Monday, January 23, 2012

The Working After The Writing

Ok, after the writing, reading, editing, reading, editing, and so forth.

Yes, I'm referring to the querying. There, I said it!

I've noticed there's an assumption amongst some agents that due to electronic querying writers can spit out queries at a rate of five per minute. This may be true for some out there. In fact, from all the agent comments on Twitter I don't think I can dispute it happens at an alarming rate. So, in an effort to defend the work habits of my species, I must make a note about querying process.

Personally, I end up writing about ten to fifteen short summaries of my book during and after the writing process, just for use in my query letter. I ask friends, relatives and strangers on the street what they think of this summary. I change them, dream about them, and start from scratch. But that is not where the query work begins.

You see, I'm a writer. Details are, shall we say, IMPORTANT to me. So when I'm looking at agents to query I generally do the following things:
Google them
Look at the agency website
Look at blogs of everyone they've ever known from high school on
Read every interview I can find
Follow them on twitter (if I don't already)
Look at the agent website
Look at any writing websites that mention them or the agency or the type of pet they own
Look at the agency website again, reading every link and page noted (again)

As you can imagine, there comes a moment when I feel a bit stalker-ish and try to tone it down.

The point is, I do my best to know what that agent likes, what that agency represents, and how they want to be approached. This isn't a quick process, let me tell you.

By the time I start to write the actual query I've already invested about 1-2 hrs in that one query email (not including the part about the book itself.)

I then gather the appropriate materials requested, format them accordingly, put them into an email, re-read every part of it, stress a whole lot, click send, then open it up and read it again. At which point I usually find some glaring mistake in the font size of my phone number or something and have nightmares that night.

After that, I look at the next agent on my pre-researched list and begin the whole process once more.

So, agents, I understand you're getting a lot of queries that seem to be fired from a cannon at random. But I want you to know that amongst those queries there are others whose processes are painstaking and thorough. Sometimes we make mistakes too, but we try and we care. When I hit send my heart skips a little and there's a tug at my soul as a piece of me flies through the computer to you. That piece of me is called hope. I put it in your hands knowing that the truth may disappoint, but that's ok, because when you appreciate my efforts  it's worth it. Maybe you're not the right agent for me, but I can tell the difference between a grateful let down and a put down. 

Maybe the next time you're deleting one of those query-a-minute queries, you'll remember that there are the rest of us out here too. You may not hear from us as often, because we're working hard to represent the hard work we've already done. 

Try not to grow weary before you read my query. 

Thank you
Signed,
The obsessive perfectionist writer type

Friday, January 20, 2012

Beauty to Behold

As you may have heard, Western Washington has received a lot of snow in the past few days. A lot of snow for us at least.

One picturesque scene caught my eye as I was driving through this unusual wintery world. A worn old fence was deep in the snow and a thick buildup of snow coated the top of it in white. It was beautiful and a thought flashed through my mind that I’d love to stop and get a picture of that fence. The road conditions were not the best though, so I passed by as I continued to think about that snow covered fence. What would I have done with a picture of it? I mean it was beautiful, no doubt, but was it unique enough for anyone to see my picture and really care?

Suddenly I realized something about writing, querying, publishing and rejections. I see my manuscripts as unique. To me they are. To me they are stories crafted from my soul, rare and beautiful things. But are they unique? What is it that truly separates them from the hundreds of similar books on similar subjects out there? There has to be something, completely, utterly different about them. I have to recognize that thing which makes them different, no matter how many books I have or haven’t read in my genre.

Ok, back to my fence. My fence was beautiful. As someone who doesn’t get to see a fence deep in snow every day, I thought it was unique and special. Even I could tell though, that there was nothing about it which would seem unique to others. It was plain, it was ordinary, and there are probably hundreds of similar scenes and pictures happening all over the country and the world. That doesn’t mean my fence, as viewed by me, was any less beautiful. It was, and I’m happy I noticed it. But it was not worthy of taking a photo and spreading it around in mass publication.

Could I change that though? Could I make that fence worthy of world viewing? Yes, I could. If I could get that fence at such a unique angle that it went from ordinary to work of art. Or, if I could move to a location where the backdrop was stunning or unexpected, perhaps. What if I added a little splash of color or texture? Yes, I see. I could turn ordinary into extraordinary. I could do that, even if I loved my fence the way it originally appeared to me.

Ok, back to the literary side. If my manuscript is not worthy of a query that can catch an agent’s eye, what can I do? Chuck it? Well, yes, but that seems silly. Maybe instead I can identify what could take it from average to something more. What element is missing that would set it apart?

Maybe I’m happy with it the way it is. That’s ok too. But if I feel it must be published, then I have to be willing to see it through eyes that are not my own.

The choice lies in my hands. To take a thing of beauty and rarity to me and turn it in to something of beauty and rarity to the masses. The masses have read more than I have read, the masses have felt more than I will feel. I cannot compete with the masses as a collective. So I must be willing to stand out above them and shout in a voice and a language they can hear. Or I must be content to whisper quietly to the few.

I’ve chosen to walk down this road to publication. I’ve felt the sting as people turn away from things that I find beautiful and unique. If I’ve chosen to walk this road though, then I must find a way to walk it boldly, with footsteps that are sure. I must find the beauty, not only in my own eyes, but in the eyes of others. I must take the beautiful and make it speak to the world, without losing the qualities which make it beautiful to me, but enhancing the language in which that beauty is revealed.

There is my quest. There is my challenge.

I will not grow weary, but persevere. I will reveal the beauty that my eyes behold to the world in a way they can see it anew.

It’s amazing what one little snow covered fence can say, if you just stop to listen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Stepping Stones

They don't possess greatness. They lie small and unnoticed, buried by dirt and bark. Yet they still support us, remaining strong and true and allowing all who pass to do so with ease. Even as they go undetected.

We aspire to greatness. We strive to achieve, and as we sacrifice, that sacrifice comes with aspirations which are far bigger than ourselves.

It's good we have such characters. We want to be used in great ways to accomplish great tasks. When greatness calls, we're eager to answer. To risk. To achieve.

We long to be the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, pyramid. Enduring, mighty, symbols of progress and change. We hope to inspire, alter, influence.

But what if that greatness never calls? Will we find contentment in the life of a stepping stone? Will we serve and support and guide, even if we go unseen, unheard? Will we do it gladly? When we realize we're not the pyramid, only the path leading to its construction site, will we accept this role or struggle against it?

I am the stepping stone.

Did I want to be the stepping stone?
No fifteen year old would say yes.
They're not made to say yes.
But I'm not fifteen.
Slowly I'm understanding.

I'll be the stepping stone.

One day the stepping stones will be gathered up. They'll be brushed off, scrubbed and polished. They'll be used to build the most enduring of palaces. They'll be part of something vast and great, though individually they'll posses no more greatness than they did lying in the ground covered by dirt. But they won't mind. You see, that's what they were made for. That's what life tried to teach them to be. A small part of a large whole.

I'm a stepping stone.


And every day I'll try to be the best stepping stone I can be. Some days it's easier than others. Some days I make the path stronger. Other days I don't. But you know, the days I work hardest at being a content small part of the whole, I'm happier. Those days are easy. I forget me and see something beyond, something greater. Those days leave me more complete than the days I struggle to achieve my completeness. Go figure.

I'm a stepping stone.

Don't tread on me softly, you don't have to.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

For The Love of Editing

I was a little scared as I prepared to tackle this edit which had come as the result of one of my writing epiphanies. Two books, a combined 195k words. Yet I suddenly realized this part of my planned series should have been one book. 195k and the most I could possibly get away with would be 150k.

Yikes! What was I thinking?

Yet, being the writer I am, I began.

On my first major edit to this combined book, with eyes that have edited at least half a dozen more since I last opened these files, I was in shock. My editing eye has changed so immensely. Between normal editing and inspired cut-it-down editing I was able to knock off a good 20k! Where did that come from? Plus, I feel the writing is way better without the weight.

I'm in the middle of pass number two, and I've got to say, it's startling how much there still is to edit. What I'm finding doing these two edits in a row is that the voice is turning out to be more consistent cover to cover. My editing improved in the second half of the first pass and has carried into the first half of my second pass. As I go I'm feeling like my writing now matches my story. They are both tight, consistent, and polished. I love this story and it's finally being told as it should have been.

I'm more excited than ever to bring this baby out into the world. It feels whole at last.

Something I've learned about writing in this process? My editing eye is improving all the time. Practice really does make perfect, or at least a lot closer to perfect.

Have I mentioned that I really do love editing? Weird, I know!