Writing

Seven tips to keep in mind when you query

If you are a writer beginning the querying process, like me, you have a lot of questions. I’ve spent the last six years learning about my craft in every way possible. Like many new authors I wonder how hard it is to get published in today’s market.  Agent Chip MacGregor said, “…there were about 65,000 new books traditionally published last year, and. . .maybe ten million proposals sent to agents and editors… There are a couple thousand literary agents in this country, and if they all get 10,000 queries per year on average . . . the odds are awful.” You know what that means? We need to be putting our best foot forward if we have any hope of success. Here I’ve compiled seven tips for you to consider when you start querying agents.

  1. Make sure, if you’re writing fiction, that the manuscript is complete. Do not even bother an agent until then. Why? Imagine your novel is only barely started. You’ve crafted the perfect query letter. You’ve found THE agent to make your publishing dreams come true. One morning, you wake up and find a response from said agent. She requests your entire manuscript to look over. Now what? She won’t have months to wait for you to finish it. You’ve just blown your perfect shot before you’ve even begun.
  2. Beta readers, get some. I cannot express to you the importance of a good beta reader. They are the folks to whom you entrust your very raw, barely formed word baby. They read it. They offer advice. How do you get them? You ask people who can give you legitimate writing feedback. Your mom is not a good choice. This is the woman who celebrated your first use of a toilet. Her standards are a little low. Do I recommend friends? Nope. The only caveat being they must be able to hurt your feelings and feel no remorse. If you have that kind of friend, use them (and cherish them, because honesty, baby). Pick people who are writers or readers that you trust. For example, my beta readers consist of all writers except for two. My friend AnnMarie, while not a writer, always steers me in the right direction where readers are concerned. In a recent incarnation of my first novel, one of the bad guys killed his girlfriend’s dogs. I needed to make him truly despicable. She freaked out. “Make him despicable, but almost forgivable. I have to be able to humanize him and maybe have a small piece of pity for him. If he kills the dogs, I put the book down then and there.” The last thing I want is a reader to put my book down, so I allowed AnnMarie to save the dogs. My second friend, Renee, is an awesome beta reader. She picks up on the smallest details that I get wrong, something that I, as a reader, have put books down for in the past. Everyone else is a writer. They get the voodoo that I do and help accordingly.
  3. Edits, more edits, and even more edits.  While your manuscript is with beta readers, edit. When it comes back from them, edit. Edit until your brain bleeds. Then you stash that manuscript away for a few weeks and edit until your eyes bleed.  Repeat until your fingers bleed. I know, that’s a lot of bleeding, but it’s necessary. Expect to edit more times than you can count. Then edit again for good measure. You need to be shopping around the very best version of your work. I’ve heard too many writers say that they don’t see the need to edit, because after getting an agent they’ll just edit it for them. That’s like expecting a half done lasagna to bake itself. It just doesn’t work that way.
  4. Platform, Religion, and Politics. You have a platform and a brand. It all revolves around what you write when you are a writer. Unless what you write involves religion and/or politics, don’t write or share about religion and/or politics. If the last presidential election taught us anything it is that those topics are about as polarizing as they come. One fact is true: If you don’t want to isolate readers, leave those topics at the door. If you simply must share, get a private Facebook account that doesn’t allow the general public in on that side of your life. I know Stephen King puts his opinions on social media, but he’s STEPHEN FRICKIN’ KING. When you’re that big, by all means, share away. Until then, stow it.
  5. Stalk your intended agent before querying. Okay, not really. No law breaking. But please research who you are querying. Look them up. Find their social media. Read through it. Find old interviews. Read those. Find out who they represent. Stalk them, too, for good measure. Find the agency they work for. Read their bios. For the love of all that is holy, tattoo their submission guidelines on your soul. Whatever you do, make that query letter as personal as possible and STICK TO THOSE GUIDELINES. You don’t want to get rejected because you didn’t follow what you were told. And don’t blanket a ton of agents and blind carbon copy them. It’s tacky. It’s lazy. It’s a turnoff, and almost a guarantee for rejection. Speaking of the “R” word….
  6. Accept rejection with grace. I cannot stress this enough. Agents talk, y’all. They follow each other. You will find this out when you cyberstalk them. There is nothing worse than getting a rejection to lay you low, possibly even make you angry. Do not take your anger out on them. That’s a first class ticket to Ignoring-The-Crazy-Author-Ville. Try getting someone to take you seriously when you’ve just lambasted their agent/friend all over social media. You hurt a lot of feelings and make yourself look like the amateur, insufferable jerk that you are. By all means, lick your wounds. Be sad. Tie on a feedbag of Ben and Jerry’s. Do not take your anger out on those meant to represent you. That being said,….
  7. Get back up and brush off the moss. Don’t let rejection stop you from achieving your dreams. Trust me, I know how tough rejection is. My first novel has been rejected 29 times so far. I used to take a page from Stephen King’s book and hang them all on a corkboard. But then they started to mock me. My writing suffered. I’d look at that pile of rejection letters and think the worst thoughts. I hung a little Snoopy charm (I love that beagle!) on them so that maybe I’d smile when I saw them. That cute little dog started to mock me, too. I removed it all and just keep a tally list now. I cannot allow the pain of rejection to keep me from writing. First, because there’s no stopping the drive to apply words to paper/computer screens for me. It’s how I process the world. Second, I have faith that somewhere in this wide world is one other crazy person employed by a literary agency that just might believe in me as much as AnnMarie and Renee. And I owe it to myself to find her (or him, but more likely her). So, I am getting back up, brushing off whatever moss has grown on me, and trying again. While I anxiously await agent responses, I’ve started another novel.

You should do the same. Keep chugging along. Follow these tips and give yourself the best possible chance of success!

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Serious stuff

Changes and a New Focus: Dealing with Family Crises and Finding Balance

So much has happened in the many months since I’ve been here. Too much, really. My family and I have faced so much upheaval that we’re just now beginning to settle into our new normal. That has taken eight, long months and it’s a tentative settling at best. Let me back up and explain.

Eight months ago our definition of normal imploded. All within one week’s time we found out that a close relative was diagnosed with breast cancer, my husband was diagnosed with diabetes, and I had pernicious anemia (PA) and possibly multiple sclerosis (MS). It’s been an arduous journey to health and we aren’t even at the end. Jim has stabilized with changes to his diet. Our relative is (all fingers crossed) in the last leg of kicking cancer square in the ass. Me? Still in limbo, I’m afraid. I can control the PA with bi-monthly shots, but the other symptoms…not quite.

It all began because  I couldn’t walk without falling. The fall that sent me to the doctor frightened me. I was coming down the stairs after my morning shower and I toppled and hit the wall hard, literally and figuratively. I can no longer walk unassisted. I use a cane to navigate stairs and a rollator for all other ambulatory needs. I can drive only short distances, and then only if I absolutely have to. There are days I can’t drive at all because I can’t trust my feet or hands to do as I command. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for me. There are so many other physical changes in my life that I won’t go into here. It all boils down to one thing: I have to accept that I am handicapped now.

And that’s not something I am doing well with. I have always been fiercely independent. Asking for help was not an option I ever employed. If I wanted to go somewhere or do something I just did. Nothing stood in my way. And if I couldn’t do it, well, it just didn’t get done.

But here I am. Needing help every damn day of my life because you can’t just not wear pants because you can’t put them on yourself. You can’t just leave the house without shoes because your foot won’t lift off the floor. You can’t just not eat because walking across the room isn’t an option for the day.

And I hate it. I resent it. I cannot stand it!

The worst part? I am eight months into poking and prodding and testing and multiple doctors and I STILL do not have an official diagnosis. Ask how many Type A people would enjoy that. If you find one, please introduce us. I need help.

All this to say, I am grieving the loss of my independence something fierce. It truly feels like some part of me just up and died. Last August I was walking, driving, and living my life like every other person–going to my nieces’ dance recitals and soccer games, going to the grocery store, taking my kids back and forth to events, going to have lunch with my husband at work. Four weeks later I just wasn’t anymore. Two weeks after that, I was using a rollator once in a while. Eight months later, and the rollator is a part of my body. The fear that a wheelchair looms in my near future is so very real that I want to cry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know things could be exponentially worse. I’m still here, alive and watching my kids transition into the next big phase of their lives, watching my nieces grow, and reconnecting with long lost family. The recent loss of a friend who was only 12 days younger than me drove that realization home hard.  I sat at his memorial last week, weeping for the loss, aching at his mother’s face, his widow’s sobs, and I knew I was being selfish. Talk about forcing some perspective.

However, it’s still a loss I am feeling and grieving. I know, at some point, I will rise above this. I will learn how to navigate this massive change. Until then, I am trying to remind myself that this is not the end of the world. It’s just a hefty bump in my road–a road that I am travelling, like it or not.

For now, I’ve chosen to focus on what I CAN do. It’s the only thing I think will help. I’ve decided to kick my writing goals into high gear while I still can. I’m going to be sharing here about navigating the traditional publishing slopes. I am querying agents for my first novel. I am working steadily on my next novel. I am blogging again. Most of all, I have to remember that I am more than just my rebellious body.

I’m still a wife.

Mother.

Aunt.

Friend.

And writer.

I’m still me.

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Writing

Open Mic Night: The part of being a writer that terrifies me

Our local library

Our local library

Let’s face it.  We all have preconceived notions.  Most people, I’m willing to bet, think that writing is a pretty easy gig.  You just sit in a chair, make things up for a few hours a day, and, if you’re any good, you get published and become famous, raking in cash like Stephen King.  You probably think writers have “people” who do the mundane things like marketing and setting up speaking events. You would also be unbelievably wrong.  We, the writers do all of it.  Unless we can afford publicists, only our own sweat equity goes into making the publication ball roll and keep rolling.  Even with a publicist, an editor and a publisher, writers are expected to put in their fair share.

Tuesday night I attended my second speaking event as a writer.  The first one went well and I didn’t feel like I did terrible, but definitely felt like I had some room for improvement.  I was one of seven authors there to hock my book. I took what I learned from that event and applied it to Tuesday. My second speaking event, Open Mic Night at our local library, featured the members of my writers’ group as well as one brave soul who came to share.  I was first out of the gate because our leader thought my writing was the most relatable to the audience (I write mostly essays about being a mom or how I have a tendency to screw up even the most mundane of tasks) and would make a good opener. Silly man.

I prepped for the event in all the usual ways: reading out loud until I was hoarse, timing myself to get the pacing right and so I didn’t sound like Seabiscuit on his way to a photo finish. I also took my prescribed, extra anxiety meds. Without those, I’d be in the bathroom and nowhere near a podium.

Almost stone....

Almost stone….

Nothing prepares me for those terrifying moments in front of a room full of people expecting me to be awesome. There’s no way to set that bar a little lower. As I stood there, racing through my essay, I heard my voice begin to quiver. My throat began to run dry. The worst of all were my muscles. I could feel them systematically tightening up, threatening to turn me to stone. All I could envision was falling over, right where I stood. I hated it. All that prep for nothing.

When I was done I raced to my seat and snatched up my husband’s hand. He kissed me and reassured me, but I still felt like a rabbit facing down a cat. What was I thinking? I can’t do this.

Then I listened to all my writers’ group members. And I realized something. I am surrounded by crazy talented people. They all did so very well, causing goosebumps to form on my arms, bringing audience members to tears. I heard a few gasp.  All I could think was, “What the hell am I doing? I do not belong among these people.”

I know that you’ll say that I shouldn’t be comparing myself, but you know what?  Everyone does.  But the simply fact remains for me that I do not feel like I’ve earned my place at the table.  I went to my truck afterward and burst out crying because I felt like a fraud.

Jim told me one thing that bolsters me, but just barely.

He said, “Miranda, the worst writers are the ones who are convinced of their talent.”

I don’t know if he’s right.  I don’t know if I have what it takes to do anything more than entertain my family with my writing.

What I do know is that I want to do more.  I want to be more.  I’ve got the gumption.

Do I have the talent?the worst writers are the ones who are

So what say you?  Ever have that crisis of conscience?  Ever doubt what everyone else says is true?  How do you lift yourself above those moments and keep on keeping on?

 

LOOK FOR ONLY TROLLOPS SHAVE ABOVE THE KNEE COMING THE END OF APRIL!  

GREAT MOTHER’S DAY GIFT IDEA!

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