Category Archives: Validation

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 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

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

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.

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

Acknowledgement Problems

I read a blog post recently stating that Authors should keep their acknowledgements in their books short and concise. It got me thinking (not that I’m in a position to start thinking about an Acknowledgements Page yet but bear with me). I don’t know about every other aspiring writer but I have a strong need for good information, external validation, and support. How on earth would I pare down the massive list of everyone who’s given me a little (or big) push, or some really key piece of information that inspired or helped me limp through this process called writing?

Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Offline, my main support comes from my lovely wife. She allows me the time to write, which is a pretty big consideration, we have a 3 year old that keeps us busy and a 13 year old in Rep Hockey, so she’s sacrificing her alone-time with me. She also props me up when I have my little personal crises and think that I suck and shouldn’t bother. All in, it probably helps that my writing keeps me out of her hair and makes me far less grumpy on the whole.
We just passed our 16th anniversary together, as I’m only 33 you can do the math and figure out that we’re Highschool sweethearts. I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s a light in my life and a strong foundation I can always turn to.
For information, like most, I tend to go online and I devour anything I can find on the subject of writing. I’m like a writing zombie constantly in search of other people’s brains. There’s a lot of great stuff out there if you look, books, blogs, podcasts, and Twitter people (Tweeple?).

You know what I’ve found along the way? An awful lot of contradiction with a strong core of consistency. Most of that seems to come from the fact that there are really very few keys to becoming a successful and accomplished writer. The rest of it is a matter of personal style and what works for the individual.
It appears the key points to being a halfway decent and possibly successful writer are as follows (in no particular order after the first):
  • Write every day.
  • Finish what you start.
  • Allow yourself to suck (on the first draft at least).
  • Read often (and in the genre you write for).
  • Have a story to tell.
  • Revise (and revise, and revise, and revise, and revise)!
  • Persevere
Other elements such as outlining/architecting vs. pantsing/discovery writing, character vs plot, etc. are all up for debate (on the whole). I myself strongly believe in a combination in both cases. 
I outline my plot and story arcs heavily while allowing both to change drastically if “discovery” strikes or something feels flat. 
When it comes to scenes and characters I have to “write myself” into them, which is most definitely a “discovery writer” thing to do.
Prose, grammar, and spelling are all things to be cleaned and touched up in revision as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I have some inspired moments while writing the first draft, and some of them may even make it into the final manuscript, but I won’t know that until I get there.
That’s what I’ve got so far, and it’s by no means clean or polished and certainly up for debate. Like everything to do with writing, I’m learning as I go. Without the people that I meet online, or the podcasts and blogs that I follow with their myriad of tips and helpful information I wouldn’t be nearly as far along as I am.
It will likely take several more books to streamline and work it out for myself, and that’s a good thing, because it lends to my whole solution to the “Acknowledgements” problem: Write and publish enough books to cover everyone. It’s going to take at least 20-30 books.
– Grimm
P.S. I was originally going to list and link some of the blogs and Twitter folks that I follow but I’ve decided against it in this particular post, as many of the tips and information comes from multiple sources and it would just be a mess. Instead I’m looking to add a people/links bar to the already overcrowded right hand bar once I clean some stuff up.

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Filed under BookB, Character, Discovery Writing, family, Grammar/Spelling, Learning, Outline Writing, Real Life™, Story Elements, Twitter, Validation

External Validation!

This is something really important, and whether it’s ego, or lack of ego (no one will accuse me of that), external validation is something I (and I’m sure other writers) crave.

It’s a small part of the driving force that makes me (us?) write, and continue to write.  Recently, well, earlier this week, I sent my pitch to Kat Ellis for her to critique in advance of #HLandS (Hook Line and Sinker).  What I received as a response has pretty much made my week.  Here’s an actual writer validating my pitch!  Despite the fact that I may, or may not, have alluded to her being either a crazy cat lady, or one of the crazy cat lady’s cats in a previous blog post.

Again, as I said on Twitter, Thank you Kat!

The rest of the motivation for writing, at least in my case, is to have my stories read.  As much as I enjoy writing them, I don’t think they really live until someone puts fresh eyes on them and breathes life into them in their imagination.  Well, that and money, I’d love to get paid to write.

As for my writing tonight, even though I feel like I’ve been hit by a mid-sized truck (got a nice head/chest cold going on) I pushed out just over 1200 words in about an hour and a half this evening.  That puts me on good pace for NaNoWriMo next month if I can keep it up.  Now that I have my Outline “complete” that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

If you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo  it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s the month of November every year.  The goal of NaNo is to write 50,000 words of Fiction in the 30 days that constitute November.  I participated in my first NaNo last year and won with just over 24 hours left.

Out of that NaNo came the basic skeleton of BookB, which has been slowly getting a full rewrite in the year since.  In fact, all that I can really say remains is a few key plot points, some of the characters, and the comforting sense that I can actually do this.  Which is really the best part of it all.

Anyway, taking my sick butt to bed.

G’night!

– Grimm

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Filed under BookB, Contest, Learning, NaNoWriMo, Outline Writing, Pitch, Real Life™, Validation