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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Writing

Just over a month away…

I’ve been crazy-busy. Getting a book out is no easy task. I find myself wishing that book publishing was more like the fantasy that existed in my head long before I wound up knee-deep in the quagmire that is writing. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I had these dreams of working in my jammies (which I do, most days), typing away on my computer with a nice cup of tea and a snack (again, most days), and mailing off my manuscript to some wonderful group of elves who do all the other stuff for me.

My fantasy gets derailed somewhere past the snack.

There are no elves, folks. Just little, old me–emphasis on the old part lately.

Once the book is written there’s the dreaded waiting for edits. Then there’s the even more dreaded waiting for the second round of edits. This is WEEKS long. WEEKS. This workaholic, type A is not accustomed to this waiting. I want things done NOW NOW NOW. I’m worse than a three-year-old on Christmas Eve. The waiting is more than I can stand.

The next step isn’t terrible, but tedious. I have to go through the edits and actually correct all my boo-boos. If only things sprang from my head fully formed and perfect….

The next step is waiting–oh the waiting–for the proof copies to arrive so I can see if there are any mistakes made via the printing. There almost always are. So the book goes back to be corrected and more proof copies are sent to be checked. Hopefully, my anal retentive tendencies haven’t left any stones unturned and I can now sit back and….WAIT…for publishing day.

During these dreaded spans of waiting, I get to do all the marketing tasks like finding places for author events and creating flyers and business cards and memes and a million other things to try to get eyeballs on my work. Without eyeballs on my work I am doing nothing more than screaming into a room full of screaming people. Who is hearing me? Anyone? Bueller?

Sigh.

I spend countless hours trying to teach my brain that went to school in the Before Computers Age of Education how to use complicated programs that make beautiful flyers and such. I know just enough about computing devices to get myself into trouble. And by trouble I mean download a nasty virus that causes my husband to swear up a storm and wonder why he ever lets me near things that require fancy, newfangled technology like electricity. (Laugh, but while I spent all day today making a flyer…and I do mean ALL DAY…he spent the better part of the afternoon unclogging the kitchen drain. Dingbat Miranda managed to pack it full to the gills with a million pounds of spaghetti noodles that burned my hand yesterday.  They flopped down the drain quicker than I could save them, and our precious ears, from the swear words that greased the pasta’s way down the tubes.)

So, yeah, busy is my middle name these days. Raising two teenage boys and writing books. I love writing, don’t get me wrong. I’d sooner hack my arm off than quit. However, I need to somehow get better at this voodoo that I do. Better enough to afford elves. I definitely need elves, because this Plus Size Mama is ready for a vacation and publication day is just over a month away!

Join Plus Size Mama‘s Facebook page here to keep up with the latest that’s going on with publication. Sign up for my newsletter here to find out all the latest news on what I’m publishing, contests I’m giving and my appearances.

PSMflyer

 

 

Writing

Plus Size Mama: A writing life in 3 months

It took 3 months, but I did it. The rough draft of Plus Size Mama is finally finished. It goes off to the editor on Tuesday and, I must admit, I’m more than a little scared.

Writing a book is something I obviously love to do. As writers the world over will tell you, we want people to read our words. We want to put our word babies out there to touch lives. However, that means they are OUT THERE. People are SEEING them. It’s like taking your precious child and leaving it in the woods unattended for hours. Who, in their right mind, could do that and live with themselves???

Writers.

The vulnerability we open ourselves up to is crazy, but it’s part of the beast, right? What’s the point in putting words on paper and then hiding them from the world? There isn’t one. Especially when it comes to this book. I’m really proud of it.

It is very positive and up-lifting, which, those who know me personally, will be shocked to find. I am forever the pessimist, more inclined to operate on the worst case scenario than the best. However, when it comes to the weight loss journey I’ve been on for the better part of two decades, finding success only in the last five months, I’ve found I need to stay positive to succeed. I’ve been doing my best to look on the brighter side and focus on the positive. I truly believe we find in life that which we focus on. Focus on the bad, and that is what will rise to the top. Focus on the good, and, well, your cup runneth over.

And, oddly enough, this little book helped me through a dark period of my life that had nothing to do with weight loss and more to do with growing as a parent. While I can’t share those details here, suffice it to say, I’ve grown. My family has grown. The dark clouds are finally beginning to fade and the sun is shining through. My little corner of the world is looking up, friends. Thankful doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings.

These past three months have been the busiest, most emotional, most challenging I’ve had in decades. Hands down. But here, on the other side, I want to scoop up my kids, my hubby and my book and drag the whole mess down this path and scream to the winds, “WE DID IT, GUYS!!!!”

We wrote a book.

We survived a crisis.

We are stronger.

We love more.

We look up more.

We hug more.

We “all good things” more.

Who couldn’t use more of that?

Join Plus Size Mama‘s Facebook page here to keep up with the latest that’s going on with publication. Sign up for my newsletter here to find out all the latest news on what I’m publishing, contests I’m giving and my appearances.

Parenting, Writing

Lose The Cape: Never Will I Ever (And Then I Had Kids!)

The big day is nearly here! Wednesday, December 9, 2015 is the release date for the latest anthology in the Lose The Cape series! An essay from Yours Truly appears in this gem. It’s the perfect gift for any parent out there. Be sure to grab one for the reader on your holiday list this season!

 

Lose the Cape! Never Will I Ever (and then I had kids!)12036843_10153591622049757_8920000926856798482_n

Most of us had grandiose ideas of what we would be like as parents; what we would allow our children to do and all those things we would never allow our children to do. We may have sworn we would never let our child watch more than 30 minutes of television, or sleep in our bed, or eat chicken nuggets or God forbid, cheese from a can (gasp!). Yet, the moment those little bundles of joy entered our lives, reality took over. Soon enough, we realized that before children, we knew nothing about being parents.

From breastfeeding to co-sleeping, pledging to feed our children all natural, home cooked meals and so forth, there often comes a point in time where surviving parenthood supersedes your views and your “nevers” slip away. Right?

Never Will I Ever is a collection of essays by mothers (and one brave dad!) who share their stories of how they evolved as parents and learned that when it comes to raising children, we can never say never. This is the second book in the Lose the Cape! collection, dedicated to providing support and encouragement to parents in the most difficult stages of bringing up children.

Parenting, Snark, Writing

Goodbye, linear phone conversations

I was never a huge fan of talking on the phone.  I’m a highly distracted person to begin with and walking around with a phone attached to my ear is not something I enjoy.  However, I never knew how much I’d miss a straight forward phone conversation until I became a mother.  No one understands that more than your friends who have children.   Other moms have gotten the pass to the club and the secret decoder ring that makes linear phone conversations as stimulating as decaf coffee.

Just the other day I was on the phone with my writer friend Sarah Cottrell.  She has two young boys so she is totally a member of my tribe.  We were talking writing and the conversation went like this:

Sarah:  Just checking in to see if everything is alright……Hey, I’m on the phone.  Remember, we talked about this.

Me:  Oh, yeah.  I’m fine……. Tony, stop putting your face so close to Rosie’s.  Do you want to get bitten? Again?……  I’m just taking a short break to get focused on my writing goals.

Sarah: Is Rosie your dog?….Who wrote on my wall?!

Me:  Yeah, She’s ten years old and grouchy……I’m not going to yell at her for biting you if you don’t. Get. OUT. OF. HER. FACE!….I haven’t written anything new in weeks.

Sarah:  I was wondering…..Finn, you need to keep that in the Kung Fu Corner, do you hear me?…because I saw your Facebook post…..IN. THE. CORNER, MISTER.

Me:  Yeah, I just get overstimulated….Seriously?  Jimmy, did it occur to you to just ask?…by social media sometimes.  You know what I mean?

Sarah:  Yeah, I can see how that would happen. (Muffled talking that I can’t comprehend)  We probably all should take a break.

Me:  It’s crazy, isn’t it?  I should be concentrating on the essays……..Where did I put my pen?  Jim, have you seen my pen?.…….. with deadlines that are coming up anyway.

Sarah:  I have so much writing to do.  I’m swamped…..Alright, now you have to sit on the bottom step and think about what you did.

Jim:  Hey, is that your friend from Maine?

Me:  Yes.

Jim:  Good, she can kick you in the butt and get you back on track.

Sarah:  Is  that your husband?……..Yes, I love you, too.

Me:  Yes.  He and the kids are equal opportunity annoyers…..Geez, Rosie!  Just step all over my feet!  Ow!

Sarah:  That’s funny….Oh, don’t cry……Hey I’ve got to go.  Poor, Max is crying.

Me:  Aw, poor guy.  Talk to you soon.

You see, it’s phone conversations like that that make private messaging on Facebook so much easier to follow.  Granted, I have to write down my every thought, but the person I’m chatting with doesn’t have to be exposed to the mundane details of my life.  I recently chatted with my best friend, Renee, about an upcoming event that I’m excited about, and she missed out on me having to remind Tony for the nine millionth time to use a pot holder when pouring the water for hot chocolate.  She also missed out on me reminding Jimmy that it was trash night and the cans needed to go to the street.  And she didn’t have to be exposed to Rosie’s vocal stylings while Tony practiced the clarinet.  That private message made me sound so much more together and with it.  So much more like a real person.

Oh, well.  I’m a writer so text messaging should be right up my alley, right?

For more about my antics as a mother to this crazy brood, check out my book Lemonade and Holy Stuff sold at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Follow me on Twitter @MirandaGargasz or on Facebook at Miranda Gargasz, Writer.

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!

Writing

He called me “writer”

Like many writers I know, I have periods of massive self-doubt.  My latest dance with this particularly bad partner left me blocked for weeks on end, unable to write a single word and feeling every moment of the failure I was convinced I was.  I reached out to my equally neurotic writer friends online.  They all assured me that they, too, suffered from the same malady from time to time.  They all reassured me that it would pass.  One of my writing cohorts even shared the fact that the last time she felt that way she found an acceptance to be in an anthology in her email.  She told me the same thing would happen to me.  I’d read her work.  I was not her.  Who was I kidding?

Most of what I do as a writer is just me banging around inside my own head, fingers flying over a keyboard.  All of the blood, sweat and tears I pour into my writing is done in the wee hours of the morning, before I go to bed.  The kids don’t see it because they are sleeping.  My husband doesn’t see it because he’s usually working.

The only job any of them see me do is what makes me a Mom.  They see me cook dinner, do laundry, scrub toilets and cart their butts around from place to place.  I am Mom and that’s all that I would ever be to them.

Or so I thought.

I was sitting in the lobby of a DoubleTree Inn when I felt my chest swell a little.  I was overhearing my husband talk with the man at the counter as he checked us in.

“So what brings you to Pittsburgh, sir,” the man asked.

“Oh, my wife has a conference or audition or something,” Jim said.  “I’m not sure what it is, exactly.  I just know it’s for writers.”

“Here?” the man said.

“Yes,” Jim said.  “It’s a big step for my wife.  She’s a shy woman and she’s very brave to come here.”

“What is it for?”

“I’m fuzzy on the details.  I’m just the chauffeur,” Jim laughed.  “All I know is it’s a big deal for her.  She’s a talented writer.  Very talented.”

With that, the man gave my husband the room key and we were on our way.  It was late.  We were tired and I was misty-eyed.  We rode in the elevator and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  I couldn’t stop smiling and crying at the same time.

Because he does get it.

Because he called me something other than Mom.

Because he called me by the most coveted of labels in my world.

Because he called me “writer.”