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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.

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

The Writer’s Voice 2014

The inimitable Brenda Drake is running another contest called The Writer’s VoiceI entered the Rafflecopter. I sang to it. And I got selected.

Without further ado, here’s my entry:

Query

Dear Writer’s Voice,
Ren is the best thief in the walled realm of Lenmar. Which is no small feat when everyone from the queen to the lowliest peasant has some level of magical ability—everyone except Ren, that is.
Instead, Ren has the rare ability to identify the kind of magic wielded by others. Given his chosen profession, this should be a boon . . . especially since everything worth stealing is protected by spells and bindings. 
Yet, he’d trade it in a heartbeat to be normal.
When one of the realm’s most powerful noblewomen is murdered in ritualistic fashion and no trace of the killer’s magic can be found, Ren becomes the prime suspect. Hunted by magic-eating Inquisitors and the Captain of the Royal Guard, Ren’s life becomes one of flight and fear in a battle to prove his innocence.
If Ren wants to clear his name and protect the people he cares about, he’ll have to catch the real killer. To do that, he needs to pull one more high-stakes heist—
And steal the proof he needs from the very people who want to catch him.
Complete at 90,000 words, CROW’S BLOOD is a Fantasy Thriller in the vein of Robin Hood. With dementors. It is a standalone with series potential.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,

Alex Pierce
First 250 Words

A sharp crack echoed in the silence. Ren winced. Without special tools or a talent for Fire to heat the lead around the pane, breaking in this way couldn’t be done quietly. He had neither, and that much heat might set off the binding sigils and raise the alarm. Besides, it seemed louder than it actually was. He’d tested.
He lifted the segment of colored glass and settled it to one side, leaving a gap a scene depicting the Goddess and her four Scions holding the Adversary at bay. No hordes of guards or swarms of librarians boiled out of the hole. So far, so good.
A shaft of the Other’s pale moonlight lit a small circle on the intricate mosaic near the center of the floor far below. 
To Ren, it said something about the Praetorian Order. They lavishly decorated their inner sanctum—where select few ever went—while leaving their public libraries grim and barren. Stealing from them was less than they deserved.
He had a job to do. 
The silken black rope uncoiled into the opening with a whisper. Ren swept his satchel so it hung behind him and sprung into the gap, dropping along the rope’s length. 
He ignored the butterflies in his stomach and their vain attempt at flapping to slow his descent. Catching the rope at the last possible moment, Ren guided it with his hands and wrapped his legs around it, halting his free-fall.
Righting himself, Ren touched down into the silence with a flourish and a bow.

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Filed under Contest, Ego, Feedback, Id, Motivation

Don’t Ever Stop!

So… This little thing called PitchWars happened. It’s what triggered this particular post, but it’s not what this post is about so I’ll cover it very briefly.

It’s a contest where writers submit their first ~250 words and a Query to the four mentors of their choice and hope to get selected. In short (because I’m rubbish at being brief) I was selected by the Awefantabulous Renee Ahdieh.

Renee is exactly what I want and more importantly need in a mentor. Her feedback has helped me add layers of depth to CROW’S BLOOD that I knew were missing, I just couldn’t see where. I’ve learned some of my pet phrases, identified some comma issues I have, and so much more, and I’ve exterminated them with prejudice.

Anyway!

Seven weeks later, our part in PitchWars wrapped on January 22nd as it went to the Agent Round. The first 250 words were posted with a 35 word pitch (here in case you’re interested), in hopes of Agents commenting and making requests.

It’s those requests that bring me to the point of this post. I had 0 requests. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Let me tell you a bit about how this little writer’s ego works: I’m a brash, cocky, confident bastard. Except when I’m not, which is often. The key is that I try not to let that side show to the world at large too much. The only person who sees that side of me most often (my wife) does a great job of propping me up so I can continue being the confident bastard that I am.

I’d be lying if I said getting zero requests didn’t sting. It cut pretty deep. Those are my words! Right there, with that zero looking me in the eye, I could have quit. Packed it all in and reclaimed my TV and video games. I could have given up the dream and driven my wonderful wife insane.

I could have listened to the mean voice in the back of my head that kept whispering “Zero, that’s how many people give a damn about your words. That’s what they’re worth. That’s what your worth. Give it up. Go home. Loser!

I’ve heard that voice before. That’s the voice that comes around any time I put myself out there, whether I’m public speaking, writing, tweeting, or posting on my blog. I don’t like that voice. I made the decision long ago not to listen to that voice. That voice is an asshole. The things it says aren’t true and are designed to cut us where it hurts the most. That voice is borne of fear.

We all have that voice. The difference between those who go on and those who fold isn’t a matter of skill, or worth, or ego. It’s a matter of will.

So here’s what I have to say, not only to those who didn’t get requests in PitchWars, but to those who have ever queried, or submitted, or done anything that brought around that voice:

Don’t. Ever. Stop.

Do what you love, whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, singing, building life-size models of X-Wings out of Lego, whatever it is, as long as you love it (and it doesn’t hurt anything).

As for PitchWars… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I’ve learned so much, and met so many wonderful, dedicated, and helpful people.

Until next time, I’m going to go write and revise, because that’s what I do, and I love doing it.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” – The Bene Gesserit

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Circling, Spinning, Twisting, Turning.

And that’s just my stomach!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.

You see, I finished CROW’S BLOOD and started querying, which is no small task on it’s own.

Researching Agents:
There are plenty of websites (such as QueryTracker) to find out the basics about agents, what they represent, who they represent, what their query guidelines are, etc. But the best source is always going to be the agent’s website. It’s maintained by them (or someone on staff) and they direct what goes onto it. It also doesn’t hurt to dig through their trash (I’m kidding, don’t dig through their trash!).

It goes beyond just finding the agents that represent what you want to publish though. It’s important to find an agent that fits YOU. They don’t represent your book (ok, some do), the best agents (in my opinion) represent their authors and their authors’ careers.

On Querying:
It’s incredible how much time agonizing over and rewriting a single sentence in your query letter can be. I mean, it has to be perfect. Take that and multiply it by the number of personalized sentences, then the number of agents I queried and that’s a LOT of time!

Then there’s the matter of following submission guidelines. Beyond the query letter itself, and doing research on what the agents had for breakfast the last six days running (research is important) following the submission guidelines is key. If you don’t submit your query, pages, and/or synopsis to the agent you’ve carefully selected in the exact method (e-mail with or without attachments, font, spacing, size, content, specific data points, etc.) that they prefer you could have the next best-seller and they won’t even read it!

After you’ve queried you get rejections. They’re guaranteed. For the agents it’s a subjective thing, not every book is perfect for every agent. They have to be excited enough to invest in it and “sell” it to editors.

If you don’t get rejections (yay!) you might get requests. Requests can take a few different forms (usually in the following order):

  • Partial Requests: A request for a set number of pages or chapters
  • Full Requests: They want the whole thing
  • You might also get… nothing. The silence of no response is maddening!

Revise and Resubmit Requests:
If the agent likes your Full they might send an R&R. A Revise and Resubmit means they’re excited about it, but it has a few problems. It’s an opportunity for them to let the writer know that, while at the same time see how the writer takes criticism and direction as well as their work ethic.

Now, I’ve never made it so far as an R&R (yet), but it’s my opinion (and my understanding from talking to others who have been there) that you don’t have to just go along with it. If you have reasons for some things in your story, you can stick to your guns (or swords, or spells, or magical necromantic chipmunks, or whatever).

Could pushing back against changes hurt your chances with an agent? It could, but that doesn’t mean it will. One of the key points of the whole query process is to find an agent that you can work with. There’s going to be points of disagreement (unless you’re both robots trying to STEAL MY JOB!!!). It’s the points of disagreement and how you handle them that’s key.

What Else?
So, aside from going through the query grind and getting started on a Rejection Letter wallpaper, what have I been doing?

  • High-level outlining the sequel to CROW’S BLOOD
  • Brainstorming ideas and starting to outline them. 
    • I’m sitting on 6 full book ideas at the moment with 2 of them pushing to the forefront.
  • Writing vignettes on those ideas to get a feel for the characters.
  • Slowly working my way through 2 of my CPs latest drafts.
  • Reading (for fun)

So… What have YOU been doing?

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Filed under BookB, Ego, Feedback, Id, Learning, Outline Writing, Query

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!!!

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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.

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

Carefully Stacked and Marked Electrons.

Electronic Data. It rules everything these days. It’s our money, our jobs, our entertainment, and our memories.

So much of our lives revolve around little 1’s and 0’s flitting about on the merry tasks we set them upon.

Well, today, I sent a meaningful and important stack of those 1’s and 0’s half-way around the world to someone I barely know. I finally finished my critique of a CP’s work-in-progress manuscript, and I can only hope I’ve done it justice.

Here’s the thing. I received it on April 7th. I’ve had it for two and a half months! I had to ask myself: Why did it take so bloody long? We’re nearing the half-way point of 2013 and I’ve consumed 14 other books this year (1 of those is another WIP from a CP), so what was different about this?

Was it a hard read? No, it was quite enjoyable, considerably more enjoyable than what I imagine mine was for them to read. The characters were compelling, the descriptions and setting were simply beautiful, and the spelling and grammar were fantastic (you have no idea how important that is!).

So what was it? In a word: Fear. That’s right, I’m a coward.

I hate making other people uncomfortable, and I know that my internal Editor is a complete asshole. I don’t ever want to be as hard on other writers as my Editor is on me.

Would they hate me for pointing out how I felt about that sentence? That turn of phrase? That plot point?

Was I putting too many comments? Beating a dead horse? Nit-picking (GUILTY!)?

Was I missing things that I really ought to point out? Things that would help more than what I was catching? Things that actually mattered more than my hang-ups?

And SO much more. I was never an angsty teen. Why was this all coming out now? And over something like this?

I’m a cocky, self assured, smart-ass, bastard. Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll jump right on that sucker.

Here’s why: This is someone’s soul. Yeah, yeah, touchy feely crap. I know! But it’s true. Little known fact: Writing isn’t easy.

It’s a lot of hours pouring everything you have onto a page (that usually consists of those carefully stacked and marked electrons, and not so much dead trees and ink). And what you have when you’re done that first round of effort is usually a great big steaming pile of electrons that need to be poked and prodded, and in many cases thrown away and replaced, before you have something you can even let anyone see.

know how much effort I put into getting CROW’S BLOOD where it is now, and it still has a good ways to go (I have some Character Voice issues with my main POV to sort out, namely, I left too much of it out). Every mark I put on my partner’s Word document made me cringe.

So I procrastinated. That’s something that’s easy, and I can procrastinate with the very best of them! And hey, no one’s feelings get hurt by procrastination! Hell, I spent more time with my wife and family avoiding someone else’s Word document than I think I spent with them in the entire 3 months while I was writing the first draft of my own.

Well enough of that. I needed to put on my space-marine helmet, and grab my magical sword, and get past the barrier I set for myself. I needed to find that fear and kick it’s ass.

Did I mention this is also the first time I’ve done a full mark-up? I needed to finish it and return it on principle. The first is always the most difficult.

I can only hope I got it right, or that I can vastly improve my skill at writing carefully worded apologies.

– Alex

P.S. I didn’t return a mark-up to Colten, my other CP, and dear friend, but we had a really good long talk where I outlined my thoughts and we discussed some of the finer points. I’m looking forward to what he’s doing with the story and can’t wait to see the next draft.

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Filed under Character, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Revision