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?ย  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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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.

Talk to Me: In Deep Smit (03-06-09)

So… um… it’s Friday again. Actually, it’s been Friday more than once now. I think with my posting on the QueryTracker.net blog, my In Deep Smit posts will become more biweekly-ish.

But I definitely have something I’m deeply smitten with to share this week.

I’m in the middle of another manuscript revision. An agent who loved my partial and requested my full manuscript identified a plot point that didn’t work for her later in the story. Her comment gave me a eureka moment for a small backstory change that I believe makes the novel stronger.

I rewrote the chapters primarily affected, and now I’m finishing a detailed line edit to make sure I haven’t missed any inconsistencies along the way.

And since I’m going through word by word, I figured I’d take the opportunity to tighten my manuscript wherever possible.

Now, you might think this post would be about the agent who inspired the idea. And I am indeed, deeply grateful toย  her for her time and insight. But the object of my affection for discussion today is the Narrator tool on my PC.

I had heard that text-to-voice software was included on most recent PC’s, but I’d never bothered looking up how to use it before. I find reading aloud to be a great editing tool, but have noticed that when I read from my manuscript, I sometimes miss problems like missing or repeated words anyway because I know what the text is supposed to say and my brain corrects it without my noticing.

I wanted something that would read my text to me, so I looked up where to find the preinstalled software.

And there she was… Microsoft Anna, the robotic narrator, hiding under “Ease of Access” in my “Accessories” folder.

Together, Anna and I have obsessed over each word of the first 3/4 of my manuscript. Despite frequent careful editing by myself and hundreds of beta readers, I still found a few small typos. I’ve also found a few overuse quirks, like my apparent fondness for starting dialogue lines with “Well,” which each of my characters indulged to some extent.

Hands down, this is the best edit I’ve done. So I’m deeply smitten with Microsoft Anna, and I’m not afraid to shout that to the blogosphere. ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, if you don’t mind… Anna and I would like to be alone for a while. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Avast! ‘Tis a Mite Tardy Postin’ I Be Makin’ (In Deep Smit 01/09/09)

It’s awful late for my weekly posting. I got distracted with shoveling my driveway and cleaning my kitchen.

But it IS Friday, and I am abruptly deeply smitten!

I’ve just discovered a new feature on Facebook (which I already loved).

If you go to your settings, you can change your language to “English (pirate)”.

You’re welcome!

Lovely PAM, Wonderful PAM (In Deep Smit 12/19/08)

Well, I’m late to posting today, in part because I spent the greater portion of the day chipping my driveway out from underneath the ice and snow.

Our neighborhood is coated in the twisted offspring of snow and freezing rain… a thick shelf of snow encased in a two-inch layer of ice.ย  The ice layer is so strong, it can often support your weight, allowing you to skitter across the surface for a while.ย  Until you hit a weaker spot or linger too long, and a large circle caves in around you as you plunge into powder up to your knees.

Shoveling snow is WAY up there on my list of unpleasant things to do.ย  But the worst is hoisting a heavy shovel, twisting to dump it, and pitching forward off-balance into a snow bank cuz the snow didn’t release.

Well, I didn’t have that problem today. In a very Martha Stewart-y way, we sprayed the shovel down with PAM first.ย  No sticking.

So, yay!ย  PAM is not just for low-fat cooking anymore.

Geekiness to Spare

A long time ago, I celebrated my uber-geekiness here when I discovered how to use Palm Markup Language to create my own ebooks with formatting, table of contents, etc.

I love having a copy of my manuscript handy on my palm pilot, and I love reading my crit partners’ manuscripts on the go this way. Ebooks also display nicely on the PC (with ereader) when I’m only looking to read, as opposed to adding comment. I like to read manuscripts I’m critting through once for big-picture feel, then I go back in Word with track changes and all. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway… ebooks=highly cool. Since I posted last May, I’d been planning to post a tutorial so that other folks could make their manuscripts into formatted ebooks. Last night, I finally sat down to write it up.

And I discovered it wasn’t necessary. The geek requirement has been dramatically decreased by a super-easy program called “Publish Ebook“. Seriously, you can do this without a smidge of geekiness whatsoever.

If you have ereader installed on your computer, handheld, phone, or whatever, you’ll be able to read your manuscript. The files are tiny, too, so you can store a lot of them even on devices without much memory.

Here’s my ebook for The Edge of Memory displaying on my PC.

It has a clickable Table of Contents and everything.

In other news, my blog stats show that someone is searching for “Heather Dyer UIUC” and “Heather Dyer poetry”. So if you’re looking for the quirky bio major and Linsey-Woolsey Lit Magazine staffer who wore bell bottoms and was often the only person dancing at O’Malley’s (despite sticking to diet coke all night), you’ve found the right person. ๐Ÿ™‚

And either way, thanks for stopping by.

Angst in Writing– Back on the Chain Gang

Blog Chain time again!

This chain’s topic was selected by Carolyn over on Archetype Writing. If you didn’t find your way here from Leah Clifford’s blog, you should check out her post.

The topic is:

Some people argue that creative people need โ€œangstโ€ to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer?

Is angst necessary for good writing?

Well, when I was in high school, my writer friends and I certainly thought so. The word “Angst” became a sort of mantra among us, emerging as a guttural grunt to be shouted when appropriate. And I certainly wrote angsty things during that time… poetry mostly.

Breakdown

A smash
Through the glass
Would leave my
Hand
Tied with pretty
Red ribbons

A walk
With a train
Would leave me
Thin
At last

But
His key
In the lock
Leaves me
Heaped
And shaking.

But I don’t think good writing is angsty all that often. And I don’t think of angst as something a writer must acquire in order to write well.

I think of it more like research, I guess.

As a writer, I think it’s important to experience as much as possible. Actually, scratch that… as a HUMAN BEING, I think it’s important to experience as much as possible. I’ve always tried to learn whatever I can. When I was 13, I made my young cousins show me their piano lessons, so I could teach myself. I learned sign language and translated for the Children’s Theater productions when I was in high school. Calligraphy, hula dancing, coding for electronic books, medicine, palm-reading, law, Spanish folk songs… all these things widen my personal experiences and make my writing richer.

It’s the same way with emotional experiences. The more personal extremes you’ve experienced, the more genuinely you can empathize and express those sentiments for your characters. Every emotion– including angst– is valid and useful in writing.

So, no… I don’t think a writer needs to suffer for their art, per se. I don’t think making yourself miserable or melancholy is going to improve your work. But I do think a writer needs to be OUT THERE, taking risks, making themselves emotionally vulnerable and just plain embracing the rich up-and-downs of life. The benefits for the writing is just a bonus. ๐Ÿ™‚

Next up on the chain is the fabulous Jessica Verday, so tune in tomorrow and see what she has to say about this topic.