Shh… It’s Vewy Vewy Quiet. And CakeWrecks Rocks.

If you’re a regular reader here, you may have noticed I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet lately. There are a number of reasons for that, some of which I hope to share soon.

But in the meanwhile, one of my favorite non-publishing blogs, Cake Wrecks, had done a special Sunday Sweets Edition on books!

You must check it out the Reading Rocks post on Cake Wrecks. Like, right this minute would be good.

Everything is coming together! *snort*

And you’re welcome. 🙂

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U Got the Look: Novel Marketing and Prom Ensembles

Well, Prom season is upon us. You may wonder what the heck that has to do with marketing a novel. Well, I’ll tell you.

But first, I’d like to introduce this into evidence:

That’s me (with my sister) on my way to the prom circa 1992.

Now, if you’re like me, after looking at this picture, you’re rubbing your stinging nose with one hand while wiping the coffee off your laptop with the other. Which is hard to do when you’re shaking with laughter. I mean that is really quite the look, right?  Check out the asymmetric hair-do and the “floating pearl” necklace. Not to mention the white iridescent tights. And when you’re uberpale, the best look is almost always baby pink patterned satin over white tulle, natch.

Here’s the thing:

At the time, I thought I looked awesome. Other people thought I looked awesome, too. I overheard my date’s younger sister whining that her brother must have bribed me or something cuz OMG, she’s actually pretty!

Unfortunately, I believe writing is a bit like fashion. I finished the first draft of The Edge of Memory in 7 weeks. I did a quick grammar edit, and then shipped the manuscript off to a bevy of test readers for feedback, while I took a month away “for perspective.” (yeah, right.)

Over the next several months, I completed several major edits. I then decided I was done tinkering and ready to seek representation. I read the blogging agents mantras of “Don’t Query Before You’re Ready” and “Write a Great Book” and felt confident. I loved my manuscript. I didn’t think it was perfect, of course, but I thought I’d reached the point where I needed professional feedback to progress further.

I was both right and wrong.

Since that first stopping point (when my book was titled “Still Haunted”), I’ve done at least six more rounds of editing. And each time I finish a round of edits, I cringe to look at the previous drafts. Just like that prom picture, I look at those versions and wonder, “what the heck I was thinking?”

In February, an agent who had requested a partial and then my full manuscript pointed out a plot detail that bothered her. She gave me a eureka moment and I subsequently rewrote several scenes. I am very pleased with the resulting manuscript, and have not edited again since (which, of course, shatters my previous record of approximately nine minutes between edits). I think this time I finally have reached the most polished version I can produce.

Naturally, I wish I had known that I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was when I first began querying. But then, I’m not sure I would have reached this place without the submission process. Certainly, I might never have had the eureka moment without that agent’s input.

The take-home point here is that I’m glad I’ve never been a Query Player (much as I’ve tried). If I had queried a zillion agents when I first thought my manuscript was ready, I’d have burned all my bridges.

But since I’ve only queried a few agents at a time, I’ve got a chance to show my best work. And I’m grateful for that.

When Query Met Sadly: Can Agents and Aspiring Authors Really Be Friends?

This something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in the wake of Agentfail fallout regarding agents making themselves (as people, not just as agents) accessible online.

Because in the course of “establishing an online presence,” I’ve encountered quite a few agents who are funny and fabulous. People whom I enjoy interacting with as much as any of my online contacts (or, as Mr. Kiddoc calls them, my imaginary friends).

But it gets a bit tricksy sometimes. If any of my other online contacts posted they were having a bad day, I wouldn’t hesitate to try to cheer them up. I would use tongue-in-cheek humor without reservation. But when it’s an agent-type person, I worry I’ll seem insincere. I wouldn’t need a motive, ulterior or otherwise, to do these things. But I can’t deny that I do have a motive, shading my every action with personal gain.

It’s almost a consolation prize to have received rejections from a couple of these agenty peeps. Of course, I am disappointed not to be working with them, but at least I don’t feel cloying if I tell them when they crack me up or post something particularly helpful.

And all of this musing reminded me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, which I now present for you with a few minor word substitutions:

Query Burns: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sally Agent: Why not?
Query Burns: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that aspiring authors and agents can’t be friends because the representation part always gets in the way.
Sally Agent: That’s not true. I have a number of aspiring author friends and there is no representation involved.
Query Burns: No you don’t.
Sally Agent: Yes I do.
Query Burns: No you don’t.
Sally Agent: Yes I do.
Query Burns: You only think you do.
Sally Agent: You’re saying I’m representing these authors without my knowledge?
Query Burns: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to be represented by you.
Sally Agent: They do not.
Query Burns: Do too.
Sally Agent: They do not.
Query Burns: Do too.
Sally Agent: How do you know?
Query Burns: Because no author can be friends with an agent that reps his or her genre. He always wants to be represented by her.
Sally Agent: So, you’re saying that an author can be friends with a agent who doesn’t?
Query Burns: No. You pretty much want to sign with them too.
Sally Agent: What if THEY don’t want to represent YOU?
Query Burns: Doesn’t matter because the representation thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

But, Twittering/Blogging Agents, I like you for your minds, I swear.

Here’s to friendship anyway!

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist

I feel like the father on A Christmas Story: “I’ve won a major award!”

If you’re the sort of folk who reads my blog, you are probably well acquainted with the ABNA contest. For 2009, Amazon accepted up to 10,000 entries of finished novels in February.

They narrowed the entries down to 2,000  on the basis of the Pitch (basically the meat of a query letter). Excerpts of the 2000 novels were then reviewed and scored before the 500 quarterfinalists were announced.

And The Edge of Memory was one of those 500 novels.

At this point, the contest gets a bit American Idolish… the quarterfinalist excerpts are posted on Amazon.com for Amazon customers to review. Based on these reviews and a formal score/review of the full manuscript by Publisher’s Weekly, the entries will be cut to 100 semifinalists on April 15th.

So, if you have the time and inclination to read and review my entry, I’d greatly appreciate it. You can download the excerpt here, and then click “Create your own review” to leave your thoughts and star-rating (the button to leave a review is on the right side of the page, just below the “Customer Reviews” heading.

I’m Grateful and U-R-A-QT (In Deep Smit 12/26/08)

Another Friday here, although I suppose for most folks today was a holiday.  But just like there is no crying in baseball, there are no holidays in the hospital.

Regardless, it’s time for another “In Deep Smit” posting. I have many things to be grateful for this week, especially.  I’m grateful for the time I spent with our family in the last few days. I’m grateful for the helpful pitch critique I received from Jessica Faust at BookEnds. I’m grateful I made it safely through the dangerous ice storm this morning, even if it took over 2 hours to get to work.

But for this week’s smitten discussion, I’d like to talk about something I’m very excited about: the QueryTracker Blog.

If you’re a writer reading this blog, you should already know how useful QueryTracker is when searching for representation.  (If not, you’d best scoot over there and check it out.)  Soon, the associated blog will be a busy place.

A few wonderful, talented folks and  I will be co-authoring lots of hopefully helpful postings there. You’ll find tips on how to maximize the benefits of the QueryTracker site, articles covering topics in writing and publishing, featured guest bloggers, contests, and more.

All of us participating are very excited about this new venture, and hope to see you there!

I, for one, am deeply smitten with both the project and my partners-in-blogdom.

Douglas Adams Would Be Proud. (In Deep Smit 12/05/08)

If you’re reading my blog, chances are you fall into one of two categories. You are either a friend (online or otherwise) or you are involved in publishing. Or both, natch. 😉

If you’re in the latter category, this is undoubtedly no news to you, but publishing has had rather a rough week. A rough year, actually… but this week the discussion rose to fever pitch.

After reading grim postings everywhere from Publisher’s Marketplace to GalleyCat to various publishing professionals’ blogs, it’s easy to fall into the frenzy of alleged Armageddon.

You know…

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

So this week, I am deeply smitten with the agents at FinePrint who are calmly assuring us that Armageddon is NOT at hand. Both Colleen Lindsay and Janet Reid have posted why the sky is NOT falling.

They have both instructed us not to panic, and I have taken the liberty of making those letters as large and friendly as is practical. So I present the Publishing Industry “Don’t Panic” graphic…

I will be displaying it in my sidebar as reassurance.

Furthermore, we are not helpless in this crisis. As long as there is demand for books, they will continue to be published. And WE are the ones who create the demand. Moonrat on Editorial Ass has started a group called “Buy a Book, Save the World” if you want to join forces, but more important is to BUY BOOKS.

BookEnds agent Kim Lionetti posted recently about books as holiday gifts so you can check there for some gift ideas. 😉

Willy Wonka & The Publishing Industry, Part II

You may remember a few months ago, I posted that Everything I Needed To Know About Publishing, I Learned from Willy Wonka.

At the time, I admitted it was not really everything I needed to know.  As proof, here are a couple additions to that list:

7.  One is Enough for Anyone. Moonrat made a lovely post yesterday in celebration of the Little Novel That Could.  What is striking about this story to me is that sometimes, one champion makes all the difference for a project.  Certainly, in order to get a book published, a lot of different people need to believe it can be successful.  But sometimes just one person… if it’s the right person for the right project… can make them believe.

8.  What Are You At, Getting Terribly Fat? I participate in several online writers groups where people share their query letters for critique, and I’m surprised at the number of intelligent, otherwise well-informed folks who seem to be unaware of appropriate lengths for novels.  Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint posted a great breakdown of wordcounts by genre a while back.

Class Re-Dismissed!

Back on the Chain Gang: Genres

My Blog Chain Gang is back at it again and our new topic is Genres. We’ve had to skip over one blogger who’s moving, so the previous post from Elana Johnson is here.

If you’ve followed my blog, you know that Genre has been a hot topic over here on Trying to Do the Write Thing. I had a heck of a time deciding what genre in which to market my novel. One of the more amusing discussions of this is listed in my Blog Hall of Fame in the sidebar: Genre Crossing and The Edge of Memory.

I read all sorts of genres, and so influences of several genres found their way into my novel. It’s a mystery, but not a whodunnit. It’s suspense/thriller, but personal. It prominently features romance, but it isn’t a romance novel. It has paranormal elements, but they’re subtle and late in the novel.

This might suggest a feeling of “something for everyone” but conventional publishing wisdom states this is not a desirable place to be. Publishers and editors (and therefore agents) need to know where your book will be shelved and how it will be marketed. Simpler is better. Which does leave a more complicated book a bit nowhere.

Based on my research, it seems that a book with elements of multiple genres would be classified as mainstream fiction. This might lead you to wonder how I came to be marketing in Upmarket Women’s Fiction.

When I first prepared to market my novel, I had a hard time finding a good definition of “women’s fiction”, other than that women ought to like it. Women make up the majority of readers anyway. My novel was long on romance, so that suggests a female audience. I sent a survey to my test readers asking them to write in what shelf they would expect to find my novel on, and got a wide variety of responses ranging from “Psychological Thriller” to “Family Saga” to “Mystery” to “Romantic Suspense” to “Whatever shelf Jodi Picoult is on.”

If I had paid more attention to that last suggestion, I would have been on the right track sooner.

In that same survey, I asked if there was an author or a novel that my test readers considered my novel similar to in style or audience. I received a number of flattering responses, including Fannie Flagg, Nancy Pickard, Maeve Binchy, Anita Shreve, and most frequently Jodi Picoult. After a little research, I realized these awesome authors are categorized as “women’s fiction” when they’re not over on the “Bestsellers” shelf.

At long last, I found a clear definition of women’s fiction from the FWA:

Women’s Fiction: Fiction which includes subjects and themes that range far beyond romance. The woman is the star of the story and her changes and emotional developments are the subject. Relationships are at the core of the plot. Could involve relationships with siblings, parents, friends and not necessarily just a lover. Doesn’t have to have the standard “happy ending” but there is a life-affirming resolution to the story. Focuses on the hopes, fears, dreams and even secret fantasies of women. (Examples: “Shellseekers” Rosamonde Pilcher, “Fortunes Rocks” Anita Shreve, novels by Sue Miller and Elizabeth Berg.)

YES! That’s The Edge of Memory, absolutely.

So, why upmarket? Well, this part I’m actually less certain of, as it seems that not all agents have embraced this particular term which I am given to understand means a novel bridging from commercial to literary fiction: a book club sort of novel. My novel does use symbolism, echoes, and allusion, but not in a way that is distracting to the story.

My second option for genre would be suspenseful women’s fiction. When I get farther into the query process, I may find that fits better. This whole publishing thing is a learning process, after all.

So Take Home Tips from what I’ve learned on Genres:

  1. It’s important in marketing your project to identify the best fit for genre category. This gives agents, editors, publishers the most efficient way to pitch your book up the chain.
  2. There are different expected book lengths by genre, so bear that in mind when marketing. I posted about wordcounts here and included Colleen Lindsay’s wordcount breakdown by genre.
  3. Once you’ve identified your genre, read the current releases in your category to get a feel for the current market.
  4. Although important, genres can be flexible, too. I’ve seen agents posting that they market a cross-genre book in either category, depending on the pitch-recipient.

Okay, Chain-gangers, Kiddoc out. Next up, I believe is the lovely and talented Mary Lindsay.

Say It Ain’t So, Borders… Say It Ain’t So.

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I belong to an active chat board where a recent thread outlined a coupon code for Borders.com. The coupon code– intended for $5 of a single item– apparently was not working properly and was allowing customers to place large orders for multiple items with $5 taken off the price of EACH item. This apparently included items that retailed for less than $5. Photobucket

Naturally, this led to many large orders placed for dozens and even hundreds of free or severely discounted books. With free shipping. Photobucket

I understand the coupon has been deactivated now, although there were apparently several days during which orders may or may not have been processed.  There’s been a lot of confusion on which orders will be or have been processed, and which will be canceled.

This whole thing makes me so so sad. Photobucket

I know we’ve all discussed at length how deeply we need Borders as an additional outlet. Additional merges within the book sales world are frankly frightening, as it could leave one or two people deciding which books in a given genre will be available when a customer enters a bookstore. Photobucket Certainly giving away thousands of dollars worth of books with free shipping is unlikely to help Borders’ bottom line. Photobucket And given the haphazard application of the coupon and the resulting cancellations of orders that had been already charged, this fiasco won’t be helping with good will either.

This scares me. Photobucket Not just as an aspiring author, but as a reader.

Shake it off, Borders, and get your head back in this game. Please. Photobucket

In Deep Smit (7/25)

It’s Friday again!

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This week I am in deep smit with HarperCollins. No, they have not expressed any desire to buy The Edge of Memory. I’m sure they’ve never heard of me or my novel.

So why am I smitten with them this week? I’ve recently learned that they re-released a favorite novel of mine that has been out of print since, well, as long as I can remember.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread is the story of a nine-year-old boy in Cleveland in 1944, who tries to prove his worth to himself by journeying across the city alone to visit his best friend. He arrives there seconds before the gas tank explosion and is faced with the challenge of saving himself, his little sister, and a number of other characters he happens to encounter.

I’m delighted that this book is finally back in print. Yay, HarperCollins!!

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First Page Contest: Off the Hook

Many big kudos to both Authoress on the Miss Snark’s First Victim blog, and to the amazing Secret Agent Holly Root at the Waxman Agency.

This was a rocking contest in so many ways. Ms. Root invested a lot of time to give thoughtful feedback on each entry to the Are You Hooked? contest. All 115 of them. Photobucket

Mine is here, if you’d like to see. It was a fresh revision, as I was inspired to rewrite my opening from another character’s point of view just a couple of weeks ago. The feedback I received was absolutely invaluable.

It is SO helpful to have fresh eyes look at your work, especially expert, professional agent eyes. I’ve now revised my new opening and am pleased with the changes.

Especially significant was the disconnect occurring with the first paragraph of my contest entry. Several readers mentioned that paragraph was less engaging because they didn’t care enough about the character yet to be moved by her husband’s death. This is why the fresh evaluation is so important. I have hundreds of test readers, but they already know and care about the characters, so they can’t have the same reaction a new reader would.

I’ve posted my revised page in my entry comments if you’re interested. And if you haven’t been by Miss Snark’s First Victim previously, you might want to spend some time poking around. Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Links to all the contest entries are currently displayed on the left side of the page.

Everything I Needed To Know About Publishing I Learned From Willy Wonka

Well, that title is a bit misleading… I’m new to writing and publishing and don’t know “everything I need to know” by a long stretch.

The inspiration for this blog post came when a quote from Willy Wonka popped into my head and seemed to fit my quest for publication.

“There’s a hundred billion people in this world, and only five of them will find golden tickets [representation as a debut author]. Even if you had a sack full of money, you probably wouldn’t find one. And after this contest [process] is over, you’ll be no different from the billions of others who didn’t find one.”

“But I am different. I want it more than any of them.”

The more I recalled from that film, the more appropriate it seemed. So, here’s what I’ve learned about publishing from Willy Wonka:

  1. You should never, ever doubt what nobody is sure of. If there’s one refrain everyone and their brother is singing, it’s that publishing is subjective. Rejections are expected, even for eventual best-sellers. A particular genre or topic or plot device may be unanimously declared cliché, or overdone, and yet opinions can change in a split-second based on fresh execution. So, all you can hope to do is keep writing what you love, and hoping someone else comes along who loves it as much as you do.
  2. Rude demands and entitlement issues will send you down the garbage chute. There have been a lot of posts about this recently on agent/industry blogs. From moonrat’s unproductive lunch, to odd or hostile letters sent to Jennifer Jackson, Colleen Lindsay, Jonathan Lyons and even intern Jodi Meadows… the one clear fact is that these author reactions did not help them get published. Take home point? Be a good egg.
  3. In here, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams. I am often surprised at how often control becomes a fundamental point of focus. Part of what I enjoy about writing– the reason I find it therapeutic– is that I finally have complete control over something. My characters, their world, and what happens to them depends entirely on what I decide. That is a heady feeling. Interestingly enough, once the writing is finished the next step (if publishing is the goal) means putting yourself in a situation where you have very little control. I think that’s why so many authors get frustrated riding the query-go-round and alternately cling to rules and/or declare them arbitrary and unreasonable.
  4. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Opening yourself to other people is the only way to share something wonderful you’ve created. It also means they might disrespect or destroy it. Be ready to filter your chocolate river.
  5. A little boy’s got to have something in this world to hope for. I struggle with this one a bit personally. I realize rejections are expected. I know thick skin is a publishing industry prerequisite. I know I haven’t queried remotely enough to make any assumptions about my chances to be published, but reading the odds can be pretty discouraging. But stories are meant to be shared, so I’ll keep a healthy dose of optimism on hand.
  6. Don’t let a golden ticket make the chocolate taste terrible. As much as any aspiring author wants to be recognized and published, the publishing process should not be allowed to spoil the experience of writing. It’s easy to get swept into the madness of query letters, synopses, and pitchcraft. And I’ve spent my fair share of time agonizing over query blurb wording (many can testify to that), but it is important, I think, to remember why we started writing in the first place.

Kate on ktliterary posted a while back about Josie Bloss’s plans for a tattoo to celebrate the release of her novel Band Geek Love, and asked what other aspiring authors would do to celebrate publication. I think I might sing “Golden Ticket” at the top of my lungs:

I never thought my life could be

Anything but catastrophe

But suddenly I begin to see

A bit of good luck for me.

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden twinkle in my eye.

I never had a chance to shine

Never a happy song to sing

But suddenly half the world is mine

what an amazing thing!

Cuz I’ve got a golden ticket

I’ve got a golden chance to make my way

And with a golden ticket

It’s a golden day.

ETA: I’ve added a couple more points to this list. Part II is here.

Perfecting a Pitch Blurb

Kristin Nelson rocks. Seriously.

I attended her workshop on Query Pitch Blurbs at the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling. Using her suggestions, I crafted a query letter and sent out an equery on Monday night.

Tuesday afternoon, I got a request for a partial.

She has been blogging on the same topic. Well worth reading.

You can find most of the information here. Or if you visit her main blog page, the entries from April 21 – 28 address this topic. And there’s more coming. 😉

My Pitch for The Edge of Memory

Warning! The following post is slightly spoilerific. So you’ll have to click “continue” to read it. 😉

In case you read about my first agent meeting and wondered what my 60-second pitch was…

Continue reading

All Flung Out: Chicago NRWA Spring Fling

Well, I’m back to my regularly scheduled doctorhood today.

I got in late last night and I’m working a 24+ hour shift today. So I didn’t have a chance to finish blogging about the conference.

Wow. What a crazy, wonderful experience that was!

Saturday, I drove in early for more workshops. I had a great session on writing query pitches with Kristin Nelson, which was highly cool. She had us share parts of our pitches and then helped us know what to focus on. Awesome… seriously worth the price of the conference all on its own.

Next was a “Meet the Agents” panel, where we got to ask questions to all the amazing agents that were participating in the conference. It also meant I got a chance to hear from the agent I was scheduled to meet with later, Erin C. Niumata.

At lunch, another agent, Christina Hogrebe, just happened to be sitting at my table. She was very kind and told me not to panic about my meeting that afternoon, which helped. Also highly cool.

Despite her sound advice, I was a basketcase by the time I was supposed to present my pitch. I mean, I swear… I’m a physician. I speak to strangers all day long. Often giving bad news to them. I was on the debate team and speech team in high school. I give presentations constantly. And I have never, ever been so nervous to make a speech before.

I had seven minutes total time (the volunteers were clicking a kitchen timer on as you walked through the door).

After introducing myself and apologizing for my nervousness, I sat down.

Voice-cracking and probably WAY too fast, I delivered my little speech.

“What were you nervous about? That’s a great pitch!”
My face is on fire. “Thank you. I really appreciate that.”
“How long is the manuscript?”
“90,000 words”
“That’s a good length. Is it complete?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I’d like to look at it. I need a synopsis and the first 50 pages. Can you do that?”

You bet I can.

“Thank you. If your book is as good as your pitch, it will be great.”

I shook her hand and nearly walked right into the volunteer who was coming to say we had one minute to wrap it up.

90 minutes later, my hands were still shaking.

The whole conference was just phenomenal. I met so many warm, funny, and fabulous people. I learned many cool things and got great advice. I survived my first pitch meeting. And I went home with a bag full of great books and other cool loot. I’m so thrilled that I decided to go.

To borrow a phrase from my wonderful test reader Kendra, “Two wildly enthusiastic thumbs up!!!”

Now I have to figure out which RWA chapter to join.