Category Archives: agents

No More Excuses

Every week I fabricate more excuses for not sending out queries. Last week, I decided that, since Nathan Brandsford was deluged with queries, other agents would be as well. So I didn’t send anything off. Before that, I skipped the holiday rush, then decided it was best to wait until agents were caught up with their holiday rush. I’ve been, probably foolishly, waiting for the perfect moment–the problem being that there is no perfect moment, at least not that I can ascertain. Agents are swamped; there are simply too many writers out there, and the number of would-be writers seem to grow monumentally every year.

I could bemoan my fate of being one drop in an ocean-full of writers, or I could simply move past it, accept my fate, and query. You see, I’m in my mid thirties, and I’ve always claimed to be a writer, ever since I can remember, anyway. In my twenties, I wrote several books, and I learned about marketing and publishing–and it was difficult enough back then. I decided those weren’t the books, that they weren’t good enough, etc, and I had a few children, went back to school to study for a creative writing degree, and then, finally, finally, wrote The Book. And now I discover that, though the publishing world was daunting in the nineties, it’s much worse now. Everybody, these days, has to write a book. Writers are, apparently, a dime a dozen. And I’m an insignificant little drop of water mixed in the ocean.

However, I’ve written (I hope) an eye-catching query, a good working synopsis, and I’ve edited and polished and refined my novel, especially the tricky first thirty pages, and all this based on feedback from others, especially by an agent who judged a contest that I entered. I am, sadly, not a clever person, and therein you’ll find my weaknesses. The winners of this particular contest were based on a point system. Much to my chagrin, my points were in the top range for my writing, setting, characters, style, etc, and were at the extreme opposite end for my hook and plot. I already knew that there wasn’t anything wrong with my plot; it fit neatly on a typical plot curve of rising action, climax, and resolution. It was the way I described my plot in the synopsis that knocked me out of the running for first place, along with the lack of hook in my synopsis and in the first page of my novel. In case you’re wondering, I still won a hundred bucks, which I won’t say ‘no’ to any day, but I wasn’t numero uno.

Although the review was direct and without commentary, it told me all I needed to know: Essentially, I had to rework the first pages and rewrite the synopsis (not to mention actually writing a workable query), and, at some point in there, develop cleverness. If you knew me, you’d know how difficult this was. I’ve never been clever, not ever, and I don’t like hooks, and I don’t particularly like beginning a novel in medias res. I’m a big fan of Ian McEwan, for example, whose novel beginning are, to put it bluntly, slow. If you’ve read Saturday, you know what I’m talking about. Basically, this book begins with a guy waking up in the early morning, staring out of his window, and ruminating for the next fifteen pages. I loved it, though I must admit the author lost me a little in the extremely long and slow racquetball scene that comes later. My point, though, is that, although I will read any kind of book, I prefer the ones that bring me into the action slowly. Of course, I don’t expect that much action in stories, anyway. Like I said, I’ll read anything. If it’s an action-packed book, so be it, but, if not, it doesn’t really matter to me at all.

Regardless of my slow, ruminative nature, I coldly axed the first fifteen pages of my book. And I learned how to do hooks in my own style. I also, after many drafts, wrote a query that had my critics saying things like, “I’m actually really surprised at how good this is!” I didn’t take it personally. I just accepted the compliment for what it was. Next week, then, I’ll be sending off some queries. Wish me luck, pray for me, and send your positive thoughts my way (I don’t really believe in luck, just God and the serendipity that he sometimes brings my way).

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Dissapointment and Desire

I had determined to put writing out of my mind this week. I had other things to do, and I’ve accomplished them–mostly. I now have 12 quarts of applesauce in my cupboard, and I’ve hemmed in my unruly garden by weeding and pulling up the stray carrots that had planted themselves, from last year’s seeds, in between my rows. I’ve cleaned my house. I’ve done the shopping and banking and cleaned out my in-box and paid the bills. And in the middle of it all, the letter arrived informing me that I was a winner in the SWW writing contest. I was elated!

And then, just as quickly, I was deflated. When I looked for more info on the contest website, I discovered that I was one of three winners in a category that had only three entries. Of course, the other categories had more competitors–the SWW contest has always had a fair amount of competition, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of thousands. Obviously, the number of entrants has gone down over the years, leaving me in the position of wishing I could feel satisfied about something–satisfied because of all my hard work. Instead, I find myself imagining that I’m third, the lowest of the low. I won’t actually find out until after the 19th of Sept., the day of the award ceremony, which would actually be worth attending if I thought I was a real winner–not simply a winner by default. Run with the money, I keep telling myself. Because only three people entered, I will automatically get a check, plus a free critique. In case you’re wondering, only winners get free critiques from the judges; everybody else has to pay for them.

So much has changed over the years in the SWW organization. Gone are the days of the critique-included-with-fee contest; gone are the days when the contest was associated with the yearly writers’ conference, and the judges were the agents and editors invited for pitching and hobnobbing in conference sessions. About eight years ago, I entered and won in a short story category (yes, there was actually competition, many more than three entrants, thank you very much), and I found myself sitting next to the editor for Harper’s magazine at the award ceremony. He had picked my story, you see. I sigh at the memory–I really thought my writing career was about to take off, back then. I wasn’t ready, though, and even I knew it, deep inside somewhere. That’s why, when the editor of Harper’s suggested maybe doing a serial based on my story, I didn’t pursue it, nor did I send in my book to the mystery editor whom I had a pitch session with. She asked for it, as all editors do, but I wasn’t ready, and it would have surely been rejected.

If I could only sit at the award ceremony with my judge this time around, I would fork up the cash and go. Honestly, I only entered because the judge happened to be the one agent that I would love to work with. I had only recently finished my book, and I had to rush through intense revisions on the first twenty pages just to send it in on time. Ha, ha ha! I laugh now. This is what happened: I’d given my book to a few test readers in its original form. All of them, when they read the revised beginning, said something akin to what was wrong with the original beginning and I liked it better before. So I reverted to the original and had my husband do some last-minute line editing. Oh, well–such are the predicaments of the writing life. I may have destroyed my chances with the coveted agent by sending in a wretched beginning, but we shall see. I do have her critique to look forward to.

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