Waiting for the Snow to Fall

There are millions of “beach people” out there in the world. I’m not one of them. Not a fan of sun and sand at all. Me? I’m a snow person. I love snow.

In my childhood I was never one to look out the window and anticipate the big snow day because I actually liked school. But, I loved snow too. As an adult, maybe part of the reason I love it so much is because it takes me back to my childhood. I’m not sure. I don’t want to stop and psychoanalyze myself at the moment.

Here’s another fact about me: I’m a bit of a weather nerd. This, I know, comes from my father. He was obsessed with The Weather Channel and always talking about weather.

Now, living in the south, the chance of snow every winter is hit-and-miss. We usually get one good snow a year.

Those two things combined have made me the kind of person who checks multiple weather apps on the daily.  This winter season, my apps have teased me with those little snowflake icons several times already. Each time, I let my hopes get up, only to be disappointed at the lack of real snowflakes in the sky.

But, last night, those little snowflakes on my phone turned into real snowflakes in the sky! I started out last night sitting on my chair drinking hot tea and staring out the window while binging on Netflix. At 7:06 and 7:08 pm, I got texts from both of my kids telling me to look outside. (*) It was snowing! Naturally, I threw on some shoes and went out to investigate said snow. It was awesome!

This morning I awoke to my boss texting me that the Governor had closed our museum for the day. So yes, SNOW DAY FOR MICHELLE! I ran to the window and was met with a tiny smattering of snow on the ground.

I’ll admit it. I was disappointed.

I was envisioning total coverage. I was hoping for inches of snow for my boots to crunch into. (Because that’s my favorite sound on the planet after laughing babies.) That’s not what I got.

Oh, there’s enough snow on the ground to call it snow. The roads that would’ve taken me to work today are too dangerous to drive this morning (and it’s only 14 degrees as I type this. (Exactly. I checked. Like I said, #weathernerd). But, I still feel let down at the lack of snow to play in.

As I considered this, I started thinking about how much this is like querying a manuscript.

Those little snowflake icons are the “awesome agents” for your manuscript. Those agents are out there. You can see them. They pop up on your screen all the time.  So you cast your hopes out as you send your query. Then you sit in chair with hot tea waiting for those wonderful real snowflakes to fall from the sky, in hopes that you’ll get to go outside in play in the inches and inches of snow. And make snowmen! And snow angels! And go on book tours! And become a NYTBSA!

Sometimes, you get the snow. Sometimes you get nothing. Sometimes, you get a smattering of snow and it’s enough to keep you going until the big snowfall comes.

That’s where I am today with querying. I think it’s unusual to talk about querying online while you’re querying. I wonder if writers are afraid if they talk about getting rejections, it will make them look undesirable to other agents. Or maybe writers see rejections as failure and nobody wants to broadcast failures on the internet, am I right?

But I’m not sure those things are true. It’s standard practice for writers to query multiple agents at once, be that in large batches, or a few agents at a time. (With the exception of some agencies who prefer exclusives. Check agency guidelines if you’re querying.) It’s well-known (because it’s true, duh) that all it takes is one agent to “get” your work. It stands to reason that if an agent loves your manuscript and wants to offer you representation, he/she’d be okay with rejections you’ve gotten from other places because they are YOUR snowflake!

And it’s also a universal truth that a rejection from an agent doesn’t necessarily mean the writer is a bad writer or the story isn’t good. Say it with me: A rejection of a manuscript is not a personal rejection.  (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you, trust me. Ask my crit partners.)

This blog is about my journey in writing. That’s where I am in in January 2018–I’m sitting here with my hot tea waiting for MY snowflake to love my manuscript.

Good thing I have some actual snow to look at while I wait.

snow18

A view from my deck. 

 

*Aren’t my kids awesome? They know me so well.

My son was at work and he texted me the following: So you weren’t going to tell your own son about the snow when he has to drive home in it? Who are you and what have you done with my Mom??

Two minutes later, this came from my daughter: Look outside!

 

 

 

 

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Wait For It

If you know me personally, you could very easily report that I am not a patient person. I like to do things at full-speed and I absolutely stink at waiting. Waiting is the worst. In fact,  I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and I have two books packed in my bag already just to override the fear of sitting there for half an hour (or more) in the waiting room with *gasp* nothing to do.

Because my brain is just wired to go, go, go all the time. If there’s a free moment in the middle of the day, you can bet that I’m thinking “What is it that I need to do that I haven’t done yet?” If I had a nickel for every time my husband has looked lovingly at me and said, “Just relax a second,” then…I’d have a lot of nickels.

And the thing is, I’m not an un-relaxed person. I’m quite happy and feel “calm” most of the time. Maybe that’s because my “calm” is a bit more chaotic than others. Because there’s nothing worse to me than sitting and doing nothing. I’m not the kind of person that can sit in a lawn chair and watch the flora and fauna for hours. I appreciate those things and enjoy looking at those things, but after about a minute, I’ve seen what I need to see and I want to move on to something else.

(You’d think I’d be skinny and my house would be immaculate, but neither of those things is true.)

While I usually do a good job of filling the hours in my day, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I am waiting. And I can’t do a dang thing about it.

I’m not naive, I know that the publishing industry is slow and there is a lot of waiting to be done. I went into this endeavor eyes wide open. I understand that each part of the process is lengthy, from the writing stage to the revision to the seeking and procuring an agent, the editing, the submission to publishing houses, the editing again, and the length of time it takes to get a book designed, printed and published. All of those require…waiting.

I’m only on stage three of the process. I’ve queried agents (through various sources: conference, contest, and cold querying) and now I have manuscripts out in the world for review. So I wait.

I’m willing to do that because I understand that there are so many hours in the day and most agents have active clients they’re working for. They’re making deals, giving advice, submitting manuscripts, on top of numerous other things for their existing clients. Plus, it just takes a while to read queries and pages from requested materials. So, I’m exercising my patience.

Some days, I’d rather be exercising my body, to be quite honest. And that hardly ever happens either.

Since I’m not that good at waiting, I’ve started actively finding things to fill my time while I wait. We’re moving soon, so I’m organizing and packing and reorganizing and clearing out junk. Clearing out junk is totally healthy for your soul. I recommend it immensely.

What else am I doing? Since my last set of queries/requests went out, I’ve read 9 books. I’ve never really counted the number of books I’ve read. With no concrete idea of how many I normally read, I made a goal to read 52 this year. I’m already at 42 at half the year. (Learned something about goal setting with this, btw..)

And the good thing about all the reading is that it’s helping improve my writing and career. Every book I read gives me lessons on craft (be them good or bad). Every author I research on the internet or book pic I post on InstaGram gives me insight into the business and forges connections with the writing/reading community.

Another important thing I’m doing now is writing. I know that sounds weird for me to say. Hey look, the writer is WRITING. Big deal.  But it is a big deal. Once I had a final draft of my manuscript ready for querying, I put it away, because tinkering with it while agents are reading may cause problems. What if they like it the way it is? Or have other possible changes in mind after they read? If I mess with it now, I may give myself some big headaches in the future once I find the right agent for my work. So I leave it alone until I hear back.

So then what?

What is a writer to do? A writer writes. I started another project. Or rather, continued a half-started project. And I have to tell you, the fact that I’m laying down words on something, anything, is making me a hundred times more calm. It doesn’t feel like waiting when I’m producing something. There was about a month period in which I wrote zero words and it was terrible and I was miserable. Just diving back into the creative process has made all the difference. It doesn’t matter if this project will ever be seen by anyone else. It just matters that I’m creating.

Do I still obsessively check my emails, hoping for an agent response, even though I know it’s too early for a reply? Yes. When I’m driving or in the shower, does my mind still wander into possible scene changes, marketing ideas, lists of ideal potential publishers? Yes. Do I waffle back and forth from thinking my manuscript is the BEST THING EVERRR to thinking it’s total rubbish and nobody will want to read it? Yeah, that too. (Don’t think that will ever go away.) But, I’m managing the waiting parts and maintaining my sanity and I feel pretty good about that.

Until the next Tuesday blog..I’ll be here waiting…like Timbaland waiting to reveal the next boy eliminated on Boy Band. Seriously, this guy takes the reality show dramatic pause to a whole new level.

timbaland

 

 

Query Trenches

I’m in the query trenches again. This is what it feels like:

happyscared

Most days I’m feeling pretty good about my manuscript, then suddenly I’m hit with the thought that I sent it out and it’s wrong.  IT’S ALL WRONG!

Of course, the panic passes, but boy does it feel real in the moment.

I’m not sure why it’s called the query trenches. That phrase conjures up images of war, guns, and olive green clad soldiers either clinging on for life or lobbing ammunition. Querying doesn’t have to be as bad as all that.

I’m approaching querying a little differently than I have in the past. Not in the process itself, as that has stayed the same for me, but in the way I’m thinking about the process.Going with the soldier theme, there are a few things I’ve discovered that writers must have in their arsenal when querying.

  • Belief in your manuscript. It may seem strange to say that, but I’ve known writers who’ve queried with the idea it isn’t really good enough yet, but I’ll take a shot. I will even go so far as to say I did that myself several years ago just moments I typed THE END. That didn’t get me anywhere. Now, I spend as long polishing as I do writing the first draft. I make sure that what I have is the best it can be. That doesn’t mean that some future agent or editor won’t have ideas for change. It means that I’m no longer revising scenes, substituting words, or throwing new ideas in. I believe my manuscript is good, it’s fresh, and is high concept. I’m not bragging, mind you. I’m believing in the story I’ve told. I’ve enlisted in this army of writers and I think my campaign will be a winning strategy.
  • A thick skin. Rejections aren’t fun. But you will get them. It doesn’t mean your manuscript is bad or that you’re not talented. It means you haven’t found the right agent for your manuscript. It took me a while to get to this point. In the past, I would sink into a depression with every rejection I got. Now, I’m a little bit better about it. Continuing with the theme, I’ve tried to adjust my attitude and look at finding the right agent as a game of Battleship. You know, the one where it was Blue vs.Red and the little plastic ships? ( Totally showing my age there. I think they’re actually electronic now.) But when I’m querying, I’m firing missiles at the board. The rejections, are misses.  Requests are hits.  From there, it’s just a matter of picking a few strategic shots to sink the Battleship. (Partial request, hit. Full request, hit. Phone call, hit.) YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP or YOU ARE MY AGENT!
  • Patience. This is tough. I am not a patient person by nature, but I’ve learned that Publishing is a long process and while some things can happen very quickly, the majority of the business doesn’t. I’ve found the best way to handle this is to keep writing. I’ve already started another project and that’s taking up a lot of my brain time. It keeps me honing my craft while I wait to hear back from my queries.

And now, off to practice some of that patience… and read a good book.

 

 

Feedback

The Arkansas SCBWI conference was great. I got to catch up with writer friends, heard the real scoop about the journey to publication from an almost-published author, and got some feedback on my story.

The word feedback has two connotations. The good kind of feedback that helps you grow and improve. And the bad kind of feedback that you associate with a sudden screeching noise that makes you jump and cover your ears.

I got both of those this weekend.

The good news is that I was told my writing is strong, my voice good, my concept unique. I got some great suggestions to improve minor things in the story. The screechy part? “Put this on the shelf for at least 2 years. It will never sell right now.”

Yeah, my ears kind of went numb after that one.

It was something I had suspected for a while now. When I started writing this, I saw it as straight Sci-Fi (with romance!) and it is that. But it does have an element of the d-word in it. (See, dystopian is such a bad thing right now, I can’t hardly even type it without breaking out into hives.)

I didn’t plan for it to go that way, but my muse apparently did. It’s not strict dystopian, but at the end of the day, the evil corporate overlords running the country made it seem that way.

I’ve read a lot about the genre. Most sources will say that if your concept is really unique, it won’t matter right now. Publishers will want it anyway. But you have to sell the concept to an agent who thinks they can sell it to an editor before you even get to the publishers.  A well-respected agent told me at the conference that my story (good as it is) simply won’t sell to that many people right now.

This is, of course, one agent’s opinion. But when you add it with all of the things I’ve read, it starts to sink in.  

Screech. Cover your ears.

So, since it’s not safe to drive and cry, I pushed back the tears on my way home from the conference and I decided to take a break from EVERGREEN. I will still make the revisions suggested because they’re good and they’ll help my story. I will still query to agents, though I will pare the list down to specific Sci Fi lovers for now. But, as I heard from several people at the conference, sometimes it’s best to put the manuscript in the drawer for a while.

It’s funny because I love dystopian. Dystopian is my favorite thing to read. It’s the thing that made me decide to write. When I put down DIVERGENT, I went straight to my laptop and typed my first sentence of my first manuscript.  Now, its wild success is the very thing keeping me from being able to sell my manuscript.  The thing I love the most is the thing standing in my way.  There’s a tragedy if I’ve ever heard one.

But, all is not lost. The last speaker at the conference had us do an exercise. He made us write for 60 seconds. It didn’t matter what we wrote. We just had to write. Then we had to pass it to the person sitting next to us. This exercise started roughly 5 minutes after the agent told me to shelf my MS for two years. The thought of doing that made me sick to my stomach. I walked out of that room thinking, “There is no way I can write anything but dystopian. I need to give up for the next two years and revisit the whole writing thing then.’

But I wrote for 60 seconds. Then I came home and wrote for a couple hours. Then I wrote the next day.  And the next. And now I have 5200 words on a definitely non-dystopian novel. Because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do.

I’m not giving up on EVERGREEN. I wholeheartedly believe Frankie’s story needs to be told. When the time is right, I think it will be.  But for now, I’m starting to have a lot of fun with Piper.

What’s Next?

Last week, I made the important first submission of my manuscript.  I sent it, with prayers and hopes, on its way and now I wait for the response.

The day after my submission I found myself sitting at my laptop saying, “Now what?”

Truth be told, I had no idea.

I have writery things I could be doing. Things like making a list of agents to submit to, polishing my query letter, proofing my manuscript for typos and mistakes for the umpteenth time.  But I couldn’t find motivation to do any of those things.   

Now I’ve read that sometimes the best thing a writer can do is to take a break. Walk away for a few days or weeks even, refresh, cultivate ideas, be inspired by little things.

Yeah, I figured out that I’m not so good at that kind of thing.

What did I do instead?  I wrote the first 500 words of the next manuscript.  Then I wrote the next 500 words. And then I wrote more. Now it’s three whole chapters.  

I feel refreshed, inspired, and ready to continue. I can’t wait to see what happens next in this story. 

You say, “But Michelle, you’re the writer, you decide what happens next!”

Yes, I’m the writer, but to me, the best part of being the writer is letting the story tell itself.  It’s the discovery of the characters in the midst of the words that is the reason I’m writing in the first place. It’s the magic that brings me to this slightly uncomfortable chair with strategically placed pillows, and sofa table that has become a writing desk. 

I can’t wait for the rest of this story to pop out of my head. I didn’t intend to write a series when I began the last manuscript. I know my genre. There are a lot of trilogies (with novellas in between), but I know the odds of a debut author actually selling a series are slim.  Yet somewhere in the middle of this process, I discovered there was a much bigger story to tell.  It was just the beginning and I want to know what is going to happen next.

I hope that one day other people will want to know too.

(By the way, if you recognized the title of this blog as a quote from “The West Wing” then you win! It’s one of my favorite shows of all time. Writers, if you want a Master Class on writing voice, watch it. Aaron Sorkin is a wizard with words!)