Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Writer's Play Space

Does the world really need another blog?  Do I really need to write one?  Yes, as it turns out, at least to question number two.  Critique partner Suzanne Lagrande and I were bemoaning today the way that the search for agents and publication has been sucking the joy out of our writing.  Still, we both know we're never going to stop writing, published or not.  But there's something incomplete about writing things that don't find an audience.  So, we decided we needed a potentially public, low-stakes anything-goes place to put forth our writerly experiments and explorations.  A writer's play space.  Check it out!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Putting the Maxim to the Test

Conventional wisdom says "Write the story you have to tell.  Don't write to the market."  The thinking is that great work will find its market.  I guess right now I am putting that thinking to the test.

I have a piece that has gotten lots of positive comments from publishers and agents.  As a result, I know the writing is strong.  The challenge is finding it's niche in the marketplace.  About a year ago, I had shelved it because of this.  Then, I saw a possible fit, sent it, and got a tremendous response, though ultimately still a no.  Now, the market seems to have shifted in a way that has left an opening for this piece.  So, I am acting on faith, sending it out, hoping that it will find its home.

This is a hard process.  I feel protective of this piece and its characters, but the only way they will find their audience is if I put them out there.  I don't want to shelve this one again.  I want it to find its home.  I am trying to have faith that if this story spoke to some, it will speak to others and somewhere, somebody will see that there is an audience for it.

But maybe not.

The world is no doubt filled with writers who have gone through this same struggle.  On  the one hand, if the piece doesn't fit a niche, perhaps it is unique.  It stands out.  It's not the same old thing that's been done before.  On the other hand, maybe there's a reason for that.  Maybe this story, well-written though it may be, doesn't have a wide enough audience.  Or maybe it's meant for the self-publishing world.  (I admit, that decision would feel, to me, like a defeat).

It's too early to call this one.  Much too early.

I want to be able to just put the story out there and forget about it.  But I can't.  I know it's standing, hat in hand, hoping, waiting, knocking on the doors of the agents and editors I have sent it off to.  If I've done everything I can, I have to let go.  But that doesn't mean I won't be thinking about it, even as I move on to new stories, new characters.

"Write the story you have to tell.  Don't write to the market."  I am putting this to the test.  I'll keep you posted on the results.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Querying Process and the Big Picture

So, as I promised my critique group, I have begun "querying the hell out of" THE SPARROW'S SECRET HEART, a middle grade manuscript that seems to have found legs.  I say it has found legs because in the past 6 months I've had a publisher interested and an agent, though neither panned out, and the thing was chosen as a top manuscript at the SCBWI Oregon Conference.  The buzz lately seems to be that realistic, voice-driven middle grade dealing with bigger issues is hot right now.  The time is ripe to query this manuscript.

I had my initial list of possible agents to query.  Some were currently closed to queries. Some would only take exclusive submissions, which goes against my "query the hell out of it" strategy.  So, I sent it to the remaining folks and then I visited  Query Tracker.

If you don't know about Query Tracker, it's an online database that can help you find agents interested in your genre.  You can then see if there are any comments from other authors about that agent.  In my case, I especially wanted to see if there were a lot of "never responded" situations.  I am sick of sending my work out and never hearing anything back, so I want this round to be as full of folks who respond as possible, even if it's a rejection.

Next step, I checked out the agent's website to see what they are looking for in more specific terms.  I know my manuscript.  I know what the publisher and agent with interest had to say about it.  I know its strengths.  I looked for words like "voice-driven", "memorable characters," "heart," "timeless."  Then I knew I had a potential fit.

Unfortunately, I think I skipped a step.  I wanted to get it done, to get those queries out there.  But I should have taken more time looking at where the agents were located, if they've made deals with major publishers, and what, if any, buzz there was about them on Absolute Write, an online forum where authors share their experiences and concerns about various agents.  I wanted to ride my momentum.  I didn't want to over-think it.  I didn't want to slow myself down.  So I skipped those steps.  But sometimes those steps can give you valuable information.

Finding an agent would be huge.  It can seem as daunting and impossible as actually getting published.  Sometimes it looms so large in my mind that I can't see past it.  I start thinking "Any agent is better than nothing."  But that's a short-sighted perspective.  I'm not just looking for an agent for one book.  I want an agent for my career.  I want an agent who will work for me.  I know my own limitations and I know I can't do this alone.

Finding AN agent isn't the goal.  AN agent may not end up being THE agent.  It's not unusual to have several false starts before finding THE agent.  Even that isn't the goal.  Once I find THE agent, there's still a long haul of revisions and edits and more submissions to come.  I have to keep the big picture in mind.

The big picture? Writing new work all the time.  Getting feedback and critiques and making it the absolute best it can be.  Networking.  Attending conferences.  Building my platform through blogs, twitter, website, and so forth.  Researching the best fit agents.  Querying the hell out of it.  Being prepared to dance with a lot of people before I find the right fit. Doing more revisions.  Going through more submissions.  Working on new pieces while I'm waiting.  Dancing with more partners to find the right publisher, with the help of an agent.  Making more revisions.  Working on new pieces while I'm waiting.  Publicizing.  Going through the very public process of reviews and sales and "what if it doesn't fly".  Starting the process over and over and over again.  Always, always writing new work.

If I can't keep the big picture in mind, I will get sucked into "If onlys."  "If only I sold one story," "If only I had an agent," "If only I got something published."  If I want to be a writer, it is a career.  It is not about an endgame.  It is an ongoing cycle of these activities.  The goals?  Tell the stories I have to tell.  Find a way to share them that still honors their value.  Find people who will bring their expertise to the table in a partnership with me to help me find an audience for my work and get paid for my work.  This isn't a sprint.  It isn't even a marathon.  It's a perpetual, spiraling journey.

Monday, September 02, 2013

As 50 Looms

I am 47 years old.  My 50th birthday will mark ten years of working seriously on my writing the way a professional should.  I have come a long way since my late 30s.  But as 50 looms, it seems to demand a big, landmark-type oath of some sort.

I am always leery of goals I cannot control.  I cannot force an agent to sign me or a publisher to buy my book.  However, if I am honest with myself, I know that's what I want.  I don't want to reach my 50th birthday still struggling and querying and hoping and clinging to the barest scraps of encouragement.  Not after ten years.  Not as I round the half-century mark of my life.  I want to stand before the world and say, "My goal is to have an agent or a book deal or both by the time I'm 50."  Such a statement terrifies me, fraught as it is with the potential for failure, riddled as it is with elements beyond my control.

I'm doing what I'm supposed to do to get there. Writing regularly.  Participating in a  critique group.  Attending conferences.  Building my digital platform.  Submitting my work.  But as 50 looms, I feel I should redouble my efforts somehow.

I have one finished novel and a bunch of short stories.  I've even sold some of those shorts.  I have a second novel that is finished but needing revision, which I'm working on diligently.  I have a third novel that has resisted the completion of a decent draft but keeps pulling at me.  And the rest of my life, my teaching job, my family, my other interests, they pull at me, too.

I really only have two and half years to go until I turn 50.  30 months.  30 months to, as my critique group puts it, "query the hell out of" my first novel, and finish revising the second one, and finish the third one.  But mostly, query the hell out of the first one, because without the queries and the pitches, that elusive agent/book deal will never, ever, ever happen.  Which would leave me with self-publishing, a possibility I have considered and rejected more times than I can count, and know I will revisit again before I hit that half-century milestone.

And then what?  If I haven't reached those goals by the time I reach the big 5-0, what then?  I don't imagine I will quit writing.  I can't help myself.  But I can't imagine just plodding on and on the same way, Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill over and over again indefinitely.

Ah, soul-searching.  The older you get, the more loaded it gets.

Popular Posts