Friday, August 5, 2011

Geeking out

Right, so I’m over here geeking out about the faculty they’ve posted over at WriteOnCon (you'll have to scroll down to get the full list of faculty as they've had two announcements). One of the people they’ve announced (note how I’m not using names, that might be rude) is an editor at a publishing house I’ve thought my query bait would fit. Speaking of query bait, I’ve actually stopped querying with it, and now I’m going to talk about my process, because I like to share too much.

When I first wrote my query bait, almost two years ago now, I didn’t really know what I was doing—well, I don’t really claim to know what I’m doing now, but I’ve done some research so I’m less clueless. When I grew up, fantasy novels tended to start with these lugubrious beginnings that told a story that took until page 30 or 40 for the plot to kick in. Seriously, the style for fantasy in the sixties and seventies, is pretty slow, and when I was a kid (in the eighties), I only read the books my mom had or that I picked up for a quarter at the used bookstore. We didn’t even have a new bookstore in town (not even my town, mind you, it was the nearby “big” town) until I was in fifth grade (that store is still doing well, actually). So when I wrote my book, despite having read a ton of other more recent fiction, I wrote my book like those beloved classics from my youth.

Needless to say, that manuscript hasn’t exactly been burning up the request hotlines. Add to it the fact that most of the agents I queried early on got to see my biggest mistakes, you know, waking up from a dream, POV merry-go-round, nothing but description. In short, I burned a lot of chances with an unfortunate manuscript. The story is awesome sauce on toast; the execution? Not so much. I wrote two sequels for that story, and I even had a third planned.

Still, it’s a lot of work to be that stupid, and even I woke up to the fact that sending out my manuscript with the equivalent of post it notes that said “Please read it, it gets good after about the first fifty page; even my mean sister likes it” probably wasn’t working. Yeah, did I mention marketing is my other weak point?

I started to see that what I needed to do was to try another story. I had most of one, but I hadn’t really fleshed it out, it hadn’t been the lightning strike of previous ideas, where one minute no novel existed in my brain, and the next minute: ding, one novel, ready to order. But, I didn’t really think much would come of it. It was my practice novel. So I thought, “What the hell, write the novel you want.” And I did. I gave it my snarky voice, my “I didn’t fit in as a teenager.” I put my main characters up against kidnapping trolls and my hero got to save the day with a big damn sword of DOOM. Okay, well, it’s more like a rapier of doom, but my point is, it was fun. And actually, kind of decent. That really shocked me, actually. I didn’t think anyone but me would even want to read something like that, but again, the dumb, it blinds me sometimes. My betas reported such things as laughing out loud. How could that be? It was my crappy practice novel.

And then I realized the important part of my practice piece: I gave it my voice, my sarcastic, obnoxious, take no bull, snarky voice.

It was a definite flash bang sort of moment, because most of my fiction writing up to that point didn’t have my voice. I’d written an awesome story like I was going to submit it to an academic journal. “Just the facts, ma’am.” And I’d written a whole series of them. Silly me.

So even though there's someone I'm dying to show it to, I've pulled my query bait in favor of better writing. But I'm not going unarmed, I'm bringing my practice piece, the novel that got an E on its O.W.L. (I feel under qualified to give it an Outstanding since it really only Exceeds Expectations as far as I can tell).

And still a full week before the con.


  1. That is the paradox, isn't? Whenever I feel like I've put too much pressure on myself, I just say this book is for me. I'll put whatever I damn well want into it, and to hell with publishing. Usually, these books turn out to be the best, because like you said, it's all me. I don't censure myself. My voice comes out.

    Now I am trying to reach that level every time I write a book. Sometimes I lose perspective, but most of the time it works.

    And you've learned a lot from your first book. It feels like failure, but it's really learning. Each book you write you learn something new and you also make new and exciting mistakes. So don't feel too bad.

    Also, this is a concept I've been meaning to blog about, but just because you're retired your query bait, doesn't mean you can recycle the idea one day and write a book using the same premise.

  2. Hey, I gave you an award on my blog.

  3. Jenny: Thanks, that's sweet of you.

    Elizabeth: OMG isn't it crazy? It totally reminds me of the XKCD comic:
    It isn't doing stuff to be like others (which is totally what I was trying with former query bait), but being like yourself that's important. How ridiculous and afterschool special.

    And I think every manuscript teaches us something (even if we didn't want to learn it).

  4. I remember writing my first novel (a Western romance with bull riding and a professional singer who gets kidnapped and held ransom...yeah, it was completely awful!), and I actually got a full request on it. I thought, "Why bother to write another? This one will be huge!" It got a form rejection, I was crushed, and I didn't write for a while. Then I wrote more adult romance, moved on to children's, did the requisite vampire novel set, and found that I completely love contemporary YA. I keep querying, and it's changed from "No thanks" to "No thanks, but this has some good points" to "No thanks as is, but could you change A,B,and C and send it back because I love so much about it." Yay for better and better rejections!! You'll get there...and if your writing voice is anything like your blog voice, it's hilarious and excellent!

  5. I really enjoyed this. It's a good job we don't know how much we don't know when we start or we'd never write anything!

    For the record? Kidnapping trolls and swords, (or rapiers,) of doom? Pretty cool in my book!

  6. Haha! I love your "academic journal" story! I'm glad you decided to go with a story that really showcases your voice, because you have a GREAT writing voice!


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