Category Archives: Query

A Few Quick Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

First, in case you’ve been living under a rock (or you’re someone who follows, or is visiting this blog, not because you want to mine it for amazing little golden wisdom and insight nuggets about writing, but because you know ME personally):
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s a bit of a misnomer, but InNoWriMo (International Novel Writing Month) and GloNoWriMo (Global Novel Writing Month) don’t roll off the tongue as nicely… scratch that, GloNoWriMo is still kind of awesome! It takes place in the month of November every year and the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or ~1,667 words/~6.67 manuscript pages a day.

You don’t have to be some sort of mythical “writer” beast to be able to participate. Writing isn’t magical. Stories don’t burst forth from our heads fully formed and flapping their leathery wings. Writing is work. It starts with a cool idea, or a character, or a setting, or even as little as a really awesome one-liner. From there it’s a building process, one keystroke at a time.

This is my 4th year participating, and I’ve reached the 50,000 word goal every year. It takes me anywhere from an hour and a bit to three hours to write 1,667 words, mostly because I have a hard time shutting my internal editor out entirely.

I’ve had varied reactions to doing NaNo this year. Writer folks have all cheered me on and talked about doing it themselves (which is cool), or why they’re not doing it (which is also cool). Non-Writer folks have been split. Those who don’t know me as well as they should simply ask “why?”, especially when they see my recent announcement. Those who know me well know that I LOVE the challenge and dabbling in the community that shared pressure and experience brings.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing the next Harry Potter. It’s about building good habits and reaching the stunning realization that YES, you can write a novel. 50,000 words is a big number. And NaNo is all about showing that it is possible to write that many words in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a few hours a day, tops, for a month.

And if you don’t reach 50,000 words? Big deal! The real key, the point behind this whole exercise, is to form good writing habits. Sit your ass down in front of a keyboard, find your head-space, shut down Twitter and Facebook, close your web browser, and write. If you can do that consistently for 30 days then word count be damned, you win!

A few caveats for you, my fellow writers:
Crossing that 50,000 word finish line on, or before, or even after the 30th feels fantastic. It’s a rush! But even if you’ve written “The End” you are not done your novel. DO NOT QUERY! DO NOT SELF-PUBLISH! That way lies ruination and heartache!

You see, 50,000 words used to be a novel. These days it’s a Novella, with the actual word count of a novel falling somewhere between 60,000 words (literary works, cozy mysteries, contemporary YA, romance, etc.) to 110,000 words, which is roughly the maximum you can get away with for a debut Epic Fantasy or Science Fiction novel.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve typed “The End”, be it at the close of your 50,000 word Novella, or your 110,000 word Epic Fantasy. BOOM! That’s awesome. Now, before you send it off:

Step away from the keyboard!

Go get a drink, or take your family/friends/self out for dinner. You deserve it! You wrote a NOVEL(LA)!!!! Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.

*****

Back? Fantastic! Now that you’ve had time to blow off some of the endorphins that had you rocketing to the moon it’s time to get real. What you have on your hands is (almost definitely) not ready to go out. It needs a good revision or two (or 5) to whip it into that sort of shape.

Provided your dinner break earlier wasn’t on the scale of days or weeks, you’re likely going to need some distance to do it right. Not every writer does, but most of us need to get away from a story and come back to it as a bit of a stranger to be able to sort the gold from the muck. Go work on a different story, or write vignettes, or character studies. Whatever you do though:

KEEP WRITING!

I’ll see you later, I have to go register GloNoWriMo.org and get some words written.

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Filed under 50K, NaNoWriMo, Query, Word Count

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

I Refuse to Aspire Any Longer

Time for an untimely blog post (because that’s what I do lately when I’m in the throes of writing). This will hopefully be a short one (or not, depends on whether or not I get wind-baggy. The fact that this is the second parentheses in as many sentences does not bode well for that).

I’ve unceremoniously obliterated the word “Aspiring” from this blog’s title. I’ve had enough. I refuse to “aspire” to be a writer any more. I’ve spent the better part of 4 years… that’s right…
FOUR… 
YEARS…
…”aspiring” to be a writer.

I’ve written a longer-than-novel length work. Re-written it from the ground up with a new main character and a tighter plot. Revised that 6 times and pared it down. Polished it. Had it Critiqued. Re-polished it. Queried it. Received a mountain of rejections. Received more than a few requests for more pages. I’ve even sent out a few full manuscripts when they were requested. I’ve received rejections on those.

More than that, I’ve written other stuff. I have outlines and “voice/character” vignettes written for four more books. I’ve written 45,000 words on one of them and 16,000 words on another. All while “aspiring” to be a writer.

Well, I quit. I’m done. No more. This “aspiring writer” thing is for chumps and I’m not going to play that game. I’m taking that ball and going home.

 I have better things to do with my time.

Like being an actual writer. Lets get down to the point of the matter. I haven’t been “aspiring” to be a writer since that first time I wrote “the end” (all in lower case, just like that) at the end of a ~140,000 word manuscript. It didn’t have to be that long (it’s now ~91,000 words), but it was. And I made it start to finish (not necessarily in that order).

So it’s time I got honest, not just with you, fair readers (few as you are, you’re important enough to be honest with), but also to myself. I’m not “aspiring” to be a writer any more. That’s not a label I can hide behind whenever someone doesn’t take my writing seriously. Playing off it as some sort of self-effacing joke.

It doesn’t matter that I’m not published (yet!). It doesn’t matter that I don’t have an agent (yet!).

I take my writing very seriously. This is not a hobby for me (and it’s fine if it is for other people). I will continue down this path, working to improve my craft.

I am a writer. I don’t have time to aspire.

– Alex

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Filed under Ego, Id, Motivation, Query

I Suck at Writing: A Confession

I suck at writing. I don’t mean my prose, or my descriptions, or my characterizations (though I’m sure to be lacking in a number of those areas).

I mean in my work ethic.

I haven’t written a single word of real writing in ~8 weeks.

There are all sorts of excuses I could line up, between my day-job workload, to travelling, to any number of things. None of them are truly valid to the writer in me. I’ve had all those things going on before and I soldiered through and got the words down.  Hell, some of my most productive times have been when my day-job was demanding 12-16 hours of my life per day.

So what have I done? Well, let’s see. I’ve read a BUNCH of books. I sort of caught up on some of the TV I’ve recorded. I’ve seen a few movies in theatres (and really enjoyed them). I’ve kicked some ass at The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. And I’ve spent far too much money on Skylanders.

Writing related? I’ve cycled out a few more queries on CROW’S BLOOD. Tracked through and kept up with the blogs of all the writers I know and love. And I’ve re-worked the outline for my historical fantasy about six times.

Six times may seem like I’ve been keeping busy, but really I haven’t. Not busy enough anyway. I could be doing a lot more… you know… writing.

I’ve been doing some much-unneeded self-examination on what exactly my problem is. Turns out it’s pretty simple:

I suck at writing. This time I am talking about the prose, descriptions, and characterizations.

I worked on CROW’S BLOOD for a LONG time. I finished the first draft in November of 2011! Never mind that I completely threw that draft and story away and re-worked the entire novel from the ground up. That’s more than 2 years ago!!!

It’s been that long since I really dug in and worked on something new. The sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of every draft as the story and prose got tighter is gone, and the distance from that first clunky and painful draft is vast.

When I look at what I’ve written lately (and by lately I mean before I got into my writing funk), all I can see is the warts and garbage and things that make me want to set it on fire and walk away. It’s no wonder I’ve re-outlined the thing so many times. Outlines are safe. I can write a REALLY cool outline. Point form mind-maps don’t have to be pretty.

I’ve forgotten that it’s OK to suck, especially on your first draft. No one has everything worked out. No one has the perfect words for every sentence. No one really knows where the commas are supposed to go!

I suck at writing. But I desperately need to remember and keep reminding myself that it’s OK to suck. I’m going to keep doing it, updating my word-counts here on my blog so you can all keep score (and I can keep myself accountable).

I need to push on and get through the first draft. That first, clunky, broken, full of holes draft. I need to finish the story. I need to tie up all the loose ends. And I really need to achieve that awesome sense of finishing something.

You know why?

I’m really good at revision.

– Alex

P.S. Have any of you ever hit that wall? Let me know how you got past it in the comments.

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Filed under Outline Writing, Query, Real Life™, Revision, Validation, Word Count

Querying Like a Madman

Apparently that’s what I’m doing. Not because I’m firing off dozens of queries from my automatic query-cannon (I have one, it’s got an extended magazine and a techno-gadgety scope thingy), but because I’m not sending out dozens.

I’m sending five.

Five at a time is apparently whack-a-doodle crazy numbers and I’ll “never” get an agent that way. That’s what I’ve been told by an anonymous agented third party (who I’ll allow to remain anonymous for the sake of their um, anonymity).

I’m not sure when querying became about simply getting an agent, any agent. That doesn’t fit with my (possibly misguided) view of how things should work. Querying, to me, is about finding the right agent. Finding an agent that fits well with how I work, what sort of stories I want to tell, and most importantly, finding an agent for my writing career.

It means I can’t take just any agent. It means I have to stalk research each agent and carefully select who I query, then personalize that query to them. That takes a LOT of work on my part. It’s a similar amount of effort as to what I put into building a character backstory and system of rules for the world I’ll set a book in. 99.999% of that effort never touches the finished pages, but I need it there nonetheless.

I can’t imagine doing it any other way, I think the stress of having more than five queries out at the same time would kill me. If that makes me some sort of oddball, so be it. I’ll get an agent when I do. And not just any agent, but the right agent.

– Alex

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Filed under Agent, Query

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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Filed under Agent, BookB, Character, Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, family, Feedback, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, MacBook Pro, Motivation, Pitch, Query, Revision, Twitter, Validation

An Open Letter to all PitchWars Mentors and Mentees (from a Mentee)

For the past few years Brenda Drake has run a crazy level contest (over 2,700 submissions/675 entrants)  on her blog called PitchWars. Let me just steal some words from her description:

Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Writers send applications (query and first page of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next five weeks. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests.

Sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it? Well, as someone who was cherry-picked by a ninja-Mentor this year (the AMAZING Renee Ahdieh) with CROW’S BLOOD, I can confirm that it most definitely is. I’m hard at work based on her editorial/critique notes. It’s keeping me quite busy.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen a LOT of Mentors tweeting and commenting that they hope their Mentees don’t hate them for being too harsh or nit-picky with their notes. I have a single word response to that: Impossible!

So, Mentors:

First: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I say that from the bottom of my heart. Even if you’re not my Mentor and we’re technically competing against each other: Thank you! You’re awesome, amazing, and wonderful people to be doing what you’re doing.

Now, onto the rest of it.

Don’t pull your punches! We understand that they’re thrown with the best intentions (ok, so maybe that’s not the greatest metaphor). Keep giving it to us straight and professional, we can handle it. We’re not made of fine gossamer glass.

You have to trust that we know our work isn’t perfect, or we wouldn’t have entered PitchWars in the first place. Moreover we know that you know our work isn’t perfect. You got a look at it before you picked us. In many cases you saw more than the 5-page sample from the original submission.

You’re giving your time and effort, not to mention expertise and insider knowledge to help us get our work into the best shape possible in a limited window of time. There isn’t time to pussy-foot around playing nice. We need to get the job done.

On the flip-side: Mentees:

First: Congratulations, you were selected by a Mentor as either a primary or an alternate. That means you’ve got some chops. Take a few moments, pat yourself on the back, and inflate your ego.

Done? Good. There’s a lot of work to do.

There’s a certain level of trust every Mentee should be bringing to the table. Trust that we’re in good hands and that every note that comes across that table is an effort by our Mentor to improve our work.

That said, the bulk of the hard work should fall on our shoulders. It’s our book. This is our shot. We can’t afford to miss it. Every last one of us should be taking this opportunity and holding on to it, squeezing it for all it’s worth to get at the soft golden centre.

If your mentor gives you some hard truths that’s a good thing, they’re paying attention. We all have our natural talents, those bits of writing that just flow, those aspects of the work that we could sink ourselves into for days (plotting, dialog, world building, description, etc.). But we all have our weaknesses that we can only compensate for with craft (Shatner Commas, making that character that we know inside and out feel real, punctuation in general >.<).

Craft = Work. In many cases Craft = Hard Work. That hard work is why you’re here. If your writing was perfect you wouldn’t need a Mentor. So if your Mentor shines a light on the rust and broken bits of your story, don’t complain.

Roll up your sleeves. It’s time to get to work.

-Alex

P.S. Renee has been fantastically professional, if the other Mentors are half as good as she is there’s going to be one hell of a fine showing at the Agent round.

P.P.S. I’m aware I could use the word protege, but Mentee is a word, regardless of what my browser, word processor, or operating system say. There are many reputable sources.

P.P.P.S. At some point we need to have a long talk about split infinitives.

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Filed under Contest, Critique, deadlines, Editor, Ego, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Pitch, Query, Revision, Validation