The Q Word

If you’re a writer, and have ever planned or even thought about publishing, you’ve likely heard the infamous Q word.

Query.

Now, deep breaths and swallow that tang of panic and dread in the back of your throat and stay with me.

When I first started, querying was terrifying. Then I did some research, practiced, and with the help and encouragement of an author friend, I sent out my first wave of queries. After writing my whole life, and two years working on Ember, I was finally doing something! I was finally pursuing my dream.

Now that I look back, I wish I hadn’t sent those queries.

Wait, what?

I’m glad I took action and started the publishing process myself, but I wish I had waited a while longer, and really practiced before I sent those first queries. Honestly, they’re embarrassing. Even though I did my research and had some help, I can clearly see why they were passed over. Not to mention, my story wasn’t nearly at the place it needed to be, which I kind of knew at the time, but was overeager that my author friend believed in me, and here was my chance!

I regret sending them without more time, practice, and revision, because now those are opportunities I’ve wasted. I didn’t understand at the time that once an agent has passed, you can’t query them with that manuscript again, no matter how drastic the changes. And most agencies, you can’t query more than one agent within that agency.

I learned quickly that there aren’t infinite agents out there, just waiting to fight over my book.

Now most of you writers are familiar with the roller-coaster ride of querying. Sometimes it feels less like a roller coaster, and more like an endless, rotating paper shredder (ouch).

This week has been one of those. I had been corresponding with an agent for two months, and was very hopeful that things would work out, but unfortunately, they didn’t. After going through that, facing the query process all over again feels a little like standing at the bottom of Mt. Everest. Naked. With no climbing gear.

Not to mention I’m still not great at queries, and hate the thought of my not-so-great query being written off before agents can ever get to read my writing. That aspect of queries has taken a lot of getting used to–how much sheer chance and luck it requires, and how very subjective it is.

I think that is also the most frustrating part of the process–how little I can control, and how little of it actually has to do with my writing. Maybe the agent doesn’t like how the query reads, or they just signed a YA fantasy the day before. Maybe they woke up and their car wouldn’t start, and they were late, and spilled coffee on their favorite shirt. Maybe your writing is really good, but dystopian/science fiction/vampire slayer memoir just isn’t selling right now.

Sometimes, it feels a little like carrying my heart around, asking someone, anyone, to love it like I do. But I have to remember, that this isn’t personal. For me, my book is my heart. For them, it’s business.

This is the hardest part about being in any creative industry–not letting the industry affect you. It’s okay for rejections to hurt, but remember that everything is subjective, and there are a dozen other factors that go into that rejection, some of which have nothing to do with your writing at all. Someone said that they love rejections, because each one is like a big sign, saying “Not here. Maybe over there,” pointing you that much closer.

It’s hard not to let it affect me, because I want it so bad. This is my life, my dream, and the possibility that this might not ever happen terrifies me sometimes.

But then, little things like a comment on my post saying, “I totally need to read this book” or my author friend telling me that there are big things ahead for me, or a fellow writer my age who is just as new to this as I am, getting signed by an agent.

It does happen–it will happen.

In the mean time, I’ll keep writing these stories for me, because I love them–and hope that one day, I’ll get to share them, and you can love them as much as I do.

 

 

Advertisements

Query Critique, Pitch Slam, DFWCON, Oh My!

So I just got back from DFWCON! Which explains why I have been a little MIA. It was my first conference ever, and was a complete whirlwind. I am so exhausted (dead) I really don’t even know how I am functioning right now (I’m not)…and I’ll probably pay for it by taking a week to recover. So worth it though.

First, I will talk a little about Pitch Slam, which I participated in a week or so ago. Mainly, I learned not to listen to feedback. What? Let me rephrase that. Especially being new to the whole publishing process, I think I know nothing and that anything other people say (especially credible “experts”) is gold. It’s not. Feedback is great. You need it. You need to get out of your bubble and get fresh eyes and have someone tell you all the parts that don’t make sense or could be better or just plain suck (hopefully they don’t say suck). But I learned not to take it too seriously. It is still just someone’s opinion.

The best example of this is that prior to the contest, I got a free critique by an author. She told me she thought my pitch was perfect, and nitpicked some things about my first 250 but they were very constructive and helpful. I felt pretty confident going into the contest. Then I got my official Pitch Slam feedback. They called my pitch “disorienting” and “hard to imagine.” And then in the second Pitch Slam round they were much more positive about my first 250 (I think it was another person).

I also entered my query into an online query critique workshop, and had feedback ranging from “I love it” to more or less “throw it out”. I literally had someone tell me I’d never be able to get an agent (seriously?). And, by the way, if anyone ever gives you feedback like that, really don’t listen to them. I’ll be honest, that one hurt (and I’m not sensitive about critique), but I don’t think that ever needs to be said, or is ever true! Everyone has a chance, a lot of it is just luck and timing.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a dozen times, but it’s really all subjective. There are rules, but they’re not laws. And besides, rules are meant to be broken 😉

DFWCON. Wow. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect with my first conference. It was overwhelming but so eye-opening and educational and fun! I think the first day I was overstressed and overthinking it, and wasn’t able to enjoy it as much. Now I wish I could rewind and do it all over again, because I really just loved it. I could probably talk about this for days, but here’s the highlights.

My pitch went well! Got a request for a partial from the agent, so I am frantically trying to perfect my first pages and query. I was also able to talk with her more during lunch and around the conference, and feel like I made an impression. She remembered my name, so I’m hoping that will help when I query her! I made some great connections. Which, really, is what conferences are about. The workshops/panels were great (They had some fantastic authors/editors/speakers. Donald Maass is unbelievable) but I feel like you can kind of learn a lot of that stuff elsewhere. Conferences are really one of the only opportunities writers have to connect face-to-face. And I think becoming a part of the writing community is so important, no matter what stage of the process you’re at.

These are some of my favorite quotes I jotted down from various speakers:

“It took me one month to write it. It took me a year to make it a novel.” Bob Stewart

“Let yourself off the hook. Write a crappy first draft. That’s genuine.” Jonathan Maberry

“Send your protagonist over the edge.” Donald Maass

“What stops a lot of people writing is the belief that everything has to be perfect.” Jonathan Maberry

There were a ton of super memorable moments and wisdom nuggets, but my favorite was Donald Maass’ closing remarks (his character workshop was also fantastic, I wrote five pages of notes). I actually teared up it was that good. He talked about something I firmly believe in–that the best books have something to say. There are endless tips and tricks and techniques for being successful as a writer, but that’s what it boils down to. Write a great book first. Books are so, so, so powerful. A lot of times we underestimate ourselves as writers, and the impact we can have. We have the power to change the world, literally.

To sum it up, I’ll leave you with this from his closing remarks:

“Quit just trying to be published. Let’s change the world.”

Staying Sane

With the end of the semester, pitch contests, and getting ready for my first writing conference, life has been pretty crazy lately. Not to mention birthdays to celebrate, my health to take care of, work to keep up with, and I just found out I’m going to be an aunt! In all of this, it’s hard not to lose focus. Writing and keeping up with my online presence can seem a lot more like a chore than a hobby. Like I talked about in my last post, it’s hard not to lose the passion when writing becomes a business. Right now, it’s just hard to stay sane.

Anyone else know the feeling? 

I overanalyze and worry about everything, even if it’s really not a big deal. This week I have been reminding myself to follow my own advice, and fall in love with writing again. But lately, I’ve been learning through this process that even though I am taking writing/publishing seriously now, not everything is as big of a deal as it seems. I entered Pitch Slam this week, and received mixed feedback. They might pick me, they might not. Either way, I learned and improved. I probably won’t meet my writing goal this month. But I set it especially high this time, and I came pretty close. I’ve been writing a lot, developing new ideas, working on other books/concepts, and been creative in other ways (painting, crafts, etc.) So this month still feels very productive. 

DFW Con is this weekend, and I’ve been fighting nerves. I keep feeling like if I’m not 100% prepared, or if I don’t nail my pitch, or pick the right agent, I’m going to waste the opportunity. But even if things don’t go as planned, I will still have two days of workshops, speakers, and networking. I will have a rare opportunity to sit down with an agent, which is a huge opportunity whether it leads to anything or not. 

If you’re an anxious overanalyzing pessimist realist like me, you probably know exactly what I’m feeling. But I’ve been trying to be positive. It’s all a matter of perspective; I won’t get anything out of any of these experiences if I don’t expect to.

So, even if life is chaotic and you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a breath. Slow down. It’s okay if some things don’t get done, or if things don’t go quite like you planned. It’s a learning experience, and there’s always tomorrow. And a glass of wine to take the edge off…

Cheers 😉

What Am I Getting Myself Into?

I don’t consider myself a typical writer, though I suppose there isn’t a such thing as a “typical writer.”

I have been writing stories since before I knew how to spell, and the love of writing has been with me my whole life, as much a part of me as my arms or my heart. I wrote when I was inspired, when I was discouraged, when I needed an escape from reality. I wrote through break ups, through family drama, and through my ongoing illness. I am 19 years old now (this month) and have completed three manuscripts (that should never see the light of day) and one that was worth possibly sharing. I finally had characters, and a story, that were so real and so strong they practically wrote themselves, and then they jumped off the page and took up permanent residence in my head (whether I liked it or not). I’d been writing all my life, but I finally had a story worth telling.

It’s a terrifying thing, to take something that is more or less a piece of yourself, and expose it to the world and the possibility of rejection and hurt that comes with it. But finally, I did–slowly, at first. My notoriously optimistic and cheery cousin, who gushed about it and couldn’t wait for more. My best friend. Snippets here and there, not enough to be harmful. It was enough positive feedback to boost my spirits, but not enough for me to truly put myself out there. The publishing process seemed like Mount Doom on the horizon, and I didn’t have enough courage or lembas bread to get there.

Then I met my friend Lindsay Cummings (author of the upcoming book The Murder Complex as well as the Balance Keepers series) and when she asked to read my book, I was terrified. Here was someone with experience, someone who knew what she was doing and was in no way obligated to tell me nice things about it to make me feel better. But, with sweaty palms, I sent her the first chapter. I think my heart stopped for the whole hour it took her to read it. Then I read her response, and my heart stopped again. She liked it? Like, a lot? It seemed too good to be true. I’d never given much serious consideration to having anything published. It seemed an unrealistic and unattainable dream, so I crushed it before it could take root. But here she was, telling me I was too talented not to publish. Surely this was a dream! But after rereading several more times,  I finally convinced myself it was true.

Maybe I did have a chance at climbing Mount Doom, after all.

It’s been a roller coaster for me, and a huge learning curve, to educate myself in the publishing process, and to tackle the transition from passion to profession. I have finally allowed myself to dream of actually becoming an author, and now it’s a need so embedded in me it is as much a part of me as writing or my arms or my heart. Not because it seems like a cool job or at least way better than a 9-5, but because I have a story that I have to share–whether it is with 50 people, or 50,000.

So far, I have sent out 7 queries, and will be attending my first writer’s conference in May. I am still overwhelmingly inexperienced in this field–and perhaps, have no qualifications to be writing this blog–but I hope that there are others out there at the start of this daunting journey that are as overwhelmed as I am. When I first sent Lindsay my manuscript, I thought–What the hell am I doing?

What am I getting myself into?

If it had been up to me, I would never have shared my manuscript with anyone. I would never have been anxious, or rejected, or discouraged. I would have curled up with my coffee and my dog and my books, and been perfectly content. But my characters and my story, with all their vibrance and life, would have been stuck forever on the pages of my computer screen. And that’s not fair.

I hope you can share in my experiences, my mistakes, and my triumphs. I hope that I can inspire, encourage, or at the very least entertain you so that we can climb our Mount Doom together. So I invite you on this messy, overwhelming, terrifying, exhilarating roller coaster ride, and leave you with this:

a7d80c7afa819562d34397c3cfe9d052

Now let’s kick Mount Doom’s ass.