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.

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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!

Empathyfail: A Writer-Doctor’s Thoughts on Agentfail

If you’re the sort of person that reads my blog, chances are outrageously high that you have heard all about Queryfail and Agentfail. I’ve read all 230+ comments on the BookEnds post.

And what struck me most about the more angry comments posted there was the lack of understanding. I hate the crickets treatment as much as the next writer, but despite the fact that, indeed, it would take only a few seconds to send a reply, I understand why some agents can’t do that.

It’s true… if an agent reads a query and knows instantly that the project is not for them, it would take only a few seconds to paste a rejection. But if they waffle just a bit, they might not want to reject it instantly. Maybe a day or two later, one of those not-instant-rejections will stick out as something that interests them after all. Keeping track of every yes, no, and maybe can quickly get overwhelming, as any bride can tell you. Since the default response is “no” regardless of the agent’s policy, I can understand why a no-reply-means-no policy is the path of least resistance, given the numbers of queries received. Don’t get me wrong… I greatly prefer to receive a response, and certainly favor agents who take the time to respond, but I understand the ones who don’t.

Perhaps the gripes that hit home the hardest for me were those where people complained about agents tweeting or blogging about things like snack foods and reality TV, arguing that these agents had no right to be behind in responding to queries and manuscripts if they had time for such trivialities.

Yikes. I have been on the other end of this argument too many times. I totally get this. As a physician, I have worked crazy hours for over a decade. I frequently work through meals, go without sleep. On several occasions, when I’ve taken a break to run to the bathroom or down a cup of coffee, I’ve had family members chastise me.

“Glad to see you’ve got your coffee, Doc, while we’ve been waiting here for an hour.”

And I get it. I get that they’re frustrated, cuz they’ve entrusted their kids to my care and all they want is for someone to give them an answer on what’s going on and what to expect. A cup of coffee seems unbearably trivial when you’re worried about someone you love.

And so I put things like coffee and meals, my own medication when I’m ill, etc. on hold a lot of the time, but I can’t do it always. I know that sometimes I need a few minutes or a graham cracker or something to keep my stamina up, or I won’t be any good at my job in the first place.

A lot of writers love their books like children, so I understand the frustration and the desperation. But, you know… we’re writers. We’re also supposed to be better than the average bear at putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Agents need to look after their own needs… which includes indulging on occasion. No one can work every second and be good at what they do.

I’m not saying agents or writers are perfect, cuz heaven knows none of us are, but I do think we deserve to try to understand each other a little better.

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.

A Thought on Rejections…

I believe I’ve finally settled on the proposal that works best for The Edge of Memory.  But Holly Root’s post on the new Waxman Agency blog today reminded me of how the query process started for me and for several writing buddies.  If there’s one thing that comes up over and over again when discussing proposals seeking representation, it’s how difficult it is to know what works and what doesn’t.

I mean, sure… Janet Reid is doing what she can to help over at Query Shark, and the gang at QueryTracker is very helpful with query revisions.

But it still comes down to a fundamental problem:

Many authors are willing to make changes to their proposals and manuscripts, but don’t know what needs to be changed.  Many agents would be willing to make suggestions, but do not have the time and fear hostile responses to even the most constructive criticism.

So it occurred to me a while back that it might be possible to bring these two together so that everybody wins (Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!).

In a subjective business like publishing, we have to rely on trends.  To define a trend, we need data points.  But to obtain data points from simple “yes” and “no” responses is difficult and slow.  Let’s take a hypothetical example:

Author submits a proposal for “The Spoon That Moved” to Agent consisting of a query letter, a brief synopsis, and the first 5 pages.  Agent sends rejection.  Author only knows that the proposal didn’t work on Agent.  Was it because Agent can’t stand stories about spoons?  Was the query yawn-worthy?  Did Agent read the query with excitement but the sample pages didn’t hold up?  Did Agent actually love the proposal and seriously consider it before passing?

Author has no way of knowing.  So she has two choices… submit the same proposal to someone else, or change the proposal.  And she can’t be sure what to change.  The process becomes a twisted game of Mastermind, where you never find out how you’re doing unless you happen to win.

Do we have the right query letter and synopsis, but the sample pages need work?  Do we have all the right components but just on the wrong agent’s desk?

So… what if we embraced the Mastermind element?

Here’s my proposition… a standard rejection card WITH data points.  Then, with only a handful of submissions, an author could identify a potential weak spot and fix it.  The rejection card would take seconds to complete, and hopefully its standardness would ward off overly-emotional responses.

Here’s what I had in mind…

So what do we think? Helpful idea, or big pain in the butt?

Give your opinion in the comments!

In Deep Smit– 09/05/08

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Another Friday here already… I swear they’re coming faster these days! Photobucket

As you blog readers know, my resolution to become a query player has not gone as well as I had hoped. Photobucket

I still have trouble “flirting” with several agents at once, even though I know that’s expected. Heck, Elizabeth Jote even specifically posted that it was okay to play the field. But I still haven’t sent out queries like I should.Photobucket

Still, a couple queries here and there over the last couple of months have suddenly hit the sweet spot simultaneously, which has meant several trips to the post office for me in the last couple of weeks. Photobucket

Having stopped at the post office by my hospital on Wednesday (which turns out to be a smidge behind the times) I have realized how deeply I’ve come to love the automatic postal machines.

The first time I used one was a little time-consuming, but now, I can get in and out in no time. I can buy two priority mail flat rate stamps, fill out the labels for the flat rate envelopes, fold the self-addressed one in with my materials, seal the whole thing up and get it in the drop box in less than five minutes. Photobucket

On Wednesday, I waited a lot longer than that just to get through the line. Photobucket

So, deep deep smit this week for the Automated Postal Centers! Photobucket

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.

What I’ve Learned, Part III

This is tangentially related to Part II.

When in doubt, err on the side of making it easy to contact you.

A few months ago, I attended a lecture on “What to Do After ‘The End'” by author Sean Chercover.

When asked what he would do differently if he was seeking agent representation today, he told us he would never have enclosed the self-addressed stamped envelopes, as they are only used to mail rejections, and he would have preferred no response.

I wavered when I sent out my handful of letters, but in the end, my Catholic school-girl obsequiousness led me to include them.

So today, when I saw my last AWOL SASE sitting in my mailbox, I expected a rejection. (I know I need to send out more letters, but since my resolution to become a query player, I’ve been distracted. My husband and I discovered we’ve been victims of identity theft, and that has taken up all our free time lately. But that’s another story).

I opened it over the trash, in fact. And barely glanced at the first line in time to catch it before it fluttered into a pile of coffee grounds.

Another partial request. In my SASE.

No, seriously.

So, send SASE’s to those who request them (which is virtually everyone who accepts queries by snail mail). And read whatever comes back in those familiar envelopes. Might actually be good news!

What I’ve learned about writing a novel and trying to publish, part two

It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already since What I’ve Learned, Part One.

So, Time for Part Two:

Read the Directions.

I know this seems too obvious to bother pointing out. Specifically, it reminds me of one of the most major verbal ass-kickings I survived as a child.

When I was in fourth grade, our teacher, Miss Spix, announced a surprise test which would be worth half of our grade. The classroom filled with tension as she passed out the thick stapled bundles to each student.

My eyes scanned quickly down the first page… history, science, math… all much more advanced than our coursework. It wasn’t multiple choice, either. With a sigh, I returned to the top of the page to read the directions:

Do not answer any of the questions in this test. Write your full name in the upper righthand corner and the word “Yes”. Circle your name, and then turn the test face down on your desk. You may then read quietly for the remainder of the test period.

So, I did and garnered many dirty glances from my classmates as they wondered why Miss Spix did not reprimand me for reading A Wrinkle in Time (again) while they struggled to solve algebra problems. Which was nothing compared to their response when Miss Spix finally collected all the exams and then announced that I would receive a prize for being the only person to follow the directions. The playground was an ugly and dangerous place at recess that day.

That said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that writers are literate. So I find the reports I’ve encountered from agents regarding inappropriate query letters simultaneously disturbing and comforting.

Colleen Lindsay on Inappropriate Queries

Jennifer Jackson on Inappropriate Queries

Nathan Bransford on Inappropriate Queries

Many agents have clearly listed their personal preferences and submission guidelines on their agency websites, or on their blogs, or on sites like agentquery.com (or often, all of the above.)

So use the resources available and make a kick-ass, tailor-made query. Apparently this will put you ahead of 30% to 50% of your competition.

Query Thoughts From a Serial Monogamist

I have been a serial monogamist for as long as I can remember. I got engaged to my first boyfriend at 3 years old. Our engagement lasted two years, until we started separate kindergarten classes and decided to part ways.

That’s when I got engaged to the boy I called “Mucho Macho Jason” who looked like a miniature prize fighter and who proposed to me with vows to guarantee my choice of any seat on the school bus and provide “a pile of candy”.

I have never, in my adult life or prior, dated more than one person at a time. I’ve always ended one relationship before moving on to the next. My brain just isn’t wired for dating several people casually until finding the right one to get serious with.

Which brings me to the query process… I’m not wired for proper querying. I’ve read that to effectively query, you should send out five to ten letters a week until you get a request for an exclusive read or an offer of representation. Granted, I’ve only just begun the query process, but already I feel disloyal as I send out 2 or 3 letters and then wait for replies.

I have to learn how to be a query player.

My revised beginning from a few weeks ago is up for review in the public queue on critiquecircle.com this week. Provided the revision is well-received (and early reviews are promising). I am committed to becoming a coquette when it comes to query letters.  No really.  I mean it.

Here’s hoping I uncover my inner Belle of the Ball.

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. 😉

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.

Genre-Crossing and The Edge of Memory

I have struggled a bit with developing the pitch for my novel, since it doesn’t fit easily into a single category. I had lunch with an English teacher friend who’s just finished reading and asked her what she thought about genres.

“Well, it’s sort of a romantic, psychological thriller,” she said.

“With paranormal elements.”

She snorted her iced tea. “Yes, but you tread so lightly there I think you can safely avoid mentioning it.”

“I think the best fit category is Upmarket Women’s Fiction.”

“Well, whatever it is, it’s gripping.”

So there you have it.

We also discussed the new title, and I explained the reservations I had with the former working title “Still Haunted” which were:

  1. It falsely led people to expect a balls-out ghost story, whereas the ghost elements were subtle and late in the novel
  2. By the end, the protagonist is not really so haunted anymore.

My friend suggested “Still Haunted.  Until Recently.” as an alternate title. 

I prefer “Up to a Short While Ago, Quite, Quite Haunted”

Maybe I should try that title for my next queries. 

I Can Has Agent?

My test reader chitties will remember this…

Thought I’d just put my original query letter up for review.

I decided it was too formal, though.

I Can Has Ageny