A few weeks before Christmas, I completed the first draft of Rivers and Roads (I’m pretty confident I’m going to keep that as the title, this time.) By now I’ve entered it all into electronic format, done a couple of structural overhauls, and several passes through with an eye to basic line-edits. Today I’m going to complete the line-edits of the final chapter. This means I’m about to embark on the Beta Reader phase of this manuscript. I’m excited about that!
I am the opposite of excited about what I need to do once my BBRs start reading. That’s when, according to my List O’ Goals ’22, it’ll be time to hit Query Manager and start compiling a spreadsheet of agents who might, possibly, be excited enough about this novel that I should consider querying them.
It’s not that I dread rejection. Rejection is just proof to me that I am a Real Writer(tm)! It’s just that queries are supposed to state the novel’s genre, and cite comps.
“Comps,” in literary-speak, are books or authors published recently (preferably in the past two years) to which I can point and say “If you liked that, then you will love this manuscript, because it has the same premise and atmosphere in a similar setting.” I could probably find any number of books that have the same basic premise and atmosphere, or the same atmosphere and setting, or the same premise and setting, but never all three.
My readers have informed me that what I write is “Contemporary Southern Gothic Fantasy” and I like that. I’ll run with that as my genre even though it, technically, does not exist. Trying to find comps, however, fills me with an overwhelming sense of frustration, dread, cynicism, anger, outrage, bitterness, hopelessness, and the urge to throw any device on which I’m searching for comps through the nearest window (whether or not said window is open.)
People tell me I should just say: “Imagine Urban Fantasy Title A meets Literary Magical Realism Title B,” and this is good advice. But would I really be able to get away with saying things like: “Imagine Twilight has grown up into an intelligent woman who can spot a toxic relationship a mile away but has no time for them anymore because she’s too busy saving innocent ghosts from paranormal TV show hosts” or “Imagine Allison duBois finally dumps her whiny-ass husband and moves to Innsmouth.”
(Or could I get away with this? I don’t suppose it would hurt to try… If it would, please stop me before I do it. Thanks.)
Amazon often tags my books as “Urban Fantasy,” but it wouldn’t work to try to hook an agent with this claim. They’d be disappointed at the lack of, well, an urban setting, mainly. But also the lack of sexy supernatural shapeshifters who lust after mayhem. The only mayhem in my distinctly non-urban fantasy settings is committed by human denizens. Agents who represent Urban Fantasy would be irritated that I had wasted their time by “not doing my research,” or “not understanding the market,” and rightly so.
Amazon also often lists my work under “Magical Realism,” but I’ve learned the hard way that people who love Magical Realism do not like my work, because there’s (and this is a direct quote from a review) “too much magic.” Apparently you are not allowed to come right out and reveal that the magic is actually real, in Magical Realism. Any magic alluded to must never be proven to exist anywhere but in the POV’s highly unreliable head. Well, I don’t mind reading that kind of thing, but it’s not what I write (and I’m really not interested in ever writing it.)
I think what I write is closer to Realistic Magicalism. Too bad there is no such genre.
At least, there isn’t one now. But maybe there will be, someday when authors start using my work as comps.
The other day, at my usual table at the coffee shop, with my usual coffee-flavored latte at my elbow, I penned what they call the “Final Image” of the rough draft of Rivers and Roads. I don’t usually write “The End” until I’m satisfied that I’ve done all the revising and editing I can before I call in the Beta Readers to hack it to bits for me.
But this time, well… the new barista here has always been very inquisitive about my writing. She asks me “How’s your novel going” every time I come in and set my mug on the counter, and listens patiently while she fills it with coffee-flavored espresso and then creates milkfoam art on top.
So as I jotted the last few words (they made me cry, by the way. I hope they make you cry, too!) I stood, picked up my notebook, and carried it to the cash register. Our excellent barista looked up at me and asked, “How’s the novel going?”
I said, “I just wanted to share this moment with you.” Then I put the notebook down on the counter and wrote “The End” at the bottom of the page.
She was very sweet about it. She’s just that way.
Well, I just figured, seeing someone writing “The End” isn’t something most people get to do very often. Heck, I’ve only seen it five times, now, and I’m the one who wrote it. Well, typed it – until now!
Now the hard part starts: structural revisions, line edits, sweeps through to kill crutch-words (I really use the word “really” far too much!) and then the whole Beta Reader thing. And then more revising and editing. Actually, I call this “the hard part” (actually, I use the word “actually” too much, too.) but, this time, anyway it’s not turning out to be as hard as it was to write the story itself. This story really took it out of me, in a way the Woodley series didn’t even come close to. It kicked my butt every time I sat down to write it. But I hope that means it’ll kick your butt, too. In a nice way, of course!
PS: Speaking of writers and coffee shops, there’s a fellow here right now who always sits by the window typing on his laptop… When I say “typing,” I mean he pokes those keys so hard with the tips of his index fingers, I can’t believe he still has index fingers at all anymore. He hatchets away at the keys in short, sharp bursts, then he sits back, looks at the ceiling, mutters furiously under his breath, and returns to the keyboard. I sure hope he plans to publish whatever it is he’s writing, because I can’t wait to read it.
Yesterday I officially began writing my next series. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, but by the time I was able to stop myself writing I had penned over 4,000 words!
I’ve been planning this, both in my head and on paper, for a long time. That’s probably why the first day’s writing went so smoothly. I’ve been saying, ever since I released A Midnight Clear, that I’d spend the first 3 months of 2021 reading, reading, reading – and then start writing again on April 1. But I have an appointment for my first Covid vaccination on April 1, so I said the heck with it, I’m just going to start writing right now.
I’d been thinking so obsessively about the beginning of the new story for so long that by the time I sat down to write it, I couldn’t stop until I came to the end of … well, what I’d thought was going to be the first chapter. Turns out it’s probably more like three chapters. Am I overwriting again? That’s what I do. I have set myself a goal of 80,000 words for this first volume which, to make it more appealing to potential agents, is a “standalone with series potential.” I am determined to stick to this low word count. Well, 80K is low for me! I can always edit and make it shorter. I mean, I always have to do that anyway!
This is what some might call my “zero draft.” I write the initial draft by hand, with an actual pen, on actual paper. I understand old farts like me find the hand/body component of handwriting to be beneficial to our creativity. I don’t know about that, but being forced to slow down, if only to keep my handwriting legible, does give my brain time to imagine details and make connections to future scenes in the story. If I write on the computer at first, I end up having to go back and put these connections and details in later. I spend a lot less time fixing plot holes down the road, this way, and a lot less time lying awake at night trying to iron out problems in the story that just don’t happen in the first place when I write by hand.
So in a few minutes I’m going to start typing what I handwrote into a Word document. This will be what I refer to as my “first draft.” While I’m typing, I’ll do a bit of line-level editing.
But! I must discipline myself not to spend a lot of time doing syntactical or atmospheric edits at this stage! I have learned the hard way, after many years of struggling, that if I start seriously editing now, I will get stuck in an endless cycle of rewriting and revising one page, one paragraph, one sentence over and over, and will never finish the actual book. I now make it my strict policy to make sure I am at least 3 chapters ahead with my handwritten draft before I begin typing it in, and eight chapters ahead in my first typed draft before I allow myself to edit anything in previously typed chapters. Once I’ve worked my way to the end of the story this way, that is what I consider to be a finished first draft. After that come second, third, and subsequent drafts.
And so it begins. Again
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not sure how I feel about this new beginning. I feel the story itself is quite good – well, has the potential to be quite good – but I miss Woodley, and Cally and Georgie and all the rest. I really fell in love with that whole story-world and its characters, and I did it quite quickly! I still vividly remember how I felt when I left the coffee shop on that first day, after writing the first two chapters of Seven Turns. I felt like my feet weren’t even touching the sidewalk as I walked to my car. I was over the moon – and wishing I had someone I could talk to about what I was feeling! But there wasn’t anyone, at the time. That is actually a large part of the reason I created this blog, to tell you the truth. Just to have someone to talk to about how excited I was about my story, even if it was just a theoretical audience.
Well, I have a wonderful circle of writerly friends, now, and a real-world audience. And I was pleased with myself, yesterday, but not floating. I felt accomplished, but not in love. Cally et al are a hard act to follow, it seems. I like my new MC well enough. And I’m starting to get a little turned-on by the new love-interest, even though he’s only appeared for a few seconds so far. I’m looking forward to discovering the new town and its denizens. It really is a beautiful and intriguing place!
But I remain skeptical, somehow. I really hated having to say goodbye to Woodley, and now this new world feels kind of like a new pet. You know – one you adopt after losing one you’d loved for so long. You know you’ll come to love the new pet just as much in time – and you will! But it hasn’t happened yet.
I guess I should be excited about finding out how it’s going to happen. Well, my new MC is a skeptical type herself, so maybe she and I will figure it all out together!
After I launched Ghost of a Chance out into the newly locked-down 2020 world, I intended to take a purposeful break for a few months. I would do some reading, particularly of old, gothic classics such as “Jane Eyre.” Maybe even take a class or two to polish my craft.
As I carefully picked through my towering To Be Read pile (ready to run, in case it came crashing down on my head) I came across a notebook that looked vaguely familiar. Upon opening it I recognized my own “handwriting” and realized: this was the notebook in which I had penned my 2019 NaNoWriMo project. I remembered, then! I had written it to explore the idea of what Christmas must be like at Vale House in Woodley, USA.
I won NaNo that year, by the way. The rough draft was nearly complete at just over 50,000 words. All it needed was a bit of revising, a few editing passes, and hey presto, I could publish it in time to give it as Christmas gifts to all my beloved critique partners and beta readers. Right?
As you might expect, it turned out not to be as simple as that. “Revising” quickly became “completely rewriting,” and I soon found myself turning my back on my long-neglected TBR pile. I was still determined to keep this manuscript short, though. Well, short for me. Just a bit of Christmas fluff. A Hallmark special to tuck into the boxed set as bonus content, someday, maybe.
I just couldn’t stick with the “fluff” part, though. I found myself getting really serious about making this tale as fully-developed a story as the rest. The final result turned out, I think, a bit too dark for Hallmark. But it’s just the right flavor for existing fans of Woodley, USA and its quirky denizens. And I did manage to keep it down to around 50K! That is quite an accomplishment, for me. I’m really proud of myself about that!
I also believe A Midnight Clear, while it revisits many of the town’s most beloved characters, fills out their storylines and answers many reader questions about them, has turned out to be a story which is able to stand perfectly well on its own, even for people who have never read any of the other books.
It’s available for pre-order now in All the Usual Places, and will be officially released for retail sale on November 16, in time to get you into the spirit of whatever midwinter holiday you may be celebrating. And now, I promise, I will get to that Reading Pile, and I will take a Masterclass or Skillshare class (or maybe both!) And then I will begin research for my next series, coming soon to a mysteriously enchanted border-town near you.
Whatever you are celebrating this midwinter, I wish you warmth and cheer and good health and, if possible, loved ones all around you. To your health!
The question gets percolated around Twitter all the time: Do you consider yourself to be an author, or merely a writer?
Here’s the thing: it’s not open for debate. The definitions of the words “author” and “writer” are about as clear and precise as the definitions of words like horse, pen, or coffee (she said, looking around the room for objects with clear-cut definitions.)
The word “author” has the same root as the word “authority.” If you have authority over a piece of writing, you are its author. Not aspiring. You actually are the author.
Most people make the mistake of thinking you are “merely a writer” until you get paid for what you wrote, and until then you are an “aspiring” author. Nothing could be further from the truth. I used to get paid to write all the time. I wrote technical manuals, software guides, corporate safety newsletters, website content, all kinds of stuff. And I got paid for it! But I was not the author of those materials. Those materials legally belonged to the company for which I wrote them. The bylines and copyrights on them referred to the company, and my name didn’t show up anywhere on any of them.
On the other hand, when I was a young teen, I wrote dozens of what you might call novels. They were read only by my closest friends and ended up being stashed in a shopping bag in my closet when I left home. I may have been aspiring…to get rich off them some magical day! But until then, I was still the author of those materials. The byline on all of them said “by Kim Beall.” And even though I was just a kid, the copyright to them legally belonged to me the moment I wrote them down. In very fact if anyone had published any parts of those works for any reason, even if they did not make any money from them, if they had not credited me as author they would have been breaking the law.
Note: there is one circumstance under which it is correct to refer to yourself as an “aspiring author.” That is if you are always only planning to write, but never actually do it! Then yes, you are aspiring like crazy here. You will become an author as soon as you start putting words on paper (or disc.) (Or cloud. You know what I mean!) But yes, until then, you are merely aspiring.
If you write stuff, you are a writer, regardless of whether your work is advertising copy or fan fiction. If you get paid for what you write, you might be an author, or you might be a corporate asset. Both these things are fine. But remember: if your name is on the things you wrote, you legally own the copyright to it and you are the author, even if you never make a dime. Every court in the land will refer to you “hereinafter as The Author,” should you ever find yourself having to reclaim your work from someone who misappropriated it. This is regardless of whether you or they ever make any money from it.
If you write stuff on which your name rightfully belongs, then stop calling yourself an “aspiring author.” Stop shrinking away from referring to yourself as what you actually are. You are an author. Own it!
PS: Those stories I wrote as a teen and left behind at my parents’ house? My mom saved them for me for decades, and gave them back to me when she knew I was old enough not to throw them out. Bless her – I hope she’s enjoying Heaven, now. Her corner of it, I am sure, has a WalMart and a Gabes within walking distance of a Red Lobster and an Asian buffet!
No, seriously. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t find any comps for my own work, and that is a Big Problem. So I would be delighted if you could prove me wrong.
I am trying to find a way to say all this without being negative, but I’m having a hard time not going into rant-mode. Thank you for bearing with me as I try again.
Conventional advice, for authors who want to be traditionally published, states that I need to read, read, read so that I can demonstrate my knowledge of the market and so that I will know, when the time comes, what books and authors to use for comps. And! That’s not good enough: said books need to have been written within the past five years; said authors need to have debuted in the past five years. It’s the latter part of this I’m having tremendous trouble with.
I have tried! I have tried and tried and tried, over the past five – OK, more like ten or even more – years, to find a new author, new books to love. I have, for the most part, failed. I even joined a book club that specifically reads and discusses fantasy books. They have introduced me to award-winning books by modern, traditionally published authors once a month. I have paid good money for these books, and forced myself to try to read them. I confess, I have finished few of them. My unedited gut-response would have been, “I enjoyed cleaning my toilets this week more than I enjoyed reading this book” if I weren’t trying to be nice at book club meetings.
Part of it is that I have reached an age where I realize life is too short to spend what little free time I can find, forcing myself to read or watch “entertainment” I am not enjoying. But, since I have started writing books, myself, much of my difficulty is that I utterly fail to understand why I should “just give it a chance. It finally stops being dreadful and begins to pick up and get good around page 100 or so…” when I know that I, as an author querying my own work, could never, ever, ever get away with that sort of thing! (I’m sorry, Meg La Torre, but I hated Nevernight. I really, really tried, but I haven’t been able to pick it back up since I put it down somewhere in the middle of chapter four.) It makes me want to tear my hair and yell “WTF!” Only, not the acronym.
I have, of course, also heard people in the publishing industry saying “OMG you should never let anyone in The Industry hear you saying you think everything coming out today is crap! That’s an insult to them and to all their clients and readers. How can you expect them to support you when you just got done insulting them?” And this is a legit point! But I’m not saying the books coming out in recent years are crap. They’re just not for me. I’m saying I really don’t think I could, or should, force myself to read, and then write, stuff I have never enjoyed and almost certainly never will, in order to obtain representation by claiming my own work is comparable to said other work. And I don’t think there’s an industry professional out there who would advise me to try to do that, anyway!
But it’s not like I’m not a reader and therefore don’t understand good storytelling. I used to read voraciously! From the time I was a pre-teen (um, that was in the 60s) until recently, I would literally read two or three books per week. Even when I was a parent of young children, living paycheck to paycheck and had to get up and go to work at 5 a.m., I would stay up late to finish that book, because I was enjoying it so much I couldn’t put it down.
These days, though, it feels like I’ve already read everything I might ever have enjoyed, and nobody is writing anything new for me. I swear I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say I would literally rather re-read a book I already own, over and over (and have done so) than read most of the stuff that is coming out nowadays. Did I say “most of?” I would actually settle for just a handful of new books I could enjoy, once in a while. Would, say, three or four a year be too much to ask?
Unfortunately I have, in the past five years, read two – count them: two! – traditionally published books I actually enjoyed. They were really good, too! I recommend them to everyone I talk to about books. One was Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, and the other was John Dies at the End by David Wong. But I can’t use these as comps because neither of them is 1) in the genre I write in or 2) published in the last 5 years. (I have also enjoyed several self-published books, to which I have been exposed through networking with other writers. But I can’t use those as comps. Or can I?)
So, is it that there literally aren’t any good books coming out these days, or is it just that I’ve grown old and am unable to adapt anymore to “all that stuff kids today seem to think is so keen – get off my lawn!!!”
And, even if I, personally, don’t like the kind of stuff the
kids on my lawn like, surely there are other readers out there my age? I’m a
fekking Boomer, FGS! You would think there should be lots of readers like me out
there, and other writers writing for their huge market-share. What are my contemporaries
reading? Are they reading stuff they don’t enjoy, either, just to have
something to read?
I am quite serious when I say what finally pushed me over the edge, after decades of intending to write a book “someday,” was the fiftieth or so time I left the bookstore disappointed and empty-handed because I could not, even with the help of the knowledgeable staff at my lovely indy bookstore, find anything I wanted to even take a chance on reading. That was when I realized I had to write it myself. Surely I can’t be the only person in the reading world who is looking for the kinds of things I’m looking for? In fact I know I’m not, because people (of all genders, but also of different ages) have told me they really enjoyed my work and hope there is more of it coming. (Only a couple of these were relatives, so you can stop right there with that line of response!)
What, exactly, am I looking for (and writing) then, that is in such dearth out there in the world that I not only have to write it myself, but also can’t find any comps in order to traditionally publish what I write? Because you know what happens when an author dares to say “But I can’t find anything like it.” The response is always:
“Oh, don’t be so precious. You are not that unique! Everyone thinks they’re writing ground-breaking stuff that nobody else has ever thought of before!”
But no. Seriously. I literally, honestly, absolutely am not kidding or even exaggerating when I say I Can Not Find anything like 1) what I want to read or 2) what I write.
So FYI, if you’ve made it this far and think you can help
prove me wrong (and believe me, I want to be wrong about this!) here is
what I want to read / am writing:
First and foremost, it is written for adults, with adult protagonists. There’s a reason, dammit, why 70% of readers who purchase Young Adult fiction are actually Adult Adults. It’s because there are so many adult readers who want magic and wonder in their lives. They are forced to resort to the children’s section of the book store because Everyone Knows magic and enchantment cannot happen to grownups. At least, if it does, said magic can only be dark, miserable, painful, and end in dismay, making you regret for the rest of your life ever having wished for magic in the first place. To expect real enchantment without having to pay a dire price for it is childish, right? Once you grow up, you need to accept the fact that life is only about horrible things winning in the end. I think this is a terrible message the modern world is trying to ram down our throats, and the statistic above bears out my belief that I am not the only one who refuses to accept it.
The magic (within the context of the book) must be real. Not some kind of Scooby-Doo trope where it was all just someone tricking the protagonist all along or, I don’t know, the fact that the protagonist was nucking futz the whole time.
The female lead has to have a brain. Usually when I beg people to please, please, please direct me to a book or author who writes according to the first two criteria above, they inevitably say “Oh, sure! There’s this author who writes this whole Wacky Witch series!” and I go to Amazon and “Look Inside!” and realize it’s chick-lit. The entire plot revolves around the female lead being unable to stop making ditzy mistakes. Kind of an anti-Mary Sue sort of thing, I guess. If she had a brain, there’d be no story – it’s a laugh a minute. I honestly have no problem with chick-lit and a little mindless entertainment once in a while. I’ve even read a few of these stories, while floating in the pool with a margarita in my hand. The trouble is: it’s not what I write, so I can’t use it as a comp. Maybe I could do one of those cross-comp statements like: “My work is Kim Harrison meets an MC who is smarter than a hairbrush.” Might that work?
Gore for the sake of gore, gratuitous violence, rape, incest, and (especially) suffering or endangered children are RIGHT OUT. Also I am completely over vampires and werewolves and other shifters, serial killers, and demons who have OCDs about not letting people’s guts stay inside them. I want (and write about) paranormal magic and entities, yes, but it is not automatically necessarily evil. Regardless of what Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to teach us, ghosts and demons are not the same thing. Get a dictionary! Anyway, a ghost does not have to want to rip your lungs out for you to be afraid of it, when you first meet it. The supernatural naturally frightens humans, just because we are not comfortable with The Unknown. It is this sense of “there is more to the world than we can possibly know” that I am after – not just the fear, for its own sake, which this realization initially causes. Besides, when a story becomes all about lovely people dying in grisly ways, for me, it is no longer scary – it is now tragic. I feel more pain than fear when forced to read or watch this stuff. If I wanted to pique my jaded modern emotions with profound sorrow, pain, and tragedy, all I’d have to do is turn on the news.
Now we are getting into “preference” territory. That is to say, what follows are things I would love, love, love to see in books I might potentially buy, but am unable to find, no matter how hard I look. So I write them instead, which is why there really, literally, actually are no comps available, in modern literature for me to use. (Please prove me wrong! I would be so happy if you did!) These things are:
The stories take place in the modern age. Not in ancient Ireland or in some dystopian future. (I was over dystopia almost before it ever hit the scene, anyway.)
The stories take place in an ordinary setting wherein any one of us might find ourselves through no extraordinary means.
This ordinary setting is even, oh my god, is it even possible? In the good ol’ US of A! Rather than in some inaccessible, magical place such as Through A Portal or in the Cotswolds or some other place like that which doesn’t really exist. (No, I don’t believe the Cotswolds actually exist. After all, MS Word doesn’t believe they exist!)
The stories happen, as I’ve said, not only to actual grownups (with brains, remember) but to ones who are over twenty nine years old, who have some life experience. Maybe even have grown children of their own!
I could get away with using a story as a comp if the protag
is only 27, or if it takes place in, say, modern-day Madrid, or ancient Ireland,
or on another planet. One difference like this could work – two or more would
be stretching it too far. With just one difference like this, I could do a
combination-comp, along the lines of: “My work is like Amazing Positive
Adult Fantasy That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland meets Contemporary Small
Town USA. All I have to do is somehow find and read Amazing Positive Adult Fantasy
That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland, published within the last five years. And
I am legit having real trouble doing that.
The point I am trying to make, with my work, the sense I am trying to create, is that you, yes even you, a grown-ass adult who is successfully slogging through a standard adult life, could accidentally stumble at any moment into a world of magic and wonder. You can find out that dragons exist. Right here, right now, in your podunk little boring town. When you do, you will be able to bring your life experience to bear to not only survive this strange, new life, but also defeat the dragon, or maybe even make it your ally.
If you can point me to a book like that, I might be able to use it as a comp. Even if it wouldn’t work for me as a comp, I would be grateful because I would finally be able to read a new book all the way through!
If the kind of book I’m trying to buy/read/write is not edgy enough for you, fine. You do you. I am not writing for you. If you think the only people who like this sort of thing are laughable, weak-minded children, get off my lawn.
You know how it goes: It feels like I’ve been waiting for this day forever, but on the other hand, it all went so fast, once I finally decided on a release date.
That, they say, is normal to the point of being trite. Here’s the really weird thing, though: I feel like it all happened so long ago! I’ve been working a lot, lately, on the next book in this story-cycle, so that now when I talk about my work I get all mixed up about which story I’m talking about. I hope I don’t end up giving away any spoilers that way!
Each of the books in this story cycle is designed to stand on its own. The end of each book winds up the main plot and finishes the current story (with just a few Questions to give you a hint at what the next one might be about!)
You still might prefer to read them in order if you can, though, to avoid spoilers. Seven Turns happens, chronologically, before Moonlight and Moss and also focuses on Callaghan McCarthy. I am pretty sure there will be one more story (not counting the Christmas Episode – stay tuned!) with Cally at its heart. I have tentatively titled the next tale “Rivers and Roads.”
From here, I can see at least seven stories about Woodley, USA and it’s quirky denizens, and that seems like an appropriate number of rivers to cross. But you never know. There are a lot of people – and you know what I mean and do not mean when I say “people!” – calling my name. People who want their stories, also, to be told. I guess I’ll find out when I get to that bend in the road!
…and then they came upon the Thing…
(With many thanks to The Men for their amazing song and all the inspiring imagery it lent me.)
I’ll start, here, by thanking all the agents who have sent me rejections. I know agents have somewhere on the order of bazillions of queries to get through daily. They barely even have time to paste in boilerplate rejection verbiage and hit “send.” Many, nowadays, don’t even do that. So, when I get a rejection that gives me even the slightest hint of why the agent decided to pass on my project, far from being bummed about it, I am actually grateful.
I often feel like I’m working in a complete vacuum with regard to trying to sell my work. I feel fairly confident that my writing, itself, is good. Good enough, I mean, though of course any writing can always be improved and polished. The manuscript I am currently querying is as polished as I can make it, with critique partner and beta reader feedback. I am fortunate that I don’t have to work in a vacuum, there. On the other hand, the query letters I send out about said manuscript, well, really, the only feedback I can get about those, from real industry insiders, is through rejections.
OK, yes, I know: there is a ton – multiple tonnage, really – of Querying Advice on the interwebs. But much of it is conflicting or grossly outdated. Even AuthorTube videos by actual literary agents offer advice that conflicts wildly! I wade through all this cognitive dissonance and snatch desperately at what seems to be the most common advice. I do my best to incorporate it all into 350 words or less but, in the end, I’m totally winging it. I have no way of knowing – not really – whether or not my query letter is really the killer pickup line that will get me the girl, or just a slap in the face.
Most of the rejections I get are some form or other of the standard boilerplate: “This is not on my list.” And, if this is the actual reason for the rejection (rather than an attempt at the most inoffensive waffle possible) I can’t complain about it. My little world of Woodley, USA is never going to fit neatly onto anyone’s list – it crosses too many genres. Agents who rep Fantasy seldom rep Horror, for instance. Not that there’s any Horror in my work, but nowadays the word “ghost” is synonymous with “guts splattered all over the walls” and I totally understand why some people are not interested in that. God knows I’m not. And, sure, it’s not fair that when a Fantasy-inclined agent sees the word “ghost” in the second paragraph of my query, they roll their eyes and ball up their fists and hiss through clenched teeth, “Oh, FFS, why don’t these #^&$@ writers ever bother to look at my profile – I specifically stated I do not do Horror!”
But it is what it is, and until Western entertainment culture undergoes another sea-change (a sea-change I actually hope to help incite with my work!) I have to figure out how to deal with the situation as it is.
Two rejections I’ve received recently, though, contained completely new and different feedback! This gives me hope that I’m at least getting better at writing query letters. I mean, I’m sure these rejections are also copy-pasted – I can imagine agents need to send this particular one out a thousand times a day, too. But, honestly, I got a little giddy about these because they made me think the agents who selected this particular verbiage from their copy-paste choices had actually got past the word “ghost”!
They said, basically: “The concept of your story just
did not draw my interest strongly enough.”
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dear Agents, for this
specific feedback! Even though it may seem like a slap in the face to some, it
was a gift to me, and I truly and honestly do appreciate your having taken the
time to send it to me.
My first response, of course, was to think, “Oh, OK, so what can I do to change my story to make it more gripping? Give it more pizzazz! How can I make the stakes higher? Maybe I should give in and put in some guts splattering across a wall here and there after all? Oh, I know: a climactic car-chase where the world will end if I don’t make it over the cliff in time to rescue the president from terrorist dragons from Alpha Centauri!”
And then I said:
My story is what it is. It is what it is because that’s exactly what it needs to be. It is internally consistent and beautiful. It gave itself freely to me from an eternal well of Story, and I will be true to it in return. The world does not have to be about to end in order to make the stakes heart-wrenching. Kittens and little children do not have to die horribly. I will not change the actual story itself, even if that’s the only way to get myself an agent. (I don’t believe it is, mind you. I just don’t know how to sell the damn thing, is all.)
Because I know it does, in fact, “draw my interest strongly enough.” I know for a fact that it does this to other people, as well. I am even reasonably confident that the kinds of people whose interest is drawn are not all that uncommon. These are the people I wrote it for. People who, when I describe it to them, say “Oh, I LOVE that sort of thing! Where can I find a copy?” Readers who say, “OMG I hope there’s going to be a sequel – I want to read more about this world!”
If I change my story in order to land a publishing deal, I will be betraying them. And I will be perpetuating the literary vacuum that led me to write this story in the first place because I couldn’t find enough of it in bookstores. There are people out there who want to walk down Main Street in Woodley, USA, and sleep in the Rose Room, and bump into George in the hall in the middle of the night, and jump the fence into the meadow and discover what lies beyond. Hang in there, peeps: I’m still trying to figure out how to reach you, but I am reaching!
All this by way of saying, I am grateful to all who have contributed the various data that has helped me make a decision. Thank you readers, critique partners, beta readers, and literary agents. I think I’ve made a decision? I’ve been trying to make this decision since last fall. I think I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and self-publish Moonlight and Moss. Maybe. Probably. I will probably do this sometime in May 2019 (which is about a year since Seven Turns came out.)
On some level, it feels like I’m accepting defeat, but I’m not, really. I just don’t want to leave my readers waiting too much longer for the sequel to Seven Turns. My pride isn’t as important to me as loyalty to my readers – they’ve earned it! That’s the only thing of which I am absolutely certain.
I am fully aware that the second I hit that “Publish” button over at IngramSpark, I will turn to check my inbox and see I’ve just received an offer of representation. Because of course I will. Murphy is a real jerk, sometimes! OK all the time. Maybe I’ll kill him off in my next book.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep gathering data and polishing my querying skills so that someday when I finish this series and start a new one, I will – as I am still determined to – obtain agent representation.
So I took a break, after finishing the final draft of Moonlight and Moss (working title – but probably actual title, too!) to clear my mind before diving into Query Hell once again.
During the month of November, I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a little (for me) vignette about what Christmas is like in Woodley, USA. I really like how it came out! It’s been fascinating to find out why it snows every Christmas in Woodley, in a part of the country that ordinary doesn’t get snow at all. And, I found out what happens if you don’t have a wish to whisper into Santa’s ear at midnight on Christmas Eve.
I’m so pleased with it I’m going to polish it up and self-publish it as a gift to my readers. Someday I’ll also include it in the boxed set once the third Woodley novel comes out. The title is A Midnight Clear. Chronologically, it falls between Moonlight and Moss and the third volume which does not, yet, have a working title.
Now that I’ve got all the Beta-reader input back on Moonlight and Moss, I’m going to comb through it one last time to make sure it’s as perfect as possible before I begin submitting it for publication. I have received some great coaching on querying from people in the industry (particularly from Meg LaTorre at iWriterly, who gives a great online class on query-writing) and maybe I’ll have better luck this time finding good representation for traditional publishing.
That was my New Year Resolution for 2019: to find a new traditional publisher.
And here I must apologize to you, dear readers. Since I am, in fact, looking for a new publisher for “Moonlight and Moss,” this means it will take longer to hit the shelves than I anticipated, had I stayed with my current publisher. I feel terrible about this, because I know so many of you are clamoring for the next story. Believe me, I can’t wait for you to see it, either! But I really do feel these stories at least deserve a publisher which has distribution and marketing capabilities, and I must do right by them and find one.
To make it up to you for this delay, I’m going make the story I wrote about Luke, the proprietor of Motherboard Pizza, available for free. I can do this for the e-book version, anyway, though Amazon does require I put a minimum price of $2.99 on paperback copies. It includes a map of Woodley and the floor plan of the ground floor of Vale House, if that sweetens the bitter pill at all!
Also, I intend, in the interim, to give you some sneak-peeks at sample chapters of Moonlight and Moss, here on my blog. Stay tuned…
I know that’s not what you’re asking for, though, and I do promise to get “Moonlight and Moss” out there as soon as humanly possible. Without taking shortcuts on quality or on carefully reviewing publishers’ qualifications, of course!
Do you NaNo? If you’ve ever had even a hankering to try your hand at contributing something to the worldwide body of fiction, National Novel Writing Month is a good place to start. For one thing, you’ll get lots of support and encouragement, and afterward the whole idea of “writing a book” will seem far less daunting. It’s amazing, it’s true: you actually can do this. I am not kidding.
In addition, you’ll discover a community of writers you never knew existed all around you, and you’ll find out another thing I was amazed to discover: Writers, as a body, are really amazingly nice people! Most nerds are. (Oh, yah, if you’re a nerd, you’ll also find, among writers, a much higher percentage of nerds than you’ll find anywhere else. What’s your nerddom? Doctor Who? Night Vale? Local indy bands nobody else has heard of? Chances are, everyone in your local NaNo group will also have at least one of these interests – and some of them might share all of them with you. It’s mind-boggling!)
I started Moonlight and Moss as my 2017 NaNo project, though I knew it was going to run well over the requisite 50,000 words required to “Win” NaNoWriMo. This year, I am going to work on a short (well, short for me!) novella revolving around what it must be like to experience the Christmas season in Woodley, USA. I can well imagine that, at Vale House, Santa Claus really does slide down the chimney on Christmas Eve. He probably hangs around eating hors d’oeuvres (I wonder if Katarina will finally make tacos?) and drinking the special Christmas brandy.
This won’t really be part of the current “trilogy” featuring Cally, Ben, and Emerald, though they will be present for Christmas this year. Maybe someday I’ll include a bound copy of the story as bonus content with the boxed set.
Best of all, NaNoWriMo is for a good cause, whether your participate as a writer or by supporting an aspiring writer you know. Proceeds from donations to National Novel Writing Month provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page. Their Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of writing in K-12 classrooms by providing free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston. For more information please visit their web site: NaNoWriMo.org