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!)