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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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 to  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. 🙂

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

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.  The ice layer is so strong, it can often support your weight, allowing you to skitter across the surface for a while.  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.  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.  No sticking.

So, yay!  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. 😉

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. 🙂

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 “angst” 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. 🙂

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

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!

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!

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.

Today I am reveling in my own geekiness…

Yesterday, I learned how to use Palm Markup Language. So I have now formatted my manuscript as an ebook (.pdb) for my palm.

With a clickable table of contents, and preserving my formatting.

I have no idea if anyone will ever look at it besides me, but I still think it’s pretty cool.

And possibly, agents or editors might like to read the file that way. It’s nice to have in case anyone asks, anyway. And meanwhile, I can review whenever the mood strikes me. 🙂
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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.