The waiting is the hardest part

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If I had a crystal ball to look back at all the times in my life I had to wait for things, I would probably be astonished at how many hours I have spent in a holding pattern.  In those moments of uncertainty, time takes on a mystical quality and one day feels like a week, a week feels like a year and anything longer than that feels like an eternity.

Trying to connect with, and build a relationship with, a literary agent has taken waiting to a whole new level.  I have crafted something I am extremely proud of and want so much to find someone as passionate about sharing my story as I am.  But that takes time – a lot of time.  Agents are very busy people and I understand that.  My manuscript is one in a pile of hundreds that they have to sort through to find a collection of phrases and characters that speak to them and that they think they can sell to a publishing company.  I get it.  But that doesn’t make the waiting any easier.

I recently submitted my full manuscript to a literary agent in New York.  Her email, although encouraging, did say it would be a few weeks before I heard back from her.  That email was sent 9 days ago but, in my estimation, it feels like 9 months have gone by since we had any communication.  In that 9 days, my emotion has gone from elation to worry, from feeling confident to being self-deprecating.  It has been a roller coaster of emotion but it is a train I have been hanging on to because that ride up and down those tracks and through those loops is part of the thrill of the journey to being published.  I can only hope that the ride ends well and I don’t veer off the tracks into a wall.

 

Looking for a job

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Do you remember when you were fresh out of college or university and wanting to find that perfect job in the field you just spent four years studying?  You got money from your parents to buy the perfect “power outfit”, perhaps an attaché case to look more professional, and then you set off in search of gainful employment.  You arrived on time for each interview and got told the same thing from each prospective employer – come back when you’ve got some experience.  As you left the interviews, the thought in the back of your mind got stuck on a crazy loop in your head and played incessantly – if nobody will give me a job, how can I gain the experience I need?

Looking for a literary agent is much the same for a debut author.  It took more than four years, from conception to finished product, for me to write my first novel.  I put more focus and emotion into creating the story than I ever expended in college and I am truly proud of the finished product.  The people who have taken the time to read it have loved it.

But convincing an agent to give the whole story a chance is like applying for a job with no real world experience.  Those first five or ten pages you submit are like your first two minutes in a job interview, they are introductory and don’t really give the person reading you enough time to see what you are really about.  They can only judge you based on a succinct appraisal that doesn’t give your story time to prove itself and, in the end, they prefer an author who has been previously published.  In other words, they don’t want to give the job to people who don’t have experience.

This post is not an attack on literary agents, by any means.  I get it.  They receive a plethora of emails from thousands of people who think they could be the next Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks or J.K. Rowling.  Their email inboxes must feel like a revolving door, having multiple queries thrown at them every time the door makes a new revolution.

My intent with this post is not to blame literary agents for being so busy.  My intent with this post is to merely put a wish into the universe that, one day, that revolving door will find a giant foot wedged into it allowing my query to fall into the right inbox at the right time.  Just maybe, I can impress someone enough to have them read the whole manuscript and to get the job without having previous experience.

 

 

 

 

Can you describe yourself in one sentence?

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I have learned a great deal about the writing world as I have begun to emerge myself in my quest to find a literary agent.  Each agent has unique specifications for sending a query and a fledgling author is bound to follow those guidelines or run the risk of having their submission thrown into the slush pile.

Many agents follow a similar model for submissions so it becomes a less daunting task as time goes on, but then you get the agent who asks you to sum up your manuscript in one sentence.  For me, that is a very arduous task.  There are so many twists and turns to my story that it is extremely difficult to craft one sentence that can convey every nuance of the story.

Imagine that you are in a job interview and you are asked to describe yourself in one sentence.  Can you do it?  Or are there so many different facets to you that coming up with one line to describe all of those things is impossible?

While I gave my all to put together a sentence that did its best to describe my novel, I know I did not do my story justice.  My book requires much more than just one sentence to fully illustrate its depth.  After I wrote that sentence, I felt like a test car that had crashed into the wall before reaching its maximum speed.

I have been more careful in selecting agents who are willing to allow me to give much more insight into my novel than just one sentence.  Even sending the first three chapters does not truly allow the people who hold my future in their hands enough material to see what the story truly has in store for them.  I can only  hope that they see enough bait to make them swim closer to the hook and take a full bite.  I can promise, they will be reeled in if they take the chance!

When the voices wake you

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I’m hearing the voices again, the voices that rouse me from sleep so I can tell their story.  Those voices have been quelled since I finished writing my first book but, now that I am forging my way into my second book, a new ensemble of characters is alive and well and they are feeling extremely vocal.

I woke up at 3:30 in the morning with a simple line that seemed to be rooted in my brain.  That line wanted so desperately to be recorded so, before I was able to drift into my slumber once again, I had to blindly feel around in the dark for my cell phone and find the voice memo app that has been my late night savior.  In a voice that sounded more like Morgan Freeman narrating a television commercial, I spoke a few words into the microphone and fell back into a deep sleep.

When I woke up again at 7:30, I knew I had recorded something but couldn’t remember what the words were.  I played them back and was overwhelmed with the urge to write.  I was almost late for work yesterday because the flow of words was substantial enough to warrant an apology to my bosses for my tardiness.  Thankfully, they understand my insatiable urge to listen to those voices and they accept my erratic behavior when it comes to my creativity.

The words that I recited in the wee hours of morning could possibly help shape the antagonist in my newest creation.  Karl is slowly becoming a character I want to embrace but a character I have become slightly afraid to welcome into my reality.  I can only hope, for both our sakes, that I can tell his story and give it the entertainment value he is seeking without becoming afraid of him in the process.

 

 

Handling rejection like a boss!

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I am a people pleaser.  I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb asking the medical staff if there was anything I could do for them.  I invariably want to go out of my way to make sure everyone is happy, but my ambitious goal is not necessarily always an attainable goal.  In the words of John Lydgate, later adapted by President Lincoln, ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’.

As a young writer, back in my grade school days, I was afraid to let people read my poetry for fear they would not like it.  That same phobia applied to my poems and short stories through high school and college.  Writing, for me, is the biggest part of myself and I used to feel that if people didn’t like my writing, they were somehow rejecting ME.  It wasn’t until I began the process of seeking an agent or a publisher that I began to truly understand how rejection makes us stronger.

I received my most recent rejection last night.  It was a curt line that simply said, “Thanks for submitting, but I’m afraid this one isn’t for us. ”  Instead of feeling unsettled by such a quick and negative response, the thought in my head was more of understanding that my book was not a true fit for their collection.  I wasn’t sad.  I was merely determined to continue the quest to find an agent that would best be suited for ME and not the other way around.

Writing a book is not for the faint of heart.  Hemingway said it best when he quipped, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  My blood is now the ink on the pages that I crafted.  My skin is much thicker now than it was and I am more than prepared to deal with my overwhelming share of the writing world’s brush-off.  Those abrupt dismissals are the constant in the ‘writer seeking publishing’ equation and I am prepared to rework the problem until I come up with an acceptable answer.

To bastardize Sally Field’s 1985 Oscar acceptance speech, “They don’t like me. Right now, they don’t like me.”   And I’m okay with that because, someday, that will change.

January showers bring publishers emails

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I awoke to a sound not typically heard in the snow belt regions in late January ~ thunder.  It was shortly after 3:00 am and the lightning made my room light up like Chevy Chase’s front lawn in Christmas Vacation when Beverly D’Angelo finally hit the right switch.  Carved into the newly formed shadows was the outline of my storm-fearing dog.  We cuddled for a while, listening to the pouring rain, and eventually fell asleep again as the storm moved on.

When I woke up at my usual time, I was greeted by a misty, grey day instead of the usual crisp, white blanket of snow for which January is famous.  I have lived here for 42 years and I can’t recall a more turbulent month since it began with three consecutive days of feeling like -43 with the wind chill and we are now hovering at a balmy +3 degrees Celsius.

Weather can certainly affect our moods and today was no exception.  Our morning walk was shorter than anticipated because of the rain and our drive to work was somewhat daunting since the back-roads resemble a cross between a sheet of ice in a curling rink and a luge, depending on your trajectory.

But my morning improved significantly when I arrived at work and checked my email.  Sitting innocently in my inbox was an email from a publisher in the States.  After reading the first three chapters required for initial submission, my story was intriguing enough for her to want to see where I took the rest of the story.  She wants to read my book!!

I have calmed myself to the point that I can craft this blog post while reminding myself that she may not like the remainder of the story.  But I am allowing myself the high of knowing that someone who works in the world that I am attempting to enter has opened a small door for me to be able to peek into the other side and I have to say, so far, the view is fantastic!

 

Putting yourself out there

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Trying to find a literary agent is much like putting yourself on an internet dating site.  You spend a great deal of time stressing over how to describe yourself and your work without sounding obnoxiously confident but you have to nail that very fine line between determination and arrogance without exaggerating either of those things.  Contrary to internet dating, that agent is only looking for one very specific thing and if you don’t have it, they move on.

I have never been comfortable being the person to profess my strengths.  I can write for days about subjects that have nothing to do with me, but words vanish as soon as I have to point them in my direction.  I am extremely happy with the final product of my first novel and so are my Beta readers.  I want nothing more than to find an agent or a publisher who believes in it as much as I do.  But that process is much more daunting than staring at that first blank page, knowing that you have to string together over 80,000 words in an articulate and entertaining way.

Agents and publishers who are not interested in your work will not dangle bait in the water to see if you bite.  They are more than willing to move on to the next pond because there are so many fish and so few anglers.  An agent can’t even cast a line into a body of water without a frenzy of fish ready to fight to the death for the rare hook that shines in the distance.  In a sea of Piranhas, I feel like I am the poor carrion waiting at the bottom to be consumed by the predatory beasts with the sharper teeth.

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But there is always hope.  I know that one day, those Piranhas will have distracted themselves by something very shiny and I will be in the right spot in the pond at the right time, staring at a hook that was meant to catch only me.  And like every angler who is waiting for the “big one” knows, it’s all about patience.