right? That’s right: Revision 4 is complete!

It took very near two full months to go through this revision, and that’s with someone else’s notes guiding me and helping me along. A big THANK YOU (again) to my Critique Partners  Colton Hibbs, Clare Mitchell, and Rachel Russell! Rev 4 would have been a whole lot faster, and mostly useless without you. I can only hope I’ve lived up to your notes, direction, and help.

That said, I didn’t cave on everything suggested, and not just because there were conflicted opinions between my CP’s. Rather because I didn’t necessarily agree and writing isn’t a democracy!

I’ve also posted a few things here and there for critique: A 35 word pitch and the first 250 words of the manuscript for #PitchMadness. You have NO idea how hard it is to fit the concept of an entire book into 35 words while keeping it compelling and interesting! NO IDEA!!! (unless you’ve done it with your own).

In undertaking these public critiques I kept getting one piece of feedback over and over. You see, CROW’S BLOOD is a book about…

WAITAMINUTE!! I have a 35 word summary to tell you what it’s about. What am I doing writing it from scratch?

A noblewoman is murdered and Flynn, a talented thief, is being framed. Hunted by monstrous Inquisitors and Royal Guards, Flynn needs to pull one last daring heist to catch the killer and clear his name.
Do you see the problem? I do… now. How could I not.  
Here’s a hint:
ARGH!!!!
So, back to an old problem that I’ve covered before, names! There is no part of writing that induces panic in me faster than coming up with a name for a character. It has to fit! Worse still, this is my Main Character we’re talking about!!! CRISIS!!!!!!
So I’ve wrestled, and whined, and annoyed my friends and loved ones to the point where they want me to go lock myself in a room for hours on end (so I have!).  I’ve come up with a new name for my MC. Everyone, say hello to my new MC, he’s identical to the old MC with a different name: Ren! It’s short, simple, mono-syllabic (which I like for this character). In Old English it means Raven. In Welsh it means Ruler. And in Japanese it means Lily (and is a boy’s name).
.
.
.
F###!
FYI: For those not in the know about the character Flynn in Disney’s Tangled: HIS REAL NAME IS EUGENE!!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Contest, Critique, Feedback, Pitch, Query, Revision, Word Count

One Third of the Way

I’m well past my due date for checking in. I haven’t even blogged in July!

That little progress bar at the right is moving along though. Slowly but surely, and as fast as it can with only an hour or two on most nights.

I’ve just come back from visiting my father in Winnipeg, which is a truly, uh, flat place. He’s lived out there most of my life, doing his thing, which I have to admit is doing a lot of good for a lot of people. I know my kids miss seeing more of him though. I do too.

Winnipeg has one thing I definitely do NOT like: Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that were likely the cause of any and every mass extinction since they came about. That mosquito in amber in Jurassic Park? Yeah, my money is on IT being the reason dinosaurs were wiped out.

Pterodactyl-mosquitoes aside, we had fun spending time with family and seeing the sights out there.

I’ve updated the Movie List a few times recently. Between writing and other Real Life™ stuff this year I haven’t seen nearly as many movies as I’d have liked. I’m hearing that Pacific Rim is good fun though, so I’m working on seeing that.

On the writing/revising side of things (because, really, that’s the point of this blog), things are going relatively well… I think. That’s the problem with being a first time writer, and a really good reason to have Critique Partners: You’re too close to your own work, and you simply don’t know what you’re doing wrong!

No! Really! One of the major points of this revision is to give more depth to Flynn, the MC. I know I’m giving some more depth, but is it enough? Can there be too much? I really have no idea…

So I plan to forge onwards until this revision is done, then send it to my Alpha Readers and CP’s (and 1 or 2 new sets of eyes) for more feedback. I hope that they won’t shun me…

I do know that I’ve cleaned up some of what my CP’s and I found were real pain points plot/story wise. I only hope I haven’t opened more in doing so.

As for a deadline? I aim to be done this pass before the end of August, mostly because at the end of September I’ll be reaching a year on this book and I think I should be moving faster.

2 Comments

Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Critique, deadlines, Feedback, Learning, Real Life™, Revision, Voice, Word Count

Doing My Homework

I have 3 full critiques back on CROW’S BLOOD, for which I must give heartfelt “Thank you!” to my Epic Critique Partners: Colton Hibbs, Clare Mitchell, and Rachel Russell.

Not only did each of you trudge your way through my last revision, you took the time and effort to provide me with detailed and insightful criticism. Some of it is so obvious now that you’ve pointed it out that I don’t know how I didn’t get it right the first time. Your notes will make my work better (if I’m up to the task), and that’s awesome!

All of them (and the partial Critique I received from the lovely and talented Kat Ellis) highlighted one pretty major problem: It takes far too long to connect with my main character Flynn (and even longer in some cases to like him at any level). As he’s the main POV, that’s… awful.

Here’s the thing: I know these characters, every one of them. You can ask me a question and I can quickly tell you how each one would answer it. What sort of things they would like and dislike. How they would react under certain circumstances. I can even describe the mannerisms, idioms, and rhythms of their speech. From my main character, down the the smallest side character, (yes, even to the one guard that sucker punches my POV character).

I can’t tell you what they had for breakfast (unless it’s relevant), but I can get inside their heads if the need arises.  I didn’t do this by building out detailed character sheets or writing throw-away scenes with them (though I did that for some more prominent characters).

It’s just something I do whenever a new character is created. I put myself in their shoes/boots/socks/sandals and work my way through them. What motivates them. What are their goals in life. It usually comes pretty quickly.

Problem is: It wasn’t coming across on the page. So what was wrong?

That’s where the homework came in. I’ve spent the better part of my evenings reading, and doing exercises from a workbook on Deep POV, while it’s not perfect, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything in there. It’s written by a professional who certainly seems to know what they’re doing (at least considerably better than I do).

The best part is the exercises. I’ve read plenty of websites describing and giving examples of how to give good character, and great POV, but none of them went so far as to give relevant exercises in a work-book format. Something about it all just “clicked” (I think).

So I went through that workbook (it’s only 60 or so pages), did all the exercises, and took a look at my own Work In Progress. What. A. Mess. I have “tells” everywhere (something I tried desperately to avoid and clean up last pass), narrative separation/distance, and my POV character does indeed seem flat and voiceless (he’s NOT like that in my head). I have my work cut out for me to reel this sucker in to a deep POV.

Needless to say, it’s going to take a while for me to hit my stride on this revision pass, and I may reach out to some of my CPs earlier on (if they’re amenable to looking over some small chunks) to see if I’m on the right track, or ruining what good I had. I’ve spent most of this evening (my first night back at revising my own work) and have only worked through the first 5 or 6 paragraphs.

Like I said, slow going. But I’m trying to be careful with my new powers, to ensure that I employ them for the forces of good.

As for copy edits, and Canadian (not “British”) spelling vs. American spelling, and my blatant and continued misuse of commas… I’ll get to them, once I’ve sorted out my critical character issues.

– Alex

2 Comments

Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Character, Critique, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Id, Learning, Revision, Viewpoint, Voice

Zug Zug

Remember that little progress bar to the right? Take a peek at that sucker!

BAM! That’s right. Revision 4 complete! It took considerably longer than it probably should have, but Real Life™ tends to not care what we have planned.

I put every spare moment I had into getting it done (hence the disgusting lack of blog updates). The problem being that spare moments weren’t as plentiful as I’d hoped they would be. That said, in the interest of getting it done, I’ve learned a new skill.

I can now revise, out loud, in public places, with lots of distractions. Sure, people probably thought I was crazy, and it didn’t go nearly as fast as when I hide in my writing cave, but it was time to revise I didn’t have otherwise. I’ve now revised out loud in places such as hockey arenas, train stations, hotels, coffee shops, and book stores.

This revision was a game changer, and I have to say, I’m going to do an out loud pass on everything I write from here on out (yes, including this blog entry). It makes such a difference to the flow and clarity of the written words. There’s something about engaging the speech and hearing centres of the brain that catches all the crud the eyes miss.

Take another look at that progress bar, see the numbers under it? That’s 4,598 words shaved off the word count, all in the name of clarity. And it wasn’t just 4,600 words dropped, it was closer to 7,000 words cut, then more words built on top.

During this process I won a 40 page critique from Kat Ellis on her blog. Her feedback was AMAZING, and I tried to take it into consideration throughout the rest of the draft. I can only hope I succeeded.

I’ve put the latest in my DropBox for my Alpha Readers, and e-mailed copies to 2 of my 3 current Critique Partners (Colten Hibbs, Rachel Russel, and Clara Mitchell). Now it’s all over except for the terror… and feedback.

– Alex

2 Comments

Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Critique, deadlines, dropbox, Editor, Ego, Real Life™, Revision, Word Count

I’ll be over there, talking to myself…

They used to say that talking to yourself was a sign of madness. Lately the perception has been swinging the other way, with studies (don’t go read that unless you’re REALLY interested) saying that it’s actually a great way to increase cognitive processes and intelligence.

Well, I don’t know how normal it is, but as a writer I do it a lot, when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. I narrate a good deal of my own life and always have. It’s gotten me plenty of strange looks over the years, but I’ve never quite understood the problem.

Lately, that habit has been paying dividends!  I’m doing my latest revision out loud. To break that down for you, I’m locking myself in a room and reading my last revision and fixing/trimming things as I go. It’s been working fantastically so far, but I find I’m having discussions with myself, out loud, about how to fix certain paragraphs. No, I don’t mean I’m simply saying the alternative sentences out loud (though I am doing that), I’m discussing the merits of certain word choices and sentence orders.

I only worry when I give myself completely awesome and unexpected answers.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I’ve been reaching out and finding Critique Partners beyond my Alpha Readers (who are great), and sending them some sample chapters. Some of the folks I reached out to are busy and I want them to know I’m completely cool with that. You need to take the opportunities you get and run with them, I’m rooting for all of you.

I have had some luck finding people to look at my work and not cringe in disgust, so that’s good. I won’t shout out to them here until I know they’re cool with it and whether or not we’ll continue beyond some sample chapters. But I love what I’m getting from them so far.

This is an exciting and terrifying time for me, but I’m having a blast.

3 Comments

Filed under Alpha Readers, BookB, Feedback, Revision, Validation

Avoidance Techniques

So here’s a quick update. Just so you can’t say I didn’t give you one!

I’ve noticed I’m stalling. I’ve caught myself avoiding getting into revision right away (before tonight, I hopped right in tonight), and I know why. Fear, Insecurity, and Doubt. Yes, I know that capitalizing them like that is against the rules. Sue me. They deserve it.

I’m now 5 days past when I wanted to have this revision done so I could start the whole “send this puppy out to critique partners so they can rip me a new one” phase. Basically, the part of the process where I find out on some level just how bad it is and how much more work there is to do on it. The thought of that terrifies me. What if it’s crap. What if they laugh at me?

Well, I’ve decided two things.

  1. I’m not going to rush it, I’ll finish the revision when I finish it.
  2. I’m not going to drag my feet any more on it.
So, that’s all for this little update. Back at it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alpha Readers, Ego, Id, Revision