Hangin’ Tough

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks in my writing life. I’ve learned this is completely normal. Sometimes things move like a slow emotional ballad. Other times, they move like the thumpin’ beat of a dance track.

(Note: I’m probably not going to give up on the boy band music analogies any time soon. You’ve been warned.)

Since I last posted, I made it into Round 3 of Query Kombat. I’m thrilled and humbled by this accomplishment. My Round 2 competitor (a book I know will be published and I want to read) ended the contest with a whopping 14 requests from agents—more than any of the others. So, while she didn’t win. She SO won. And I get to carry on in the contest, honing and strengthening my query/first page until the time when I’m out and can start querying. Win/Win.

While things were moving in QK, I also attended the Arkansas SCBWI conference, where I got to meet some amazing professionals and gained a lot of knowledge, plus hang out with my writer friends. No, scratch that, friends who are also writers.

The overwhelming take-home I get from these experiences is this phrase: Everything is subjective.

In QK, there is feedback posted by judges and by other “kombatants.” My round 2 had 18 comments. That’s 18 different opinions. And I mean 18 DIFFERENT opinions. I got comments that read “love the peanut butter line” and those that said, “I’m not getting the peanut butter line.” A lot of comments said my MC is a too cocky, yet I had almost as many that said they loved him and he had a great voice.

I even had one comment that read they suspect Derrick’s narcissism my actually be MY narcissism. I’m still not sure what to do with that one, but it’s certainly something for me to think about. I appreciate the person taking the time to comment on it.  (Would a narcissist say that? I’m not sure. Anyway…)

Then when I went to the conference and pitched my book to one of the editors there, he told me some things I didn’t want to hear. (Along with some other awesome things that were perfectly in-tune with my little writer heart.) At the end of our session, however, he said, “But that’s just MY opinion. Someone else may say something different.”

*Looks at QK entries* “This new query is better.” “I liked your first one a lot more.”

At the conference, the fabulous agent, Molly O’Neill, presented a workshop on dealing with rejection. I ate every word she said up with a spoon. The essence of her presentation was that it takes only one agent to “get it” and every rejection you receive before you find “the one” isn’t something to take as personal. There are dozens of factors that can contribute to a “no thanks” and just as many that can lead to “the call.” Outside of writing a killer book, most of those are out of my control. I hope I’ve done the killer book part. We’ll see, I suppose.

Listening to the professionals at the conference, different variations of the same theme kept coming up in presentations, in pitches, and in casual conversations at dinner.  Basically, if someone doesn’t like your work, it’s their opinion. Take it, consider whether or not there’s merit to it, implement it (or not), then move on.

It’s just one person’s opinion.

That sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s easy to get bogged down when someone gives you a critique that’s harsh or you get yet another rejection from an agent. I’m learning to navigate the waters by trying not to let the things I don’t like get under my skin. Or rather, make my skin tougher so those harsh crits and rejections don’t hurt me as deeply.

It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it. I think the key is remembering that my worth (as a person and as a writer) isn’t tied directly to my manuscript. A harsh crit or rejection doesn’t make me a bad person or poor writer. A harsh crit or rejection means that one individual did not believe the work was where it needed to be for them. Maybe that means I need to revise or maybe it means I need to find another person. It really doesn’t mean I should give up or that I suck.

Because I won’t. And I don’t.

(Ah, maybe there’s something to that narcissism thing.)

My MS is getting better as my skin is getting tougher. It just might be where it needs to be for that one agent to “get it.” If not, I’ll be here Hangin’ Tough

(What? You KNOW Donnie Wahlberg is your Home Boy.)

 

All I Have to Give

A quick update:

Though the battle was fierce, the Query Kombat first round voting is over. I’m stoked beyond all reason to announce that I moved on to Round 2! My worthy opponent made a strong second-half surge and almost came out on top, but in the end, I scored the winning vote. 5-4.  I’m very pleased to see that one of the hosts of the contest picked my opponent as his “Host Save” so she and her epic MS will be moving on as well.  Cheers all around!

I would love to be able to say this is me right now:

BSB IWITW

Really, I’m more like this:

BSB scream

The agent round starts tomorrow. After that, we get on to battling it out in Round 2. It’s going to be an anxious time waiting to hear if I get any agent requests or move forward to Round 3. But, if neither of those things happen, I’ve already got a stronger query and first 250 words. And I can rest in the knowledge in that I gave it All I Have To Give.

 

At The End of the Day

I struggled a little writing this post. One one hand, through hard work and determination, I’ve accomplished something I’m proud of. On the other hand, in less than a week, I might be exactly where I am now with nothing to show for it. I tried to think about how I’d feel when this is all over and I decided to blog about this to help strengthen my ability to put myself out there. Because, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, it’s part of my journey and that’s the purpose of this blog.  So, here it goes.

I was picked as an entrant to an online writing contest. Specifically Query Kombat.

I have a love/dislike relationship with writing contests.  At the end of the day, I’m unagented, so most would say that contests have been failures for me. I’ve been picked for several contests and passed over for many more. (Several different manuscripts too!)  I don’t consider myself a failure at writing because I’ve not snagged an agent or sold a manuscript yet. I consider myself “still on the road” to those things. Participating in contests is just one step along that road.

Failing to be chosen for a contest can hurt almost as much as rejections do. This is the aforementioned dislike part. When you work hard preparing materials and get your hopes up and the contest hosts/judges don’t pick your entry, it can feel like a waste of time and it can certainly knock you a few pegs down the confidence ladder. But the longer I’ve been “in the business” of writing, the more I’ve come to understand, it is all subjective. ALL OF IT.

Hosts/judges/agents/editors/publishers/readers are influenced by factors that are simply out of my control. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a bad day or someone having an ex-boyfriend with the same name as my love interest. Perhaps an agent enjoys my writing, but has just picked up a similar title for their list. Or maybe publishers aren’t buying my MS because they believe nobody wants to read [insert genre here] right now.  (*Gazes longingly at the dystopian MS sitting in my drawer* One day…) All of those things can lead to heart ache, but at the end of the day, it does not mean I’m not a good writer or that my MS is bad. It simply means I haven’t found the right agent/publisher/readers yet.

Contests can go a long way to getting my manuscript in front of many agent/editor/publisher eyes at once. That’s a good thing and that’s one of the things I love about contests. If the world didn’t love a fast track, there’d be no microwaves or McDonald’s or Disney Fast Passes. I’m all for a group of people considering my MS at once because it FEELS like I’ve been writing for a lot longer than I have. The hunger to publish tends to make that happen. But at the end of the day, participating in, or even winning, a contest might not make the process go any faster for me. And that’s okay.

Because at the end of the day, I’m getting something else from contests. I’m getting valuable advice from professionals, making writer friends, and improving my craft. I believe this is the biggest advantage contests hold.

Having lined all that out, I’m thrilled, shocked, and elated to announce that my latest Manuscript was chosen for the Query Kombat contest hosted by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and Laura Heffernan. The contest will be tournament style, with brackets. Think College Basketball playoffs. Over 300 people chose nicknames for our MS and entered query letters and the first 250 words. Sixty-four of us were chosen to battle it out head-to-head.  Like this:

light saber fight

Though now that I’ve “Twitter-met” some of the competition, it will probably look more like this:

dance combat.gif

It’s going to be tough. Half of us will be eliminated in the first round. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitive person and I want to WIN, but even if I don’t make it past the first cut, I know I will have gained something.

So, wish me luck. The first battle begins 8:00 am Friday, June 2. My entry “Boy Band Ninja Assassins” is going up against “Girl Takes Back White House” (which I totally want to read!) Judges with nicknames will be posting their VICTORY votes on the blogs. So, unfortunately, you can’t help me win.  But if you want to read our entries (because I’m sure many of them will make their way to publication in the future), you can find them by clicking the following links.

Boy Band Ninja Assassins will be on Laura’s blog.

Some more great stuff on Michelle’s blog.

And here’s Michael’s outstanding lineup.

Best of luck to all the Kombatants. I’m really proud to be a part of this, no matter the outcome at the end of the day. 

BOY BAND SOUNDTRACK SONG FOR THIS ENTRY: At The End of the Day

GIF source: giphy.com

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.

 

 

Red Spiral Notebook, a Substitute Teacher Story

I am a substitute teacher.  Here’s a story from my files.

When I arrived in Mrs. T’s 6th and 7th grade Science class, I found Mrs. T waiting for me. (She was only taking the afternoon off, so I was lucky to get her instructions in person AND I narrowly escaped cafeteria food!) She was speaking to a 7th grade boy and I approached to introduce myself. The boy’s eyes widened with fear at the sight of me. It was somewhat confusing because I’m really not all that scary looking. Mrs. T introduced me to “B” and told me that she was giving him permission to work on his special project after he’d finished the day’s assignment.

I said to B, “Sure! What’s your special project?”

Mrs. T explained. “B is an introvert.” Then she answered my question for him. “He’s writing a book.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Me too!”

Mrs. T chuckled, certain that I was pulling something out of the “Substitute Teachers Big Bag O’ Tricks” in order to put B at ease.  As you know, I wasn’t.  I told her, “No, I really am. I write YA.” Then I turned to B. “My latest book is about a boy band who are also ninja assassins. What’s yours about?”

Mrs. T was distracted by a commotion in the back of the room and left B and I staring at each other.

B blinked a couple of times, then he launched into a very detailed description of his manuscript. It’s about a 12-year-old boy who becomes a superhero. I’m leaving the description as vague as possible as to not betray his trust. However, B’s description of his manuscript was in no way vague. He explained a complicated plot involving the protagonist coping with suddenly becoming a superhero, living with workaholic parents (because he has to learn to solve his own problems, he said), and unearthing a dastardly plot put into motion years ago by the villain—all while impressing the girl.

While he spoke, a steady stream of students filed into the classroom. Almost every one of them stopped and listened as B outlined his work. By the time he’d finished, the entire class was enraptured. Several students applauded him. One boy slapped him on the back. One girl even hugged him.

While his ideas were fantastic, they weren’t the most fantastic thing about the unfolding scene.

The bell rang and everyone took their seats except for the student Mrs. T had singled out as the responsible helper of the class. The responsible helper pulled on my sleeve and then whispered into my ear. “I’ve been in school with him for years and I’ve never heard him talk to anyone unless a teacher forced him. You got him to talk! Out loud!!”

All I had to do was show genuine interest in his book and he instantly trusted me.

That, my friends and readers, is the power of words.

I got the students working on their assignments and B approached me cautiously, clutching a red spiral notebook. Behind him, a couple students pointed and whispered. I thought, for a brief moment, I was going to have to admonish the students for making fun of B, but I didn’t have to do that. The two boys stared in disbelief as B handed me his notebook. “I’ll let you read it,” he said.

I took the red notebook from him. “Thank you,” I said. “I’m thrilled to read it.”

One of the whispering students spoke out. “No fair! I’ve been asking to read his book for months!”

B sheepishly shrugged at him. As a writer, I fully understand the amount of courage it takes to let others see your work. No matter how much you’ve worked on it or how good you think it is, it’s still sharing a part of your soul with someone. For B, who barely could share his voice, sharing his soul would be a monumental thing.

I explained to the whispering student, “I think he wants another writer’s opinion first, but once he gets everything the way he wants, he might let you read it. Be patient. It takes time to write an entire book. Right, B?”

B shook his head vigorously, acknowledging the effort writing takes and making a silent promise to the student,  then returned to his seat.

As the class worked, I read B’s story. Then I did what I’ve done for every one of my writer friends who’ve trusted me with their stories—I made notes.

I borrowed some post-it notes from Mrs. T, attaching them to appropriate places in the red spiral notebook. The first one said: Great opening line! You managed to nail the complex requirements of a killer opening line that hooks you instantly!

I scribbled on one post-it: Your opening scene gets right into the action. That’s good!

Next I commented on the voice of his manuscript—it sounded exactly like a 12-year-old talking to his friends about an impossible thing happening.

Then, I read in astonishment and made this note: This is based on a real-life event? You did your research! Now I’m even more intrigued.

I read on. It was close to ten pages, front and back. I didn’t get to all of it, but I got far enough along to feel his soul inside the words. There is no doubt this kid is going to be a writer. When I finished reading, I was  eager to get home and work on my own manuscript. That’s what good writing does for me. It lights a fire inside my little writer heart.

I returned the red spiral notebook full of yellow post-its to B. And I told him to keep writing. I told him not to give up, even when it gets hard. I told him there were things in his brain that the world needs to read. There are stories and visions and ideas that only he can share.

B smiled. Then he clutched the red spiral notebook to his chest. “I’m going to finish it, but I don’t know how to turn it into a real book that the library would have. I want my book to be in the library because that’s where I learned to love books.”

Me too, B.

So I gave the world’s most condensed version of “what literary agents do” explanation to B. He wrote some things down in the very back of his red spiral notebook. (The other pages, of course, remain blank, awaiting the words that he’ll conjure later.)

I wish I could’ve given B my email address so he could keep my updated on his progress, but substitute teacher rules strictly prohibit giving/receiving contact information. I’ll have to just keep an eye on the library bookshelves.

Riding It Out

Today was a good day. Today I:

  • Wrote a query letter for “Boyband” that I don’t hate
  • Wrote a 3-pg synopsis that can probably be trimmed to 1-pg if necessary
  • Researched (AND FOUND) a list of YA agents seeking boyband and/or humor MS
  • Boybanded by listening to One Direction all day (#inspiration)
  • Decided that “boy” and “band” could, in fact, be smashed into one word and used as a noun or a verb
  • Did I mention the query? Because I hate queries
  • Wrote a blog post about all the boybandy things I did today
  • Decided boyband can also adjective if needed

I’m not posting this list to brag or make other writers feel unaccomplished. Because yesterday I:

  • Spent two hours formatting my manuscript and I’m still not done
  • Whined to my Crit Partner about how much my manuscript sucked and how worried I was about it being too long and too over-the-top
  • Removed almost 150 instances of go-to filter words like: just, really, and smile
  • Agonized for far too long over the name of one of my minor characters. I still don’t have it right yet.
  • Considered abandoning my boyband manuscript because I can’t quite narrow it down to the proper genre and category yet

And that’s the life of the writer: up and down and up and way over there to the side, then up again, then down into the pits of despair, then up again.

I’m truly thankful that I’m along for the ride, no matter how crazy it is.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Decluttering

I just deleted twenty-seven emails. This may not sound like a blog-worthy task to you, but trust me, it is.

I tend to be a bit of a hoarder by nature—not one of the obviously-in-need-of-therapy kind that they do television shows about, but more of a save-this-in-case-I-need-it type. That mentality has served me well in the past because I’ve saved things that I did, indeed, need in the future. But oftentimes my “saving things” resulted in piles of (organized) stuff in many different resting places. We had so many saved things lying about our house that when we did need to find something, it took forever, or worse, we never found it due to the massive nature of our “collection.”

Because we had so little space in our cars when we moved back to Arkansas from Nevada, we ended up weeding out of lot of things just to make the trip back. That inspired me to make a major push to clean out some of “saved things.” (I refuse to call my stuff “junk,” okay?)  We cleaned out the garage, had a yard sale, donated carloads of stuff to Goodwill. It was liberating and I honestly feel better about decluttering (most of) my life.

However, it occurred to me that while my home was looking pretty spiffy, my inbox was a big ole’ hot mess.

When I started to seriously pursue this writing thing, I did what I think most newbie writers do—research. I went online searching for the best resources, reading the most popular blogs, registered for message boards and author newsletters, and followed every author, agent, and publisher I could on Twitter.  That resulted in a lot of information.

It also resulted in a lot of email.

There’s a lot to be gained by reading every scrap of information you can about the craft of writing. I want to be a successful writer. I want my manuscripts to appeal to readers, agents and publishers. I want to “get it right.”  Reading writing blogs and following agents is helping me to craft the best stories that I can. I can say with all certainty that my manuscripts are better off than they would have been if I had just started with no information, blindly jabbing at the idea of writing and occasionally landing on a good idea or well-written sentence.

I’ve noticed is that my writing suffers when I am actively trying to remember every nugget of information I have read on the craft of writing. Instead of writing my story I’m thinking, “Is this inciting event strong enough…does this character’s arc work…is this showing or telling…do I need that dialog tag…does this setting seem unique…” All of that bumbling around my brain when I’m trying to write a scene causes it to stall and it just gives me a lot of stress and doubt.  Instead I should be focusing on my character’s voice and how they’re going to deal with the thing I’m throwing at them.

I’ve had to actively learn how to keep what I know in the back of my head and let it become “white noise” while I’m writing. I wish I could tell you the steps to do this, but I can’t. It’s a daily struggle for me to “just write” instead of “write it, think about it, edit it, reread it, revise it, think about it, ask my crit partner about it, rewrite it again.”

Another issue I’m facing is that I’m working again, so my time is limited. I no longer have hours every day to read the blogs, author emails and spend more hours than I care to admit on Twitter.  I’m forced to make my writing “count” now.

With all that in mind, I decided one way to combat the issue of having too much in my head is to declutter my inbox. The twenty-seven emails I deleted were author newsletters, blog posts and book deals. Yes, I’d love to support every one of those authors, read every one of those books, and consider each blog post. But while I am doing those things, my manuscript is sitting there with a blinking cursor beckoning me.

I’m not going to ignore good advice from great sources, but I am going to attempt to maximize what I read for the greatest effect. Since I’m going to soon be querying a YA Historical Fantasy, I can put that adult romance author’s newsletter on the back burner. Because I’m working on a NA Contemporary Humor manuscript currently, I don’t necessarily need to read that blog about crafting the perfect Sci-Fi setting.  And do I really need to add another book to my TBR pile?

Okay, yes, to that one.

Hopefully the decluttering of my inbox will result in a little decluttering of my writer brain, and in return, yield some fantastic words. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now I have to go find that box my husband was looking for last night and delete two more emails that came in while I was typing this blog!